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Friday, 8 July 2016

thoughts on imitating the outsider

(here temporarily breaking out of my series of retrospective sermons from 12+ years ago, back to the present ...)

(July 10th) 2016


Amos 7:7-17
(Psalm 82)
Colossians 1:1-14
Luke 10:25-37

Kia tau ki a koutou,
                te atawhai me te rangimarie o te Atua
Tihe mauri ora!

E te whanau a te Karaiti

E ngā tupuna o tēnei whare karakia

Haere, haere, haere!

Ko Ruapehu taku maunga
Ko Whanganui taku awa
Ko Rangitane taku waka
Ko Mitsubishi Triton taku waka
Ko Hehu Karaiti toku Rangatira!
Ko ngāti pakeha taku iwi
Ko Mikaere te ingoa

No reira

Tena kotou
Tena kotou
Tena tatau katoa

If the teachings of Jesus were reduced to just one or two best known stories, the Parable of the Good Samaritan (or as I would prefer to call it, the Parable of the Exemplary Outsider) would remain. As it happens, in the history of human religion this central teaching about mercy and compassion is not altogether unusual: the teachings of Jesus had his own style and context, but all the great faith-founders have preached compassion, mercy, justice. As Christians we might make other claims about the uniqueness of the life of Jesus, but we begin to slip into the role of the bad guys, the priest and the Levite in this parable, if we start making claims that ignore the sparks of God in other great prophets and faith leaders.
I happen to believe Jesus is unique, but not on the basis of his teachings. The earliest Christians, like those addressed in the letter to the Colossians, were suitably impressed by Jesus’ teachings, but they were far more wowed by their experience of the Risen Lord in their midst as they prayed, broke bread, explored the Hebrew Scriptures and generally worshipped together. So great is this sense that when the great apostles and pastors like Paul write to each other they encouraged each other again and again by rejoicing in that shared, irreversible, irreplaceable knowledge: ‘the Lord be with you’ … which actually should be translated ‘the Lord is with you’, to which the answer, even in times of great trial, risk, suffering was ‘yup, and with you too.’ We say it in slightly different ways when we worship but it’s there over and again in the pukapuka karakia (prayer book). Those first Christians knew that to follow Jesus would mean suffering, and knew too that the risen Lord would not desert them when it happened:
“May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.”
The strength those Christians experienced was based on their mutual encouragement, fellowship, and practice, like a sports team, of the experience of the Risen Christ. They came together at least weekly, perhaps more, to support one another, build one another up, and to be the hands and feet of God for each other and within the wider community, practicing (at least at their best) compassionate justice and love. They didn’t always get it right: Paul and his imitators often had to write stern corrective letters where members of the Jesus community had fallen short of the expectations they, on behalf of God, had of Jesus-people. Sometimes they had become too much like the priest and the Levite in the Parable we read, self-interested, rushed, maintaining purity rather than the radical forgiving hospitality and embrace that is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sometimes they forgot the presence and compassionate yet stern glare of the God who judges, they turned people away, by word or by attitude, or hurried past those in physical or spiritual or emotional need, taking the other side of the road, or closing the doors of welcome.
Jesus empowers us to be compassionate, merciful and just. I believe God judges us on our failures to do just that – but at the same time, when we recognize this or any of our short-fallings, confess them to God, seek God’s healing strength, God picks us up, nudges us further down the walk of the Way of the Cross, the way of becoming Christlike, the way of redemption. Sometimes as individuals, and often as an institution, we forget our vocation to compassion and love: that’s why we say sorry to God every time we share Te Hakari Tapu (the holy feast), practicing, learning over and over again how we should relate to God our judge and redeemer. As we grow into those words and attitudes we will become less like the priest and the Levite, and more like the complete outsider who Jesus said was close indeed to the values of the Kingdom of God: "The one who showed him mercy." … "Go and do likewise." If we get that right, powerfully right, then we might just be the community of Christ, the community of welcome that we are called to be.


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