The Message “OF” Jesus: According to the Gospel of Mark

Six sermons by Smith, Rev John W H, author of “Honest To GOod”, Morning Star Publishing 2016.

Written in December 2018

“Always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.  Silence encourages the tormentor never the tormented.”

                                Eli Wiesel, Jewish writer, Professor and political activist.

Suggestions – scroll down to the Conclusion to get an overview of John’s theme and background to this set of articles. Taste one….then come back for more!

Introduction

I have been requested by a number of parishioners from Stonnington Community Uniting Church to provide written copies of sermons that I presented while providing short term supply when their minister Rev Greg Crowe was on study leave.  I have taken the opportunity to add a further sermon from Mark’s Gospel set aside for Pentecost 19B, because it supports the theme set out by Mark in the other sermons.

The following is a written documentation of these sermons with an additional introductory explanatory essay and a short conclusive statement of the background to these sermons. I have also included, by request, two articles written for “Inspire” –  the Stonnington Community Uniting Church Newsletter.

I record here my sincere appreciation for the support I have received from my colleague and close friend Greg Crowe to respond to the requests of his parishioners. In particular I wish to thank my friend Faye Pattinson for her friendship and support to produce this booklet and especially for her keen proof-reading talent.

Foreword

“The Empowering Nature of Relationality.”

For a number of years now I have been writing and talking about my concern that Christian orthodoxy continues to emphasise a message about a divine Jesus rather than to proclaim the message of the human Jesus.

Firstly to understand the importance of this concern we need to read the sayings of Jesus in the context of their time.  The object of drawing these essays together is an attempt to understand in 21st century language the message of the human Jesus.  In the discourses Jesus shares with his disciples he does not imply that his person is the answer to the problems of the world.

Jesus does have a vision of what the world should accept as vital if people are to live positive and fulfilled lives.  Jesus refers to this vision as God’s domain or realm, which he affirms is present within and between the lives of his disciples and all people.  This is a realm that Jesus did not create or control, it was present before he was born. We find that in the ‘healing narratives’ Jesus states six times that a person’s healing comes from the sacred energy that resides within and is not because of his person or influence.  Nor does healing have to wait until Jesus is crucified.

This is the vision that Jesus is asking his disciples to affirm and this includes all who value their friendship with Jesus today.  His original disciples like us today, unfortunately continued to stare at his finger and not at where that finger was pointing.  Jesus vision was of a world where peace, justice and compassion expressed in our relationships with others would bring about ‘God’s Realm’ as defined by the gospel writers.  Perhaps the translation of the Greek ‘Basileia tou Theou’ does not truly reflect what Jesus means by the ‘Kingdom of God’.  Most scholars agree that Jesus’ native tongue was Aramaic not Greek and the most likely word used by Jesus would have been the Aramaic ‘Malkuta’. This is important because unlike the Greek and English notion of Kingdom with all its imperial connotation of top down authority and obedience, the word ‘Malkuta’ denotes a concept of mutual empowerment, where power is equally shared and dispensed for the benefit of the receiver rather than the giver.

This definition of the ‘Kingdom’ fits well with Dominic Crossan’s concept that the ‘Kingdom’ is in reality a ‘Companionship of Empowerment’. So the call to “Seek first the Kingdom of God” is Jesus calling us to share in the ‘companionship of empowerment’ because in this companionship we will find that the ‘relational’ activity is what liberates, nurtures and leads us to a life of wholeness.  This is the Jesus vision.

Perhaps we might even suggest that Jesus is saying, “Don’t concentrate on looking at me, but reflect and contemplate on the relational nature that is unfolding within and around me.  If you contemplate this phenomenon you will discover what defines and constitutes the kind of person I am, because I am at all times the sum total of my personal relationships.”  (Diarmuid O’Murchu p115 2017)

This concept has been most engagingly affirmed by John Shelby Spong (2016 p140.)  “When we pray, Thy Kingdom come, it means that our eyes must be trained to see the sacred source of energy in each other.  It means that the ‘Kingdom’ is visible when we are empowered to live fully, love wastefully and be all that we are capable of being.  Clearly the work of the ‘Kingdom’ is the work of enhancing human wholeness.”

The attached essays were delivered as sermons to the Stonnington Community Uniting Church during the period of Pentecost in 2018.  These essays were based on the texts in the Gospel According to Mark.

These texts record the words of Jesus that provide us with some insight into the type of human being he was, but more importantly, they emphasise the importance of bringing to visibility through our relationships that we are companions in the empowerment of each other.

“Jesus calls us to focus on God and not on himself.”

Pentecost 19B

Text:

        “As he was traveling along the road, someone ran up, knelt   before him, and started questioning him:    “Good teacher, what do I have to do to inherit eternal   life.”

                                                        Mark 10: 17

Is this a question that we would ask today?  Are we as concerned about eternal life as were those in the time of Jesus?  Are we more concerned about life fulfillment than eternal life?  Would we be asking the questions, “How can I get satisfaction from life?”  “How can I really live fully?”  “What do I need to do to become whole?”

In Bishop Spong’s book “Eternal Life a New Vision” he discusses a different approach to eternal life that is beyond religion, theism, even beyond heaven and hell.  Is it possible that we can have a vision of eternal life that is not dependent on a belief that Jesus is my saviour and eternal life with God is dependent on this belief?  Spong supports a belief in eternal life that is not dependent on orthodox Christianity.

In attempting to make the narrative flow we have this connecting phrase from the writer of Mark’s gospel, “As he was traveling along the road, someone ran up, knelt before him and started questioning him: “Good teacher, what do I have to do to inherit eternal life?”.  This is a way of Mark linking this episode to the sequence of events that is taking place on the road to Jerusalem.  It is possible that the core anecdote of this passage, that of the rich young man, is something that may have happened in Jesus’ journeys, but not necessarily at this time, but is included to place it in a context.

This story has three distinct sayings attributed to Jesus and they are:

  1. That God is the sole good (10:18).
  2. A rehearsal of the commandments that govern social relationships. (10:19)
  3. That following Jesus requires us to forgo earthly treasure for heavenly reward. (10:21)

In Mark’s version Jesus is particularly sympathetic to the young man (10:21) “Jesus loved him at first sight” the versions in Matthew and Luke omit this detail.

But why was this story important?  And what is our message for today?

You may recall that in Acts 5:1-6 the early Jesus community encouraged its members to sell their property and donate to the common good under the direction of the apostles.  Some scholars are of the opinion that this story in Mark’s Gospel reflects that same situation and thus was created in -and for- the early community.

