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Hope for Bodies and Worlds (a sermon for Bible Sunday)

July 20, 2014

Matthew 13: 24-30 Romans 8: 12-25

When the Bible first came to NZ it became a kind of treasure, a sacred object (as we have just heard). People travelled for miles to get a copy. Stories were also told, not just about the Bible as a kind of taonga but about the effect of this book. With the book came a rumour, a rumour of a new world, a new possibility, a new kind of God. Rather than a world groaning under the constant neverending process of revenge killing, of warfare, and utu (not unlike what we see in the Gaza and Israel right at the moment), there are rumours that God is creating a new world of forgiveness and reconciliation. Things need not be how they are.

The bible is not just a kind of sacred object… it’s the bearer of news of a new future.

Today’s parable tells of the world as a field/as a mixed bag of wheat and weeds, of good and evil. And the servants come in (lets call them the cowboys) and they want to eliminate the weeds. They want to clear the world of ‘bad guys’ (those are the ones who wear ‘black hats’ – so you know which ones to shoot). But Jesus says NO.

Evil is on its way out. Don’t panic. Keep calm and carry on, even if there are weeds in the garden. Even if there are dirty dishes in the kitchen. Don’t panic.

The problem is closeness. The good and the bad are just too close together. It’s a fragile ecosystem – pull up the one and you destroy the other. It’s like their intertwined even at the roots.

Paul takes this closeness even further. What he hopes for in Romans 8 is ‘the redemption of our bodies’. God and evil go right through the middle of each human heart. They are interwoven through the sinews and synapses of our bodies.

Hope for the redemption of our bodies, these complicated bodies, says Paul gives rise to groaning. Not a groan of resignation, or acceptance of a bad situation, or of cynicism or despair… Not merely a groaning of pain. But a groaning also of hope for something new. Hope is dangerous.

 Paul calls it a groaning of ‘labour pains’ – pains of birth, the screaming of a mother whose body feels like it is being split in two, is nevertheless a scream of hope… and not despair.

For Paul as for the writer of John’s gospel, Jesus is ‘Saviour of the world’ – the world you work in, and raise your children in and watching movies in and find happiness in… that world. If we are waiting for anything it’s the salvation of that world. That’s the big picture of the gospel. The world will be saved. And that world includes our human bodies and life together.

So for Paul it’s not just about good people and bad people, its about a change that happens to the world, in time. Its a mixed world of wheat and weeds, but things are changing. The old world, the world we are born into – Paul calls it “the flesh” is under the dominion of death and all our anxieties bound up with that – this world is passing away. And the new world, the world that interrupts this world is what set’s us free. He calls it the world of the Spirit. It’s breaking in. I am reminded of a line of Malcolm Gordon’s song – “I am waiting …for heaven to break in”

You know what it’s like waiting at a bus stop… a watched pot never boils. The speed of time is variable thing. The quality of waiting depends enormously on what you are doing.

“So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you live according to the flesh you will die (the life of the old world pays its own wages – death); but if you live by the Spirit and put to death the deeds of the body, you will live”

You can put your body in the old world or in the new world… Our bodies are on the line here for redemption. Our bodies and the world being saved are bound up together. Paul effectively says that you can’t separate the human world from the non-human creation. They’ve been joined at the hip.

At first it seems tragic. What have we done to this earth? But for Paul it is also hopeful.

 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it in hope, that the creation itself will be set free of its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of children of God.

 See that… the wellbeing of the non-human creation is connected (in God’s purposes) to the freedom of human beings (and vice versa).

 “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”

 Even if the old world seems to be on the point of collapsing. Perhaps especially if it looks like disaster, Paul has faith in the risen Christ to create something new. He calls this groaning creation ‘birth pains’.

When the Bible came to NZ it didn’t just bring rumours of a new world. It also came with the baggage of an empire – the British Empire, which morphed into the globalised modern neo-liberal hypercapitalist empire we live in today.

My friend Andrew Shepherd did a lecture this week for the Centre for Theology and public issues… and he began with a series of images of the future as it is hitting us even now. Dramatic images of flooding and drought and hurricane damage (products of global warming). Vivid images of creation groaning. In that context he cited: Jacques Atalli from 1991

“By 2050, 8 billion people will populate the earth. More than two-thirds will live in the poorest countries. Seeking to escape their desperate fate, millions will attempt to leave behind their misery to seek a decent life elsewhere. But neither the Pacific nor the European spheres will accept the majority of poor nomads. They will close their borders to immigrants. Quotas will be erected and restrictions imposed. (Renewed) social norms will ostracize foreigners. Like the fortified cities of the Middle Ages, the centres of privilege will construct barriers of all kinds, trying to protect their wealth.”

Jacques Attali, Millennium: Winners and Losers in the Coming World Order (1991)

The truth is Jacques Attali wasn’t far off with his prediction. The high tech future for the 2 billion is also fast becoming the massive mega-slum future for 6 billion. The empire looks on the point of collapse. Perhaps we live in the kind of world St Benedict did, when he established his monasteries at the End of the Roman Empire?

You have to wonder. How we can share in Paul’s confidence when he concludes “For in hope we are saved…” Where did Benedict and Paul got their hope from? Certainly from a very different story about our place in the world. Not a story of limitless expansion and growth and the idea of a world centred around human beings and what they and their market forces want to make of it. They certainly had a very different story about our situation in God’s world (not ours). But perhaps even more importantly…. they saw the “redemption of bodies” in the communities in which they lived. They saw signs of hope. Hope comes when a different life is lived together… a different economy on the ground in our local relationships, local affection, in touch with the earth. Embodied hope. They saw signs of God’s redemption of bodies. So they waited… and in waiting put their bodies on the line.

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