Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. 

This intricate and beautiful carving is normally placed on the chapel wall.
I sit there every morning and evening. I look at it while I wait for 8:30 or 5 to come around.

It is such a beautiful thing.The amount of time and care that has gone into the carving.
I like to think of the person carving it using the process as a meditation.
Each word, each phrase over and over, the implications of each sentence running around their head.

But looking at this carving, there is also a tendency for the words of the prayer to get lost,
the meaning and depth of prayer becomes a mass of words in the wood.
From where you are sitting, I suspect it looks like any other picture.

It is much the same with our use of the Lord’s Prayer.

We say it every Sunday before we receive communion.
We say it at Morning and Evening Prayer before the prayers of the day.
We say it often.
At funerals, weddings, baptisms, it is said.
People that don’t go to church very often, or at all, know the Lord’s Prayer.
You can hear people join and stop at different parts.
You can hear the older version of the prayer from parts of the congregation.

We say this prayer so often, but I wonder if we really take it all in.
Like in this carving, words get lost, some of the phrases become hollow.
It becomes the empty repetition that Jesus warned against.

The prayer is a petition to God the Father.
We state who he is, we pray that the earth will become like heaven.
We ask for our physical and spiritual needs to be met.
We ask to be forgiven.

Then, the first clause that says we will do something.

As we forgive those that sin against us.

Or as it says in Luke’s version:

Forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. 

We ask God to forgive us.
And he does.
God forgives us for everything we do.

Think about our confession:
We have sinned against you in thought word and deed,
and in what we have failed to do

Then the absolution:
Almighty God
who has promised forgiveness to all who turn to him in faith,
pardon you and set you free from all your sins.

If we are truly sorry, and repent, we are forgiven.

This is wonderful and incredible thing.
God forgives us for all the stupid, mean, selfish, unthinking things we do.
He forgives us again and again and again.

This is an astounding thing.
I have seen and heard how astounding it is when explaining to the kids at SRE.

I have been in baptism interviews where the concept of forgiveness has been discussed, and have seen the look of amazement and disbelief and awe in a young mothers face as we spoke of God’s unlimited forgiveness. The idea that God could forgive her because he loves her was almost too much for her to bear.

Forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. 
Not as simple as we thought.
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

Forgive us God,
because we forgive everyone too.

Is it that we earn God’s forgiveness by being forgiving ourselves?
Not at all.
God’s forgiveness does not depend on anything but a sorry heart.
We don’t earn God’s forgiveness.
So what is this second clause all about?

For we forgive everyone indebted to us.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus explains this part of the prayer:

For if you forgive others their trespasses,
your heavenly Father will also forgive you;
but if you do not forgive others,
neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

But God forgives us by his grace, not by anything we do.
If we repent and are truly sorry, we are forgiven, but it isn’t about doing something to earn God’s forgiveness.

So what is Jesus getting at here?

It strikes me that we are called to be a forgiving people.
If we don’t forgive others, we block the flow of God’s forgiveness.
God’s forgiveness of us needs to keep flowing from us in our daily interactions.
If we don’t forgive, we halt the flow of forgiveness.
It is like we are trying to store it up for ourselves, or are unwilling to share such a wondrous gift.

Forgiveness is difficult.
It is not easy to forgive some things, behaviours and traits.
It is hard to forgive someone, or an institution, or a group that has done you wrong.
When we feel we have received the raw end of a deal, our resentment toward those that have trespassed against us is a natural reaction.

Yet feeling such a way does not help us.
To let go of such feelings, to forgive such actions is to regain life.
It is to be freed.
Such freedom allows others to be free.
Freed from their sins,
freed from the things that keep them far from others,
freed from the things that keep them from God.
Freed so they can forgive others.
And on it goes…

Forgiveness gets lost in all the messiness of life.
All the hurts and pains get stored up.

Like this carving.
Like how the words lose themselves in all the design and intricacy,
we forget about God’s forgiveness to us and how we are to keep the flow of forgiveness going,
outward to all we come into contact with.

