Friday, July 17, 2015

A New and Living Way

Sundays after Pentecost Proper 11 [16] Year B

“Something new begins when God’s powerful love and loving power are acted out.”

So begins one of the sources I used to shape my thoughts for you today.

Our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures reminds us of the special place King David held in Israel.  The effect of David’s reign as distinct from Saul’s was that it gathered together the dispersed tribes of Israel into ONE nation and established their settlement in the “Promised Land”.

God says through the prophet Nathan:
I have chosen a place for my people Israel and have settled them there, where they will live without being oppressed any more.  Ever since they entered this land, they have been attacked by violent people, but this will not happen again.  I promise to keep you safe from all your enemies and to give you descendants. (2 Samuel 7:10)

This declaration of faithfulness to Israel through David is echoed in the Psalm in these words:
Once and for all
I have sworn by my holiness:
I will not prove false to David. (Psalm 89:36)

It is clear that for Israel, David was the embodiment of God’s astonishing fidelity to Israel, assuring them that God would always attend to Israel’s well-being.

Very early in the development of thought about Jesus, the first Christians saw him in a line of descent from David – which was a way of saying that Jesus was also the embodiment of God’s fidelity to the citizens of this new Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed.

So when we read the letter to the Ephesians, we get a sense that Jesus is even more than what David was as an embodiment of God’s fidelity.  Through Jesus something really remarkable is brought into being – a single community of humanity which over-rides our deepest divisions.

When you think of this unity as a result of Jesus’ action among us, as an embodiment of God’s fidelity to us, then we in the church should be ashamed of our predilection to divisiveness and exclusion.  If we are “one in Christ” then we cannot afford to accommodate divisions let alone be a party to creating them.

We need to remember how remarkable this call to unity is.  In Jesus’ day the world was divided into two basic categories – Jews and Gentiles – those who were God’s people and those who were not.  And within those two groups there were sub-groups. 

When Jews spoke disparagingly of Tax Collectors and Sinners they were speaking of their own – Jewish people who were collaborators with the Romans in collecting the taxes that supported Herod and kept the Romans at bay; and those Jews who for various reasons were insufficiently observant of their obligations under the law and so were referred to as sinners.  And of course they had a definite hierarchy of despicability that applied to the various Gentile groups of people.

Jesus challenged this more by the way he lived than anything he expressly said, although some of the stories he told pointed to it.  What I am thinking of here is what we might call his “meal practices.”  Frequently, Jesus is criticised for eating with Tax collectors and sinners – which he did.  The purity codes of the Pharisees created sharp social boundaries, and people who lived by them were very careful not to eat with people whose purity status was below theirs – because impurity was contagious.

But Jesus knew that we were all sinners – and that anyone who relied on this purity code to proclaim their righteousness was just kidding themselves.  He demonstrated this by eating with tax collectors and sinners.  But I think the more important thing for us to notice about these tax collectors and sinners is that in his day these were the marginalised people, the outcasts and the untouchables. 

Jesus’ example in this calls us into participating in actions that similarly challenge social and cultural divisions and proclaim our belief that we are all in the same boat, and because of that the barriers between us are gone.

Now the passage we read today concludes with this statement:
In union with him you too are being built together with all the others into a place where God lives through his spirit. (Eph 2:22)

I think that this sense of unity we have with each other in Christ should spill over into our other relationships – beyond the church.  One expression of this is the position of Christian pacifists who will not go to war.  War, for them, is the ultimate expression of antipathy between two people, and to participate in it is to deny that we share the same humanity.  Many many Christian people have stood in that place at great personal cost.

But this unity should also be reflected in our attitude and relationships towards others in our society who are marginalised.  Who are the marginalised in your community – people you know? 

·        Are they unemployed young people who just cannot get a break with a job and are constantly being penalised by Centrelink?

·        Are they those with mental health challenges that mean they too cannot hold down a job and so face social disdain?

·        Are they those who have lived for generations in poverty and taken the view that the whole system is against them so why bother trying to get ahead?

·        Are they those whose behaviour and lifestyle challenges our view of what is normal and acceptable?

I think that the challenge of our experience of unity in Christ is to find ways to reach out to these same marginalised people in the name of Christ, because it is a fundamental expression of the nature of God as revealed to us by Jesus.

If I could just finish with a reminder of something I said at our AGM.  

I said then that I wanted us to use the words of the prophet Micah to guide our life here at Holy Cross:
What does God require of you but this?
Do Justice,
Love Compassion,
Walk Humbly with your God.  (Micah 6:8)

Jesus picks up on these very things in his ministry and teaching and lays them before us.

When you distill Jesus' teaching to a few overarching things they are this:

1.     He reveals the character and passion of God to us; and
2.     He shows us a new way of living that is truly centred on God.

The character of God that he shows us a God who is merciful or compassionate, and he says this very clearly when he puts a new slant on an old Hebrew saying:–
Be merciful as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:36)

He also shows us that God is most passionate about Justice for his people.  All that he says about the Kingdom of God is directed at contrasting this new Kingdom with the oppression and bondage of the world the people were living i: –
he has come to bring good news to the poor, proclaiming liberty to the captive, recovery of sight to the blind and freedom for the oppressed, and to announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people.  (Luke 4:18-19)

The new and living way that he speaks of is one that is centred on God and probably the two best images for this are the ideas contained in what repentance means and what dying and rising to new life means.

Repentance is vastly more than feeling sorry for the bad things we have done.  Grounded in Israel’s experience of Exile, repentance means to return from that exile.  The Way of Jesus involves us returning to God from that sense of exile.

But another deeper meaning in this word is to “to go beyond the mind that you have”.  In other words it is about seeing things in new ways.

This centring in God, the one in whom we live and move and have our being, is about Loving God utterly: to year for, to pay attention to, to commit to, to be loyal to, to value above all else.  Some Christians would say this is what it means to BELIEVE in God.  I want to change that slightly and say BELOVE God.  And BELOVING GOD means loving everything that God loves – the whole world.

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