Saturday, 4 February 2012

There is no "God AND . . ." - Sermon for Feb 5th 2012

 Sermon for Sunday February 5th
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2012AD

ISAIAH 40:21-31
PS 147:1-11
1Corinthians 9:16-23
Mark 1:29-39

God’s mission, not ours
“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.”

First Corinthians Chapter 2, verses 2-5

Last week I spoke at some length about Brockville Community Church and as I spent some time with Andrew Scott their minister this week – one thing very forcibly struck me – that what is happening there is almost spontaneously springing up – and that they have very little by way of resources – and I wondered if these were in fact related.
            I spoke last week amongst other things about how in the shift away from Christendom - that era when we thought mistakenly that the gospel had taken root in the world - social works that the church had instigated, healthcare, education and the like - had lost any sense of being Christian. And I suggested that perhaps this was because we had lost sight of the primacy of worship, that this LIFE that created these good things, was the Life of God which found entry into the world through the worship of the human creature, supremely revealed and eternally true in Jesus of Nazareth.   
That in losing sight of the Primacy of the Worship of God, we had actually lost sight of God himself, indeed God had departed and all we were left with was a vast infrastructure we call church – which we now mistake for His Life, His Kingdom.

Now we are taught to think that this loss of Vitality, this loss of life is only recent –but even at the Very height of Christendom, in the High middle Ages – when Glorious Cathedrals bestrode Europe and fine hospitals and Universities were springing into being, even then when it seemed to the casual observer that ‘God was in his heaven and all was well with the world’, even then the life had Gone, the true Glory had departed, except that wasn’t clear to everyone. The Emperor actually had no clothes but we wanted to believe otherwise – yet here and there there were those who saw what had happened. That you can have what looks utterly like a Healthy vibrant and successful church and yet the glory has departed.

A story which puts this very graphically is that of Thomas Aquinas, the great Saint and teacher of the church was one day shown the splendours of the church by the Pope Innocent II? IV? “Ah, Thomas” he said – “we can no longer say with St Peter, Silver and Gold have we none J” To which Thomas is said to have replied, yes father, and neither sadly can we any longer say, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up and walk. ‘We have the best church money can buy, the best human endeavour can create . . . and we cannot do that which Christ commanded’

Luke Chapter 10 – Jesus sends out his disciples – to declare that the Kingdom of God has come near, AFTER they have healed the sick – and we read that they returned rejoicing saying ‘Lord, in your name, even the demons submit to us!’

Matthew Chapter 10 - Jesus sent out the twelve with the following instructions: ‘Go . . . to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for labourers deserve their food.

Amongst young folk in the church there was a trend a while back to wear bracelets with WWJD on them. What Would Jesus Do? What would Jesus do?

Mark Chapter 1 vvs 32-34 32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

WWJD?? When we imagine ourselves there, hearing the command of Christ to do what he is doing – ‘In the name of Jesus, rise up and walk …’ I imagine we feel utterly helpless . . I know I do. Many many times I have stood with someone who is ill – or even beside the body of someone who has died and hear the words of Jesus . . . and turn sadly away to those things which I know I can do – I can teach, I can devise plans for developing the life of the church, I can visit and pray, I can study and increase my knowledge so my teaching will be better, I can try and do something about the loss of youth. I have skills, I have ability, I have money, I have the ability to develop impressive looking strategies and plans – Silver and Gold have I none? No – I’m overflowing with talents and resources – but I cannot do what he commands. Of course there was another who turned sadly away from the Kingdom – the rich young man, for none of what he had availed him anything – all the things he thought so necessary, Jesus told him to leave them behind

You see when Jesus announces the kingdom he does so in actions – he reveals what happens as the Life of the Kingdom breaks out – but we don’t really want the Kingdom on these terms – because when you express it  in these terms, sick healed demons cleansed etc etc – these are things that we cannot do – so we re-express the Kingdom in terms of the church of what we think we can do. And we use the label Kingdom of God, or Gospel Work – as if this is what it is meant to look like – but when John the Baptist was in prison and asked if Jesus  was the one they were looking for – Jesus told his disciples ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers* are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.’ That is what the Kingdom looks like and it is at hand

