Sunday Sermon 6th June
The chosen hymns for this week, God is love, his the care and Lord, for the years can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
Today we move into Kingdom tide or Ordinary Time in the church’s year, and the Lectionary begins the journey of challenging us again to live out the message and mission of Jesus that we have been remembering through the events of the Church Calendar so far.
This year the new season begins with a confrontational question - what are we afraid of?
– to what will we give our allegiance: the Reign of God or some other power?
There are so many scenes in the Bible contain the instruction, “Do not fear or do not be afraid. And you can understand why.
If there is anything that will shift us from our dreams and desires; if there is anything that will drive us into destructive, even evil, behaviour; if there is anything that will cause us to shift our allegiance from God’s Reign to self-protection, self-interest or idolatry it’s fear.
And we can see this clearly in our two readings today.
After a season of peace and prosperity with Samuel as judge, the Israelites found themselves at a turning point. Samuel was getting old, and his time as judge will end.
Samuel had appointed his sons as judges, but they were corrupt and untrustworthy.
Up to that point, the judges had been seen as the mouthpiece of Israel’s true king – God – but now the people were afraid for their future.
Their faith in Samuel’s sons was non-existent, and their faith in God’s ability to keep them secure was failing. So, they asked Samuel to help them appoint a human king, like the nations around them.
The people of Israel wanted a King, they wanted to be like everybody else and they were willing to put up with all kinds of irritations to make life more normal and easy.
They would pay for the court, for armies and for all the other stuff and would be happy to pass on the difficult stuff to others.
It probably seemed a good idea at the time
Autonomy, freedom of thought, is something that we all value at times. Having others always decide for us can be disadvantageous to us and to many others.
Having small elites make our decisions for us, can lead to the advantage of the elites, rather than the good of the whole.
But we are not here to debate political structures, yet we are always here to talk, discuss, ponder and pray as to how God’s people, all people, can get what is best.
In hoping, wishing and praying for that, we, at times, have to take responsibility for what goes on around us, and we have to take on responsibilities, even though at times they may be hard, or even arduous.
Sometimes forgetting about the hard things can hurt us, and others!
Of course there are big examples, on a global and national scale. Deciding that cheap clothes are good and forgetting why they may be cheap when they get to us!
It is great to let multi-national companies make big profits, for surely they help the small person in the end. Or maybe with us not watching they abuse natural resources and at times even avoid the fairest of tax systems.
Not voting, may seem to be a protest, maligning politicians may be fun, but not taking part in the decisions that affect us and not only that, the weakest in our society, may be worse than foolish.
So the consequences of fear can be far-reaching and destructive.
When Jesus arrived on the scene, his proclamation of the Good News and his demonstrations of God’s grace and power challenged both his loved ones and his religious leaders in a way that brought out the worst of their fear.
As his popularity grew and people began flocking to hear him and be touched by him, Jesus’ family clearly became concerned.
They became afraid that he was losing his mind –he was mad.
So, they went to find him and take him home.
For the religious leaders the situation was equally fearful.
This wandering preacher was drawing crowds, while ignoring Sabbath regulations and forgiving sinners.
His popularity was a threat to their status as religious leaders. It was a threat to their control of the people and their ability to maintain the purity of their faith.
This is the destructive power of fear.
Fear turns us into self-appointed protectors who seek to control those around us and keep them from doing anything that would upset our carefully constructed security. As we see in the OT reading.
Fear drives us to demonise others when they step out of our boundaries of religious or cultural acceptability.
Fear teaches us to wage war, to hunt witches, to hate the “other” and to close our hearts to the new.
Fear drives us, and those we condemn or exclude or control, further and further from the grace and love of God.
But Jesus tells us of another way. “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
This is the way of faith, the way of trusting the values and purposes of God’s Reign, the way of love, of embracing necessary change, and of losing our lives so that we may find them.
The people we meet in our daily lives, the people with whom we share this town, this country, and this world are the people we must look upon as our family. Not to do that is to, in some way deny who God his by denying who are God’s.
Ignoring them, seeing them as less important, judging them without knowing them, demonizing them without understanding why is a terrible thing we can all do, without even realizing it.
That is not to say people cannot be wrong. That is not to say that people do not do bad things.
Even in our churches, we easily turn away from the tough inclusivity and love that the Gospel demands in favour of exclusivity, legalism, hypocrisy and judgment of others.
This week we –as members of families, communities and nations - face the call to examine our hearts, get honest about where we place our allegiance, and ensure that we turn soundly to God’s way of loving kindness and justice in any and every area where our allegiance may be faltering.
Such self-examination (personal and communal) can be painful, but it is also the only way to remain connected with God’s life-giving Spirit.