Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sermon for Christ the King

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 

Christ the King is a relatively new feast in the church calendar.

It was introduced by Pope Pius XI in 1925 to remind Christians at the time that their allegiance was to Christ rather than their earthly rulers.

We need to remember what was happening in 1925.
Europe was recovering from World War 1.
The war was the result of rampant nationalism.
At the end of the war, the national boundaries in Europe and in the African colonies were redrawn,
with the victors claiming the spoils, the vanquished handing over land and money.

We know where this led: the rise of Fascism and even more nationalist fervour in the nations that had been defeated.

In 1925, this took the shape of Mussolini and the fascist ideology, which would be taken up by Hitler and the Nazis in Germany.
In this, nationhood and race became the governing ideals to much misery, suffering, and death.

They were ideals of who was in or who was out.
Those who were in were safe as long as they bowed down to the state,
and those who were out were ejected either by deportation or death.

Ideas that were the opposite of Christ.

It was into this that Christ the King as a feast was introduced.

Nearly one hundred years later, the world has changed a great deal.
Sort of.

It has changed in the sense that the instruments of power of different. Similar tyranny exists, but it is far more subtle.

The idea of King does not have the same power of meaning as it did.
The idea of nation does not have the same power of meaning as it did.
The idea of political governance does not have the same power of meaning as it did.

Think about it.
In 1925, young men would risk their lives for King and Country.

The wars that are being fought now are guided by a different ideology.
Young men still go and fight, but not for king or country.
If we are brutally honest, wars are now fought for oil companies and weapons manufacturers.
A lot of propaganda goes into making these wars look like they are about national sovereignty and safety,
but that assumes it is governments who are making the decisions.

In the 21st century the name Christ the King doesn’t have the same power as it did in 1925.

It is true that Jesus is spoken of throughout the Bible as a King:
King of Israel,
King of the Jews,
King of Kings,
King of the Ages,
Ruler of the Kings of the Earth.

The idea is still as powerful, and is just as true, as it was and will be forever more.
Christ is the one to whom we will show our allegiance to.

The problem is the language and the change in power structures in our time.

It is not kings or presidents or prime ministers that rule our world.
The democratic system is gradually showing itself to be a fraud that doesn’t represent anyone other than the wealthy elite.
The world is gradually becoming controlled by multinational corporations, so much to the point that a corporation can sue a country if it feels that that country’s laws may harm their profitability.

The reason I am going on about this is to give context to what the feast originally meant, so we can recontextualise it for today.

As the Feast was originally to remind Christians about who their allegiance was to be given in the context of what it should not be given to, today we need to examine what are the competing ism’s for our allegiance.

It used to be nationalism, or communism, or fascism.

Today it is trickier.

The only real ism is capitalism, and we all, the church, the entire world is controlled by this ism.
Materialism and greed are the isms that have our allegiance,
whether we like it or not.

The church doesn’t compete with world leaders or philosophies,
but rather is lost in a sea of marketing, branding, logos and meaningless product placements.

In a world where image and brand and product are dominant,
Christ does truly offer something different.

When Christ the King was introduced the idea of King worked as an attractive alternative.
Now it is different.
Now that idea has no cultural relevancy.
The meaning is true and correct, but the idea and the name are neither strong nor big enough for today’s world.

The letter to the Colossians was written at the time of the Roman Empire.
The general thrust of the letter is to remind the early believers of their true calling:
to follow Christ, not the pagan religions or the Empire.

The reading from Colossians this morning gives us a more cosmic understanding of rulership:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;
for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created,
things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers
—all things have been created through him and for him. 

I’ll finish with a reading from Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat’s book Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire. They reconfigure this reading to speak about the rulership of today’s world.

In an image-saturated world,
        a world of ubiquitous corporate logos
            permeating your consciousness
        a world of dehydrated and captive imaginations
            in which we are too numbed, satiated and co-opted
            to be able to dream of life otherwise
        a world in which the empire of global economic affluence
            has achieved the monopoly of our imaginations
        in this world
    Christ is the image of the invisible God
        in this world
            driven by images with a vengeance
    Christ is the image par excellence
        the image above all other images
        the image that is not a facade
        the image that is not trying to sell you anything
        the image that refuses to co-opt you
    Christ is the image of the invisible God
        the image of God
            a flesh-and-blood
            in time and history
            with joys and sorrows
            image of who God is

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Sermon for the Twenty Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

‘Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?’ 

If you watch or listen to the news, you are guaranteed one thing:
you will hear of violence, injustice, and disaster.

Right now, we are hearing about the typhoon that has hit the Phillipines,
leavings thousands dead, hundreds of thousands homeless and without water or food.

We hear of the constant struggle of refugees being played with by governments as political pawns.

We hear of a refugee woman and baby separated because of political gameplaying.

We hear of suicide bombings in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We hear of the threat of chemical weapons in Syria.

We hear of government close downs because of debt ceilings being broken.
We hear of the poorest in society not having enough to eat.

Everyday, we hear of the how the world is not perfect, in fact is far from perfect.
You could, if you wanted, to get apocalyptic about it all.
We could see ourselves as standing at the door of end times.

