Todays readings for 6th Sunday After Easter - (St. Dunstan's Day) Acts of the Apostles 17: 22-31 Psalm 31: 1-5, 17-18 1 Peter 3: 8-22 John 10: 14-15-21
Transcript of the Sermon given by Reverend Roberta Hamilton
Today is a wonderful day in the life of our church. It is the 91st birthday, and we all have to agree that 91 is a notable age to have achieved. Of course compared to the 2,000 odd years that the church universal, has been around it is not so very long. However, there has been such an amazing rate of change in society during the lifespan of this church, that to still be here is an achievement in itself. When this church of St Dunstan began there was still the necessity that people should be able to walk to church. When my mother lived in Camberwell as a child in the 1920s she and her family used the trams to go any kind of distance, or they walked. And my mother used to talk to me about going down to the Junction on the tram, but there were days when she would use her threepence for the return journey for something to eat and walk home instead. As a country child I had not much concept, as I had only been on a tram occasionally, but now that I am here and know that she, who lived in Lockhart Street, was at Camberwell Grammar I can see it was quite a walk. But people could and did walk in those days. And we have the legacy of that, lots and lots of churches, in what today seems a small area, all with their different characters.
And I believe that we at St Dunstan’s have something very particular to offer the people around us. I’ll come back to that in a minute but first I want to consider St Paul for a moment.
Paul, with Timothy and Silas has been wandering about bringing the knowledge that we could be in relationship with God, to Asia Minor. He falls foul of the Jews in Thessalonica, where even so, a church was planted, and then in Beroea, where things go well at first then deteriorate and they pack him off to Athens alone.
Paul, once in Athens, is distressed by the number of idols in the city. He goes to the synagogue and argues with the Jews, then he goes to the marketplace where the philosophers, both Epicurean and Stoic call him a “babbler”. He fronts up to the Areopagus, or Mars Hill as we might call it and debates there with the philosophers who were very ready to hear him, because they loved to debate. We read what he said to them this morning. Now it strikes me that of you go through the book of Acts each sermon to a different audience is quite different, and that should tell us something- that it is important to consider our context, the place in which we are functioning, before we begin to speak of God to others. We can be like Paul and feel very distressed by the way our society is groping for God, and sometimes we feel as if we have nothing to say to a world that looks for God in places so diverse, and to us, foolish. But whether or not it distresses us we can learn from Paul.
Paul begins by affirming their desire for God. All human beings are seeking for the divine, whether they understand it or not. Even those who pin their faith in science do so with the same kind of religious fervour often, as the most Pentecostal Christian among us. Those who worship at the shrine of football are passionate, those who worship at the shrine of money cannot see how others might not! There are many other idols in our society because it is the human condition to seek after God, we all yearn to regain the intimacy of relationship that we had in the mythical garden. Paul himself tells the Athenians that they “grope” for God, as he tries to bring them into an awareness of who God is and how they might recognise him. He assures them, in the words of their own poets that they are God’s offspring and that in God, they live and move and have their being. This is the reality, it is just that humans don’t always know how to recognise God.We struggle to be aware of God and the relationship that we can have with God. And that is still the reality. We, human beings, are made in God’s image for relationship with God and it is our job, not to tell people that they have it wrong, but to help them to discover the richness that they can have in relationship with God. And the way that we preach that sermon has to do with the context that we find ourselves. Sometimes words are great, and other times our actions speak louder than words. We are to be a beacon for others, visible because of our deeds of love.
And that is the message for us from 1 Peter. The writer of this letter is writing to a congregation living with persecution and difficulty, much more immediate than the kind of difficulty that we are experiencing, though no more real. They are being encouraged to live as people characterised by a unity of spirit, sympathy and love for one another. They are to be people of tender hearts and humble minds, who are not vindictive but are people who give blessing to others. This is what the writer describes as righteousness. They are told that they might suffer because they do good, but that they are to do it anyway because Christ is sanctified in their hearts. And then, when they are asked about their actions for others they have to be ready to give their ‘defence’ that is they have to be prepared to be witnesses to God. And isn’t that the same for us? A couple of years ago I took part in a “Love Makes a Way” campaign- praying in the office of a politician to protest the children and their families who were being detained, without charge or trial, on Nauru. I had a tender heart, moved by the Holy Spirit that persuaded me that at whatever cost to myself I needed to speak out on behalf of those who had no other advocate. For doing that I, and those with me, were arrested. That was really not very serious in its consequences as we were not actually charged for praying in the politician’s office all day. Of course, many of the other groups who protested similarly did end up in court, and I was prepared to live with the consequences of being charged. However, many people questioned me about why I had done it, from among the Anglican Church and outside. There were many who thought that Christians, particularly ministers, should stay right out of politics, and I was able to gently point out that Jesus got crucified because he was a political being. Jesus asked the difficult questions about the treatment of the poor and excluded, regardless of the consequences. Some thought I had behaved inappropriately and that I had brought the church into disrepute. But others, within and without the church wanted to hear why I was so concerned about refugees and I was able to share with them my conviction that we are all made in the image of God and need to be respected and treated with the dignity that being God bearers deserves.People learnt more about the fact that God loved them, and everyone else, in that process. And people were affirmed in their desire for good,because love is at the heart of it all. Love is the answer. Jesus, in this great discourse at the end of his life, has been telling his disciples all about love- loving God, loving him and loving each other. And he says that if we love him and keep his commandments-which are to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves, (ultimately the same thing, I think), he will send the comforter, or advocate to be with us.
This is the Holy Spirit. Now the disciples probably would have preferred that Jesus stayed with them, but that would have been a temporal solution and short term at that. Instead we have been given the eternal power of the Holy Spirit so that we are not orphaned. And isn’t that a lovely way of expressing the truth. We often fear being left alone, to fend for ourselves, but God assures us that God is with us. God is with us through the good times and the difficult, and God will help us to do the difficult things that must be done. Jesus promises that he will help us, through the Holy Spirit to keep his commandments, to help us to love.
So here we are, in this place, at this time, trying to keep God’s commandments to love. We, the people of St Dunstan’s, are called to be God’s witnesses here in our world to the fact that each person is made in God’s image and is loved by God, and that even more than that, God wants them to join the great and eternal dance of love. That is our mission, that is why we are gathered here together. That is why we are here now, because God loves us and blesses us in each other, and wants us to share that with those around us.
So friends, this morning I ask you to give thanks for what you have, what you are and what you experience here at St Dunstan’s.