Todays readings for 3rd After Pentecost Genesis 21:8-21 Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17 Romans 6:1-11 Matthew 10:24-39
Transcript of the Sermon given by Reverend Roberta Hamilton.
Every so often you come to a week in the lectionary where, as the preacher, you just want to throw up your hands and run away from the pulpit, or perhaps, ring up your Curate and suggest that they need a little more experience and maybe they should preach this week- I should have done that…. but I didn’t. And indeed, I have decided to take up the challenge.
These words, spoken by Jesus are not encouraging words. They follow on from last week’s passage when Jesus is sending out his disciples and informing them that it will be very difficult for them if they follow in his footsteps.
This week we come to the pointy end when Jesus explains to them the kind of persecutions that they are going to experience if they follow him and are his disciples. And it is still true today. We don’t have a choice- we are sent out- of course, some of us, don’t do much that might bring us into conflict with others, but like it or not we are Christ’s witnesses here on earth.
Jesus tells us that it will be the same for us as it is for him, that when we tell the truth and bring things into the light it may cause division. Let me just point out that when he says that he comes, “not to bring peace, but a sword,” it is not a call to war, as of course, it has often been used. Rather, it is a reference to division, a sword being the machete of Jesus’ world. I don’t want to get into the business of “just war” here but the killing of innocent people that goes on in war would never be what God desired, as far as I can see.
No, the sword here is a symbol of the divisiveness that comes when we speak truth into our world. There are many things that need to be said, at this moment and if we are people who choose to ignore injustice so that we don’t cause any ripples, we are not doing what Jesus asks of us here. If we love father and mother, son or daughter more than we love the righteousness that God calls us to, then we have a problem.
Now the difficulty immediately arises that often you hear very self-righteous people, speaking out to family members about what they think is unrighteous behaviour. We have all heard about someone who has told their gay child that they don’t want to see them again, because they think it’s unrighteous behaviour, haven’t we? Is that what I mean? Well, no, it isn’t. The difference is that Jesus always wants us to act in love, to be kind and helpful to people. The real problems are the kind where the needs or wants of one group are being unfairly put above another group. I am thinking about things like the Adani Mine. Someone, and we are not sure who apart from their shareholders, is getting to have what they want, at a cost to the environment and therefore us and future generations. I suspect that whoever it is that is gaining financially by this doesn’t give a toss about what it will do to the environment. And when we weigh it in the balance, the cost in terms of greenhouse gasses, of destruction of pastoral land, of water usage, not to mention the indigenous sacred sights, all for coal, which we know needs to stay in the ground, and rhetoric about jobs, which is simply untrue, we should as Christians be up in arms. Our creator God gave us the land to nurture. We are to be good stewards so purely on that basis we should be deeply moved. And indeed the Christians should be the loudest of all the environmentalists because it is God’s creation that humans are destroying very rapidly. However, the cost to other, vulnerable human beings, the little ones, as Jesus calls them, is enormous. As the planet warms, it is the most marginalised people who will be affected first. Our brothers and sisters in the Pacific are losing land, not measured in millimetres but in centimetres, each year. The poor farmers all around the world are being affected by rising temperatures and by changing rainfall. Many Australians who live in comfort in cities, and who buy their groceries at a low cost in a supermarket have no idea of the impact on farming people all around the world. Climate change will create more and more people seeking refuge, climate change and particularly water shortages are going to lead to wars. There are complex consequences of the decisions that people are making, and sadly the decisions are often made on the basis either of short term financial gain, or on the basis of popularity, with the next election in view.
This all sounds very political doesn’t it? And indeed Christian leaders have often been told to stay out of politics. The problem that confronts me is that Jesus seems to expect me to speak out, just as he did, about injustice, and about things that are wrong. He tells us that the things that come out of the darkness into the light will cause trouble. He himself found trouble when he spoke out politically. Jesus even seems to be preparing us for death, if we speak out. “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear more the one who can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna.” And it is true that people, in our world are killed for speaking out. Not so frequently in our society, of course. But, Jesus tells us that if we acknowledge him before others, he will acknowledge us before God. It is far more important to be right before God than to worry about what someone here might do to you. And the reason is that human life is very valuable. God cares even for the sparrows that seem to be of little account, he sees the death of every one of them. And as for us, every hair of our heads is numbered. The point Jesus is making is that all life, everything that he has created, is precious to him. And each person, you and me living in comfort in Camberwell, is no more or less valuable to God than the person who lives in Addis Ababa, or Manila on the rubbish dumps, or Gehennas of this world.
And that is the bottom line. We need to both speak and act to protect God’s precious creation, humans and the other animals, the plants and the atmosphere. God values every bit of it.
And this is potentially divisive. A vicar I know told me that she read out the letter that our Archbishop sent earlier in the year about refugees and a couple left her church as she was “too political”. We do face criticism by all sorts of people who want to protect their own power base or wealth. These people might be our children, or our siblings, or our friends. But we have to take up the cross and follow Jesus when it is a matter of justice for the little ones, the human beings that the world sees as about as valuable as a sparrow, or indeed the sparrows themselves and their habitat.
The difficulty for me is that there are so many problems that I don’t know which one to try to help with first. I understand that there is only so much that each of us can do, which is why I have been putting my energy into the particular fight for the fair and just treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. For me, these are the little ones that Jesus has encouraged me to see. I am very interested in other questions, particularly that of climate science, and the implications of where our greed is taking us. I am also very concerned for the plight of our home grown homeless, and other disadvantaged and marginalised people, particularly our indigenous brothers and sisters. In fact there are not enough hours in the day to advocate for all the different causes. Jesus, when he was on earth dealt with each person as they arose, and indeed even Jesus was overwhelmed at times by the need he saw all around him. We are fragile and limited as individuals, and cannot always achieve the outcomes that we perceive as being in the best interests of other people or of our equally fragile world. That is where the strength of our brothers and sisters come in. Even though I can’t do it all, I can support those of Jesus’ followers who are dealing with the other things.
Jesus left the temporal sphere in order that the Holy Spirit might come amongst as and make us into the body of Christ. And when you think of us as the body of Christ, it becomes even more obvious that we have to act in a way that brings God’s agenda to the fore. God’s agenda is always to be caring for other humans and for the planet. So let me encourage you to pick up the burden of the courage of your convictions. Let me encourage you to take up your cross, regardless of what it might cost you, because, “whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”