But can these sayings be traced back to Jesus? 

To determine this we perhaps need to explore each of the three distinct sayings.

Firstly, the claim that only “God is good” could have been made by any Judean or by any Greek influenced by Plato. However, when we compare this saying in each of the synoptic gospels even though there is some difference, in general most scholars agree that Jesus’ attempt to refocus on God, rather than on himself, as being generally in line with Jesus’ disposition.  Therefore this saying sounds most like our understanding of the historical Jesus of Nazareth.

The second saying rehearses Israelite commandments that any Judean or Christian would have been expected to know. This is not necessarily a distinctive statement of Jesus.

Thirdly, Jesus’ injunction to the young man to sell everything and follow him seemed to be consistent with his teaching about wealth.  For example in the parables of the pearl and the treasure, both of which can be traced to Jesus, there is a similar message.  It is likely however, that the promise of heavenly treasure as a reward for giving up wealth is almost certainly a later modification.  It is important to realise that it is Paul’s writings that eternal life is an outcome of salvation and salvation for Paul is to believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  This is not what Jesus says when Jesus proclaims to a person “your faith has made you whole.” 

Whilst there has been conjecture by liberal theologians about the true meaning of the camel and the eye of the needle scholars appear to agree that the hyperbole in this saying is characteristic of other Jesus utterances and they suggest that it should stand as it reads in its raw form.

Jesus reminds his followers that it is very difficult for the rich to enter God’s domain.  The caricatures that Jesus uses of the rich farmer (in Luke) and the big investor (in Thomas), who push greed and avarice to their limits only to die prematurely, seems to tie in with this story of the camel.  Finally, Jesus issues a warning; that service to God and preoccupation with wealth are incompatible:

“No on one can be a slave to two masters.  No doubt that slave will hate         one and love the other, or be devoted to one and disdain the other. You cannot be enslaved to both God and a bank account.” (Matt 6:24)

But it is not just wealth is it?  If we are too occupied with anything other than centering our attention on God, then we need to question what it is we are doing.

Jesus’ challenge to the man to sell his possessions, and give to the poor, and follow him, was a way of exposing a flaw in the man’s keeping of the commandments.  Admirable as his efforts had been he had missed the point of the commandments.  Jesus’ challenge exposed what was missing – a sense of compassion for the poor.  The man needed to understand the commandments the way they were supposed to be understood, the way Jesus interpreted them, not as a series of commands that must be obeyed or a set of boxes to be ticked, or the things I do by rote each day, a bit like the saying of the rosary.

The man needed to follow Jesus not as an alternative to the commandments, but as a way of understanding them.  Life is to be lived and not avoided. Sadly it is possible to go through life never doing anything wrong and yet never doing anything good or generous.  Following Jesus is a means of engaging life in a way that makes a difference.

At the heart of this gospel message are a number of issues or questions and they are:

  • Firstly, how do we understand scripture? Is it life destroying or life enriching?
  • Secondly, what does life look like when we embrace the kingdom of God now? It certainly means compassion for the poor.
  • Thirdly, what does devotion to Jesus mean?

No matter how we read this passage we cannot escape the reality of the message; that riches or in fact preoccupation with matters that do not recognise God, will blind us to life in the kingdom and make us deaf to the cry of the poor.

Behind the passage is doubtless the kind of encounter Jesus had with some people.  He did not call all who joined his movement to leave their possessions and join him on the road, traveling with a common purse.  Most stayed put, at home in their towns and some of these provided hospitality for those disciples who were on the road.  But for everyone the hope of the future has at its heart the good news for the poor.  With or without possessions, when the people who want to serve Jesus are not good news for the poor, something is missing.

We need to face the realities that there are people in our community who suffer, who are poor and who are disadvantaged and that there are systemic conditions that make changing these circumstances difficult. It is healthier to face these realities than to pretend they do not exist.  Only then can we move away from a preoccupation with self, only then can we embrace the grace that we have been given through Jesus, only then can we be truly free, free to live the life that will give us true joy and allow us to love wastefully with a sense of true compassion. 

We will be more practically useful to other people and ourselves when that happens and much more in touch with the Spirit of life and compassion.                    

Amen

“Human Wellbeing Must be at the very Heart of Divine Law”

Pentecost 20 B 2018

        Text:  “However in the beginning at the              creation, God made them male and female.”

        Mark 10:6

In today’s reading from Mark chapter 10 we have Mark anecdotally quoting Jesus relating to situations concerning Family life.  The first is in regard to Jesus’ attitude on divorce and the second is his attitude to the presence and involvement of children in social life.

In the Gospel According to Matthew Chapter 19 we read of another interchange on this subject between Jesus and the Pharisees.  In this interchange it is clear that the Jews of Jesus day believed that a husband owned his wife and could treat her as part of his property.  According to Jesus’ response this had not always been the case and was not the creator’s original plan.  According to Jesus Moses made the change to accommodate man’s ‘hardness of heart’ and primarily because men had proved to be too weak to maintain the original arrangement.  Jesus clearly states that men and women are equal and should be bound by the same regime.  Jesus did not support a gender inequality that favoured men. 

Was Jesus an early feminist and if so did this value originate from Mary his mother?

 We turn now to the gospel of the day.

The anecdote on divorce according to Mark comes from Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees, however he is reported to have spoken against divorce in at least three separate sources in Mark and the Q gospel and also in Paul 1st Corinthians 7: 10-11.  However, the report on what Jesus actually says and means and how his counsel was interpreted varies significantly.

There are three things that are especially notable about Mark’s version; firstly Jesus’ answer to whether divorce should be permitted refutes Mosaic Law, which makes divorce permissible. Jesus responds by saying, “What God has coupled no one should separate.” Thus embracing the radical view that divorce is contrary to God’s purpose in creation and there is no exception.  Jesus goes on to say that Moses only provided for divorce because his people were obstinate.  From this point of view it infers that divorce perpetuates adultery, it does not halt it. However, it is important to note that in this recorded dialogue it is not divorce that contributes to adultery but re-marriage.

Marriage in Roman society at the time of Mark’s writing had one purpose and that was to provide a legal heir who would inherit a man’s property.  In Jewish society men could divorce their wives under Mosaic legislation for any reason, but wives had no such right without their husbands consent.  Therefore in verses 10-12, Jesus put women on an equal footing with men in this regard.  This Markan version implies a more elevated view of the status of women than was generally accorded them in the patriarchal society of the time; which coheres with other evidence that Jesus took a more liberal view of the rights of women.