By reading and praying the words, they come out of the carving and become visible.
They are freed from the design.

By forgiving those who have trespassed against us, we free ourselves from our hurt.

Forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Martha and Mary
Maurice Denis
You are worried and distracted by many things

Yesterday, I sat down in my office, and got myself ready to write this sermon.
I sorted out my desk and cleared all the stuff that I didn’t need.
I got the books that I would look through.
I found some quiet contemplative music.
I prepared myself to put all my thoughts, all the conversations I had this week, all the interactions, all before God.

Then I turned on my computer.

Update software.
There are four programs that require your attention.

I started this process.
Another message popped up telling me that I needed to uninstall another program before I could update another one.

Another message was telling me that I might like to change my browser.

A Facebook message appeared.
Arrangements for a meeting were being organised.

Another message told me my installation of something had failed and was directing me to a website that would fix it.

All the while, Martha, Mary, and Jesus are waiting patiently for me to get back to them.

Well Martha is busy herself, but Jesus and Mary sit there, waiting for me to remove all distractions so I can be present with them and learn about distractions and being present.

The whole story of Martha and Mary of Bethany is one about the importance of focus and being present to God in our lives.

The story has often been told in terms of Martha versus Mary,
and ‘which is the right way to be.’
Much damage has been done by such a way of looking at this story.
Many women have been hurt by this thinking.
The place of many women in our churches have been harmed, devalued, and ignored by this view.

Who here has been called a Martha or a Mary?

I have heard many times “I am more a Martha than a Mary.”
I have heard many times women being told they were Mary’s because they weren’t doing their share of work.
I have heard many times women being told they weren’t in some way ‘proper’ because they were busy working and not praying.

All this way of thinking must stop.

I don’t believe there are Marys or Marthas.
I don’t think that is point Jesus makes here.

 Mary sits at the feet of the Lord, but Martha was distracted by her many tasks.

Martha gets cranky about this, and you have to admit she has guts.
She complains to Jesus

‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ 

At this point we can probably agree with her.
Lazy Mary doing nothing.
We expect Jesus to tell Mary to get of her lazy behind and go help her sister.

But no.

‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;
there is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’

you are worried and distracted by many things;
there is need of only one thing.

So, Jesus makes the point that Martha is looking at it all wrong.
He doesn’t tell her she is to stop doing what she is doing,
but rather he tells her her approach to her work
and her complaining about Mary are off the mark.

It isn’t her working that is the problem.

Imagine our church without all the so called Marthas.
This space would be a mess.
There would be no morning tea.
There would be no pew sheets.
There would be no hymns organised, no prayer lists, no communion vessels cleaned, no clean linen.
And that is just the work that is done for the service this morning.

Extend that to the other work that goes on:
the organisation of the grounds, the paying of bills, the administration work.

Then think of the Op Shop.
The amount of people and the amount of hours that go into the running of the Op Shop is simply staggering.

It is not the work that is the problem.
All these things need to be done.

Jesus doesn’t say don’t work, don’t do anything.

He says there is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.

And that thing is sitting at the feet of Jesus.
It is spending time with him, learning from him, being present to him.

You see, all the work that happens is important and vital,
but we need to remember why we do it.

If all the work we do for the church becomes all that our God time is,
then we have missed the point.
We have become distracted by many things.

When our jobs,
the things we do stop us from being,
stop us from being present to God,
we haven’t chosen the better part.

It is not that jobs and tasks are distractions.
They aren’t.
It is more that they should not become distractions.

They shouldn’t become the focus.
The focus has to be Jesus.
If Jesus is at the centre, the jobs and tasks take their place.

Time in prayer, time reading the scriptures, time spent in the presence of God is the better part.
All the jobs we do in and around our churches are so we can spend that time with God, so we and others can sit at the feet of the Lord.

You are worried and distracted by many things

If we keep our minds and hearts on the Lord, the things distract us cease to be anything to worry about. Then we know we have chosen the better part.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

The Good Samaritan
Aime Morot

 “And who is my neighbour?” 

