Sermons for a Missional Community #1
OT: Exodus 3: 1-3 (The bush that burns but is not consumed)
Gospel: Luke 10: 1-9 (lambs amidst wolves)
Epistle: Heb 7:16 (a priest of an indestructible life)
This week one of the mayoral candidates, Justin Lester, went public announcing that that he supported a wet house in Wellington. I don’t know who Justin Lester is. I know nothing about him apart from this fact. But I am told that if you raise this kind of issue in Island Bay you get an awkward silence before someone says something like. “Nice weather isn’t it”.
But what is the Christian response to Wet Houses? As people who take the mission of Jesus seriously, can we also join the chorus of those singing from the ‘Not in my Backyard’ hymnbook.
How do you treat people with addiction issues?… It’s like the modern version of the ancient problem of what do you do with lepers.
I want to come at this sideways… so fasten your seat belts for a crash course in ancient religion
My morning readings in the Daily Office this month have come from Letter to the Hebrews.
The Letter to the Hebrews is all about the difference Jesus makes to the Jewish faith. Which is fine and interesting if you live in the ancient world and understand what priests and temples and sacrifices and sabbaths are all about. But if you don’t know what difference it makes to get a priest to sacrifice your goat, you will probably just be a bit confused by the Letter to the Hebrews.
If you talk to an anthropologist she will tell you that in practically every ancient culture we know of they do something called sacrifice. Deals are done with the gods and the hidden forces of the world. You give to the gods in order to receive something. Some anthropologists will tell you that in the earliest contexts it was human sacrifice but later on other animals and produce would be substituted as gifts to the gods.
Among the Jews something very significant changed. For them God began to be understood not as a powerful being in the world – part of the way the world works, part of the economy you might say… not even the most powerful being in this world. For them God was the source of absolutely everything. So there is nothing you can give to God at all to make God happy. Sacrifice in the old sense made no sense anymore. And so what happened in their temple was turned upside down. Rather than sacrifices being exchanges made with God, the priest, in the ritual of atonement for example, would perform a drama, in which they enacted God’s work for our world.
The priest would come out from the Holy of Holies with the name YHWH on his forehead and sprinkle blood, the symbol of life on the gathered congregation. God gives life to us rather than vice versa.
So Hebrews takes up this idea and says Jesus is the ultimate priest.
Then the writer to the Hebrews goes a step further. He says Jesus is not just any priest. Not the kind that does ‘churchy’ things in the temple. Jesus is like Melchizedek.
And everyone says… ‘who the heck is Melchizedek?’ He’s the mystery man… like Zorro. He turns up out of nowhere – the priest from nowhere. They call him a priest. They call him a king. His name means King of Righteousness. He is also called king of Salem (which means peace). And then he disappears and is never mentioned again in the Old Testament.
So for the writer of the letter to the Hebrews he becomes a symbol of Jesus life. Jesus is, we read, a priest of the ‘order of Melchizedek’… which sounds very mysterious, like some kind of Masonic rite or something.
But to cut to the chase… the thing about this Melchizedek stuff is that Jesus (like Melchizedek the outsider) does not derive his significance through religion… through the law… because his dad was a priest of something like that… but here’s the phrase that really hit me this week… ‘through the power of an indestructible life.’ (see Heb 7:16 on slide]
Like the burning bush that is not consumed.
Jesus was not a priest in the temple… (for Jews the temple was the ‘interface’ between God and the world). Jesus was a priest in the world… He took the life of God (the interface between God and the world) out onto the streets. He took it to the lepers, and the taxmen. He took it to the prostitutes and the political powerbrokers. He was a priest not through ritual… but through the power of an indestructible life. And the blood he poured out was not that of a lamb from the temple… it was his own blood. His own indestructible life.
Which raises the question? If his life is indestructible, how come it got destroyed? How come it was snuffed out on a Roman cross? That doesn’t sound very indestructible.
Of course the answer is that it was indestructible because God raised it… raised it to eternal life, to divine life.
To put it another way… his life was indestructible not because he couldn’t die but because he could die… because he could die confident in God who would raise him from death. “Into your hands I commit my spirit”.
The life that God would raise up in the end… the life of the ‘future’ … sustainable life… was the life he was living, it was flowing through him, it was in his bones. In the power of this indestructible life he opens the way for all of us to share in the same life. This is the good news!
Let’s look at what that life looks like in the life of Jesus disciples:
- Fearlessness in friendship
- Fearlessness with possessions
So we read earlier: Jesus sent his disciples out “like lambs among wolves”. That’s some metaphor for the indestructible life! …To be vulnerable… to look for the people of peace and to stay with them. When you knock at the door… if they let you in… if there’s an opening to this new way. Stay there. Eat at their table. Make your place with them.
The power of the indestructible life knows that God is already at work wherever you go. The Spirit of God will be preparing people of peace. You don’t have to be the one with all the answers you just have to be vulnerable. The Spirit of God is ahead of you.
This has been my experience getting to know people around Berhampore and the Granville flats over the last week or so. God goes ahead. God paves the way. What does this say to the issue of wet houses?
He sent them out with the same indestructible life that he had. He sent them out in vulnerability to dangerous places.
So he had to share that life with those who ‘have issues’… it was not his life to keep. It was his life to give and share.
This is the mission journey that we are on together. As a church we can never join in the Spirit of ‘Nimbyism’. To be the body of Christ is not to be a happy huddle of people who look after one another, not even simply a ‘family’. The body of Christ lives by the same indestructible life that Jesus lived… the same indestructible life that God will raise up to eternal life.
It’s not our backyard after all. The church is called to go out and play in God’s backyard.
Second example of the indestructible life of the disciples is after Jesus resurrection. Fearlessness in sharing our possessions.
You know how it goes in the Acts of the Apostles.
All who believed were together and had all things in common. They would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all as any had need….
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions… and so on.
Quick Question in response to those verses
Q: What do you think is the difference between Communism and Christianity? [discuss in pairs]
No one claimed private ownership. Not that they lived in community that didn’t allow them to claim private property. It wasn’t a law. It was because something had happened inside them and their attitude. The key word is ‘claimed’. [on this see Jonathan Cornford]
I want to say from the outset that we are not going to be able to suddenly go back to the life of the communities of the early church. Those stories are like lights to guide us into the future. But they do guide and they do say something about what the ‘indestructible life’ of Jesus looks like… they encourage us to imagine new, although perhaps less dramatic ways of sharing our material life…fearlessness with our possessions.
The problem with passages like this and with the voice of the prophets and with Paul’s talk of ‘a new creation’ is that this gospel is so BIG. It’s like they speak ‘one octave too high’ (in the words of Abraham Heschel). We are accustomed to the way the world is. Those guys protest too much. They hope too much. Perhaps they are out of touch with reality?
And yet if the gospel is true… and if it is true merely in our heads it is not true at all… if the gospel is true it must become incarnate in our missional life, the medium is the message… and we are called to be the message. ‘As the Father sent me’… says Jesus… ‘I am sending you in the same way.’ Christians believe in reincarnation right? God became incarnate in Jesus. Jesus becomes incarnate again in us. Different, sure, but in an important sense the same too. In our indestructible life… Jesus indestructible resurrection life is moving out into God’s backyard – not our backyard, Gods.
Fearless in our friendships. Fearless with our possessions.