Sunday Sermon 26th June -The Way Ahead
The Way Ahead
Welcome to our reflection for 26th June.
We will be looking at some tough sayings of Jesus today.
Foxes have holes to live in but the Son of man has no place to lay his head.
People are told to follow and not go back to say goodbye to their parents or bury their dead.
The intro to this passage by Spill the beans says...
It is as if Jesus is saying, if you want to come with me, this is what it is going to be like: you won’t be able to bury your dead, you won’t be able to have the comfort you are used to, you won’t be able to keep turning back home. I’m being realistic here. So come with me if you are prepared for all of that, if not, stay where you are. You can proclaim the kingdom there too.
That would be more comfortable to hear, but it does not quite feel the text is allowing that. Jesus suggests the Kingdom of God is forever on the move. It is not a thing that settles down in a particular locale. And it is this that makes these sayings so difficult.
And maybe there is a truth here that we need to see for our time...but we will look at that after Gil gives us the reading and leads us in prayer
I suspect that Jesus was just being blunt and realistic at this time.
Things change, and as things change how we respond needs to change too.
Here is a statement that might frighten you.
There is no right or wrong theology. (though I might add here that theology of the head might be wrong, theology that touches head, heart and soul is neither right nor wrong).
I suspect that most of us think there is a right theology.
It is the ‘ology’ bit of the theology.
Biology is the study of life. And it is a science, and it is ever moving to be an exact science.
There are things that are right and there are things that are wrong. It is a science, it is seeking to be exact, and when things are exact it is right.
You can work out my exact height, and when you work out my exact height then that is it, if I say it is anything else then I am wrong.
I have a genetic signature that tells me who exactly my parents are. If I try to tell people that other people are my biological parents then I am just wrong.
My daughter Iona believes that we stole her as a child and George Clooney is her real biological father. Science would tell her that no matter how much faith she has in this, it is just wrong.
We have battles in General Assemblies because people think that theology is fixed, it is exact, you can find the right theology and God will have to let you into heaven. But if you pick the wrong theology then God can’t let you into heaven because you are a heretic. And they will argue about all kinds of things because, in their eyes, ‘your theology is wrong and my theology is right’.
I think Jesus was trying to tell us here that nothing is stable when it comes to theology.
We don’t have a science with God; we have a relationship with God. And relationships grow and mature and change.
Theology is the study of that relationship, so it changes.
Anyone who has been a parent knows this truth.
The way we treat children as infants is different than the way we treat children as teenagers.
That transition is never easy, because the changes are so fluid and so quick.
But eventually you get there.
And if you get it right then the relationship you have with your children in their 20’s is completely different than the relationship you have with them when they are five or six.
And that is not to say that the way we brought up our children when they were five or ten was wrong. The way we brought them up might have been perfect, but it was perfect for that time and age, but that time and age has moved on, and so our relationship, our actions have to move on as well.
Let me explain how this is useful just now.
The Church of Scotland is going through huge changes.
And it is talking about us having to be a missional church.
Because they have done it the way the Church of Scotland always does these things, incompetently, they have managed to hurt a lot of people.
Many churches feel that the Church is saying, ‘You know everything you did in the past was wrong. Now you have to do it right.’
That feels really offensive.
It is as if the church is saying to churches, to elders, to volunteers, ‘All those decades of time and talents and sacrifices, they were a waste of time. You need to do things this way now.’
That was the exact problem that Jesus was facing.
The faith that existed in Jesus day had formed from...
the promise-maker faith of Abraham that helped them to survive as a clan who saw God as the creator God,
through to the Saviour faith of Moses that helped the people escape slavery in Egypt, through the warrior God that helped the people survive as a nation,
through the ritual God of the Temple that helped the people understand what it meant to relate to other nations,
through the itinerant God who walked with his people in exile.
Every time the people found themselves in a new situation, their understanding of their relationship with God changed.
That was Jesus frustration.
Jesus was giving the people a new insight into the understanding of God, God who was willing to sacrifice and call his people to sacrifice.
That was Jesus’ big fight with the scribes and the Pharisees, the situations was changing and the people needed a new insight as to how God was working in their lives, but the scribes and the Pharisees wanted to hang onto the relationship that had been.
And that relationship wasn’t bad; it was just not enough anymore.
The scribes and the Pharisees faith was based round the temple, it was a national faith, but the Temple was going to be destroyed, the people were going to be scattered, they needed a faith that could move with the individual, that was personal, that was intimate, small communal rather than national communal.
And in a similar way things have changed, or are changing in our society, and so we need to evolve our relationship with God, how we see ourselves, how we see the church interacting with society.
Let me show you.
For centuries there was a way in which the church and society worked.
We believed that we lived in a Christian society.
The church was the centre of society,
the rules were made by Christian people.