Over the last couple of weeks we have heard about discipleship,
about what it means to be a follower of Christ.
We heard how we need to keep our hands to the plough and persevere.  
We have heard how we need to proclaim the Kingdom, and heal the sick.
Today we hear about who it is that we are to go and be with, and far we are to go.

Love your neighbour as yourself.

We say this every Sunday.
Actually we confess that we haven’t loved our neighbour as ourselves.
It is a confronting moment.
We admit that we haven’t done as we are expected.
A moment when we admit we have let ourselves and God down a bit.

We have not loved our neighbour as ourselves.

The lawyer asks Jesus “Who is my neighbour?”

This leads Jesus into the parable of the Good Samaritan.
We know this story so well.
But time has softened this story.
We need to understand the explosive nature of Jesus using a Samaritan as the one who gets it right.
The words good and Samaritan just didn't go together

We should rename it in our time as “The Good Terrorist,” or “The Good Drug Dealer” or “The Good Lawnmower Thief.” That was the status of the Samaritans in Jesus time. They were pretty low in Jewish society.

Jesus is a master story teller.
He sets up the story so we expect something.

The priest avoids the man left for dead, as does the Levite.
The audience at this time would expect this.
These two can’t be near a dead person, as it means they would not be able to carry out their religious duties.
At this point the audience will be expecting that it will be an Israelite, someone like themselves who will be the hero, the one who does the rescuing.
A common man, instead of a cleric.

But Jesus takes it further.
It is the lowest of the low that gets it right.
And not just that, they go beyond.
It is the person that no one wants to be near that goes near to the one in peril.

At this we point we can think of the man who has been beaten.
It is likely he is an Israelite, and the one who is helping him is his enemy.
He would not have spoken to a Samaritan.
He would leave a place if a Samaritan turned up.
Yet here he is in a state of near death, and it is this enemy who is caring for him.
What will this Israelite think of Samaritans now?
Can they continue to be a people who he despises?

And likewise the Samaritan. This enmity went both ways, yet here the Samaritan helps the Israelite, an enemy.

Jesus asks the lawyer: “Which of these three, do you think,
was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 

By making the hero a person from the lowest strata of society,
Jesus expands the meaning of neighbour.
Our neighbour is anyone.
It is those who we may not want to associate with.
It is those who are not like us.
It is those who we don’t agree with.
It is those who anger, frustrate, repulse, infuriate, or even repel us.
All are our neighbour.

We have not loved our neighbour as ourselves.

This affects the way we live our lives everyday.

It affects the way we view everyone.
No longer can we say ‘I don’t need to worry about that person.’
No longer can we say ‘I can’t work with that person.’
No longer can we say ‘they are my enemy.’
They are our neighbour. They, meaning a group that is outside or other, can no longer exist. They are our neighbour. They are us. We.

We all have our blind spots.
We all have prejudices that hinder our loving of some people.
I know a few of my own, and I am ashamed at the way I think of people from certain institutions.
You see the thing is, it is easy to worry about the poor and sick.
It is easy to think they are our neighbour, because we can see a need and our desire as Christians is to help and heal.
But it is the people we see as being opposed to us that are more difficult, like the Samaritans for the Israelites.

Jesus said “Go and do likewise.”

Go love your neighbour as yourself.
As the Samaritan loved the beaten man. 
Go and do likewise.

We can’t discriminate  about who we love.
It isn't a matter of having a hierarchy of people we love.
It is a matter of loving all,
no matter their religion, race, class, nationality, what football team they support, or even their core values.

We are called to love our neighbour as ourselves,
and Jesus tells us our neighbour is everyone.

As God’s love is for everyone, so our love must be for everyone.

And this answers the Lawyer’s first question:
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

To inherit eternal life, we must love our neighbour as ourselves,
and our understanding of who our neighbour is must be expanded to include all humanity.

As the Samaritan loved the wounded man, God loves wounded humanity.
We are to do the same. We are to love all we meet, the same as God loves everyone.

Who is my neighbour?
Those who you like being with, those you don’t even want to know.

Jesus tells us “Now go and do likewise.”