When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed;
this must take place, but the end is still to come.
For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom;

Jesus doesn’t really talk about the end times.
He talks about some things that must happen before the end times can occur.
And it seems the types of things he is talking about have always been happening.
You could say that he was saying that things are always going to be tough.

So, what are we to make of the disciples question and Jesus response?

‘Teacher, when will this be,
and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?’ 
Since Jesus’ time, there has rarely been a time of peace.
There have been periods where there has been less conflict, or conflict on a smaller scale, but always some conflict.
Our own time is one of the worst for international war.

The constant war in the middle east, the looming threat of economic collapse,
the devastation of the typhoon, the ever growing amount of bushfires,
the never ending stream of refugees throughout the world are not signs of the end times.

Elsewhere in the Gospel Jesus teaches a different way of thinking. He says:

Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.
Today's trouble is enough for today. 

Be present to what is happening.
Not worrying about what might happen, or whether things are getting that bad.

Being present and be aware of what is.
Be ready to help. Be ready to fight injustice. Be ready to comfort.
Be like Christ in the middle of it all.
Be still and know that I am God.
Be still, be present to what you are in.

The way to be present is to renounce all the violence of the middle east.
The way to be present is to unmask the causes of the violence not add to them by taking sides.

The way of Christ is to fed, clothe and home those who have suffered through the typhoon.

It is to be present to the suffering of economic hardship.

It is not to bury ones head in the sand and pretend that these things are not happening.
They are happening, and they will continue to happen.

We can’t let them bury us in a pit of helplessness, nor can we ignore them
We need to be in the middle of it, present to the pain.
Worrying about whether it all is the beginnings of the end times isn’t being present, isn’t being like Christ.

It is natural to worry about the future.
We all want to know what is going to happen.
But Jesus reminds us to be present to where and when we are:

do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.
Today's trouble is enough for today. 

Look at what is happening around us, not in some
way to predict the future, but to be truly present to what is actually happening.
Be present like Christ was present to the suffering he witnessed

It is by being present to what is occurring that we can be like Christ:
helping, healing, teaching, showing the light and love of God to all we meet.

Instead of trying to work out when the end is to happen,
Jesus tells us to present to the suffering and anguish that is around us, in our present time.

It is about being still in the midst of difficulty, not running away into tomorrow, but staying with what is happening. The good and the bad.

Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.
Today's trouble is enough for today. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sermon for the Twenty Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

The Resurrection- The Angels rolling away the stone from the Sepulchre

William Blake

Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.

Jesus tells us this to reassure us that in God there is no death.
There is death in the physical sense, but death is not the end.
It is a stage of the journey.
A very significant stage indeed, but it is just stage, a step on a journey.

Death is quite scary.
It is a bit of a mystery.
It scares us because we can’t really know what lies beyond.
However, we can believe that there is something that lies beyond.

The reading from the book of Job tells us:
“and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
            then in my flesh I shall see God.”
Jesus tells us numerous times about what happens,
most explicitly in the gospel of John:
 ‘I am the resurrection and the life,’ says the Lord.
‘Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.’ 

‘Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live
Death is not end.

But it is the next phrase that speaks to me:
and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die

"everyone who lives in me."

What is living in Christ?
What does that entail?

Life in Christ is about being in the present.
It is about present to who we are, who we are with, what we are doing.
It is not about how or why or where or when.
It is about now.

It is about being truly present to the present.
It is about being present to the presence of God.
It is about being present.

Being present is hard work.
It is impossible to be present all the time.
We need to reflect on what we have been and done to learn from then.
We need to plan our future and put events and happenings into our calendars to keep on top of things.

But the problem is that often all we end up doing is reflecting and planning.
We don’t let the present moment exist,
because it is either being taken up with what was or what is hoped to be.

But there are moments and times in life where we need to present.
When we are listening to a friend.
Being present means listening.
Being present means being with them.
It means being with them in their story, pain or difficulty.
It means listening and feeling, not thinking or fixing.

We need to be present to ourselves.

We need to be present to God in our lives.

Psalm 46 tells us:
“Be still and know that I am God”

How we interpret still is going to be different for all of us,
but we can all agree it is the opposite of race around.
It is opposite of our minds racing around in all directions at once.

Be still in your mind.
Be still in your heart.
Let the sting of the past and the anxiety of the future exist,
and be still in the middle of them.
In that stillness, in that present, it is possible to know God.

That is living in Christ.
It is about being present, being still, and allowing ourselves be in the midst of difficulty.

God is God of the living, not the dead.
Living is about now, not then.
When you receive communion “Keep you in eternal life” not “help you to get to”, or “remember you were” but keep you in.

So, as in death.

One of the great factors in fearing death is that we may not have lived our lives.

There is regret that we may not have done as much as we would have liked,
or have achieved as much as we would have hoped.
There is an intense longing for the past,
a past that did not maybe have as much in it as we would like.
There is regret because we feel we haven’t lived.
There is worry because there is something missing.
There is fear about losing something that was never found.

Richard Rohr puts it this way:
“Something in me says ‘I haven’t done ‘it’ yet.
I haven’t touched the real, the good, the true, the beautiful,
which is of course what we are created for”

The danger is that we have not been present.
Not been present to God, or present at all.

