Saturday, 7 June 2008

Abandoning ship

A sermon for celebrating communion


Readings: Hosea 5 v 15-6 v 6
Matthew 9 v 9-13

I would rather have my people know me than burn
offerings to me.

Both our bible readings this morning speak to us of a God
who is a God of relationships.
A God who doesn’t want sacrifice but wants intimacy.
A God who doesn’t want a people who are simply miserable
going through the motions but a God who wants people to
experience joy.
Living as God wants us to live is not about merely doing the
right thing - its about enjoying life.
Because we follow a God - or purport to follow a God who
wants to put a spring in our step, not a heavy burden on our
back.
I would rather have my people know me than burn
offerings to me.

God calls us into relationship, a joyful relationship.
And sometimes when we have been around the church for
some time, that joyfulness is easy to lose sight of.
We’re good at worrying, we’re good at being concerned,
we’re even good at doing grumpy.
But joy?
That’s taking it all a bit too far.
Those words from the Old Testament:
I would rather have my people know me than burn
offerings to me.
Speak to us of a God, who wants to get beyond our doing
the right thing and wearing the right expression and
looking suitably miserable.
A God who wants people to enter into relationship with God
and with each other and even, on occasion, to be joyful.
A God who doesn’t care if we don’t always get it right, if
we don’t always cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s - as long
as we get beyond the externals, move beyond the
peripherals and enter into relationship.

I always have several books on the go at any one time.
and two that I am attempting to read at the minute are:
Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis and
John Drane’s Do Christians know how to do spiritual?
Both are attempting to explore how we wrestle with the
traditions of our faith for our living today.
I would rather have my people know me than burn
offerings to me.
It seems to me that that was exactly what the prophet
Hosea was wrestling with 700 years before Christ.
In hearing and proclaiming those words of God:
I would rather have my people know me than burn
offerings to me.
the prophet was suggesting a new and radical way forward
for his contemporaries - a way based on a living
relationship with God - not simply on keeping the
traditions.

And so to our gospel for today - Jesus calling Matthew the
tax collector to follow him.
There we see Jesus going against tradition, forging a new
way, forming relationships.
Its amazing how the church, down through the centuries
has sanitised the prophets and sanitised one of the
biggest innovators for the kingdom - Jesus himself.
We gloss over how radical Jesus was.
We conveniently forget how he scandalised the traditional
church men (and they were men) around him.

In today’s gospel we see Jesus calling Matthew to follow
him.
Matthew, a tax collector, despised by his everyday
contemporaries, never mind the high and mighty church
officials.
Jesus, walking along, saw Matthew, and called him.
Let’s pause there for a moment to take in the wonder of
that.
Jesus saw Matthew.
As he walked along, his eyes took in the tax collector but,
more than that, Jesus saw the man.
That was a particular gift that Jesus had - of being able to see people.
Not to see what they wore which would often give away
what they did.
Not to see what age they were which would give him more
information on their socio-economic status.
Not to see where they hung out - another teller.
But Jesus saw people for themselves.
People with whom he could have a relationship - for
themselves.
Its a skill that we, as Jesus followers have lost today.
When we look at folk, we take in how they dress, we take
in their piercings and their tatoos.
And we judge, from those externals what kind of people
they are, what they probably do for a living and how much
use they might be to us or to the church.
Jesus simply saw people.
As he approached Matthew, he saw him.
Not how much he was worth.
Not how much use he might be to him.
Jesus saw Matthew.
And what did he do?
He called Matthew.
And he went to have a meal with him.
Jesus used table fellowship as a way of building
relationships.
To him, a person’s social standing was neither here nor
there.
If only we could be so inclusive.
Especially on this Sunday when we share in table fellowship.
The sacraments that should bring us together in faith.
We become distracted by what we wear, by how we serve,
by what we serve.

While Jesus was having a meal in Matthew’s house,
many tax collectors and other outcasts came and joined
Jesus and his disciples at the table.
That’s the kind of fellowship to which we are called.
The kind of fellowship in which people could feel
comfortable rather than judged.
The kind of fellowship that sees beyond what people do
and recognises them as children of God.


Jesus went on to say: People who are well do not need
a doctor but only those who are sick. Go and find out
what is meant by the scripture that says: It is
kindness that I want, not animal sacrifices. I have not
come to call respectable people, but outcasts.

Can we remember a time when we felt comfortable with
outcasts - particularly gathered around the table?
Or welcomed folk who were different?
How often, in communion and even more, in baptism, the
other sacrament we celebrate, how often do we judge
people who don’t know the rules or who don’t look the part,
the outcasts in this sanctuary?
The very folk that Jesus calls.

Jesus was radical for the upholders of the faith in his day.
And sometimes, we treat the radicals in our day with the
same contempt.
We might indulge or even embrace different ideas for a
time.
But, when they begin to threaten things that we hold dear,
when they offend our sense of what is right and proper, of
what, for us, constitutes the essence of our faith, we put
the brakes on, we withdraw our tacit support, we retreat
back to our traditions.
Jesus rattled the cages of tradition.
He had the audacity to suggest that it is relationship that
counts, not doing things that we have done forever.
Faith entails constantly rediscovering relationship with
God and with each other.
And when tradition gets in the way of that, we must have
the courage to jettison tradition for the sake of the
gospel, for the sake of the kingdom.

Dare we ask ourselves this morning:
What is my relationship with God?
Does it simply depend on all the traditions I have fenced
around myself, is it really more about religion than about
relationship?
Or is it in fact something that could survive if all the
trappings were missing?
And my relationship with others - do I see what they are or
who they are?


Jesus said: It is kindness I want not animal sacrifices.

We’ve come a long way from offering animal sacrifices in the church.
But we still have loads of things we’d rather hide behind,
loads of things that save us from having to get out there
and practice kindness.
We’d rather rearrange the deckchairs on the titanic than
jump into the life boat, jettison all the stuff that weighs
us down and find a new way.
There’s no point in inviting others to come on board and
pitch in on a sinking ship.
Folk will only become involved when they see life, when
they experience kindness, when there is the prospect of
relationship.
And that is not the picture we present right now, around
the table or around the community.

Jesus comes to us - not the perfect but folk who are sick
and need healing.
Jesus comes to offer us relationship with himself and with
God.
And when we’ve entered into that relationship, we are
called to be as generous with others.
Looking beyond the peripherals.
Reaching beyond the trappings of tradition.
Coming from knowledge of God and offering kindness.

In this table fellowship, lets ask ourselves: do I have a
relationship with God or am I going through the motions?
And could I offer kindness to the outcast?
In our changing, in our encountering relationship with God,
may our community here experience something radical
for the glory of God and the building of the kingdom.
Amen




2 comments:

RevAnne said...

Very nicely done!

Diane said...

yes, I like it, esp. the repeated sentence!