Here is my message for August 25.
2013 08 25 Unshakable Kingdom Hebrews 12; Luke 12:43-56
Bjorn, out of paranoia, decided to build the perfect shelter: able to withstand 300 km/h winds; 100 m higher than any potential flood; designed to stand up even after a Richter 9 earthquake; able to endure 24 hours of a severe fire; resistant to bullets and small bombs. He had a 5000 L tank of water, a year’s supply of food; and a generator with enough fuel to last at least a year. He decided to test it out and had to quit after 3 days because he forgot about the need to get rid of human wastes.
We humans tend to be control freaks, and one of the things we are inclined to try to control are the risks in our lives. One of the risks is our social context, especially the balance between our freedom, and the freedom of others, and between our freedom and our security in terms of food, shelter, finances, faith, and public safety. We tend to seek the peace of a lack of disruption and threat. This would be like the peace of ancient Egypt in the time of Moses when a great effort was made to limit the influence of those foreign Israelites, even though they were mostly slaves. God seems to have little interest in that kind of peace as shown by what happened to the Egyptians and to the Roman Empire 300 years after Jesus. A lot of people are experiencing anxiety today because of the uncertainty of the global economy. Our current system puts money ahead of the well-being of individuals, families, communities, nations and the environment. We have ceased being citizens and are now consumers or voters. We have the bizarre reality that the economies of many countries including Canada and the US depend on the growth of our indebtedness to China as the Chinese economy grows.
At the time of Jesus, the Jewish religious and political leaders walked a fragile line between being tolerated by the Romans and having their authority accepted by the Jewish people. They had to discourage the zealots out to imitate the Maccabees by getting rid of the Romans with violence. The Maccabees were Jewish leaders who succeeded in rebelling against the Seleucid Empire and restoring the status of Judah as a Jewish state with proper worship. The zealots thought God would help them win against the Romans just as they believed it was the hand of God that helped the Maccabees to their victory. Discouraging the zealots was a tricky task because it risked losing the loyalty of many other Jews, and because many of the leaders were sympathetic to the zealot’s cause. As the financial and social cost of supporting the Roman Empire and the Jewish leadership grew, more and more people were wanting liberation. At the same time, the behaviour and words of the religious leaders felt wrong to many ordinary Jewish people. The situation in Judah was like a dried out pine forest, ready to burst into flames, and Jesus came like a match with his charismatic style, pointed stories, and cutting to the bone preaching and teaching. And the fire he started is still burning. The choice between serving the establishment and serving God divided families then, and continues to divide families and churches. There are over 43,000 separate Christian organizations in the world, of which about 30,000 are independent churches, mostly in Africa. The remaining represent as many as 1000 different denominations. The fire still burns. The cause of the fire is pointed to by the author of Hebrews. For God is not an indifferent bystander. He’s actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn, and he won’t quit until it’s all cleansed. God himself is Fire!
The author of Hebrews was writing to people surprised by divisions in their community and wondering what happened to the peace they though Jesus promised. They did not see the control freak side of people which seeks comfort in conformity leading to persistent failure in providing space for each person to come to Jesus on their own terms. We see this today in religious leaders of all faiths who condemn in the name of God all those behaviours that make them uncomfortable, violating the commandment not to take God’s name in vain.
Jesus offered simple but difficult guidelines to right relationship with God and one another: love one another as he loved us; do not worry about the little things like food or clothing or status; do not judge others; love God with all we are and have; practice patient, persistent forgiveness.
For over 1700 years, church leaders tended to build working relationships with political leaders, and became unable much of the time to see the difference between what was good for the state and how people should behave or believe. Church leaders who cater to political and economic leaders are sometimes successful and sometimes discovering they have ceased being seen as useful to the powerful, and are increasingly disregarded. Ordinary people came to see them as self-serving and stopped respecting them. Modern communication and education has led to churches being judged by people, and often found wanting.
Again from Hebrews: “One last shaking, from top to bottom, stem to stern.” The phrase “one last shaking” means a thorough housecleaning, getting rid of all the historical and religious junk so that the unshakable essentials stand clear and uncluttered.
We are in a time when we have to get rid of the historical and religious junk so we can focus on the essentials.
For me the essentials are outlined by our creed.
To celebrate God’s presence: here we do this with music, joyful and caring fellowship, the candle garden, and the beauty of our windows and worship space. We are working on sprucing up some aspects of our building so that it looks more like we care about this building and this space. I hope we will add new opportunities for other people to celebrate God’s presence here in worship at other times in other styles.
To live with respect in creation: I am not sure how well we do this, or what we can do to show more respect, and I hope we will be able to explore this.
To love and serve others: welcoming new comers at coffee time; prayer shawls; sandwiches for the drop in centre, support for Acadia House, phone calls and visiting; support for many other causes — I see this as an area of strength, and, because of our strengths, I believe we can do more, especially for lonely individuals and struggling families in this community.
To seek justice and resist evil: you support clergy whose preaching can be quite pointed in this way, and many of you as individuals work for justice. I wonder if we have opportunities to walk humbly with God seeking justice as a congregation.
To proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen: while I believe we do this, I believe it may be our toughest challenge, to express our faith with words that make sense to others with actions consistent with our words in ways that connect with others.
Getting rid of the historical and religious junk can be a very painful process, and it can be hard to get our house totally clean. Decades after the ordination of Lydia Gruchy, some people still have issues with women in ministry. 25 years after 1988, the acceptance of the equality of all people regardless of sexual issues is still incomplete. Some churches still have bitter fights over things like the locations of the pulpit and the Lord’s Table, or even the choice of translation to be used in worship.
When we succeed at focusing on the essentials, we can experience surprising successes in other ways.
Getting there has the greatest possibility of success if we can follow the guidelines offered by Jesus. Here they are again: love one another as he loved us; do not worry about the little things like food or clothing or status; do not judge others; love God with all we are and have; practice patient, persistent forgiveness.
God is good, all the time.
All the time______________
Thanks be to God.