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Memo (a sermon)

February 6, 2010

Texts: 1 Cor 15: 1 – 11           Luke 5: 1 – 11

Paul says, I have something to remind you about: “The Good News in which you stand”…

‘What gets you up in the morning? What surrounds your action and life? What ‘sustains you in crisis’… In all of this, what is the story you tell yourself? What story do you stand in? What world do you stand in?

Some people in their reflective moments say things like: I thank God that I live in a free country… that I have food and clothes… and a loving family. There’s a story in there… It could be one of many stories. It could be the story of the triumph of democracy (possibly over Christian religious rule, possibly over tribal religions ruled over by shamans and chiefs, possibly both), it could be the triumph of the free market and capitalism (giving me food on my table)… It could be the triumph of family values (and my loving family). It could be the story of progress. That’s a really deep story. Any combination of these stories might be the ‘good news’ in which you happen to stand, but we all have a story

Paul has a Story that he wants to remind the Christians about: The Messiah has died for our sins…

It’s good to put it like that because people do a double-take with words like Messiah. Most translations have Christ. And many people think that Christ is Jesus’ surname. Jesus Christ – bit weird as a surname, but there it is. Christ is the Greek translation of Messiah (the anointed one of Israel’s hope). Jesus the Messiah. They have forgotten the story. And they are jolted into remembering that there is no way to live in the story of Jesus if you don’t also live in the story of Israel and Israel’s hope for a Messiah. We have to be Jews, in some sense, if we are going to live in this story. We are part of the expanded Israel, the barrier between Jews and Gentiles have been broken down. But that’s because we’ve been included into the Jewish faith. We have a Messiah. Jesus the Messiah who died for our sin

A Messiah who died for our sin… Like the stories we tell ourselves about living in free country, there’s a kind of freedom at stake here… not the freedom to do what we want to though… freedom from the bondage of sin. Let me expand ‘died for our sin’… ‘died for our freedom from sin’. This is good news if you realize you are otherwise in bondage, apart from the death of the Messiah. If however, you see yourself as basically free and fulfilled as a human being (or at least able to be so) Messiah or no Messiah, brutal death or no brutal death, then this won’t be your ‘good news story’. If the sin problem is ultimately something you can sort for yourself, this won’t be your story.

So you see this statement ‘Christ died for your sins’ makes no sense apart from at least two things. You must see yourself as living within the story of Israel and you must see yourself as captured by sin apart from the death of the Messiah.

Do we need a memo? After 2000 years I think it needs to be a pretty deep memo. Why would the death of a Messiah free us from something we tend to think we can free ourselves from? After all we tend to think of sin as code-word for things you shouldn’t do with girls: a boy’s summary of sin.
Apparently researchers into the effect of Christianity in cultures where it is new like say Papua New Guinea observe a pattern in a range of different contexts. The first generation who hears the gospel and converts to Christianity live excited and enthusiastic lives as Christians and manage to pass on their infectious faith to others. The next generation build structures and traditions appropriate for their world but lose the enthusiasm of their parents. They continue on however in the faith, seeking to pass it on to their children. The next generation tend to have a certain kind of familiarity with the language and forms but when pushed don’t know what the fuss is about and consequently don’t care that much…

It’s hardly surprising, considering the many generations of cycles or extensions of this pattern that our western cultures is gone through,  if we think sin is a code word for “things you shouldn’t do with girls” . It’s hardly surprising if we don’t know what a Messiah who died 2000 years ago might have to do with anything….

It’s hardly surprising if we have lost track of the “story in which we stand”? The one, says Paul, ‘by which we are being saved’. We start to wonder what the fuss is about. We find the language a bit meaningless. What does he mean “saved”?… and perhaps we don’t know.

Perhaps we should backtrack to things you shouldn’t do with girls. The idea that sin is about sex is not entirely wrong, just confusing. The Bible has a much wider and deeper conception of sin. It’s not just concerned with the form of discrete acts, which you can make a rule about – like ‘don’t have sex with unmarried kangaroos’. Sin is not just about sex, but it is, at a deeper level, about desire. It is about the structure of human desire when it forms an alliance with our fears. It’s not just about sex its about covetousness and economics, it’s about ambition and status, it’s about killing and simply ignoring people.

Human desire when formed in a context of fear, binds us in ways that we are not created for, and which will destroy us.

You see this story ‘in which we stand’ is the story of a murder… a story of the way in which the bondage of human desire ends up killing people … and did Jesus. It exposes the bondage which is sin.

But it’s also the story of resurrection. And belief in the resurrection addresses the fears which are married to our desires.

To live in this story is to be set free… Paul says it’s the good news ‘through which we are being saved’. It’s a deep memo. That’s why the eucharist is so central to our worship and our mission. This is not just a story we need to be reminded of, like some memo circulated around the office. This is a script that needs to be inscribed on our hearts over a number of years. This is the news through which we are being saved.

Luke 5: 1-11

Lukes gospel tells us a story which is ‘pregnant’ with the power

 of this good news…. A story which has developed a kind of parable-like or symbolic status over the years.

The disciples spend a night using all their skills and technology as fishermen and catch nothing… Jesus, in touch with ‘the fabric of the universe’ and the will of the Father, by the power of the Spirit, says, put your net out on the other side of the boat…and their nets are full of fish.

Then he follows this up with the comment, that suggests the whole event might have deeper symbolic significance

“I will make you fishers of people”

Remember those Papua New Guineans. The first generation of converts lived in the story. Their faith was infectious at least for some… but there’s a drop off effect isn’t there. By the third generation the people are not sure what the fuss is all about. Perhaps they don’t object. Perhaps they’re happy for their kids to go to Sunday School. We could develop all sorts of theories about why that change happens.

I want to suggest that ‘standing in the good news’ is not as simple as it might first appear. In one of his earliest letters (1 Corinthians) Paul is concerned to remind his readers. Is it purely a matter of memory failure (rusty brain technology) or is each generation a new battle for the soul. Is there a temptation for those raised in the faith to have the bondage of desire hidden from them, by a nice set of practices and rules that their parents provide to shelter them? Is the human heart simply prone to constant self-deception?

So remembering the story (in the deepest sense of remembering) is crucial, but there is real encouragement at the end here. Encouragement for us as we begin 2010. It comes in the form of a promise ‘I will make you fishers of others’. You might have been sitting all night in your boat… or for years in your church trying your very best with all sorts of tricks and effort to grow your church and to make the faith alive for a new generation. And maybe you’re nearly at the point of despair.

The same Jesus who happens to drop by and suggest putting the net on the other side… also promises I will make you fishers for people. And maybe that will happen at the same time as the story comes alive again for you and for those you know.

Bruce Hamill (Caversham and Green Island 7.2.10)

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