Sermons

Sun, Jun 18, 2017

What really matters

Series:Sermons

In the little Anglican Church in Yankalilla--

quite a few years back now--

some bubbling appeared in the plaster of the sanctuary wall...

and, next thing you know, it was all over the television.

The Priest at the time--

Father Nutter...

no joke!--

claimed that it was an image of the Virgin Mary.

A wooden frame was erected around the bubbled plaster--

just it case you couldn't see it--

and the whole area was roped off.

Donation boxes were installed in the church porch.

Postcards, souvenirs, and histories went on sale.

A special religious order was even formed to maintain the 'sacred site'...

and some people started to speak of it as a 'miracle'.

 

Of course, it would be easy to be cynical--

to suggest that it was simply an exercise in 'creative fund-raising'.

And, before the deacons get any ideas-- 

No! 

I don't think that it would work here!

But the scary thing is... 

that some people actually believed it;

or wanted to believe it.

Call me a sceptic, but why?

Why would God bother to do that?

Of course, let's not forget the images of Jesus that... 

supposedly... 

miraculously appear in slices of toast from time to time.

Why would God bother?

It makes absolutely no sense.

It achieves nothing.

All it does is make those involved seem completely gullible and stupid...

which only reinforces for many the belief that Christianity is idiotic...

utterly irrelevant...

and out of touch with reality.

And before you start jumping up and down... 

protesting that, "that's not what Christianity is about"...

just stop for a minute.

Because some of the things that many mainstream Christians profess-

some of the things that we may believe-

are also pretty dubious in the cold light of day.

Leaving aside notions that the world began in the way that Genesis describes--

which, I would hope, few rational, educated, modern people would hold--

what about: 

the story of Noah's ark;

or Sarah having a baby in her nineties;

or the Israelites wandering forty years in a desert...

which could have been traversed in a month;

or that a young woman fell pregnant without having sex...

after having been visited by an angel.

To be honest, there are quite a number of things that I have doubts about;

things that I cannot believe or accept...

scientifically...

historically...

or even theologically.

There are things that trouble me or make me uncomfortable.

I find it difficult when people take scripture literally...

and especially when they pull odd bits out from here and there...

string them together...

ignoring their context--

both literary and social-historical--

and then use that to justify anything that they want...

be it slavery...

apartheid...

or the exclusion of gay and lesbian people;

claiming that that's what the Bible teaches...

or that's what Christians ought to believe.

 

All of which brings us to this morning's reading from Matthew.

Here, in a sense, the author reminds us about what really matters:

"Jesus went about...teaching...proclaiming the good news...and healing every illness and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless".

When we get behind all of the myth and legend...

and all of the pontification by religious leaders--

their obsession with people's sex lives...

and their penchant for wanting to dictate social policy for everyone...

as if we lived in a theocracy--

if we get behind all of that and we actually stop and consider what God is really like--

as made known to us in Jesus--

we see that, without fail, God is compassionate...

especially towards those who are struggling and oppressed.

Because that's what is meant here.

To say that the crowds are "harassed and helpless" is to make a comment about their social condition.

After all, they were peasants--

people who barely produced enough for their families to survive...

and whose lot in life was made worse by crippling taxes and tolls...

and repaying loans from wealthy patrons...

and the tithes that they were forced to pay to maintain the temple.

But the compassion of God doesn't just stop there.

It's also directed towards those who are sick and ill.

Now, as I have said before...

back then, in that world, people didn't think scientifically or medically.

They didn't understand about bacteria or cancer or chemical imbalances.

They didn't know about disease or infection.

Rather, people were sick if they didn't appear normal.

And if the community told them that they were sick.

So, illness, then, was all about community perception.

The same goes for demonic possession.

People were labelled as "possessed" when they didn't behave as expected--

when they broke important norms and values.

So, to call someone "possessed" was to say that their behaviour was inappropriate.

It was to make a statement about their place in society:

that they weren't normal...

and they didn't fit.

As a result, they were marginalised, excluded, and shunned.

So, when we hear that Jesus healed, it means that he went about redefining perception--

challenging the way that people were seen and labelled.

He went about changing how they were treated:

declaring that those who were perceived to be abnormal, were valued;

that those who were excluded, did belong.

And that's what God does.

That's how God sees each of us.

That's how God treats each of us--

welcoming, valuing, and affirming...

with compassion and love.

 

But this reading also reminds us that Jesus asked his followers to do likewise.

"Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every illness and every sickness".

As the people of God, we are called to continue Jesus' ministry.

We are called...

indeed, we are sent...

to address fundamental human needs--

the need to be whole, welcomed, accepted, valued, and included.

And we're called and sent to confront and oppose the forces of evil--

the forces that label and devalue, that exclude and destroy.

That's what it means to be the people of God.

That's what it means to be 'Church'.

Ultimately, it's not about buildings, hymns, or having a nice worship experience.

And it's not about following a set of rules... 

or a list of do's and don'ts.

In the end, it's quite simple and incredibly hard.

Being people of God--

being 'church'-- 

is about being a channel of God's compassion:

healing brokenness...

turning death into life...

confronting and opposing the forces of evil...

welcoming the unwelcomed...

and including the excluded.

 

But you know, it's easy to forget that--

I forget that--

amid the busyness of life...

and all of the competing claims on our time and energy.

And, frankly, the nature of the Church doesn't help.

We're good at holding meetings...

forming committees...

exploring options...

talking.

But, maybe, sometimes, we need to stop--

stop all of the talking...

stop all of the committees and meetings--

and start to remember...

remember what Jesus was really on about...

and who we are called to be....

and what we are called to do.

And you know if we actually did that...

then people would have to sit up and take notice...

for the right reasons.

 

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