Sunday, 26 June 2011

What exactly is the point of the church......?

The sermon for the first Sunday of Trinity
Religious people have a great capacity to overlook the obvious barbarism in many stories in the Bible and seem unable to see just how offensive they are to modern sensibilities. Even the most horrible stories are surrounded by a warm golden glow......
Today’s O.T. story (Genesis 22: 1-14) is one where Abraham is going to murder his son Isaac because he heard voices in his head telling him to do it. Realising that the other two men he took with him  mustn’t suspect anything he lies to them saying “we will come back for you” and deceives his son by telling him that “God will provide the lamb”. He then takes him off to kill him. The text has God referring to Isaac as “your son, your only son” but of course Abraham did have another son called Ishmael, who he had just callously cast out into the wilderness along with his mother Hagar on the instructions of his jealous wife Sarah. Of course It was Sarah who had suggested that her husband sleep with Hagar in the first place!!
There is no hint of moral anguish in the text at all – just blind obedience to what is perceived as God’s will – even if it means murdering his own son.
Just imagine for a moment if this happened today how this would be reported in the Sun or the Daily Mail and dealt with by the law. Would Abraham even be deemed sane enough to stand trial – or just locked up as a danger to society? 
But for us it is a well loved, well known story – one of the most pivotal in the Hebrew scriptures.
In its own extremely harsh way – using shock tactics – the message it wants to convey is..... Be obedient to God, no matter what!
In the story, God intervenes at the very last moment, but the important thing is that Abraham was not to know that. He understood his instructions and was going to carry them out. It is for that very fact – that he was willing to murder his own son at God’s behest that God commends him.
The fundamental question this story, and others like it raises, is, what are your real priorities when it comes to following God.
For us as Christians this would translate as “Is following the way of Jesus really our priority in life or are we sidetracked by a myriad other concerns.”  Life can be hard and full of concerns that weigh us down and we can easily lose sight of any bigger picture. 
What are our priorities?
Because making a commitment to a way of being and living as a follower of “the way” – making that a priority in your life will cause friction. Let us now move to the gospel reading from Matthew......
This piece (Matt. 10:40-42) follows on from where Jesus says that following his way won’t bring you peace but conflict. It might conceivably tear your family apart.
“Don’t think that I have come to bring peace to the earth;  I have not come to bring peace but a sword”. He then goes on itemise all the family conflicts that will take place.
Today’s piece which follows on, then goes on to say that as one version of family will fall apart – the biological family – this will be replaced by a new spiritual family. In this little piece there is a dynamic relationship between
 - “me” meaning Jesus
– “the one who sent me” – God 
- “whoever welcomes you” – the hosts and
-  “Those who will be received” – the Disciples  
A new family is created from those who faithfully carry out the mission, those who receive it, and a fellowship is established which includes the divine presence.
Jesus relativises the natural family and establishes and promotes a new family based on those whose priority is a common commitment to follow God. He puts this much more directly a little later on in Matthew (12: 46-50)
Remember last week I said that Baptism is about a prior sense of belonging – of belonging to a much bigger family based not on blood ties but on spiritual ties? Well this is how Jesus put it.....
“While he was still speaking to the people, his mother and his brothers stood outside asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him. “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?”. And stretching out his hand to his disciples said “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother”.
O.K. Understood – But there is a clear inherent danger in all this to my mind is that we can relativise the biological family but if wedon’t carry through the next important step and create the new family then all we have done is make orphans of all of us. The church Community is not an optional extra but an essential part of the whole Christian story. A living breathing supportive and loving community is the end result of the Christian story. You – us - we, are an integral and important non-negotiable component in God’s plan.
What has happened though over the last 2000 years is that far from creating an alternative spiritual family all we have done is create an institution. With no fully functioning loving support network to effectively take the place of the biological family – we have regressed to promoting “Christian family values” which is not what Jesus was talking about at all.  
Because the end result of Christianity is not the cross, or the resurrection, or ascension or Pentecost – the end result is what flows from all of those things – us – we are the end result of all this - a community of people at peace with God , at peace with ourselves and at peace with all creation who by our very existence can change the world in which we live for the better as salt and light. Co-creators with God.

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