Why is the church in such radical decline? Humanly speaking it makes No sense. WE are better educated than ever. WE are more precise in our planning than ever – my entire church life seems to be dominated by one strategic document after and other. WE still, despite many accounts, have more money than Ever – the church in the West is phenomenally wealthy – WE have incredible resources, fine buildings – WE are in many places still respected within our communities – WE have technological means of reaching the whole world with the message – we have Christian radio stations, we have . . . we have . . . we have . . . God AND we have all this all this other stuff, how on earth can we go wrong??? The problem must be we don’t have enough of it – SURELY??? More money , better technology, More careful planning . . .
And Jesus says  - ‘none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions’

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
   Has it not been told you from the beginning?
   Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
. . .
Why do you say, O Jacob,
   and speak, O Israel,
‘My way is hidden from the Lord,
   and my right is disregarded by my God’?
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
   the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
   his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
   and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
   and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
   they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
   they shall walk and not faint.

These words of Isaiah of the utter Glory of God are as a response to the Idolatry of Israel. The deepest most intractable sin of the human soul is Idolatry. And as Christians we are just as prone. For non believers of course it is very straightforward – it is to invest ourselves in that which is not God and for Christians, it is the same. Except we cover it up by saying What we need is God (well of course that goes without saying) AND . . . We may sing ‘You alone are my strength and shield – but it feels a lot better singing that when we have money in the bank, food on the table, several degrees from excellent Christian colleges, fine buildings,

Is 40:25 To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal?

There is NO God AND!!! If we think there is we have not begun to comprehend the limitless majesty, the Grandeur, the Glory of God –If we for even a moment imagine ourselves sat in the courts of the Living God and imagine He is Not enough, imagine ourselves saying, AThank you Lord for loving us so – but we really need some money, or we really need some education . . .

Silver and Gold have I none . . . but in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, Get up and walk . . . and the man got up and walked - - and when the powers that be, Scandalised by this LIFE breaking out in front of them confronted the men . . . it was found that not only did they not have two cents to their name, but they were uneducated men. They hadn’t even been to theological college . . . Peter and John, pillars of the church, pioneers in the greatest missionary movement the world has ever seen and their only credentials? They noted that they had been with Jesus. And as when they had been with Jesus, they were still with him – living in the power of His Spirit, going where they were led – responding to what Christ was about and the Kingdom was breaking out left right and centre. You know we speak often of the presence of Christ with us, but . . .

St Paul when he goes to Corinth says For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.

If in our hearts and minds we see Jesus doing these things and we feel the power of our inability, this is perhaps the greatest gift we might receive – that Nothing we have can avail us in proclaiming the Kingdom of God

As we think about Brockville Community church perhaps they are more gift to u than we might be to them. For they have seen so much Life with so few resources – and let us STOP right there and don’t think . . . well if they had more resources! They seem to have everything they need, no?

Marks Gospel is dominated by one word –Immediately – immediately this, immediately that – life here – life there – healing here – storm stilled there – resurrection here – demons cast out there – hungry fed here. The Kingdom is amongst you – breaking out  - present in the risen Christ. Jesus will not let them settle – to go back to their boats – the disruptive Life of God is breaking into the world and there is no time or space for careful though reflection or planning. You just have to go with Jesus. As Andrew told me, Brockville is at the point where they are being overwhelmed by opportunity

Imagine for a moment what that must be like – imagine if you will what it was like to be with Christ in his mission (they are one and the same) –not the wonder of it – we can all sit back and go how wonderful – but enter into the sheer bemusement of the Apostles – the profound disorientaiton. When Love comes to town – Everything we thought we knew is thrown into disorientation – what we thought was up was down, what we thought was down was up – what we see as weakness is strength and strength weakness. The disciples saw so much they could do under their feet – but Jesus was moving on - ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ They said -  He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

May God give us the grace to know our helplessness – to lay down all those things we thought we so indispensable - go with Him, and do likewise


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