Sunday, 11 September 2011

Community is... being in God.


11th September 2011

Readings:          Exodus 14 v 10-18
                          Matthew 18 v 15-20

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit

Last week we began our journey with the Israelites as they left Egypt and became a Community on the move – a community called out of all that they knew to follow God.
Today, as we continue to journey with them, we encounter them learning to trust God, who says to them “Do not be afraid”.
Time and again as they journey through the wilderness, God repeats that message “Do not be afraid”.
So, following on from last week’s theme: Community is… on the move, today we consider that Community is… being in God.
This ancient story of the parting of the waters was told – and is read today – as a reminder of the presence of God in all of life.
In deliverance AND in destruction.
I find this story disturbing because in the deliverance of the Israelites, the Egyptians were destroyed.
And the God in whom I believe, the God whom I want to reveal present in all of life is not a God who takes sides.
But maybe, just maybe, there is a message of warning in this ancient story:
Pharaoh, after every plague, promised to set the Israelites free.
And, each time, he reneged on that promise.
Then came the Passover – the last plague, when all the first born Egyptian sons were killed.
It was then that Pharaoh let the Israelites go.
But, as he saw them making good their escape, he had yet another change of heart and took his army and pursued them.
And there comes a time when there is no going back.
A time when we press the self destruct button once too often.
Sometimes, even God is helpless to protect us when we continually put ourselves out of God’s reach and choose, instead to go our own way.
Community is BEING IN GOD.
We, as a community of faith, are called to witness to God’s presence.
God present in and with creation.
So what ARE the signs today of God present in our lives?
And when we discern God’s presence, how do we communicate that to others?
As a community of faith we are called, not just to be a community on the move, willing to step outside the walls that we build.
We are called to be a community that mirrors God present in everyday life.
In our gospel, Jesus, who came to earth to show God, teaches of conflict resolution.
He teaches that we should go to great lengths to resolve dispute.
But, if resolution is not possible, then what should we do?
If resolution is not possible, says Jesus, we should treat those who have wronged us as Gentiles or as tax collectors.
Harsh words, it would seem – for Gentiles and tax collectors were people despised in Jesus’ day.
Until we remember how Jesus treated such outcasts.
Jesus sat at table with tax collectors.
Jesus invited Gentiles into the Kingdom of God.
So, it would seem, there is always, but always, room for forgiveness.
However difficult or however unlikely, Jesus exhorts us, as a community of believers, as people of faith witnessing to God’s presence today, to practise forgiveness.
Why should we adhere to that teaching?
Why should we continue to forgive when wronged?
The clue to that lies in the last few verses we read:
Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
Learning and practising forgiveness sets us free.
We have witnessed that freedom in people who have managed to forgive the most heinous crimes against themselves and their loved ones.
Their forgiveness is not just a cosy sentiment but a real heart wrenching yet life giving labour of love, one that doesn’t come cheap but one which brings true freedom.

Today as we mark 10 years since 9/11, forgiveness shows us a way forward through the melee of extremism and mistrust and revenge that seems to prevail.
The images of violence perpetrated in the name of justice are brought to us every day.
Revenge seems to have been deemed a human right.

I was disturbed, back in May, to see folks dancing in the streets when Osama Bin Laden was killed.
There was just something very unseemly about celebrating the death of another, no matter how evil.
His death did not bring about justice but, in fact, fuelled yet more violence.
The notion of celebrating the death of enemies IS a very biblical image.
Throughout the Old Testament we read of victory songs and celebrations after massacre and war.
However Jesus came to change all that.
Jesus came to show that there is another way.
The way of love.
And the way of forgiveness.

10 years ago today, I was putting the finishing touches to my preparations for a communion service for Presbytery at which I was to celebrate as moderator of the Presbytery.
From my office at the hospital, I popped upstairs to one of the wards and heard the news that the first of the twin towers had been struck.
The two emotions I can remember most clearly were:
Disbelief that this was an act of terrorism – although it was a grave tragedy however caused, somehow a terrible accident rather than calculated evil seemed preferable.The attack on the second tower quickly dispelled that somewhat bizarre hope.
But the other emotion I remember was one of panic – the words I had carefully chosen and the service I had painstakingly put together for the Presbytery Communion would now have to be drastically changed.
An emotion that seems incredibly shallow as events unfolded and the scale of the terrorism became clear.
What also became clear was that there were no words that could express the horror of how far humanity had fallen, how grotesquely we had obscured the image of God in which we were made.
I know that most of you could say exactly where you were and what you were doing when you learned of 9/11.
All week we have been bombarded with programmes on TV and radio about the day that changed the world.
This morning, I’d like to ask: Was that change for the better?
10 years after 9/11 are we any closer to a world that promotes peace loving communities?
And do our communities testify to the presence of God?
As people were facing the last few minutes of life, whether in a plane bound for destruction or a building from which there was no escape, they were not shouting words of revenge.
They were calling loved ones, speaking words of love and forgiveness, making peace.
Those were the emotions that folk wanted to express, the imprints they wanted to leave behind.
At the hospital where I worked and, in churches all over, people wanted to come together, to be in community and to re-experience the presence of God in the midst of life as scary as it was right then.
And amid all the carnage and the terror.
In the wake of all the revenge since exacted in our name by violent and war hungry governments, where are there signs of a community that displays its BEING IN GOD?
The quest for revenge.
And the war mongering that prevails
Are fuelled by fear.
We, as a community of faith are called to move beyond fear – to hope.
That is what will change the present climate.
That is what will move us from hate and violence, from the quest for revenge, to peace and forgiveness.
Not a neat, easy forgiveness that comes at no cost.
But a forgiveness that has been wrought against all the odds.
A forgiveness that comes through love, transforming the world, encouraging the move from fear of the next attack to hope for peace in our time.

Community is BEING IN GOD – the God of love and of peace and of forgiveness.
As a community of faith may we practice forgiveness until we get it right witnessing to God in all of life.
for the glory of God.
Amen

4 comments:

Chilly Fingers said...

Amen.

Peter said...

Hi Liz, a good message - not sure if you will get this in time, but I think you mean Osama bin Laden not Saddam Hussein when referencing the dancing on the streets in May.

Have a great service.

liz said...

Thanks, Peter - picked it up in time x

Songbird said...

Liz, I love your line about our communities being a testimony to the presence of God. Thank you.