Saturday, 9 June 2012

Sermon for Sunday June 10, 2012 - First after trinity Year B

Sermon for Sunday June 10, 2013
Samuel 8:1-20, 11:14-15
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35

To another he said, ‘Follow me.’
But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’
But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead;
 but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’

We don’t need to have been keeping company with Jesus very long before he says something which sounds either troubling, or confusing, or unintelligible. If Jesus’ words don’t at some time or other do serious damage to the way we see the world, then to be frank we haven’t being paying much attention. I have told the story elsewhere about a class I once held in which we told the parable of the Prodigal son. On the occasion in question someone was paying attention and exclaimed in a very angry voice - ‘That’s not fair!!’. And I was So happy :) Because it proved that she’d heard it. HOw many times had I told that story and no-one had heard it. It had shaken her that God’s Love is So extravagant, his forgiveness So encompassing, it was a Scandal in her ears

Yet those moments of enlightenment are few and far between. We often hear these discomforting words of Jesus and as if afflicted by a fly landing on our nose as we sleep, we rouse slightly, re-arrange the pillows and go back to the land of nod. It’s not often that the words of Jesus have us sitting up in a cold sweat wondering if the world is just about to end. Which only goes to show how little we understand what is going on, because that is precisely what Jesus is announcing. His death on the Cross is The End of the old order, the end of the World as we know it and he now invites us into a New way of Living, a New Life in which so much that is old and familiar and comforting is blown away, and shown to be a deception. Jesus in announcing the Kingdom of God announces the end of the world as we know it. He says of the coming of the New Age, when the Spirit Comes,  he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgement, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. the World is proved Wrong by the life death resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The End is upon us and thus, the urgency of the message, to repent and believe the good news.

Can I put off following Jesus til after my father’s funeral? No! This is desperately urgent! If we had a Tsunami warning or an Earthquake - would we be saying hang on a moment! I need to bury my father? Jesus announces The End of the World, the Old ways are dead. The Old certainties, the old securities are being revealed to be lies, false - Wake Up!

Jesus using this Scandalous language reveals that the Kingdom of God is not some version of what we know and are comfortable with, just a little bit better. Indeed that with which you are Comfortable he says is the problem! What makes you feel secure - your money, your career, your family even - this security is false. What you called security was in fact slavery, what you thought Life, was in fact Death. We sense our need of this security when we think say of our Pensions, or lack of them - will they be enough - we sense if they were we would be secure - or we think of our families, ‘will they be around to care for me when I am old?’ We long for the security family brings. But none of these things are at all secure. In Jesus declaration of the Kingdom of God, even the bonds of family are shown to be called radically into question. My Kingdom, he says, is not of this world. My Kingdom is Only to be discovered in letting go of our old securities and discovering our total security in God alone.

And there are clues in our past to this. Deep in our story there was something that happened which prefigured this Kingdom of God. The people were in Slavery in Egypt - they were oppressed by Pharaoh, the whole political order had them in subjugation, they were captive. They were as good as Dead. But God heard their groans and rescued them, brought them from death to life . . . and then took them out into the wilderness where in the words of perhaps my favourite poet Norman Nicholson, there were ‘Nobbut God’ NOthing - Just God and the work of the wilderness was to teach them to discover their Life in God and thus to be his people. -And all of a sudden the people started to yearn for the security of their old captivity. As if woken up - they just wanted to crawl back to sleep - Oh that we could be back in Egypt!! They began to imagine that life was really better in Egypt - they literally started to hallucinate a bout a land of wonderful food and comfort.  God in his endless patience goes to work on this people - training them in learning to put their trust not in any rulers of men, but in Him and him alone - because he has a purpose for this people that they will be a light to the nations - that They will reveal his life in the world. Yet . . . they ache for another security, even though that security is oppressive. As we do when we lose sight of the Scandalous nature of the gospel, that does not baptise the world as we know it but declares it has come to an end.

And so as we come to the story, the prophet and judge of Israel, Samuel, is confronted by the people demanding to have a King. And their reason? ‘So that we might be like other nations’ Because everyone else has one. Having a proper King - a visible King - a real government - well it makes us feel secure. There is nothing perhaps more disturbing than the sense that no-one is in control -  and here is something Scandalous to cosy views of God and our faith, God has lost patience with them. Put another way - he hands them over to the consequences of their desires, but warns them of what will happen. This is what a King is Like “He will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; 12and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. 15He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. 16He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. 17He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” And Note - this is not a warning against some kind of bogeyman King - this is what all Kings do - all human rulers - establish their power by putting the people under some form of subjugation - they take people to be in their armies and then they employ vast numbers to run the system they have devised and then they take taxes from everyone to keep his system operating. In other words you will all be slaves again, just as you were in Egypt. You will have a sham security, but bought at the price of your obedience to the way of the world. Or to use the analogy we have been using for some time now - you will be back in the tomb. We all too readily shape our faith so that it conforms to the way of the world and doesn’t threaten or disrupt it.