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 

Last week we heard about persevering and hold firm to the faith, not looking back, and looking forward, keeping our hands on the plough.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus outlines what discipleship looks like and does.
He speaks of the scarcity of workers and the difficulty of the mission.
He also tells us what we are to do, and what we are to proclaim.

Jesus sends out 70 disciples.

If we think about all the crowds that have followed him,
who have heard his teachings,
who have witnessed his healings,
who have been in his presence,
the fact that there are only 70 who have put their hand up to proclaim the good news doesn’t seem like a good conversion rate.

But if we remember the three who did put their hands up in last Sunday’s gospel, we can understand why.

To be a disciple, to go out and proclaim the good news is not for the fainthearted, it is not for the lukewarm.
It requires a strong belief, and understanding of the importance of the task. Proclaiming the good news becomes the number one aspect of a disciple’s life. It becomes the disciple’s everything.

Jesus addresses this scarcity of disciples
“The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few;

He knows there are only a few to do the work.
He knows it is a tough job, and he is asking not only for their time,
but really, he is asking for their whole lives.

The harvest he speaks of is all those who have not heard the good news. The harvest was plentiful in Jesus time, and it is in ours too.

The harvest is indeed plentiful.

We only need to walk outside the church, up the street,
into the supermarket or pub to know how many people haven’t heard the gospel.

We also only need to look around in here to know how few the labourers are.

We are the 70 out of all those crowds who heard Jesus.
We are the ones that said I will follow you Lord, and did just that.
But we are few in number.

And as Jesus sent those 70 out ahead of him,
he sends us out ahead of him, to proclaim

‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 

The Kingdom of God has come near to you, it has come close.
The kingdom of God where the sick are healed,
demons are expelled,
those born blind can see,
the kingdom where the lowest are the highest,
where the mighty are made low
and where children are as important as elders.

This kingdom has come near.
This is what we are to proclaim.
This is the good news for those with ears to hear, with eyes to see.
It is this good news that so many long to hear, but cannot hear it.

Most people wish for a just society where the sick are cared for and those who cannot care for themselves are cared for by others.

We are called not to just proclaim that, but actually be and do that.
Jesus called the 70 to cure the sick who are there.

We are called to heal those in our towns.
To heal them of their pain and suffering.
Sometimes we can see how some are sick,
and we know within our church there are many that are unwell
and are waiting for medical procedures.
We pray for their speedy recovery,
we pray that those who have been charged with their care will use their skill and healing abilities to cure those we love.

But it is to those we don’t know that we need to pray for.
It is to those who are sick that do not know of the healing power of prayer,
the laying on of hands,
the anointing with oil,
that we are called to reach out to,
to let them know that we, the church, are with them in their pain,
and we will do all that we can to help in their recovery.

But there are the illnesses we don’t see.
Depression, addiction, anxiety.
It is to those who suffer these that we can sometimes be of more help than medical professionals.
To be a disciple, to heal the sick,
in these cases can sometimes be as simple as just listening.
To hear a person’s story,
to let them feel that there are people who care for them,
to let them know that they are welcome,
that Christ welcomes them, as he says
“Come to me all who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

To suffer from such illnesses is to be truly heavily laden.
The peace that a life in Christ offers is a peace that can lift depression,
can release the claws of addiction,
can calm anxiety.

It is this peace, this good news that we are to proclaim.
That is how we can be a part of Christ’s healing.
That is how we can heal those we meet.

That is the good news we are to proclaim.

The harvest is plentiful.
There are many people who have not heard the good news,
but are yearning for the life that the coming Kingdom will provide.

The labourers may be few, but we are ready and willing to work.

The Kingdom that we are to proclaim has indeed come near.
It has come near in the person of Jesus Christ, and continues to be near as we who are the body of Christ are sent out to do the work that our world so desperately needs.

To those who are heavy laden, it is our responsibility as members of the body of Christ, the church, to show them the rest and peace that a life lived in Christ can provide.

The kingdom of God has come near.
It continues to be near for us.
That is something too wonderful not to share with all we meet.