The ethos of the society was Christian.
Often the church buildings were literally at the centre of the communities.
Churches used to run schools and hospitals.
Hospices were often dependant of church donations to keep them going.
Orphanages were run by Christian organisations.
Drug rehabilitation centres and nursing homes were run by national churches and Christian charities.
It didn’t matter what denomination you were in, or if you were of another faith or no faith at all, you were saturated by Christian ethos in the very culture of society.
That, in turn, affected our relationship with society, with God.
We saw our role as defending the culture, the state, the institutions, because they were Christian and promoted the Christian ethos.
So it was that people like Billy Grahame could come visiting in the 1960’s and 70’s and even 80’s and there was enough residual Christian culture in the air that thousands of people would come forward at those events.
The dark side of that was that we felt so protective of the reputation of the Christian institutions that when evil was seen in them we still defended them.
Child abusers could act because we were too busy protecting the reputation of the institutions that were seen to be basically good, rather than root out the evil that had sneaked in and often we failed to protect and support the victims.
Those days are gone.
The church is no longer seen to be the centre of society.
People no longer just happen to drop into churches.
We have families were four/five generations of people have no contact with the church.
They would feel as comfortable in a church as I would be in a drug den.
Our relationship with society has had to change because society has changed.
And so how we bring God into that society has had to change.
And the word that they are using for that is missional.
So how does it work?
Well it doesn’t ‘work’ in that sense, because it isn’t a machine or a technique.
It is an attitude.
It means reflecting on how society and we interact.
No longer are we in charge, no longer are we the centre of society, no longer do we expect society to work round our agenda, no longer do we presume we are the ones with the power and influence, no longer do we condemn others for not living the way we think they should live.
Instead we see ourselves instead as guests of society, our faith may be the centre of our life, but we are going out as guests into the world. We are bringing the influence of our faith into the world and seeking to touch the world for good. To show the world that there is an alternative way than the way of the dominant culture, but we do it with respect.
Let me give you an example.
Medieval Scotland. Woman screams at a shop owner and has her in tears.
We are the dominant culture. The woman is brought to the Kirk session and is punished rightly. Put into stocks and people throw rotten fruit and vegetables at her. That will teach her to behave like that. We force people to be good because we can force them.
Tomorrow CoOp. You are in the queue and this very aggressive man is screaming at the shop assistant and then storms off.
We are no longer are in any position of power to do anything.
We might be in such shock that we don’t even have time to confront the man screaming at the shop assistant. But we can still be an influence for God, an influence for good.
We could comfort the shop assistant and make sure they are ok. We could get the manager in and see if they can find a replacement for the assistant as they get a space to calm down.
We can remind people that there will be CCTV coverage and maybe the police could intervene.
If se remember that in time we could even tell the man shouting at the checkout attendant that there is CCTV cameras and maybe he could calm down.
It is realising that we might not have the power as a church the way we did, but as individuals that doesn’t stop us from doing nothing, we can still make a difference.
That is not to say that missional means that the church as an institution does nothing.
Missional means seeing the struggles around us and seeing where we can bring God’s healing, God’s help; sometimes as a group, sometimes as individuals.
Some saw a danger of child poverty really being tough over the summer holidays and even worse at the weekends when a lot of the government institutions aren’t as well manned. So they have helped us in setting up a pop-up food bank that meets on a Friday and can give supplies to get folk locally over the weekend.
Others are volunteering to mentor young children so that they are aware that people are on their side. That one difference can change the path of their life.
Jesus was trying to get the people to see that the world was changing, and although God’s love wasn’t changing, the way God was showing his love was changing to cope.
The national Church has taken a long time to see that society has changed, so the way we work in society has to change as well.
Our role is to always reflect on God, where-ever we are, we are bringing God’s healing and care into that place.
When we interact with our family, when we bump into people in the street, in the things we can volunteer for that help others.
But let me remind you, it starts off with remembering that where we are, God is with us.
So wherever we go, we meet God already there, so we are always asking,
‘What do we do here God?’
Let us pray
Always in the world, always working away.
And we can feel that hope and joy and healing.
We have felt it in our lives when we have seen your influence bring meaning to our lives, bring comfort to our lives, bring the support and help that we need when we need it.
We have felt it even in your discipline, when you have directed us to stop and to rest and to reflect,
not to see ourselves as just a tool to do your work, but see ourselves as a heavenly child deeply loved.
We have seen your work in others when they begin to grasp that truth and change their ways.
And we see it when you ask us to interact with the world for good, to be a light in the darkness so that others may see hope.
To be a voice of comfort to those who are struggling so that others may feel belief in their future.
To be a resource for those who are in need of practical help just to get by.
We give thanks for your presence in our life, ever changing and yet your heart of love never changes.
May that help us to be what we need to be for others in the world.