Richard Rohr again:
“Its heaven all the way to heaven and its hell all the way to hell.”
Not later, but now. Not then, but now.

If we don’t believe in life now, how can we believe in life after?

This is why I would like to start a contemplative prayer group.
I believe it is through contemplation that we can truly experience the present.
I believe that it is through contemplation that we can be learn to be present.
To ourselves, to each other, to God.

To be truly present means to be truly vulnerable, to be truly honest.
It means being where we are, whether it is pleasant or awful.
It means being in the middle of both.

God is God of the living.

This is a reassurance that our physical life is just one stage, that we don’t die.

Those who live in me, Jesus says, will never die.

This is a reassurance and a warning: living is now, and we are to live in Christ.
That is to be present.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sermon for All Saints' Day

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 

As often happens,our gospel reading throws up something very pertinent to what is happening in our lives around us.

As I sat down to gather up the week into this sermon,
a famous pastor in the US put up a post on his blog about the hardest part of his ministry.

In this article, he lists all the dreadful things that have happened to him:
being abused, people threatening him, all dreadful things.

He blamed all these awful things on people hating God, how Christians are persecuted, that there now has to be a great resurgence against those that oppose him and his flock.

Love your enemies

The dissonance between what he was saying and what Jesus says to us today was enormous.

I wondered if I was reading a different gospel.

I don’t believe the church is being persecuted.
I don’t think the church has enemies as such.
Not here in Australia.
It is in Egypt and countries where Christianity is a minority faith.
We don’t suffer abuse for believing in Jesus.
Our lives aren’t threatened because our belief in the Trinity.

I think our situation may indeed be even a bit more painful for us to recognise.
No one really cares about us.
No one really knows we are here.
We have become an odd little group of people that do very little of anything.
I don’t mean us, I mean the church as a whole.

It is easier for us to be like this.

If we don’t rock the boat, if we don’t stand up for those who are at the bottom, we won’t make enemies.
All we have is disinterested folks. We are basically irrelevant to most people.
And it is easier for everyone if the church remains a toothless social club.
The government or society as a whole doesn’t want us to really start acting on our beliefs.
If we were to, we would be the best troublemakers around.

If we were to start acting on the teachings of Jesus, we would very quickly gain some enemies.

 ‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.'

On account of the son of man.

That is key.
If you are going to have enemies, make sure it is because you live and speak the gospel,
not because you are a jerk or you are just plain mean.

You see, if we were to live and speak the gospel of Jesus,
very quickly we would put many offside.

I know for myself, I censor my speech because I don’t want to offend.
I do this at the pub, in the shop.
I do it here when I preach.

What would happen if we did speak up?
Where in our world is the gospel ignored the most? What parts of our lives is it difficult for us to let the gospel in?

What would Jesus have to say about the current global economic system,
a system that allows the rich to get richer, and the poor to suffer?
We know his teachings.

But then he says this:

‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 

He congratulates the poor.
He is saying they have suffered, and they will get their reward.
Jesus knows the poor have nothing to lose, so they can live their life in the gospel.
They live a live that is free from the fear of losing their goods and status.

‘But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation

And how does that sound to us?
It is pretty hard to hear.
It makes me very uncomfortable,
it hurts, it goes straight to my sense of shame.
I have received my reward.
Woe to me.

The only thing I can do about that is speak and live the gospel.
To stop being a hypocrite,
to speak the gospel where people don’t want to hear it,
to speak the gospel to you when sometimes you may not want to hear it.

If we are to have enemies, this is how to make them.
Because of the Son of Man, because of the gospel.
Not by being a jerk,
not by being uncaring,
not by thinking we are superior,
but rather by living and speaking the gospel.

Even with the best of intentions, we are going to have people who don’t like us, regardless of the gospel. There are people in lives who probably don’t like us much, for whatever reason.

Loving our enemies is hard work.
I mean, Jesus is taking the whole ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’ idea much further than we would probably like.

What does loving our enemies look like:

Do good to those who hate you.

To those that hate us for what ever reason,
whether it is deserved or not,
we are to help, comfort, give freely and treat like we would anyone we love.

Bless those that curse you.

I get cursed at sometimes. Do I bless those who do that?
No I don’t.
I get angry, I feel hurt and threatened.
I am sorry for that.
I ask God to forgive me for behaving that way.
It is a difficult lesson that I am struggling with.

Pray for those who abuse you.

And I don’t think Jesus means that kind of praying which is essentially a righteous judgement.
He means pray for them.
Pray that they will recognise God’s loving presence in their lives,
pray that whatever it is that makes them abusive is healed.

The church is not an irrelevant social club. We are not lazy uncaring people.
But the sad thing is that we are perceived as being like that.

That is something we can change, but it takes courage, patience, and honesty.

If we are honest to the call of the gospel, no one will think we are irrelevant.
Many will think we are doing what we should have all along.
Others will think we are great.
And yet others will hate, exclude, revile and defame us for doing exactly what we should be doing.
And it is then that Jesus call to us will be needed:
Love your enemies.

And by doing so, they will know we are Christians.