Todays readings for 4th After Pentecost Genesis 22:1-14 Psalm 13 Romans 6:12-23 Matthew 10:40-42
Transcript of the Sermon given by Reverend Roberta Hamilton.
Well, it has been an interesting week in Australia. We have seen the release of the Census data that tells us something about who and what we are as a nation. And it’s been a big week in the life of the church- the Census data has some interesting things to tell us about ourselves, and at the same time we have had the really major news of the charging of Pell with historical sex offenses. And while the news about Pell came out after the release and, of course, long after the collection of the data, the two things are linked. I believe that the Royal Commission has been a very big factor in the change in the figures of professing Christians. Many people have left the church, particularly the Catholic Church, and many people who were not very involved but still identified as “Christian” no longer want to be associated with the brand. And can you blame them? And this latest news about Pell being charged, regardless of whether he is ultimately found innocent or guilty, tarnishes still further the reputation of the church. That a “prince” of the church could be facing these charges, not of having turned a blind eye, but of having been a perpetrator, is devastating, not only for the Catholic Church in Australia but for the catholic, or universal church. And while we can plead our difference, in the public view we are all the same. And we are all culpable because to greater and lesser degrees we have all used power wrongly and to bad ends. You and I don’t see ourselves as powerful in any sense but we have allowed leaders to get away with things, and punished the whistle-blowers over a long period of time. We all have to take a degree of responsibility. And even if we don’t see it like that, the people who don’t go to church certainly do.
The church is now scrambling to make our procedures and policies transparent and we are all going to be affected by that. The Child Safety protocols that are coming in are the responsibility of every single one of us. And so they should be because the reality is, that whether we know it or not, we are Christ’s witnesses in the world. Every thing that we do is seen by someone, and judged to be good or not. And as the baptised, we are the body of Christ. It isn’t a choice that we make- it’s not a hat that we put on or choose not to wear today, it is who we are.
In Matthew 10 Jesus is sending his followers out, and it is a bit funny because he spends a long time talking to them about being ready but then they never, in the narrative, seem to go. And is that because rather than being a one-off journey it is the rest of their lives? The idea of being “Missionaries” doesn’t thrill us. If that was what we wanted we would have joined CMS or ABM and gone to deepest darkest Africa. But we are always on a mission. And that mission should be to demonstrate to everyone around us that God loves them and wants to be in relationship with them. This is the Gospel, or Good News of the Kingdom, that we are precious to God, even the least of us. And we should be offering people a knowledge of relationship in which they can find joy and peace. We are called to be living stones, a church built in the image of Christ himself. So, it is important that we attend to our own Spiritual lives. In fact, it is imperative because if every thing that we do is seen by others, we need to be people characterised by the fruits of the Spirit, and those fruits grow in us the more we spend our lives living in close communion with our loving God. “Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me,” Jesus says, “and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” Jesus and the Father are one and so are we! Drawn into the relationship by the work of the Holy Spirit. We are Jesus for people, and Jesus is God. Do you remember on Trinity Sunday I was talking about the great perichoretic dance of the Trinity into which we are invited? Well, we are the means of inviting others into that dance.
Jesus goes on to talk about the prophet’s reward- which isn’t quite as encouraging as it sounds, seeing what happened to most of the prophets! But I suppose it is a different kind of reward, perhaps the knowledge that we have spoken and what we have said has made a difference, and that God is pleased with our words. And the reward of the righteous is surely that they have done the right thing, behaved in a way that gives glory to God, been kind and loving, just and merciful, just like God, God’s-self. These are both fairly abstract ideas, prophecy and righteousness, but Jesus brings it down to a completely practical level, which is the giving of a cup of cold water. We understand this in Australia, don’t we? Water is life itself, and cold water is a blessing, warm water would slake your thirst, but cold water is a joy. The interesting thing is that it is not that we are giving the water to others, which is relatively easy, but rather that we are being given to. We are the guests not the hosts, all the way through this passage. If we are given a prophet’s welcome, the welcomer will receive the reward, and IF we are given a welcome for our righteousness the welcomer will receive a reward. And if we, one of the little ones, are given a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, the giver will be rewarded. The hospitality is being extended to us, as Jesus’ representatives. And in a way it is easier to see this when we think of Jesus. People have to extend a welcome to him, he doesn’t come into their lives unrequested and without their volition. Of course, God is God, and God is life itself and we all exist within the bounds of God’s love, but relationship of a more intimate kind has to be sought.
This hospitality seems to me to be mutual. God is both host and guest, and so it is for us as Christ’s representatives. This is about relationship of mutual vulnerability. The problem with the church is that we have seen ourselves only as the hosts. Over the last few decades there has been a lot of talk about an attractional model of church. The question has been, “how do we make ourselves attractive enough that people will want to come in?”. And it is a good question, but it doesn’t quite follow the pattern established here by Jesus, nor does it echo Jesus’ own experience. Jesus was constantly in trouble for eating with tax collectors and sinners. He was the guest of all kinds of people that the Pharisees considered to be inappropriate. And when we think about this we need to acknowledge that in an honour culture, every time Jesus received hospitality is put him in a position of obligation. When Jesus sends his disciples out, they are to BE welcomed, which of course, then makes them vulnerable in the system. So how does this translate to us? Well, let me say, it is much easier for us to be hosts than guests. We are set up for hosting. We have issued invitations to Open Church today and we are hoping that people will come in to us, and allow us to feed them, both figuratively and literally. But how do we become guests? It isn’t something that we know how to do, is it? And I think it comes back to the power imbalance that we touched on when we were thinking about the church at the very beginning. We are the powerful ones, we give the blessing, we enable others to be part of the church, we feed them, in the Holy Meal. So how do we become guests? We have to make ourselves vulnerable, and perhaps it needs to be done on a personal level, not an institutional one. It may be, quite soon, that the institution no longer has any wealth or power and we have to become the guests of others. Mutuality, is going to be the key, I think. Learning to both give and to receive, learning to be relational in a vulnerable way. When people receive us, remember, they are receiving Christ. And I think for each of us, this might look a little different in practical terms. But I do know this. I have moved around a lot in my life and I never really feel part of a place until someone needs me to do something for them, until I am invited to help someone. And maybe that is the key. Maybe before we can invite people into our church, they need to invite us into their lives.
The thing that is crucial, perhaps is that we see our whole lives, every moment of every day as missional. We are Christ’s witnesses, we need to be people, not of power but of vulnerability, and in our weakness there will be God’s strength.
Go into the world and preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words!