3rd Sunday After Epiphany 2017

Sermon Title: 3rd SUNDAY AFTER Epiphany 2017
Date: 22nd January 2017
Preacher: Rev Susanne Chambers
Lectionary Reading: Isaiah 9:1-14, Pslam 27:1-10, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Matthew 4:12-25

The other night, we were having dinner with friends.  The conversation was around the church… one has left the church, a couple of our friends are very disenchanted with the hierarchy and the endless paperwork that is now associated with many organisations to be compliant, the sexual abuse scandals and cover ups, being exclusive and out of touch with society. My friends weren’t saying anything complimentary.

I was the only one in full time parish ministry (and on the whole enjoying it), felt somewhat not on the same page as my friends.  I said something like “I feel quite at odds with the rest of you… I’m still working in parish ministry” and their response was of ‘awe’ which wasn’t the response I thought I’d get.  They were in awe that I can stay even with all the issues that befall the church.

Why am I telling you all this?  It’s the follow up of the questions from last week’s sermon… why do you and I stay? What are you looking for? Which is the question Jesus asked those two disciples of John the Baptist, who were following Jesus and Jesus response was ‘Come and see’.

Why do you and I stay when it’s tough being a church goer?

In today’s gospel from Matthew (we looked briefly at John’s gospel last week), Matthew tells of the invitation or calling of two sets of brothers, Peter, Andrew, James and John who were fishermen.  When they heard Jesus say ‘follow me, and I will make you fish for people’, they immediately left their nets and their father and followed Jesus.

As we know, argument would come later. Uncertainty would come later. Abandonment would come later and then return to the risen Christ and remembering why they followed in the first place. For now they found themselves walking behind someone who caught their hearts desire… there was something about Jesus that inspired them.

If we back track a little in Matthew’s account, Jesus has been baptised by John the Baptist and the voice said “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” [i]Jesus was then led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted 40 days and 40 nights and then the temptations began.  Jesus understands the temptations that we all go through in life. We now have him beginning his ministry after he heard that John the Baptist had been arrested and so he began to proclaim ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ [ii]

John Shea, a theologian says this: “The torch that fell from the hand of the Baptist is caught and raised by Jesus. The voice in the desert now has become another voice in the villages and countryside. The everlasting message goes on. The kingdom of heaven is at hand but people do not know how to reach for it. If people would learn to change their minds (repent of the way they think and act), the spiritual energy of heaven would flow into them. The problem is with sitting “in darkness” and being “overshadowed by death” [Matt 4:16; cf. Isa 8:23]. People must become aware (the remedy for darkness) of the presence of God and open to its enlivening energy (the remedy for death).  The kingdom of heaven is now, but people are not.

But Jesus needs more than himself to help people see this hidden heaven. He needs to gather disciples for this work.” [iii]

The kingdom of heaven is here and now. It is where freedom is. It is a place of inner peace.   It’s a place for all of us.

What stops us from entering the kingdom of heaven is darkness and death and Shea quotes from the Isaiah passage: “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” So there is hope for us!

I read Richard Rohr’s meditation reflection from Wednesday last week, and he spoke of the church not always being a torch to help people see the hidden heaven. He spoke of the Wolf in the Henhouse and I quote part of what he said “Starting in AD 313, Christianity gradually became the imperial religion of the Roman Empire. It was mostly top-down and hierarchical for the next 1700 years. As the “imperial mind” took over, religion had less to do with Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence, inclusivity, forgiveness, and simplicity, and instead became fully complicit in the world of domination, power, war, and greed itself. The wolf started living right inside the hen house.”

Rohr goes on to say “… but the impact of the Church’s collusion with empire must be confessed or we will never be free from it.  It also helps us understand why so many have given up on Christianity and often, unfortunately, thrown out the baby with the bathwater.

And yet, we cannot be too glib, condemning, or angry either. It is not as if Christianity oppressed an existing egalitarian, democratic, pluralistic mind that already was in charge somewhere on earth.  The Gospel values did not exist in any broad way until the last couple hundred years. Liberal critics and atheists must be honest about this.  Ironically, the undoing of slavery, misogyny, oppression, and massive injustice proceeded from cultures that were influenced by the Gospel. God is both very humble and very patient, and it seems God’s best followers imitate the Divine in this regard.” [iv]

So why do you and I stay? Hopefully it’s because we can own our history… it’s like family history or our own story when not everything is perfect and loving and kind!

This doesn’t mean we give up.  It means we go back to basics… back to the teachings of Jesus and trying to live out his values of nonviolence, inclusivity, forgiveness and simplicity. As we know this is not easy in a world and church that still find these difficult to live up to or live in to!

People may call us hypocrites coming to church and yes we do still mess up. But that’s why we come to church… to hear again and be with others who are also struggling on how to live in the hidden heaven… that we can be torch-bearers even when we struggle as humans do with all the temptations that come our way.

As we become aware and accepting of our history… the good, the bad and the ugly, we are more likely to watch out for the ‘wolf in the Henhouse’ and raise the torch high for ourselves and for others, so the kingdom of heaven which is now, will not be hidden but be seen by all.

The Lord be with you.

 

[i] Matthew 3:17

[ii] Matthew 4:17

[iii] The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers by John Shea page 63,64

[iv] Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation: Tradition – Wednesday, January 18,2017