Sunday, 9 October 2011

Community is... Trusting together

Reading:  Exodus 32 v 1-14
                  Matthew 22 v 1-14

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Many tributes have been paid this week to Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple inc who died tragically early.
He leaves a huge legacy in his technological innovations, innovations that have revolutionised the world of computing and global communication.
Not just the I phone and I pod and I pad but an inspiring story of amazing entrepreneurship and motivation
I saw a cartoon depicting Steve Jobs arriving at the pearly gates. St Peter is paging through a huge roll book, looking for Steve’s name. Steve tells him: I have an app for that.
Steve did in fact create and encourage others to create and circulate many apps that make life much easier and convenient.
But what struck me about the notion contained in that cartoon – is the idea of even heaven moving with the times, heaven being brought into the technological age.
And a God who not only imparts wisdom but also listens to and learns from humans.
The God we worship is a God of relationships.
And that is certainly a theme in our readings this morning.
Having got the people out of slavery in Egypt, God is building a relationship with those people.
Through Moses, God gave the people the ten commandments – rules that would help the community to live rightly together.
Rules, as we discovered last week that would not inhibit but would enhance relationships and community life.
Moses, after receiving the 10 commandments spends time on the mountain conversing with God.
Leaving his brother Aaron in charge.
And while Moses and God get to know each other better, the people decide to rebel.
Their rebellion consists of spectacularly breaking the first and second commandment – they make for themselves a God to take the place of the God who has led them out of Egypt.
Moses was nowhere in sight.
And, though God had proved to be faithful throughout their journey, the people’s sight was very short – as was their memory.
They demanded something more immediate and obvious.
How many of us have demanded at times, that God should be more evident?
How often have we wished that God would be more direct and not keep us guessing?
That’s exactly the sort of wrestling that’s going on in the minds of the people of Israel with both God and Moses out of their sight just when, more than anything, they need stability and assurance.
You’d think that, being left in charge of the people, Aaron would have been on his guard.
The track record is that the people are quarrelsome and argumentative as we have seen over these past few weeks journeying with them through the wilderness.
And, sure enough, after a short time with Aaron in charge, they get restless again.
They ask Aaron to make them a god whom they can worship and who can go before them.
And Aaron, although he knew well that it was wrong to do as they asked, wanted to please the people.
Aaron compromised what was right in exchange for a quieter life.
A strategy that was bound to come crashing down around him.
But a strategy that we see played out time and again in communities and in the church.
Popularity is not won by making difficult decisions – decisions that folk probably won’t like – even though they know them to be right.
All of us are susceptible to compromising our faith just so that we won’t rock the boat.
We may not instigate wrong things but, so often, we go along with them, we tolerate the wrong so that we don’t give offence or draw attention to ourselves.
God’s call to us as a community is to be strong together  - to trust together and, together, find strength to stand against evil in our world.

But then the story takes an interesting turn.
God sees what is going on and urges Moses to return to the people quickly so that they can be destroyed for their wickedness.
And that is when we see something of the fruit of the time that Moses has spent with God on the mountain – and probably also something of all the lessons he has learned as they’ve journeyed through the wilderness:
Moses has been developing a relationship with God, a relationship that allows him to converse with God and plead for the people.
Moses has learned enough, from spending time with God, to know that the love of God is sufficient to overcome all difficulties. Moses has learned that, no matter how far people stray, God’s love will always be big enough to allow people a way back to a healed relationship with God.
Moses has learned that God is not a distant, vengeful being but is a God who invites involvement and who invokes love and compassion before condemnation.
God is a God of relationships.
A God who is prepared to listen as well as to speak.
A God who is moved by the plight of people.
All this, Moses has learned as he has developed a new relationship with God.
And Moses has also learned how fragile are the people he has been chosen to lead.
He knows their weakness and their fickleness.
He knows how short their memories are.
He knows that they constantly have to be reminded of the goodness of God and of God’s faithfulness.
Moses knows that his leadership must be firm and conciliatory.
Not compromised.
But strong and loving.
It was strength and love that allowed Moses to plead with God to stick with the Israelites and love them back onto the right path no matter how far they strayed.
These are lessons that are not learned once and for all.
They are lessons that are gleaned from relationship.
We learn about the nature of God by nurturing our relationship with God.
And, every day, we learn a little bit more – sometimes more of the same, for we constantly need reminding about the nature of God – and sometimes, God reveals new things.
That’s a wonderful thing – no matter how long we journey with God, still there is more to learn, still there are more and wonderful facets of God to be revealed.

In the gospels, we find Jesus teaching about God in so many different ways.
Not least in the parables he shared.
The parable we read today, of the feast to which those who were originally invited did not come must have had quite an impact on the people who were there at the telling.
It spoke forcibly into a culture where there were very defined social roles and norms.
And cut across those traditions.
Those who would normally be expected to attend such a great feast excluded themselves and so the invitation list was broadened.
This parable points to an inclusiveness that Jesus is keen to emphasise throughout his ministry, much to the disgust of the religious leaders of the day, those who were keen to guard the faith.
All are welcome to the feast.
The table that Jesus sets, as we proclaim every time we celebrate communion, has no boundaries but is open to all.
So, what on earth is going on at the end of this story, when one reveler is ejected for being improperly dressed?
What’s THAT all about?
OF course this parable, like the other parables Jesus told, may speak in different ways to different people at different times.
But I believe that for this people today – for us as a community journeying together, learning to trust, this parable is a reminder of the transformative nature of our relationship with God.
We are all called.
We are all equipped to be God’s people, given all that we need to form a relationship with God.
But sometimes, we distance ourselves from the community by holding back.
By not giving as we could or as we should.
Although we might believe all that God promises, we fail to be changed by living into those promises.
Trusting together is not a matter for our intellect or our emotion.
IT is a total transformation of our whole being.
Trusting God together in community involves our whole lives.
Anything less leads to us excluding ourselves from the amazing grace and transforming love of God.
You are called.
I am called.
Called to be part of this trusting community.
May we be enabled to abandon ourselves to the transforming power of God as we journey together in community, trusting God in all things.


Terri said...

Liz, this is lovely. Well done! I like how you developed the theme of relationship through the txts.

ramona said...

I love how you move from Steve Jobs to God's desiring relationship with us!

Diane said...

thanks for this!

Songbird said...

I love the idea of God growing with us in relationship. Lovely. (Like Process Theology, only warmer.)

Bryan Kerr said...

Liz, love your opening - may just use that one!