Monthly Archives: August 2019

Living in the tension

Reading
Luke 12.49–56

 

I have often repented of judging too severely, but very seldom of being too merciful. — John Wesley, Letters to John C Brackenbury, #656

———————-

The sermon I’m about to preach had a few false starts. I started it at least four times with different ideas. That happens from time to time. Sometimes, in working out how to approach a difficult sermon, I take a personal approach. Which is what I’m doing today. 

Why was it so hard to write? I didn’t want to avoid difficult verses like this, but I didn’t know quite what to say: 

I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!… Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three…

Division isn’t easy. 

I’ve been divided from people because of my faith. Let me tell you about one or two times. 

I had a sudden conversion experience; I’ll tell you more about it another time. It was at a Billy Graham rally, and a couple of days afterwards I plucked up the courage to tell my dad. 

Dad was not best pleased. He told me not to post back the study material I’d been given, because all I’d get would be ‘begging letters’. He told me he’d believe what Billy Graham had to say if he rode into town on a donkey rather than flying in on a jet plane. 

That was my first taste of division, and of how complex divisions really can be. Hear again what my dad said: he’d believe what Billy Graham had to say if he rode into town on a donkey rather than flying in on a jet plane. 

Dad was saying that he was prepared to give a hearing to someone who truly followed Jesus. But he wasn’t prepared to listen to a man he believed (wrongly, in my opinion) was only in it for the money. 

This is a story of necessary division. When Jesus is there, we ultimately need to make a choice. Will we follow, or turn away? 

(By the way, my dad eventually listened to the voice of Jesus. But that’s a story for another day.)

The second division came a few years later. I was going to my best friend at school’s church. I mean, why not go to your best friend’s church, right? 

It was an Open Brethren outfit, a fundamentalist group who insisted that there were no errors or contradictions in the Bible; that the earth was 6000 years old; and only men could offer leadership in the church. What’s more, expressing any doubt or having other opinions was questionable or even sinful, and thoroughly discouraged. 

Before long the Vietnam War was getting close to home, and I was studying medicine at uni. The things I was being taught at church seemed very simplistic when I put them next to what I was learning at uni, and next to the problems we were facing as a country. The church’s teachings seemed like kindergarten stuff compared to what I was hearing and discovering elsewhere. 

To relieve the tension I felt, I read widely about the Christian faith. I realised that if I was learning Medicine at a university level I would have to educate myself as much as I could about the faith I believed. 

Problem: the more I read and learned, the more I realised that a fundamentalist way of thinking made very little sense. 

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under RCL, sermon

Hope not fear … fresh words and deeds

Reading
Luke 12.32–40

1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore”—“Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.

2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters. — from Laudato Si’, Encyclical of Pope Francis

———————-

In the 1930s, dark storm clouds were gathering over the peoples of the world. The Nazi Party had come to power in Germany, and the other nations were watching with great anxiety. What would Adolf Hitler do? 

The churches of Germany found out quite quickly what Hitler would do. A program was begun of 

  • downplaying the Old Testament; 
  • declaring that Jesus was not a Jew, but of the so-called ‘Aryan race’; 
  • pushing baptised members who were of Jewish descent and other so-called ‘non-Aryans’ out of the life of the church; 
  • and of emphasising ‘manliness’ over ‘feminine’ values. The churches were pressured to put ‘German values’ above the gospel. 

This was the time that the ‘Confessing Church’ emerged. The Confessing Church was determined to keep the good news of Jesus Christ at the centre of the church’s life. The Confessing Church was a church of resistance, which numbered among its members the pastors Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemöller. 

It was a frightening time. The Nazi regime was reinforcing its grip on the whole of German society, including the church. 

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Church & world, RCL, sermon

Stuff gets in the way

Readings
Colossians 3.1–11
Luke 12.13–21

 

The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat hanging in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you put into the bank belongs to the poor. You do wrong to everyone you could help but fail to help. — Basil of Caesarea (c.330–c.379), ‘On Greed’, a sermon on the Parable of the Rich Fool

———————-

Luke’s Gospel emphasises in several places that riches can get in the way of being a disciple of Jesus. Today, Luke illustrates this with a parable of a rich man, a farmer.

A good farmer, a successful farmer. A farmer whose barns couldn’t hold everything he had grown—so he decided that he needed to build bigger barns. 

What other option was there? 

There was no other option in the limited world that this farmer lived in. It’s a good exercise to look at how many time the words ‘I’ and ‘my’ appear in the parable:

There was once a rich man who had land which bore good crops. He began to think to himself, ‘I don’t have a place to keep all my crops. What can I do? This is what I will do,’ he told himself; ‘I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, where I will store the grain and all my other goods. Then I will say to myself, Lucky man! You have all the good things you need for many years. Take life easy, eat, drink, and enjoy yourself!’

Who figures in this man’s life? No one but him. There’s no one else. He only thinks of himself, and he even talks only to himself! 

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Baptism, parables of Jesus, RCL, sermon