Pentecost 3A, 2011
A Liturgy is also available
OFFERING HOPE! NEW HABITS OF SEEING AND DOING
In the old language of faith God is separated from us.
God is a master, a king, a supernatural being,
separated from common or ordinary folk.
As a result, much of our own understanding until recently, was influenced
by this kingly and removed character of God.
It is often called ‘neo-orthodoxy’.
In the language of Jesus, God is liberated from this kind of thinking.
And so are common or ordinary people.
Jesus’ ‘yoke’ enabled these invisible people
- those who didn’t know the law or were poor, landless peasants -
to stand up,
to be counted,
to be seen as having value.
And as such, to be preserved.
This is also, I would suggest, our invitation as 21st century Christians.
Let me tell you a story…
A parish minister in the South American country of Chile
was distributing food for the poor of his village.
A village caught in the crossfire of civil war.
He was distributing the food which he had been given by friends in North America
when he was arrested and sent to a prison in Santiago.
The prison was overcrowded. About 150 men were living there.
All in a room the size of our paved courtyard.
He took over the role of chaplain.
He held daily devotions
and bible study for his fellow-prisoners.
When he was released the other prisoners
wrote their names on his back with burnt matches.
It was November and the weather was warm.
As it happened he got out without being stripped and searched.
So he went to the local Peace Committee.
Most of the names - names of people
who were listed as having ‘disappeared’ - were still legible.
The names turned up,
written with burnt matches on a prisoner's back.
The hour of silence was at an end...
The names written in black charcoal, became signs of hope.
A hope which could not be blotted out by
the threat of torture,
the terror of silence
or even by the softer terror of oblivion. (Solle 1981:112-13)
There are many other such events in our own Australian or Western history
which tell of one group seeking to
silence, another group.
Having spent some time in ministry in Tasmania I have developed
a new sensitivity to my own Presbyterian/Scottish tradition...
The Disarming Act of 1746, for instance,
and how it hastened the collapse of the clan system in Scotland.
For 36 years the punishment for anyone convicted
of either bearing arms or wearing the tartan,
was six months in jail for the first offence,
and transportation for seven years for the second.
And perhaps as much as anywhere else in Australia but certainly in Tasmania,
we knew about the evils of the British transportation system.
People, who were transported to Port Arthur and other places
in the hell called Van Dieman’s Land (now Tasmania),
for 50 years - from 1803 to 1853.
People, 160,000 of them in total, sentenced to transportation to this country,
and who ranged in age from a
nine year old chimney sweep
to an 82 year old woman.
Devalued. Imprisoned. Silenced. Offered no hope!
This morning Matthew’s ‘socially-active’ Jesus story, reminds us
that Jesus would have none of that.
And neither should we.
For Matthew’s Jesus stands opposed to the common belief of his day
that God loved some and not others.
That some people had rights and others did not.
That some people had value and others did not.
That some people mattered and others did not.
The God of Jesus, Matthew seems to be saying,
does not saddle anyone with that kind of yoke.
In our own case, we are being invited to acquire
new habits of seeing, and new habits of being...
beyond the stained glass images of a ‘meek and mild’ Jesus.
To keep on liberating.
To keep on naming.
To keep on supporting, nurturing and tending one another, with compassion.
To be signs of hope.
And that’s what counts. That’s having wisdom.
Jesus did that in his time. We are invited to do no less today.
To go on the journey which he first chartered
and re-imagine the kingdom or realm of God
from the perspective of gospel compassion and hospitality
rather than biblical law, in our day.
To be a disciple of Jesus, writes 1960s radical theologian Harvey Cox,
“means not to emulate or mimic him but to follow his ‘way’, to live in our era the same way he lived in his - as a sign and servant of the reign of God.”
And then this important observation:
“To follow Jesus requires us not to choose 12 disciples or to turn water into wine but to take his life project - making the coming of God's reign of Shalom real and immediate - our own” (Cox 1998/Religion-online).
For of such keeps alive the dream and presentness of God
in the ordinary
in the transportation cells of Port Arthur and Port Jackson
in the prison cells of Chile
in political demonising of opposing points of view
in industrial relations
in detention centres filled with asylum seekers.
Certainly a challenge for us a Congregation.
Solle, D. 1981. Choosing Life. London. SCM Press.