My recent research into the attitude of Jesus towards women indicates very clearly that he was a feminist or as Chris Geraghty has suggested the “Forgotten Feminist”.  There are at least fifteen references in the gospel stories that emphasise his feminist values towards women.

In this version in Mark the pronouncement from Jesus reflects the situation of the early Jesus community rather than coming from Jesus himself; and the variations in the tradition suggest that the community struggled to adapt some of the traditional teaching to its own social context.

The brief story about Jesus and the children recalls 9: 36-37, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me”, and perhaps these two stories were at one time part of the same dialogue. 

This story is often trivialised, but it is not about just being childlike, it is about the dignity and worth of children; who at this time were seen as possessions rather than as potential adults with rights of their own.

What is being said and done here takes on the contours of reality when we begin to recognise the alternatives – in our own day.  Exclusion, demeaning behaviour, abuse, violation, enslavement, killing – listen to the cries of children; in the slums in the sweat shops, in the brothels, in the killing fields around the world and behind the bedroom door of respectability in our own community. 

This statement is more than just being nice to kids it is about rights and justice.

The setting of these two subjects in sequence is surely not by chance. It is fully evident in our day, as it was in Jesus time, that women and children suffer most when love dies and marriage is dissolved by divorce.  Much of Jesus conversations with his fellow Jews was spent trying to show that we must interpret scripture in such a way which sees its priority as concern for human well being: the Sabbath was made for people not people for the Sabbath.  On this basis one can also speculate that the order of marriage was made for people; not people for the order of marriage.

Would the primary concern we find in Jesus for human well being result at times in a decision which could override something he might have said about these aspects of life at another time? 

Paul would certainly have answered, “yes” to this question.  When Paul was raising these matters he was not trying to ignore strict laws, but trying to be realistic and caring in the light of existing laws.

The trouble with life is that we understand it backwards, but we have to live it forwards.  We keep moving through life trying to figure it out as we go along, living experimentally, trying out different attitudes and theories, changing our minds because we have grown and developed in a different direction from where we started.  Whilst we may have started out with a clear direction there is a need to understand that circumstances may change.  There may be many different reasons why divorce is the best of bad options.

Today we live in an age when a considerable number of marriages end in divorce.  Many people in church congregations have been through the painful experience of grieving for a broken marriage, as have many clergy.  We live in an age where the legal jurisdictions of marriage are no longer an exclusively heterosexual relationship, and this is a concern for many traditional churchgoers.  Yet the same principles must apply for people in a same sex marriage.

When the Pharisees ‘with malice in their hearts’ put their question to Jesus, he responded by jousting with them, using his own scriptural quotations to counter theirs.  He gave precedence to the creation stories of Genesis, “God made them male and female’; rather than Mosaic tradition from Deuteronomy and in so doing he challenged the traditional understanding of divorce and gave greater rights to women by making them equal at the time of creation.  Moses’ law on divorce was a response to the circumstances of that community, at that time, and this the Pharisees found hard to accommodate.  Jesus is talking about how we should relate to each other and that we should do this with care and concern and not consider we can answer all matters by the framing of laws.

The Christian churches influence in society continues to decline, so marriage and divorce may best be left to the civil authorities, while the church should concentrate on the spiritual aspect, empowerment and value of relationships; be it between adults or children or adults and children.

The message of the gospel story in today’s world is quite clear and it is this; Jesus’ teaching puts human well being at the heart of divine law and this must be the basis of any pronouncement by the church in any matters relating to human relationships both for children and adults.

Amen Brothers and Sisters AMEN!

“The Practical Application of Justice and Compassion is the Way of Jesus”

Pentecost 21B                                                                                     

        Text:  ‘You know that among the gentiles their so-  called rulers lord it over them, and their great       ones        make their authority felt.”

        ‘This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who        wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to         be first among you must be slave of all.’

        ‘For the Human One did not come
        to be served, but to serve…’

                                        Mark 10: 42 – 45

It is interesting to note that the term “Son of Man” was the original translation, but we are now aware that the most appropriate translation is, the “Human One”.  This is the term Jesus uses most when referring to himself.

When we read this text it smacks of a modern day phenomenon where we witness in business, community organisations, politics and the Church, people desperately seeking to assume positions of power and authority, regardless of the common good or the impact on others.

James and John make no secret of their desire to gain power, and they assume this is what Jesus wants also. Identification with a God is often an alignment with power, so why should we be surprised. How often in history have we witnessed church authorities claiming they have divine power, because they speak for their god? 

People’s gods are their models of power, they will influence people’s values and it is people’s values that create and define gods.  Thus it is a mutually supportive system.  Much of the language referring to serving God has been tainted with imagery of servitude and obedience toward a ruler. 

Unfortunately, the practice of our church worship appears to support this approach.  Just consider the language we use when referring to a deity.  e.g., “O Worship the King all-glorious above.”

However, Mark is clearly not presenting Jesus as demanding subservience.  In fact he has Jesus utter the now most classic comment; “The Son of Man (The Human One) did not come to be served” Mark 10:45

So how does Jesus respond to this dilemma, firstly he identifies the power system in a deliberately subversive way.  Jesus is aware that by reinforcing the current power system it will automatically mean that we will have powerless people, i.e. those who have been disempowered – by this very system.

As Dominic Crossan proclaims for Jesus “Only justice will bring peace”.  The battle between the values of the “empire” and the values of Jesus continues in the 21st century.  Peace does not come from victory as the Romans proclaim, but from justice.

We need also be aware that being a servant and a slave is not about being subservient to Jesus, but it is about working alongside him.  In John’s gospel Jesus declares that the disciples, which also includes us here today, are to be his friends and not his servants (15:15).

“I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from my Father.”

 In this quotation Jesus is saying that we display humanity when we treat others as friends.  These are the values of humanity that Jesus holds, and this is what empowers people. It is our ability and willingness to reach out to others as friends with tenderness and sensitivity that makes us powerful.  In the values expressed by Jesus’ we recognise that his understanding of the way of divine grace, is to reach out to others in the way the divine spirit he calls “Father” reaches out.

Jesus’ idea of God as Father and king matched his lifestyle and mission, which emphasised less powerful control and more compassion and caring. 

Thus the liberation Jesus lives by does not require him to seek power for his own sake, but to embrace the power within his being, which is displayed through his compassion and self- giving. Jesus was a powerful figure because his approach to living empowers all who will embrace it.

