Saturday, February 08, 2014

So what? A rather bumpy sermon for Epiphany 5A

On Monday, a friend emailed me a picture of Kermit the frog...captioned
Ordinary Time: it's not easy being green”
Just a bit of internet nonsense – but maybe Kermit has a point!
Ordinary time is described by the American theologian Jerome Berryman, as the “green and growing season” and, right enough, after the high celebrations of Christmas and Epiphany, with their conscious focus on the Christ-child in our midst, the spot-light now falls on us, as we are challenged to do some growing in faith ourselves.
No, it's not easy.
Not easy at all.

You see, there aren't any formulas or short cuts, no quick fix solutions in discipleship.
But discipleship is what we're about.
The process of learning from and growing more like Jesus, of living those baptism promises that we recalled as we stood by the font last Sunday.

It sometimes seems that we're content to stand still in our faith – as if faith was simply something to grasp with both hands and not a daily adventure.
We relapse into saying “I was baptised” instead of remembering every single day “I AM baptised” - with all the challenges and excitement that this involves.

Does that make sense to you?

Let's re-wind briefly.

Think for a moment about your own early experiences of life in the Church...about how it all began for you.
Perhaps you came week by week as a child – and gradually realised that something of real significance was happening here.
Perhaps you wandered in as an adult – looking for a solution at a time of trouble, or coming to celebrate a blessing or a joy – and encountered Someone whose love overwhelmed you and compelled you to respond.
That's often the way faith journeys begin.
We meet God and our life is changed.
A seed of faith is planted.

But – what happens next?
Is our response a single event – an acknowledgement that God is God which is noted, and filed away for future reference?
Or does it lead to more questions, fresh discoveries.
God is God – so what?
That is, I'd say, the central question for each one of us.

It has implications beyond the way we choose to spend our Sunday mornings – though sometimes that's the way that anyone could tell that we are people of faith.
Of course it does matter that we are here at worship together...
It's important that we come week by week with the specific purpose of encountering God in word and Sacrament – and in one another.
But – there's all the difference in the world between “going to church” and “BEING the church”....and, in this green and growing season, the onus is on us to learn together how we may be the church in obedience to our commission in the Sermon on the Mount.

God is God. So what?

Both Old Testament reading and gospel make it abundantly clear that we are to
Be doers of the word and not hearers only." and that our faith practice should have one single end – NOT what WE might get out of it, but what it will prompt us to do.
Hence those strong words from God about the fasting that leads nowhere.
It's not that there's anything wrong with fasting...or any other religious practice...but we do have to be clear WHY are we doing it?
Is it all about creating the perfect religious experience for us? If so, it's unlikely to amount to anything much...
You serve your own interests in the fast day”...or, in other, smugger, words, “Look at me being holy”
That's not just thoroughly unattractive – it's completely pointless.
Worship is NOT ABOUT US!

If our faith began with the awareness of God's love – it will grow and flourish as we reach out to share that love with others.

Is not this the fast that I choose:
   to loose the bonds of injustice,
   to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
   and to break every yoke? 
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
   and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
   and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
   and your healing shall spring up quickly;

It's when we look beyond ourselves that we begin to learn how to be Kingdom people....when we set out to share our blessings with the world that we begin to shine.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus revisits this same challenge...Tom Wright says
God's purpose for Israel was that through them he would bring his justice and mercy to bear upon the nations”.
It was a challenge that Israel ducked Isaiah's day, and then again when Jesus set it before instead Jesus lived out that agenda himself.
He became a light to reveal God to the nations – He, rejected by many, became the the one set on the hill, the beacon which could neither be missed nor ignored....Living, dying, rising he fulfills the law and the prophets....Light for the world. Salt of the earth – changing everything by its presence...

Which brings us back to the “so what's” of our own discipleship.

The call is clear and uncompromising – so it's time for us to risk a health check.

I know it's not easy being green and growing – but whether we like it or not, we too are supposed to be light and salt... people who make a difference...
Of course, light and salt have very different kinds of impact.
The whole point about light is that it's unmissable...and the darker the surroundings, the more obvious it becomes. Sometimes I think we would prefer to blend into the background – even if that involves a few compromises with the way we live our lives.
But – that's not how light behaves.
It SHINES – changing the darkness by its presence...

Salt, on the other hand, works another way entirely...add it to a recipe and it will change the taste, bringing out the flavours that might otherwise be missed. Its presence won't necessarily be obvious but it's absence is quite another matter.
But – ARE we distinctively “salty”?
salt of the earth” is not a label reserved for a favoured few....It's a role for all of us – people blessed by God and handing on that blessing in ways that flavour our homes, our families, our communities with the distinctive taste of the Kingdom.

If there's nothing distinctive about us – if the salt has lost its flavour – then it's time for drastic action. If salt loses it's saltiness is it still salt at all?
If a light is not allowed to shine is it still a light?
If a Christian stops living a visibly different life, is she still a Christian?
If a church is just a Sunday gathering – is it a Church at all?

Big questions...too important to gloss over.

Our distinctive Kingdom flavour comes from being close to Jesus...from spending time with Him in prayer, in study and in action too.
We can't and won't change the world ourselves...but God's Spirit at work in us can enable us to be agents of change for the Kingdom.
We are to be both salt and light...not for our own benefit but to give glory to God and for the transformation of our community.
We, who have been blessed, are commissioned to pass on that blessing...that's what it means to be Kingdom people....the answer to the “so what” question that lies at the heart of discipleship.

It's not easy – not in any way! But though the demands may be great – the rewards are immeasurable.

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