A Kaleidoscope of Faith.

Sermon Title: A Kaleidoscope of Faith
Date: 2nd Oct 2016
Preacher: Bishop George Hearn
Church Date: Pentecost 22 (C)
Lectionary Reading: Lam 1, Psalm 137, 2 Tim 1, Luke 15:5-10

Thank you for welcome.  It is great to be present to share in your worship and community.

One of the temptations of mature years is to view life as a saga and overdo the anecdotes, instead of remembering there is always more to come. As I have reflected upon the scriptures set for this morning I have on occasions found those reflections to have been influenced and interpreted by memories of the past.  Most of the Scripture commentaries that introduce our liturgical texts today say that it is difficult if not impossible to find a common thread woven through the four passages set for this Sunday.

I would like to identify a common theme of a kaleidoscope of faith.

As you are aware a kaleidoscope is a funnel shaped instrument or toy that incorporates a changing set of colours that remain part of the whole. At first appearance the remarkable similarity of the two Old testament texts from Lamentation and Psalm 137 contain harsh and angry words which appear to be contrary to our Christian practice and example of Jesus. Their themes of lament, despair questioning of God and offering to God anger, revenge as well as grief seems a vivid contrast to the two NT readings that speak of a powerful, enabling faith in life and community.

Indeed in the past I have sometimes omitted the closing verses of the psalm that sound quite horrible in their desire for vengeance. This morning I would encourage you to include them in your reflection as an expression of honest lament to God.

I was recently invited to speak at MU luncheon on my recent overseas visit to Denmark, Norway Poland and UK. I have to confess that I normally resist travel talk. There are so many adjectives ine can use to describe beauty and joyful celebration. So I confined my talk to one day of the holiday. A journey to Auswitch the Concentration camp where 1.6 million, Jewish, Gypsies and other groups were ruthlessly exterminated  ore cruelly than rodents by Nazi”s. authorities. I entitled my talk “Where was God at Auswitch?”

That sort of question and agonised concern resonates with the meaning, pathos and lament of the scriptures from Lamentations and the Psalm.  It is expressed in their angry but honest questioning of God without which it is difficult if not impossible to understand and experience authentic faith.

Time does not permit a detailed study of each of these passages but I will highlight their themes as an expression of a kaleidoscope of faith that includes all of our life as a setting for faith. In fact without the memory of honest anger and questing and doubt of the Old Testament readings it is difficult to fully appreciate the hope and openness that resounds through the New Testament readings.

I wish to identify four dimensions of faith that must be included in any kaleidoscope of faith.

(1) FAITH INCLUDES OUR VULNERABILITY.

Lamentations is a much neglected book of the Old Testament. It is a collection of five poems which deplore or lament the condition of Jerusalem the holy city for Hebrew people as a result of its destruction by the Babylonian empire of 587bc.

They are a remarkable examples of poetry all designed to focus upon  the lament of how God allowed Jerusalem the foundation of faith and identity for the Hebrew people to be destroyed. The overwhelming power of the image of the first poem the reading this morning is that of the violated woman, widowed or bereft of the support of a son, husband or father.

“People in our own times can identify the sad fate of widows and orphans forced to fend for themselves , their men taken from them by war or repression, forced to fend for themselves in a society often governed by the repressors and the murderers of their husbands and sons.”

“They wear faces grown old beyond their years. Lined with wrinkles, etched by terror, faces that tell tales words cannot bear to say or ears to hear.” (1)  pp536 Texts for Preaching. Charles B. Cousar.

How lonely was the city that once was full of people?

How like a widow she has become? Lamentations 1:6)

WE can identify with the cycle of exhaustion and vulnerability.

It is almost 21 years ago that I met with Bruce Brown, John Farthing and Margaret Irvine as parish nominators to be interviewed as a possible Vicar of Canterbury.
It was at a most vulnerable time of my life. My elder son had died a month previously in Cambodia and it had become clear that the ministry  of Diocesan Bishop of Rockhampton which required the Bishop to travel over a huge area  and involved about or third of my time away from home was not appropriate at that time.

I felt vulnerable at two levels. Still trying to come to terms with the grief and loss experienced in my son’s death and after 20 years of being involved in the appointment of clergy for vacant parishes to suddenly become a candidate.

I am for ever grateful for the responseI received from your nominators. Not just because they nominated me for the position but for their understanding, care and response.

I have experienced since then that an honest acceptance of our vulnerability can each us much about faith, God, Church and ourselves.

We learn that we do not need to appear to be all powerful or all knowing

but to offer our fragility to God.

At the time of my son’s death I was visited by a Bishop in Singapore whose pastoral comfort were the words”God is inscrutable.”  True or not I found them not very helpful.

Contrast our visit by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Rockhampton who came to Adele and me soon after we returned from Singapore where Glenn had died.

We were close friends and Brian embraced us both and drew our faces to his and said “George and Adele, God is crying with you. He then sang a verse from a contemporary hymn ”I will be YWH who walks with you,

When you know trouble within your heart

I will come and embrace your heart,

Through your pain you will discover me

Strong and constant is my love.”

It was at that point of desperation and vulnerability that I was aware most powerfully of God’s presence, healing and accepting my grief and vulnerability.

Most of us have lived through experiences that produce vulnerability. We need the honesty of lament to live with and through that vulnerability to be able to receive the gift of faith.

Faith to be authentic needs:

(2) FAITH INCLUDES ALL OUR MEMORIES.

Psalm 137 in its entirety including its shocking conclusion has much to teach us about prayer about ourselves and about God.

