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A Sermon for a New Beginning

November 26, 2012

Isaiah 65:17-25              Ephesians 2: 17-22           John 18: 33-38

 

One evening I went out for a walk and I was crossing a bridge when I saw this guy over the railing about to jump. So I went over to him and said ‘Don’t do it! There’s so much to live for’.

He didn’t look that convinced so I asked ‘Do you believe in God?’ He said ‘Yes’.

I said ‘Me too’. I said ‘Christian or Jewish?’ He said ‘Christian’

I said ‘Me too, Catholic or Protestant? He said ‘Protestant.’

I said ‘Me too, what kind?’ He said ‘Baptist’.

I said ‘Me too, Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?’ He said ‘Northern Baptist’.

I said ‘Me too, Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?’ He said ‘Northern Liberal Baptist’.

I said ‘Me too, Northern Liberal Baptist Great Lakes Region or Northern Liberal Baptist New England Region?’ He said ‘Northern Liberal Baptist Great Lakes Region’.

I said ‘Me too, Northern Liberal Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879 or Northern Liberal Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?’ He said ‘Northern Liberal Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879’.

I said ‘Die heretic!’ and pushed him off the bridge.

 

That was voted best religious joke in an online poll … for obvious reasons…it captures the ideas about religion and divisiveness…

 

If you were asked what is the difference between people from St Clair and people from Caversham, most of you who have lived in either place for a while would have an idea how to answer that question… A visitor probably wouldn’t notice … In the lead up to our coming together I’ve heard it said from both sides ‘they’re different’. No one’s pushed anyone off a bridge I don’t think. But there is a history of identity here… identity that we bring to this gathering today

 

Last week we read the gospel for Sunday which told of the disciples standing beside the temple and expressing wonder at the great building and its apparently permanent stone. And Jesus tells them ‘not one stone will be left standing on one another’. Today we enter this building and are greeted by another building which will not last. A building with plaster falling off the wall. We gather among stones that will fall down.

 

We are a people on the move… whether we like it or not. We meet here, at least for today. But this building or any other building cannot be what defines us.

 

Last week we gathered stones of memory … in a cairn of thanksgiving for God’s presence and action in our journey.

Today we bring stones of hope. Stones of hope for what?

 

In a week where the Church of England has chosen to restrict its Episcopal leadership (its bishops) to men only … what do we hope for?

 

In a week where reciprocal violence spreads like wildfire in Israel and Gaza… between Jew and Gentile… what do we hope for?

Our scripture lessons point to two themes for our hope

 

1. New Community

Hope for what St Paul called a “living building”… we might need a building of stones or wood, they do come in handy. But that’s not what our hope as Christians is all about as we face the future today.

 

A few Sundays ago we read from Marks gospel these words “Whoever has left behind house, or brothers or sisters or mother of father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the good news will receive a hundredfold NOW in THIS age – houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children and fields … with persecution – and in the age to come fullness of life”

 

Welcome to a new community… Not just St Clair people welcome to a new community. Caversham people welcome to a new community. (I actually think we need a new name for this community). Welcome too new mothers and brothers and sisters … and persecution (the persecution may not be guaranteed… it only comes if we do the witness thing right).

 

Not welcome to a new place for a Sunday morning service (the place is a pile of stones that have yet to be reorganized)… Welcome to a community where every member has a role to play …where as Dietrich Bonhoeffer says…

“everything depends on whether each individual is an indispensible link in a chain. Only when even the smallest link is securely interlocked is the chain unbreakable. A community which allows unemployed members [i.e. non-participants] to exist within it will perish because of them… Every Christian community must realize that not only do the weak need the strong, but also that the strong cannot exist without the weak. The elimination of the weak is the death of the fellowship”

 

So our Epistle reading gives us hope for a new community a ‘living building’

 

2. Witness to the Kingdom

The Gospel reading points us in the direction of what Jesus called the kingdom of God

 

Pilate asks Jesus… “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus doesn’t like the question. He has two responses…His first response is “My kingdom is not from this world … If it were from this world my followers would fight … fight to keep me from being handed over to the religious leaders.” Those who are part of my kingdom don’t fight, even if it is to save me from being captured and killed. In the words of the title of a book that came out recently it’s ‘A Kingdom Not Worth Fighting For’ – unlike Pilate’s kingdom and that of the religious leaders. What Jesus called the kingdom of God… the realm of God is not worth fighting for… it’s worth dying for but it’s not worth fighting for.

 

Jesus has one other response which highlights how much he doesn’t like the question. He says ‘You say I am a king’. Another translation is clearer. It goes ‘King is your word’. This realm-of-God-not-worth-fighting-for is something else. And words like king and kingdom are likely to be misleading. They’re territorial words. They represent spaces and borders that people fight to defend – like St Clair or Caversham.

 

King is your word… Place is important. We are geographical people. But place is also dangerous. So Jesus distances himself from this word. King is your word.

And then he changes the topic …v 37 continues “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth”. In other words Jesus is saying. Let’s leave king behind. King will just confuse you. Let’s talk about witness… ‘witness to the truth’

 

Let’s compare these two ideas for a moment – king and witness. A king exerts control over the world by the power of his will. For that he has an army of followers who fight to make it happen. Reality is made to fit the will of the king.

 

For a witness on the other hand its not about his or her will at all… it’s about truth (something above and beyond the will). It’s almost a kind of opposite. A king makes the world fit and take the shape of his will. A witness conforms his or her words and life to the truth and reality. Not just any truth in Jesus’ case, but the truth of God’s future, of God’s coming to the world.

For a King, it’s up to him and his political realism… to ensure that the world turns out right… perhaps using more and more desperate measures, where the end will justify the means.

A witness, on the other hand trusts God’s future and acts accordingly, even if we can’t see it now, even if it seems weak and ineffective by worldly standards.  A witness acts in hope… that we can anticipate in our life now, the future, because we can trust God to make sure it does turn out right. And because in the meantime, God’s Spirit is among us.

 

So our readings today offers us two hopes… Hope for a new community… but secondly not just any new community, a community of witness, a community that looks like the future it trusts God for, a visible, peaceable sign of a different world.

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