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Saturday, 20 July 2013

Boat people go home, said Jesus (or Bonhoeffer) never

SERMON PREACHED AT THE CHURCH OF St FRANCIS
BATCHELOR (NORTHERN TERRITORY)
ORDINARY SUNDAY 16 / NINTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
(21st JULY) 2013

Readings:        Amos 8.1-12
                        Psalm 52
                        Colossians
                        Luke 10.38-42

The writers of the gospels tended to provide near the beginning of their narratives a prism that establishes a perspective through which we as followers of Jesus are to see both world and gospel. John, for example, establish a prism of reception versus rejection of the one who is Logos, or Word of God, and we are challenged constantly to assess whether we are receiving of rejecting that which is the command of God in and upon our lives. For Luke the prism – and this is of course to over-simplify Luke’s creativity – the prism is that Magnificat that once formed the basis of Anglican Evening Prayer for countless generations:

He hath shewed might in his arm:
he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat,
and hath exalted the humble.
He hath filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich he hath sent empty away.

Within the structure of Luke’s gospel telling there are then a series of what I would call “sub-prisms) at which point the scientific metaphor probably breaks down!) dominating the various sections of the story. Each of those though is consistent with the Magnificat: the human world of power structures is being torn down, the mighty cast down, the rich sent empty away.
This is not apparent as we turn on our media. The single biggest issues in our political thought are not issues for the poorest of the poor, who are the world’s outcast and refugees, except insofar as politicians seek to out-tough each other in their attempts to keep them from our shores. Luke tells us over and again that it is the poor and powerless in our midst who are the image of God: “whatsoever you do for the least of these my brothers and sisters”, records, strangely enough Matthew, rather than Luke. But it is Matthew that sees that the compassion of the Law, of Torah, rather than being jettisoned, must be exceeded by the Jesus-community. Even Kevin Rudd once wrote, citing Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that “We have for once learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the reviled - in short, from the perspective of those who suffer.” Politician however, of all persuasions, appear to have short memories.

Amos had no time for short memories: “Surely I will never forget any of their deeds. Shall not the land tremble on this account …?”. Christian preaching in some quarters has often majored in the minors, so that renowned and perhaps infamous US influenced preachers in particular rail against changes to marriage laws, claiming that cyclones and earthquakes and wild fires are a sign of God’s wrath against a country’s liberal views on sexuality. Yet the prophets of the Hebrews rail not against sexual mores – though these too must always be scrutinized in our own lives – but against flamboyant injustice, against oppression of the poor and alienation of the outsider.  One wonders whether Amos would have more to say about Australia’s attitude to refugees or its broad though not yet official tolerance of a wide range of marital states.

So much that passes as Christianity, though, is no more than militant self-preservation. At its worst, even the promise of “eternal reward” or “eternal life” is no more than a trite sidestep of the fear of non-existence, and a holier than thou attack on those who do not share our faith. When the fear of change – and this is not to pretend that all change is ipso facto good, but neither to claim it is ipso facto bad – when the fear of change leads us to rant against the oppressed and the insecure then it is highly questionable whether we are bearing Christlight to the community around us. I do happen to believe in the eternal existence of the human person – but not, I hope, as a tragic act of preservation against my own non-existence, but rather a logical outcome of the promise of God revealed in the event of Jesus Christ, so that even the power of death is “torn down” from its throne.
Martha is a tricky customer. It could be argued that she is an example of servanthood, the very thing we as a diaconal people of God are called to: “brother, sister let me serve you”, as Richard Gillard wrote. Yet there is something wrong here: her service has become distraction: “Martha, Martha”, Luke records Jesus as saying. They are words of gentle reproach, for Martha has, in her servant role, lost her focus on the Christ-element. “Kevin, Kevin”, he might say, or for that matter “Tony, Tony”: in their search for political supremacy they are distracted to the extent that they have dropped the ball of Christlike compassion. It is the Christlikeness, not the political or culinary expediency, that is the issue.

For us, then, as Christ-bearers, we are challenged to asses our performance and our motivation. Do we, in the light of this passage (which follows hard on the heels of the Lukan telling of the tale of the good Samaritan) , demonstrate Christlike attitudes and values in attitudes, like Mary, in actions like the good Samaritan (let us recall that Mary as a woman and the fictional Samaritan as an ethnic outsider were both theoretical non-people in Jesus’ world), or are we like Martha and the priest and the scribe so embedded in our own holiness that we forget the values of the Magnificat, that it is the poor and voiceless who are the icons and even nerve-endings of God in our midst? I know I fall short of Mary’s higher call to dwell on Christ: I fear many of us do. I know I fall short in the challenging call to radical hospitality, extending Christlight to the most needy in and beyond our community. I fear many of us do. May we pray that we are and indeed our two main political leaders are transformed towards radical Magnificat standards of justice and love? I fear anything less leaves us as Amos’ “you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land.”

 TLBWY
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