SERMON PREACHED AT CHRIST CHURCH, WHANGAREI
TWENTIETH SUNDAY OF PENTECOST
(14th OCTOBER) 2007
2 Timothy 2.8-15
I frequently float my belief that we, the worshipping people of God, are called to be the tenth leper. There are many in our community, in which we are called to live and for which we called to pray, who believe, more or less in some abstract way, in a God. There are of course many who don’t, and that’s fine, but they remain a minority in New Zealand society. Yet there is an enormous disparity between those that believe, to whatever extent, and those who gather as Body of Christ in communal worship.
So here we are, the tenth leper, the people who have turned back to say ‘thank you’. This in no way makes us better than those who have received the gifts of God and carried on their journey.
When I worked as a religious broadcaster on Australian National Radio I struck up a relationship with a well known rabbi. I asked him about the responsibility of evangelism within the Jewish community. He laughed, and told me that most Jewish people had no desire to inflict their faith on others. The relationship with God was a prickly and onerous one, he explained, and he could see no reason why he should burden anyone else with it. His people were God’s chosen people, a sign in the world to remind the world of the need for the values of the Spirit. He expected no converts, yet they came nevertheless, for the integrity of his faith and the faith of his community spoke volumes.
To some extent we are the same. We too are called to be a sign. We do, it’s true, have a commission to proclaim the love of Jesus by our lives and occasionally by our words. Before that, during that, and beyond that, though, we like the Jewish community are called to be a people signposting the way to faith, the way to God. We are called to be what the author of the Book of Revelation calls ‘a kingdom, priests serving God’ (see Rev. 1.6). We are called to pray for and on behalf of God’s world; we are called to sing praises on behalf of creation, as our New Zealand prayer book often acknowledges, praising God on behalf of ‘dolphins and kahawai, sea lion and crab, coral anemone, pipi and shrimp …’. We are called too to intercede, as the priests of the Old Testament interceded, praying for the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq, of Sri Lanka and Darfur and Botswana and the peoples of the earth too broken or even too busy to pray for themselves: we are called to be the tenth leper who turns back and speaks to Jesus.
We, like the Jewish people the rabbi spoke of, are called to be a signpost, irritating the world around us not by being obnoxious but by keeping alive the thoughts in society’s mind of a God who loves, aches, beckons and judges God’s creation. We are called and commissioned to keep alive the rumour of resurrection: he is not here, he is risen!
We can do this only if we as individuals and as a body have integrity, authenticity. And there the circle is complete, for we can only have integrity and authenticity as individuals and as a body when we are a people who constantly encounter our Lord in prayer, in worship, raising our hearts and sometimes even our self-conscious Anglican hands to the God we meet but who first met us. We can only have authenticity as a people of God when we are conspicuous by the quality of our care for those whose lives are in turmoil.
In these ways and so many more we are called to be the tenth leper, whispering our thank you to the Christ who meets us on the road.