The subversive wisdom embedded in this story by Mark invites us in today’s world to find ourselves mirrored in these scenes and calls us to realize what impact this has on our lives.. 

To step into this story and to embrace the values of Jesus is to expose ourselves and recognise that at times, we will desire to obtain power through the images of our gods.

Our task is to somehow disentangle ourselves from the existing powerful systemic values of ego, greed and self-preservation regardless of the cost. 

Mark paints for us the reality that we all have to face, if we challenge the alternative values of our society with those proposed by Jesus.

So be warned, because if you commit to following the path of our wisdom sage, Jesus of Nazareth, you will be challenging all those who seek power of a different kind. So in the words of my friend and mentor John Bodycomb; “Speak the truth always, but also watch your back!”

Are the values of Jesus those of our world and if not what is our role in bringing these values to the attention of others? 

Let us for a moment examine just one of the social evils that confronts us in our current climate:

The example I will use is: “The sexual and physical abuse of women”:

Two weeks ago I briefly mentioned this during my address to this community:

Today let us examine in greater detail the research into this issue, because the statistics on ‘domestic physical violence’ and ‘emotional abuse’ have brought to light the breadth and depth the disempowering nature of this issue in our community.

The Findings of the “ABS Personal Safety Research Project” presents for us a major community concern.  This research has revealed that one in five women over the age of 18 years have been stalked during their lifetime, and one in five women experience harassment within the workplace.  More frighteningly in Australia over a twelve-month period, on average, every week a woman is killed by her current or former partner. 

These statistics have a wider implication when we realise that domestic and family violence is the principal cause of homelessness for women and their children and contributes significantly to high levels of psychological stress. 

The problem of violence against women is much greater statistically among indigenous women who are thirty-five times more likely to be hospitalised for family violence than the wider female population.  The Australian wide Royal Commission into institutional violence has also revealed that women with disabilities are not exempt from physical abuse whilst in care.

A headline in the Melbourne Age in bold type on August 3rd 2018 states: ”THIS MUST STOP”.  Which refers to an article by Miki Perkins who recounts the death of four women.  She informs us that in three cases where charges have been laid, the accused men are either husbands or partners. 

The writer also reports that 39 women have died violently in Australia so far this year and that an overwhelming majority of violent incidents and femicides are perpetuated by men. 

Perkins concludes, “That we should be furious that women in our state are still getting strangled and killed by men who are supposed to love them.”  I would also add the question “Where is the public outrage?”

In a study on sexual violence towards women it was revealed that majority of these acts were committed by men seeking power and control, rather than sexual gratification. They committed acts of rape simply because they had the physical power to so.

So how has this attitude towards women developed into becoming a major social issue of our day?

Social researchers have clearly defined that the major cause of male violence lies in the sanctioning of our cultural expectations and attitudes towards girls and women. 

From a very early age boys are confronted daily with messages that girls are inferior to them, are not their equal and can be degraded, humiliated and abused. 

We witness this attitude in every day interactions modeled and reinforced primarily by adult males and particularly by those in authority.  It happens when women and girls walk past building sites, on their way to school or ride on public transport. Women still do not universally receive equal pay for equal work.  For example young women playing Australian rules football are not paid the same rates as men.  We are bombarded daily through the Internet by sexually explicit pornographic abuses toward women. 

It is time for a massive cultural shift and this will only occur when the community as a whole declares that the denigration of women is no longer, and never has been a blokey joke.  It is the responsibility of every person and particularly males to call out this abuse when it occurs and confront the perpetrators.

A caring attitude begins at a very early stage. For example I recently witnessed at a birthday function two young boys aged 12 and 8 years, nursing and lovingly engaging with a 14 month-old baby. Both were telling this small child that he was ‘clever’ for the way he responded with smiles and giggles. This was a natural way of responding for these boys because they had received this type of affirming love from their families. They were responding in a way that they had experienced in their upbringing.  What was surprising was that so many people commented positively on the caring nature of these two young boys as being unusual. We should be concerned that so many people saw their loving, nurturing response to a small dependent baby in this way.  The response of these two boys should be the norm in our society not unusual.

What is our role as friends of Jesus of Nazareth and what is the role of the Christian Church in the nurture of each other?  Firstly, we must go back to committing ourselves to the message of Jesus and not the message about Jesus. When we read and closely examine today’s gospel message in Mark we find a set of values being espoused by Jesus which are contrary to the values our society holds today.  Jesus’ message is not so much about religion, but about how we should live our life in community by treating others with dignity, sensitivity, respect and love. 

How do we seek the empowering values of compassion and live our lives accordingly?

Recent research by a colleague of mine has determined that if the church attendances continue to decline at their current rate the church will not exist by 2030. He suggests that the major reason for decline is the activities of the church and its commitment to “God Talk” as portrayed in our formal worship times, rather than encouraging practical assistance for living based on appropriate values is the major cause for the decline.

In his recent book “Two Elephants in the Room” John Bodycomb highlights these concerns.  So what is the future for the “Communities of Faith”? 

I strongly believe we need to concentrate more on the practical application of justice and compassion in the way of the sagely Jesus, if we are to make a significant impact on the future of what we today call the Christian Church.

OR in the words of Jesus

        ‘You know that among the gentiles their so-   called       rulers lord it over them, and their great ones make     their authority felt.

        ‘This is not to happen among you.
        No; anyone who wants to become   great among you     must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be     first among you must be slave of all.

        ‘For the Human One did not come
        to be served, but to serve…’

It is possible that in the future we will concentrate more on values, morals and ethical living than on faith in a theistic God.  We will be concerned not so much on what we believe, but what we do and this in itself will redefine the word God as a verb and not a noun.

Instead of meeting to worship, we may in future meet to develop ways to assist people to be empowered to live life with the values of compassion, justice, sensitivity and dignity.

Praise be to the God of Jesus.   Amen

“The Positive Outcome of any Action determines its Importance.”

        Pentecost 22 B 28/10/2018

Texts:     

“He replied, “Whether he is a sinner I don’t know; the one thing I do know is that I was blind, and now I can see”                   John 9: 25

“Jesus said to him. “Go your faith has cured you.’ And at once he recovered his sight and followed him on the road.”         Mark 10:52b

This is a significant departure from my normal approach, because I want to compare two readings on blindness one in John and one in Mark.  I want to particularly examine what the difference of the last fifty years has meant to the Jesus Movement in its understanding of the person of Jesus of Nazareth and his healing ministry.

