Pentecost 11A, 2011
A Liturgy is also available
LIFE’S INVITATION IS TO BE CREATIVE
I have always felt the saying fragments of Jesus
and the stories from the early Jesus Movement about those sayings,
were for the reality of life as it is being lived,
and not something for a so-called cosmic ‘hereafter’.
Such is the purpose, I reckon, of this morning’s gospel story
as shaped and told by the storyteller we have called Matthew.
We will never actually know what was going through his mind when,
according to the storyteller, stumbling, crumbling Simon Peter took Jesus aside
and tried to get Jesus to change his way of doing things,
of saying things, in the face of the political decision making of his day.
I admit to thinking many times Simon was a bit ‘thick’,
living up to his nickname of ‘stony ground’ rather than ‘rocky’,
because he always seemed to be doing or saying the wrong thing.
But perhaps he really wasn’t so ‘thick’ on this occasion.
He’d seen the way the Romans dealt with people who had radical ideas.
Talk about an empire of God
was especially revolutionary to their ears,
and a challenge to the empire of Caesar, Son of God.
And chances are he had experienced for himself
the imaginatively dead fundamentalism of religious leaders.
So Simon had fashioned for himself a philosophy of survival...
And what Jesus was saying and doing
was definitely outside Peter’s philosophy of
‘never rock the boat’ when it comes to fishing or religion or politics.
Matthew is a storyteller.
And a storyteller’s imagination is necessary to the life of religion.
In this particular collection Matthew has taken several stories
well know in his small community, as well as
borrowing directly from another storyteller we call Mark,
and reshaped the story of Jesus needing to go to Jerusalem,
into a teaching moment for his community.
Now, many of today’s biblical scholars are of the opinion
that while Jesus may well have anticipated
he would run into some kind of serious conflict in Jerusalem,
they also agree he did not have any special foreknowledge of his death.
What we have here is the storyteller Matthew
looking back over some 50 to 60 years or so, on past events or stories,
rather than looking forward to some expected future event.
So while we can only ever work with story fragments,
Jesus’ vision of God or the sacred, of wisdom beyond convention,
of the central traditions or stories of Israel’s heritage, and
his sensitivity to the poor and marginalised,
struck his hearers as truly radical... and for some, as very risky.
And because of all of this ‘political’ stuff, Jesus died on a Roman cross.
Not because of some preordained cosmic Divine Plan or Purpose
which required his execution as a so-called act of redemption through blood.
But because he was unwilling to compromise his vision
of a possible re-imagined world.
The world of news and international events, flood in on all of us everyday.
Over the past few months our (Australian) national news has been full of:
• carbon emissions, big business and mining reaction, and the prospects of a Carbon Tax emissions legislation;
• the seemingly never-ending negativity by the Leader of the Opposition - to everything;
• yet another Australian soldier killed in the war in Afghanistan;
• the High Court challenge to the pending Malaysian deal on 'boat people' to Australia, and
• large scale riots in London and other parts of Britain.
This world can be kind and it can be cruel.
It can be beautiful and it can be appalling.
It can give us good reason to hope and good reason to give up hope.
In the words of British radical theologian, Don Cupitt:
“…our life is only a bundle of stories, mostly half-finished. We are and will for the most part remain a lot of loose ends… nevertheless our life still matters” (Cupitt 1995:153, 154).
In what I reckon are still a couple of excellent newspaper articles,
two social analysts - Ross Gittins and Hugh Mackay -
commented on our social well-being
and the ‘losing’ and ‘gaining’ our lives.
Ross Gittins’ Sydney Morning Herald article some years back, asked:
What effect do economic policies have on family life?
Is it simply a matter of being more wealthy?
What other very important aspects of our lives are we giving up
in the pursuit of the dollar?
Do economists care? (Gittins SMH, Wednesday 24 August 2005: 13).
Now I mention this article, not to stir your political or professional blood,
although that in itself is not a bad thing.
But to suggest that when politicians and big business claim
we must do everything we can to make the economy more efficient,
and as a by-product - ourselves richer,
they always put money ahead of relationships
with family, friends and neighbours.
Which made Hugh Mackay’s Canberra Times article so interesting.
Also written some years back now, Hugh Mackay’s comments
caution how the national capital has the distinction
of showing some of the most extreme changes in significant social trends,
brought about by both its low birth rate and high transient population.
"For neighbourhoods and communities, what (these changes mean) is the 'social lubricant' which worked so brilliantly traditionally - namely kids who form relationships in the playground, on the school bus, playing in the street - is in shorter supply than ever before. So we can't rely on kids to put us in touch with each other the way we might have traditionally done" (Hugh Mackay,Canberra Times 8/2005, quoted by Doherty).
So one of the suggestions that was tabled for consideration at the time by the
government sponsored ACT Community Inclusion Board
was the creation of a Neighbourhood Day...
to prevent people from ‘slipping through the net’ in a fast-changing world.
I’m not sure if it ever happened, but it was
an interesting if not challenging, observation.
What of us? How do we ‘gain’ or ‘lose’ our lives?
Perhaps you might like to ponder this observation or two.
If Mackay’s comments have any ring of truth about them, because they are about us,
maybe it is this... that we are in constant danger of being,
not actors in the drama of our own lives, but reactors. (Buechner/www).
Reactors try to tighten their personal worldviews around them to protect themselves.
Actors allow their lives to have spaces in them, and
to greet life as ‘invitation’ rather than as ‘plan’.
An invitation... in spite of the present economic circumstances or
political arguments and/or grandstanding,
to create our world, our community, our congregation, differently.
For one’s life is enriched or blessed when one is prepared
to step out of an individualistic status quo existence
onto a path made for adventure and creativity - and relationships!
And if that means rocking some political or church boat a bit more,
then I reckon, so be it!
Because theology is always an ongoing activity of fresh, imaginative, and re-construction
of our understanding of the world and of God,
and of human life in the world and under God.
Cupitt, D. 1995. What is a Story? GtB: London. SCM.