And so comes the biggest threat to us all, the biggest threat to our securities, the one who will tell us to leave our father’s funeral and follow him - Jesus comes onto the scene - to be the Obedient Israel, that is Free - to be the one who only has eyes for the rule of God his Father. And immediately we are given a sense of Jesus stepping into this place of death, this tomb. We Know that Christ harrows Hell - he descended to the dead. And this is enacted before our eyes. - there is a sense of oppressiveness, of death in Mark’s account - Jesus has just appointed the twelve - to be with him, to be sent out to proclaim the message and to cast out demons, as it were to start the revolution of New Life breaking in and immediately the crowds come pressing in - there is almost a sense of Life being Squeezed out - we hear ‘the crowd came together again so that they could not eat’ Life is under attack - being squeezed out. His family, alarmed by reports that he is out of his mind cannot get in the door, to ‘restrain him’ to make him captive - and then in the midst of it it becomes clear that all hell really does break lose as the Scribes come with their accusations that Jesus is casting out demons by ‘Beelzebub’ - casting out demons by the ruler of demons. All the world it seems is crying out Stop Him!!

As I said - for some the tomb was quite comfortable - in particular the Scribes and Pharisees - they had made friends with the powers that be and exercised considerable power and influence. If we imaging them purely as religious figures, then we may well miss what is going on in all of the gospels - it is too easy to take our categories and imagine that the Scribes and Pharisees were purely religious figures, that Jesus is coming to sort out the religious dimension of our lives, that Christianity is what we call a spiritual message - but that is not to hear the gospel in its context where there were no easy divisions between Spiritual and physical, between religious and political. These are our categories - the categories of those who have made our accommodations with the way of the world. The Pharisees were the gate keepers on issues of ritual purity - thus the peasants who produced the food were dependent on the word of the Pharisees for whether there produce was allowable or not. Matters of religion and economics were interwoven - the Pharisees were as much part of the political as the religious elite. Mark paints them as conspiring with the Herodians. Jesus in his coming is not dealing with purely religious matters - his coming threatens the whole political order. It begs the question Who is king??  To whom will you pledge allegiance? To whom will you pay your dues? For whom willyou live your Life? Who is King? Whose servant are you? WHose servant are we?

And interestingly Jesus both here and later uses an economic metaphor for his Ministry - he is the one who will tie up the strong man and plunder his house - he is the thief who comes in the night.

Just briefly there will no doubt be folk who worry about the unforgiveable sin, blasphemy agaisnt the Holy Spirt - well it is Very clear here what it means - the Pharisees saw the work of the Holy Spirit - the work of God - in the casting out of demons and called it the work of the devil - that is the blasphemy against the holy spirit. It is utter spiritual blindness, it is a denial that He comes to change Everything.

Is that a call to political activism? And in the first place the answer is No. Because God’s answer to the World is his people. That was the original call of Israel, to be the people of God and in their common life to reveal the Life of God. In and amongst themselves to reveal the New Creation, the Life of CHrist who is the first fruits, in Our Common Life. You will remember that I have spoken a couple of times about Jubilee - that the Israelites were called to exercise amongst themselves an economic way of being that was in stark contrast to the political economies of their neighbours. They were a people saved by God for the Glory of God - to be a light to the nations and that light was, as life is, multi dimensional, it was moral, but it was also political and economic. And so it is that Jesus comes to form a New Israel. As he embodies obedient Israel, so he forms a new people of God, a people whose life is his life. A people who in their common life reveal the life of Jesus, because their Life is the life of Jesus. A people who embody the principles of Jubilee as they live the life of the one who fulfils the year of the Lord’s favour. In the beginning was the Word, through whom all things were made. That Life that was the Light of all people, embodied all of life. Such that there was no dimension of life left unchallenged, and that includes the family. As I try gently to tell parents, Baptisms are not what we like to think of of family occasions. A post baptism party shouldn’t be something that mum and dad go off and celebrate - no it is the inclusion of the person in the People of God, the church, the party is the churches party. And for many families that actually means a division. For we are baptised into Christ and thus separated from all those who are not in Christ, because we are set apart to be a light - to be different and thus to reveal the life of our risen Lord. It is only because we have failed to hear the radical call to repentance, to New Life, to a Life where all that we once held dear is seen for what it was, a form of Captivity, that we see how radical Baptism is. And I guess that for many we feel the Scandal of the gospel in those words as much in the call of Jesus to let the dead bury their own. Who are my brother and sister and mother? Here says Jesus are my brother and sister and mother? Who are our brothers and sisters and mothers??

Yet that is the nature of Life - the Life of God revealed in Christ - it disturbs us, but it is Life. It is Not Safe, in that everything in which we have learnt to trust has been shown to be false. Jesus calls us out - to share in His Life - a Life of Freedom, for as the Isrealites plundered their captives Jesus by his death and resurrection has bound the strong man and plundered his property, even his whole house - Everything now belongs to him, and in that we find the only true security.

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