The writer of John’s gospel took a simple healing story (John 9: 6&7) and encased it an elaborate debate about whether affliction is the consequence of sin, and about the relationship of sight to blindness in a metaphorical sense.

John Newton refers to this text in his well-known hymn “Amazing Grace” “I was blind but now I see”, when he is referring to his spiritual blindness.

If we put this story alongside others on blindness in the gospels we note that it is one of five different narratives.  John’s account is different because of the resulting controversy between Jesus and the Pharisees.  The cure happens early in the story and the remainder of the text deals with the attempts of the Pharisees to ascertain who it was who cured a person and did it on the Sabbath, because this would be classified as committing a sin.  They are also interested in how the cure actually happened.

The story builds slowly to a confession from the man born blind that Jesus is the Son of Man.  In contrast Mark’s narrative on blindness deals with the actions of Bartimaeus (son of Timaeus) that lead up to the cure, which becomes the climax of the story. 

Unfortunately, blindness is used in the New Testament as a metaphor for being in a state of sin.  The terms of blindness are used nearly always in a negative way and often refer to a pre-Christian state.  “Before I knew Jesus I was blind”.  A blind person when singing “Amazing Grace” used to sing “Was blind and still can’t see.”  Unfortunately, the hymn invokes the image that blind people, who have enough faith, will be able to see.

Defining who are blind is a difficult task, because there are various conditions of sight difficulties that would determine a person to be legally blind. Being legally blind doesn’t mean that a person cannot see anything.  A person who can see images may still be classified as being legally blind.

One the major issues for people with sight impairments is that they are often dependent on others. People who are vision impaired have no option but to trust others at times even strangers with their personal safety.  They have to trust their family to tell them they have moved the furniture.  The vision impaired singer Lionel Ritchie laughingly tells the story of when he and his partner have an argument she moves the furniture.  They have to trust people, who are introducing them to others, e.g. “Have you met everyone in the room?” (“Just a minute and I will point the dog at them”).  They have to trust that they are being given the right change when dealing with money, or the person who reads their mail.  They are dependent on the uniformity of public transport access.

For people with sight difficulties or disabilities generally this is one of the most important texts in the Bible.  The disciples ask Jesus, “Who sinned this man or his parents?”, Jesus replies, “Neither … he was born blind so that God’s works maybe revealed in him.”   This raises another issue for people with disabilities. Are they made so for God’s works to be revealed?  I believe that the essential message in this piece of dialogue is that Jesus is saying that disabilities such as blindness are not the result of sin either in the person or his/her parents.

If John is trying to get through a message regarding God’s activity in the person of Jesus he does so very cleverly by writing what turns out to be a complex drama with many surprising elements.  John’s story is different from the Synoptic writers, for e.g.:

        1.  The man has been blind since birth.

        2.  Jesus uses mud not just saliva as in                               Mark’s gospel.

        3.  The final cure occurs by washing in the waters of           Siloam.

        4. The Pharisees interrogate the man born blind.

        5.  The Pharisees question the parents.

This is a text that has evolved over time to be in its current state.  The oldest elements are the healing story, which has three parts:

  • A description of the sickness.
    • The act of healing.
    • And a confirmation that a miracle has occurred.

The trial in which the man is accused of being a follower of Jesus was added later.  And it is very possible that the writer of John’s gospel added the Christological elements, which declare Jesus to be the light of the world and include a discussion of his origins.

Has the community begun to realise that curing a disability has its complications and are seeking ways of responding to these?

The story is long and complicated and is more suitable for a seven-week study than the subject of a homily, because there are seven different scenes in the story, which need to be explored and reflected on.

This morning let us examine what effect this story has on people with disabilities:

Firstly, Jesus answer to his disciples states clearly that disability is not the consequence of sin either by the individual or the parents.

Secondly, an interesting twist in this story in John’s gospel is that the man’s cure actually led to his isolation rather than giving him a sense of belonging.  In fact it led to him being victimised by the authorities.  We can assume that, because of his disability he is unemployed and untrained.  He has been further isolated and stigmatised by the accusations of the Pharisees.  Major life changes often result in loss of community support and personal identity.  Further, the transition between losing one’s community and gaining another may be a long and difficult process.

Most importantly a third issue that arises is the contradiction to the theology that faith is needed before healing can take place.   In this story it is clear that the man did not have faith at the time of the healing.  His faith developed as he began to articulate his experience under examination and questioning.  The question we now must ask is, “Can we bring about healing to those who do not exemplify a faith?”

In the Bartimaeus story Jesus affirms that it is Bartimaeus’s own faith that heals him. Do you believe that this is something that Jesus would say?  In fact six times in the gospels we have Jesus say, “Your faith has saved you”.  When we examine these words closely we realise they are in the past tense, indicating the action of being saved has already happened. 

Notice also that Jesus doesn’t say, “You will be only be healed when I give my life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.”  Nor does he ask Bartimaeus to believe in him as the saviour of the world or to make a confession before God before healing can occur.  In reality he is saying to Bartimaeus, “By your contrition and humble act of loving kindness you have revealed the sacred healing Spirit of God that is already within you.”

This is a crucial statement in understanding the ministry and the message of Jesus.  Jesus is declaring that the sacred power of healing lies within the individual.  You do not have to wait for Jesus to be crucified to be healed. Jesus’ message is that the sacred, healing spiritual energy that pervades our world is available to all; it is not dependent on Jesus death on the cross, hence the doctrine of the Atonement is significantly challenged when we realise and accept this important message of Jesus.

Another question that this raises for us is, “Would the church be different if we did not require confessions of faith, before we become actively involved in healing our world?”

If the answer is “yes” to both questions then the mission of the Church and in particular the mission of our own community of faith will be quite different.  It means that we would work more closely with people who are not Christians, along with non-religious secular organisations to achieve our goals of mission.

We can with the man born blind reply in a pragmatic fashion, “I don’t know whether he is a sinner, the one thing I do know is that now I can see and see more clearly than ever before.”  We need to be conscious that often the positive outcome of an action determines its value.

This is a story about the practical implications for someone with a disability who is able to gain healing through raising to consciousness the healing energy that lies within and is available to all.

Amen.

“As Friends of Jesus our Sacred Commitment is to reach out to others with Compassion”

Pentecost 23 B 2006

Text:  “Jesus answered:  ‘”The first is, ‘Hear Israel the Lord your God is one Lord, and you are to love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and with all your energy”.  The second is this: “You are to love your neighbour as yourself’.  There is no other commandments greater than these.”