The worst possible response to evil is to feel nothing. What must be felt by the victims and on behalf of the victims are grief, rage and outrage and in the absence of these feelings evil can become an acceptable but   commonplace.

Rather the psalmist expresses these feelings in violent but honest anger and then hands them over to God. There is no evidence that he ever acted out of the expressed desire for revenge but that the psalmist

leaves them with God to deal.

Psalm 137 is an invitation to a kind of prayer that is passionate in its utter honesty. To pray is to offer ourselves, our desires and the totality of our memories – anger as well as grief to God and to know that God loves us as we are.  (2) Charles Cousar pp538.

Jewish theologians after the Holocaust have had to grapple with this “Why God” and remember.

I find the psalms express this honest remembering that is both passionate and in the end redemptive because it enables the possibility of freeing us from our anger and enabling us to move on.

Simon Weisel, a Jewish survivor of Auswitch, indicates that his initial expression of pain, outrage and desire for revenge was a necessary first step process of remembrance that ultimately became a compassion for otters that is grounded in God’s compassion for all Remembrance which is at the heart of Psalm 137 is also at the heart of the Christian faith. In a  profound sense, psalm 137 can be a Christian prayer. As we pray and reflect upon it, we remember and are taught the pain of exile, the horror of war, the truth about ourselves, the terror of despair and death and the loneliness of a cross.(3) ibid.

But as we pray and reflect upon Psalm 137 we are also taught to give and offer our frailty and fragility to God and to begin a journey that can transform our vulnerability, grief and honesty into compassion

We affirm that life is lived and promised in the midst of death, and we celebrate a resurrection power that frees us from our feelings of anger and enables us to move on and live the resurrection life of Jesus.

The kaleidoscope of faith includes our vulnerability and accepts our honesty  into compassion and love.

In contrast to these themes the NT readings texts speak of faith as possibility and potential and available to us by an openness of heart and life.

(3) FAITH INVOLVES PROMISE AND POTENTIAL.

It was an older Paul offering words of counsel and encouragement to a younger minister Timothy.

He delights  in Timothy’s heritage of faith and discipleship.

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now I am sure lives in you; For this reason I remind you to rekindle  the gift of god that is within you, through the laying on of my hands.  For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline,(2 Timothy 1:5-7)

This is another point of remembering for us. Some Christians sell themselves short. I was speaking with a young adult seeking to discern God’s purpose and vocation. “My main problem is that I am not good enough.” I encouraged her to remember who she was – a person gifted by God one of the signs of which was her baptism and confirmation at which I had been the confirming bishop.

I usually resist packaged illustrations for sermons but an unsolicited story came to my email this week.

One day the great Michelangelo was busy working a huge block of marble. He was hammering and chiseling, seeking to express a new sculpture.

A young girl attracted by the activity and the scraps of marble, and unable to contain her curiosity asked the great sculptor,“What are you doing?” Michelangelo replied “There is an angel imprisoned in this block of marble and I want to set him free.”

When God looks on us he sees not a great block but a possibility, potential waiting to be released. We are never too young or too old to allow him to work that miracle in us. Whether you are 10, 20, 30, 40, 60 or 80+ there is still some new possibility and potential that God wishes to set free in our life. It requires remembrance, trust and discipline with assurance of God’s faithfulness. Given in the assurance “that we can know the one in whom we have put our trust is able to guard until that day what we have entrusted to him,2 Timothy 1-12).

We are invited to live within a kaleidoscope of faith that includes our vulnerability and rawness,

that is honest in our response to God.

that recognises we still have potential for growth  – the angels within waiting to be set free.

Finally

(4)  FAITH REQUIRES OPENNESS.

I only have the time to reflect one of the pathways to faith in the gospel reading.

The apostles said to JesusLord increase our faith. The lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed you could say to this mulberry tree be uprooted and planted in the sea. And it would obey. ( Luke 17:6)

The response of Jesus is most encouraging. Faith is not a commodity to be banked by the efforts of or will or goodness. The Sydney Swans may well have said after their grand final loss; ”We didn’t believe in ourselves enough” but in the gospel, faith is always related to God and God’s action in Christ. It is not so much what we do or not do but what God’s power does in us.
Faith is openness to God’s presence and power.

In all of our kaleidoscope of faith, this truth resonates through our vulnerability, honesty and potential.

Our unwillingness to take the risk of opening our lives to God’s presence and power is the reason that many can feel unsure or uncertain in our faith.

I may be forgive one last illustration that I’m sure I would have used in the five years I spent among you.

It tells of a wealthy American business man whose expensive hobby was a collection of rare Roman vases.

One day he received an agitated call from his wife who insisted he return home. Their four year old son had his hand trapped or stuck inside his latest possession. They had tried all remedies and even called the doctor. When the father arrived home he had to face the truth that either they smashed the vase to release the hand or amputate the arm to save the vase.

In great frustration the father grabbed hold of his son and roared “How did you get your hands stuck in therein the first place?”

“I was tossing a dime – 5 cents into the air and it landed in the vase. The only way I can pick up my dime is by closing my fist.”

Like me, like you, so often we clench our fist ‘Mine’ to protect our possessions and in the process can lose something special. The faith which we seek and that indeed brings life involves not a closed fist but open hands, open hearts and lives.

That is the kind of faith we are to seek.

It is part of a wide kaleidoscope involving our vulnerability, honesty, potential and our willingness to say yes to Jesus Christ.

Rev 3:20