19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (8 August 2010)

It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom

Readings
Hebrews 11.1-3, 8-16
Luke 12.32-40

For the rest of the month of August, we have  a series: we’re looking at Mission and Stewardship. So to begin, I want to share a quotation with you that I hope you will remember always:

The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.

William Temple, who was Archbishop of Canterbury during the early part of the Second World War, said that. ‘The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.’

It’s a great thought, isn’t it? The Church exists so that others may benefit. I think it’s a tremendous thought. Problem: I suspect that many church members don’t believe it. Or if they do, they don’t realise the implications.

Because while it is a great and a tremendous thought, it’s not a nice and consoling thought. It’s really quite a disturbing thought.

The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.

Why is that a disturbing thought? Let me ask another question: Are you a member of the Church? The Church doesn’t exist for your benefit. I’m a member of the Church. The Church doesn’t exist for my benefit. The Church is the Body of Christ—we are the Body of Christ—so we exist for the benefit of those who are outside the Body. The Church does not exist to meet your needs or mine.

Last year, we went through a process of mapping out our strategic goals—which are not for our benefit, but for the benefit of those who are not members. Here they are:

  1. Nurture within our church a sense of community.
  2. Develop a congregation focussed on discipleship.
  3. Share with others our faith in God.
  4. Connect newcomers with our church community.
  5. Assist others to experience God’s justice.
  6. Model to others our respect for God’s creation.
  7. Enhance our capacity to live God’s mission.

Today, we’re looking at two of these strategic goals:

Nurture within our church a sense of community.
Connect newcomers with our church community.

These two have a word in common: ‘community’.

We all have some idea of what ‘community’ means. Some of us have even been let down by communities we’ve belonged to, including the church community.

Let’s not quibble though about the meaning of words, even important words, central words like ‘community’.

Let’s listen to Jesus instead. And he says:

‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom…’

Now, these are wonderful words. ‘Do not be afraid.’ We talked last week about fear. Remember? St Paul tells us that ‘your life is hidden with Christ in God’—so nothing, absolutely no-thing, can touch the real ‘you’ and the real ‘me’.

We were reminded of the farmer who wanted to store his grain in bigger barns, the man God called ‘Fool’, the man who was living out of his fears and anxieties.

We see it in the faces of people we pass in the street. Anxiety rules.

No, God rules. God is sovereign, and it is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom. You know, like Jesus’ favourite prayer: ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done’—where?—‘on earth as in heaven.’

It is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom on earth. In the words of the children’s story we heard earlier, it is ‘God’s Dream’. One day, ‘the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea’ (Isaiah 11.9; cf. Habakkuk 2.14). We look for that day to come on day, but more than that, we look for it now. We want to live it now. We’re not waiting!

We look for signs of God’s kingdom. Paul says ‘the kingdom of God is…righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.’ When we see these things, we are seeing signs of God’s kingdom. When we see people being freed and fed and clothed and housed, we are seeing the signs of the kingdom. It’s coming. It’s here.

It’s God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom. To give us ‘righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.’ To set people free from their anxieties and fears. ‘Do not be afraid, little flock…’ We may not be huge, but we are the Body of Christ.

God has been generous to us. God wants us to be generous too. Paul says, ‘Welcome one another, just as Christ has welcomed you.’ Jesus says, Don’t hang on to things that steal your heart. Get rid of whatever takes your heart away from God. Or, more accurately,

Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Last week we spoke of what it means to live as baptised people: it means to die to the false self and put on Christ. It means to let go before you take on. It means to find the true treasure, which is Jesus the Lord.

Jesus takes it for granted that when we receive the kingdom, we will let go of the things that seduce us away from the kingdom.

The epistle reading today is from chapter 11 of Hebrews, the wonderful ‘Faith Chapter’. We are reminded of heroes of the Old Testament who lived and died by faith, men and women like Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Rahab. They knew that God was bringing the kingdom, but they died without ever seeing it. Unlike them, we see it; but like them, we see it by faith.

It’s good to be reminded of what comes immediately after Hebrews 11. Hebrews 12.1 says:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…

Lay aside every weight. Lay aside the sin that clings so closely. Sell your possessions. Die to the false self.

Why do that? Because it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom. Isn’t that amazing? It brings pleasure to the heart of the eternal God to give us the kingdom. There’s nothing we can give for it; it is sheer gift to us. God must love us—there’s no other explanation!

So if this is true; if we are given the kingdom as a gift, if we are to receive it with joy, if we are to live without fear, what does that mean for strategic goals 1 and 4?

Nurture within our church a sense of community.
Connect newcomers with our church community.

Everything we have that is good is a gift from God. Since we can’t lose this gift, the only reasonable thing to do is to share it. We have been welcomed into the family, so we welcome others.

We are a community in Jesus Christ; it’s a sign of the kingdom that God is bringing into being. That’s why we aim to ‘nurture a sense of community’.

This is a community of reconciliation and forgiveness. It’s not perfect; it’s got its flaws. Sometimes it seems we just don’t get it. But it is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom, and the community we know in Christ is a real part of that kingdom.

So when we don’t get it, we know one thing: we need to let go of something. It may be something we’ve held onto for a long time; nevertheless, we let go of it.

Nurturing a sense of community leads us to connecting newcomers into that community. How do we do that? We have a newcomers ministry that seeks to do this, but notice: all of us have a part to play.

If we have been welcomed by Christ, then we are to welcome others. If God has been gracious to us, we are to be gracious to others. It’s Christianity 101. We don’t have to be in the newcomers ministry for that! We can smile at people, we can pass the peace to people we don’t know. We can hold out a hand to a new person. If we’re not good at talking, we can get someone who is good to come with us.

But there’s more. This is a pretty multicultural congregation. We have welcomed people from Singapore, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Holland, Ppua New Guinea, Wales, Korea, Spain and Sri Lanka. We’ve even welcomed folk from Yorkshire. On Pentecost, we had greetings of peace in several languages. We can say ‘Peace’ like this:

Sa maa thaa num (Thamil)
Rugare (Shona)
Paz (Spanish)
Pyong wha (Korean)
Vrede (Afrikaans)
Peace (Yorkshire!)

We are a community of reconciliation which includes people of different races. We can live out ‘God’s Dream’. But we are in a time when Australia seems to be less and less welcoming to people from beyond our shores. In such a time, we need to value what God has given us: a diverse community which witnesses to the reconciling power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom…’

We have received the good gift of the Father; we then give it to others. Let’s always remember: the Church exists for the sake of those outside, not inside.

In the words of our children’s story today, God’s Dream by Desmond Tutu:

Will you help God’s dream come true? Let me tell you a secret…

God smiles like a rainbow when you do.

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