                Mark 12: 29-31

The lectionary sweeps over chapters 11 and most of 12 and lands us in just two of the Jerusalem encounters.  The text today takes place just prior to Jesus prophecy of the destruction of the Temple.  Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem and almost immediately he confronts opposition to his teaching.  Mark’s account of this situation is different from Luke’s because Luke adds the parable of the “Good Samaritan” by way of illustrating the point about loving God and loving one’s neighbour. (I love that Parable.)

Mark in contrast to Luke, summarises the conflict with the scholars by condensing the whole of the Jewish law into two brief commandments.  The first commandment is the traditional Jewish Shema which we find in Deuteronomy 6:4, ‘Hear O Israel the Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might”.  This quotation from Deuteronomy shows how favourable much of this statement of Jewish law is in parallel with Jesus’ teaching. 

It is often said that while there may be many faiths, there is one humanity, so while we may experience the sacred source differently we are bound together by our humanity.  Jesus reinforces the importance of our love for each other when he states what has become known as the “Golden Rule” – “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”  (Mark 12:31). It is also quoted in Matthew 22:39.  Now Jesus wasn’t the first person to make such a quote.  In fact similar wisdom sayings can be found in most of the major religions. We read in Leviticus 19:18 “But you should love your neighbour as yourself”.  In this context the commandment has the effect of countering vengeance in one’s family or tribe.  In Judaism the Pharisee Hillel was once asked by a student standing on one leg to teach him about the Torah.  Quite a brave request when one realises that there are more than 600 laws in the Torah.  Fortunately for the student Hillel replies: “What you find hateful do not do to another.  This is the whole of the law, everything else is commentary.  Now go and learn that.” 

In the 6th century BCE it was Confucius who said, “Never do unto others what you would not like them to do to you.” And Buddha who was born in the 2nd century BCE has also made a similar comment when he advises, “Consider others as yourself”

What is intriguing about this text is that Jesus is quoting the most important words in the Hebrew Bible;  “Hear O Israel the Lord our God is one Lord”. This text is known by its first word, the imperative ‘Shema’.  For the observant Jew this pledge of allegiance to the one God is the first prayer to be said on waking and the final prayer before falling asleep.  It is the first prayer that a Jewish child is taught and it is the last words a Jew says before death.

Down through the ages for the Jew the Shema is the ultimate cry of faith.  It was with Shema on their lips that the Jewish martyrs were tied to the inquisitor’s stake and when they entered the Nazi gas chambers.

Jews hold the Book of Deuteronomy in high regard, because it is an educational text and the Shema needs to be taught.  The form of education commended by Deuteronomy is nurture and nurture is about feeling a sense of belonging.  Education and nurture is not the same.  All nurture is education, but not all education is nurture and nor should it be.

Nurture as advocated by Deuteronomy is certainly “learning about” and “learning from”, but above all it is “learning within”.  The child is brought up with the community of faith and in the early years the community is the family home.  Nurture takes place at home where the faith by which the family lives, is seen as a natural discussion point.

This text indicates to us that Jesus knew and loved Deuteronomy and was familiar with the Shema.  His insight is to bring the text from Deuteronomy together with the injunction from Leviticus, that we are called to love our neighbours as our selves.  Thus Deuteronomy is a profoundly important educational manifesto, because there is tenderness to much of its teaching, for example in Deuteronomy 24: 10-22 we read about the importance of compassion for the poor.  When Jesus is confronted with the world, flesh, evil and painful death he is armed with the Shema and the commandment he derives from Leviticus.  We have some understanding of what these texts meant for Jesus and how he maintained the moral coherency of his belief, even when faced with his own demons, but how does this help us?

Do we as individuals, as a community of faith and as a nation reflect the “nurture” expressed in this wonderful text?  And if not why not?

Our current response to asylum seekers and refugees, give a great cause for concern for many people of faith.

Perhaps the greatest concern of all is the apathy shown, not only by our political leaders, but also by the general public in redressing this situation.  The Chief of Amnesty International in the 90’s Ms Khan pointed out that she had worked in Australia in the eighties and was proud of this country’s achievements in upholding international law and the development of multiculturalism.  So what has happened over the last decade or so? And do we want to be different than we are now?

Are we comfortable about who we are?  Does Jesus who calls us to follow these two commandments, make us just a little uncomfortable about the way we are demonstrating our so-called Christian beliefs?

Do we as Christians ensure that we are communicating to our impressionable young the compassion that Jesus finds in Deuteronomy and Leviticus?  Most importantly are we educating with nurture?

If not what can we do to reverse this situation?

In an article by Andrew Hamilton in the on-line magazine “Eureka” in July of this year he asks the question, “Whatever Happened to Kindness to Strangers?”

Hamilton draws a comparison to our current brutal attitude to asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants to that of our generous attitude to strangers after the Second World War.  At that time world leaders sought to base international relations on cooperation and sharing the burdens.  They recognised the disastrous consequences of xenophobic nationalism and the role that inequality has in breeding it; as displayed by our current government’s policy of ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’.  The world leaders at that time supported the need for a just and cooperative international order which was rule based and met the needs of those who were disadvantaged in most part through no fault of their own.

The post-war vision of a better world order enshrined a ‘hospitality to strangers’ which saw in them possibilities instead of threat, that included them with embrace, rather than excluded them and which encouraged relationships to grow instead of codifying and limiting them.

As Hamilton concludes in his article: “Suspicion breeds fear; fear generates hostility, and hostility breeds even more suspicion.” (Example of the young Australian Nationals who adopted a position of neo- Nazi politics has arisen primarily out of suspicion and fear of strangers)

In the name of Jesus of Nazareth may God grab us by the collar shake us out of our apathy!!!!  In the name of Jesus we must endorse and live out the “Golden Rule”.

Is there still hope?

I still believe that one-day Australia will again stand tall as a nation known for its compassion and understanding, for those who have been marginalised and abused.  I believe we will become a Nation that will no longer cage children seeking refuge and embrace behind razor wire.

We will become an Australia that will protect the rights of all its citizens and ensure that the rule of law which claims all people are innocent until proven guilty, is the inalienable right of all.  It will be a nation that reaches out with a compassionate embrace to strangers.

We will be an Australia that will refuse to be engaged in the occupation and armed conflict of a country, primarily for diplomatic reasons.  That we will be a nation that refuses to participate in a conflict that increasingly contributes to the deaths of innocent people.

I believe that in the future Australia will raise up leaders who will speak honestly, and freely admits their mistakes.

Today our task as friends of Jesus is to commit ourselves to embracing our God and to, as Jesus encourages us, reach out to others with compassion.

And by our example nurture our children so that they will be the change our society desperately requires if we are to embrace the message of the Golden Rule as spoken by Jesus:

“You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and with all your energy’.  The second is this: ‘You are to love your neighbour as yourself”.  

Amen

“God’s Way is the Way of Self-Giving Love”

Pentecost 24B                                                                 

Text: “… beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the market places, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets! They devour widow’s houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.  They will receive the greater condemnation.”                                                                                 Mark 12: 38 – 40

This text and those of the last few weeks are preparing us to understand why Jesus would pronounce the destruction of the Temple, which will be next weeks lectionary reading.

In the texts such as the shrivelling of the ‘Fig Tree’ we have symbolic stories of God’s condemnation of those who do not bear fruit.  We now are facing the same condemnation of the Temple the central place of the presence of God. Why?

Simply because it has become corrupted and is part of the systemic corruption in the same way as the other social and political systems. 

Mark is suggesting that as a result we must begin again to understand the mission of God in Jesus and to celebrate a new Temple that is not made with bricks and mortar.

The new Temple is a ‘caring, contemplative, love giving community of Faith’ (Mark 11: 24 & 25).  According to Mark this is the new Temple where mercy and forgiveness reign and where they mean more, so much more than sacrifice.

The old system is corrupt, it has been corrupted by those who wanted to use it as a base for power and control and where there is a lack of compassion for the poor, hence the comparison with the poor widow.

The story of the Good Samaritan recorded in Luke’s gospel roundly condemns the Synagogue functionaries for not attending to the man on the side of the road, but in this text it is Mark who talks about ‘deliberate’ corruption. 

As we witness the results of the recent enquiry into paedophilia within the Church and in particular the Catholic church, we are all too aware of how human nature has the ability to corrupt the sacred by allowing for greed, power, control and self-aggrandisement and self-satisfaction to flourish.  Parents would have considered that their children would be safe in the care of the church officials, but the response has been one of a betrayal of that trust.

Very often the systems that we put in place with the best intentions of responding compassionately to the poor and disadvantaged become vehicles for exploitation and the more hierarchical these systems the greater the likelihood of abuse.

You may recall that a few weeks ago we read about how two of the disciples began to jockey for positions of power but they were unable to grasp what they would have to give up to achieve it, or what pain they would have to endure.  In the end of course they realise it was not quite the glory they envisaged.  They were incapable of stopping their ambitious striving long enough to receive and understand the Jesus message of love.

The illustration in the story told in today’s gospel is a classic, where the people who can least afford to give are giving more than they are capable of.  The poor widow who can least afford to be is the one who gives most generously.  The giving of two mites, the smallest coin, is literally a princely sum when we realise her economic circumstances.  The widow gives everything she has.

The beauty of this story is that the widow’s sacrifice defines her as the heroine.  It is not Jesus who is the centre of the story, but the widow.  Here we have the Jesus like, self-giving, from a person who does not parade her act like the scribes.  There is pain in her giving in that she makes herself even more vulnerable.

So what is the message for us as a community of faith?

In the texts over the last few weeks Mark is asking us to get our priorities right – the blind need to see, the child needs to be included and nurtured and the people are asked to give to the needs of others.  Who is responding?  It is not the scribes, cardinals, the priests, the ministers or the bishops, but it is the poor widow who may even be described as a beggar.

However, the issue in this text is not only a personal challenge it is a warning about the structures and systems that we erect in society, to deal with personal issues of need and supervision.  Within a short period of time the maintaining of these systems become more important in themselves than the needs they are designed to meet.  This happens in all systems and structures and not just the church. 

In 1973 Robyn and I established a program to assist young juvenile offenders it was called the Grassmere Centre and still operates today and will celebrate its forty-fifth birthday on April 1st next year.    Grassmere was the first non-government non-residential program for persistent young offenders in Australasia.  The aim of the program was to work with the young people, their families and the schools in building up local community systems of support. We established that program on a budget of $9000 p.a, almost $5000 of which was set aside for my salary. 

We were not government funded; however in the second year because of our apparent success we received funding.   As a result we became more concerned with our survival than our mission and we did certain things to influence government funding that were not always necessarily in the best interests of our clients.  Today the program has a budget of more than $3.5 million and we need to ask the question is it more successful in engaging community support and awareness of the issues that lead to law-violating behaviour.

 In the early days the program was dependent for personnel voluntary resources from the voluntary local community in running the program due to our lack of financial resources.

 Local community participation decreased as government funding increased and so did the ownership of the complex social problem of offending behaviour within that community.  The local community leaders in the early days of the program had begun to speak openly about the responsibility of the community as a whole to closely examine the exercise of personal values, which they recognised as being present in all relationships and crucial in challenging law- violating behaviour. 

Further, they began to question their personal responses to the needs of people in their communities.  There was a rising of the need to accept that, we are all responsible for the welfare of others and this impacts significantly on how we need to respond to social problems.

The questions that Jesus raises can have the same impact in that they can challenge us to ask the question is  what I do “morally coherent” with the values that he is expounding?  Over the last few weeks we have been examining such values as opposed to the values society supports.

What of the Church? What percentage of the Church’s resources is used to prop up the existing systems at the expense of the practical support to people in need?  How much money is spent on maintenance of property? How much do we spend on pomp and ceremony particularly in the hierarchical churches? 

Is the role of the church to pay people to parade around in robes and hats and to be supported by garbed attendants swinging incense?  Jesus raises this concern by referring to the ‘scribes in long robes’. Do we honestly believe that robes and hats add to the dimension of sacredness? For some this is a vital part of their faith.

We pay out millions of dollars to have talkfests and rallies, but to what end?  What are the practical outcomes?  Could the resources that we have tied up in properties be used in other ways? I am sure these are questions that many congregations are asking particularly as the numbers continue to decline.

How has the Church responded to poverty? How can we respond to asylum seekers?  If we continue in the way we practice our faith today are we risking the possibility of becoming totally irrelevant to the world in which we live?

As Christians who are we?

Are we the new beginning?

Are we the new Temple? Are we a people of faith?

Are we a caring, giving community of faith where mercy, compassion and forgiveness reign or are we a system dedicated to our own survival and the creation of an empire?

If we are asked where do our priorities lie what would we say?

As Professor Loader writes in relation to this mornings gospel; “Mark is clear about one thing: “God’s way is the way of self–giving love and God’s community needs to be a place where love frees people to be like that and this includes it’s leadership, which has at times become an instrument of violence.”

The church has a history of self-promotion in the building of its empire.  We also have read in Mark’s gospel how the disciples were too obsessed with themselves to understand the reality of the values of Jesus and his preparedness to sacrifice his well being in pursuit of these values.

The way of faith according to Mark is not in the temple or in the behaviour of the Scribes, it is seen in blind Bartimaeus a marginalised person, it is in the needs of a small child and in the widow who gives so generously and it is in the person of Jesus himself.

How does our behaviour stack up against the values of Jesus?

And if values determine who we are then who are we?

Are we the people who can shout aloud?

“We are the people of God because we care.”

“We are the new Temple because the temple of God is not one built of bricks and mortar.

“We are the new way.”

If we can proclaim that we are bound by these values then:

Hallelujah! Brothers and sisters! Hallelujah! The Great Spirit of God is within you! AMEN

CONCLUSION

“Reclaiming the Radical Message of Jesus”

Each Sunday morning when attending church I hear the words of the hymns, or listen to the prayers and the sermon, but I do not have the urgent impulse to go outside and shout aloud to the community that I am alive because of a sacred spirit within me.  At the end of the church service my pulse is not racing and I certainly do not feel that I am walking on a cloud.

And why is this so?  I firmly believe it is because what I have been listening to and singing about, is a message about Jesus, and not the message of Jesus.  This dilemma is further compounded because in most cases the message I hear about Jesus does not depict the historical Jesus of Nazareth I have come to know through my reading of the gospels.

What then do I mean by the term ‘the message of Jesus’?  The paramount message of the human Jesus is that the Kingdom of God is ‘immanent’ and is, as he claims in Luke 17:21, ‘among you’ and within you.  The term Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven are mentioned one hundred and eight times in the canonical gospels alone.  The Geek term ‘Basileia’ has been translated as Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven in the New Revised Standard Version of the bible.  However, recent New Testament scholarship explains that a more appropriate translation would be ‘imperial rule’, because it is about what kings and tyrants ‘do’ and hence it is a verb and not a noun.  It is about ‘power’ and ‘rule’, which infers a process rather than a place – a way of life more than a location.

Why do I declare this message to be a radical one?  Simply because this message challenges the traditional image of God held by the Jews in the time of Jesus.  The image of God, which was influenced by the sacred writings of the Old Testament such as Daniel (7:22-27) had three essential elements, which were proclaimed by John the Baptist in Matthew’s gospel 3:7-10.  These three essential elements are, firstly that God will visit earth very soon, and it is imminent.  Secondly, the timing of this visit relies entirely on when God chooses to intervene, so the God of the Jews is an interventionist God.  Thirdly, this intervention will be accompanied with divine violence.  God of Judaism is a powerful violent, interventionist deity and this intervention is imminent.  God will not only judge the kingdoms of the world, because they have failed to heed the warnings of the chosen people, God will also judge the Jews for failing to heed the call to repentance. 

The ‘radical’ nature of this message is more easily understood in Jesus’ teaching parables where he likens the Kingdom of God to a ‘mustard seed’ which we find in Luke 13:18&19.  Here Jesus confronts his audience with a provocative image suggesting that God’s domain is like an uncontrollable garden weed.  A weed that has the ability to take over the whole garden and it is this dangerous take control quality that ensures its survival, even in the harshest environments.  Jesus is saying, once you let God into your life it is quite possible that God will take over and you will no longer be in control.

However, it is the parable of the yeast that appeals most to me because it depicts that the spiritual energy source we call God is in all things, hidden yet apparent, not ostentatious, but quietly working in all types of situations.  Unlike Jewish tradition, Jesus is declaring that God is everywhere present with us now.  It is interesting to note that Jesus tells his audience that the woman actually hides, or more correctly, ‘conceals’ the leaven in the bread.  This is a provocative statement from Jesus, because the Jews through their celebration of the Passover, eat only unleavened bread, and regard leaven as symbol of corruption.

The new paradigm proposed by Jesus regarding the kingdom of God is a clear indication that he believed that God was present in human life and was as close as one’s heart beat.  As he says “it is amongst you, but people do not see it”.  Included in the jar of 52 documents from early Christianity discovered at Nag Hamadi in 1945 we have a manuscript entitled “The Secret Revelation of John”.  It is an account of the disciple John who has gone out into the desert to grieve the death of Jesus, in a state of utter devastation.  It is in this highly emotional state that he hears the voice of Jesus saying, “John, why are you doubting and fearful. For you are not a stranger to this likeness.  Do not be faint hearted.  I am the one that dwells with you always.  I am the Father I am the Mother I am the Son.  I am the one who exists forever undefiled and unmixed.” (3: 9-14).  I understand this text to affirm the presence of the Jesus Spirit, which is forever present in the lives of people we encounter daily.

As followers of Jesus our task is to recognise the signs of the ‘kingdom’ and to reveal and affirm them.  They may be in the random acts of kindness or a generosity of spirit that we witness in the lives of those who we make contact with everyday, where each reveals the sacred activity we call God.  If the kingdom of God is within you, then God comes to visibility in your relationships with others.

The second vital point of this message regarding God’s presence is that it is not an interventionist one from a powerful deity, but a collaborative one.  We can perceive in the life of Jesus a source of spiritual energy that he is not forced into relying on, but actively chooses to do so, because it gave him a sense of wholeness.  We too can empower each other through inclusion, unconditional acceptance and positive regard, which are the fruits that give visibility to the presence of God.  It is possible to experience a spiritual presence by working together collaboratively.

The third significant feature of the Jesus message is that the God of Jesus is non-violent.  Jesus presents us with a sacred energy source that can transform the world, not through violent intervention, but through love.   Jesus had the skill to effect quite radical change through the use of parody, non-compliance, humour and exaggeration.  He did not practice ‘passive resistance’ but ‘active non-violent resistance’. 

The message that I want to hear from the church is the message that Jesus proclaimed himself, which affirms that a non-interventionist, non-violent and collaborative God abides within and between us, and when we discern it in the lives of people around us we must proclaim it for what it is. 

We have been given the God-given power to be a spiritually defiant beloved community of resistance to the evils of this world.

If we achieve this it will quicken the pulse.

John W H Smith                                         December 2018

oOo

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