In his sermon on the 1st September, Rev. John began by reminding us what the writer to the Hebrews said about our lives as Christians and how they should be spent emulating the life of Jesus.
Rev. John also reminded us that so often people and Christian communities turn inward and becomes concerned about the things of self, forgetting Jesus’ message to love one another regardless of our fears of and judgment about others. Sometimes it has been out of misplaced concern for purity, forgetting that Jesus was more concerned about showing compassion for the rejected of society than rejecting them. When we look at people who, in our eyes, are breaking God’s commandments, we would do well to think about what has brought them to the place where they are, and how they are suffering in their hearts as a result.
Then Rev. John pointed to other concerns individual Christians and churches should keep before them:
“In addition to the call for hospitality and social concern, the writer of Hebrews here takes the occasion to remind the community of various other matters that can easily fracture individual and community life. Then there is frugality, which can cross over the line into an unhealthy and spiritually deadly love of money.”
Of course we should not squander God’s gifts but equally, we should not cling to them so that they cannot be used to build The Kingdom.
“This is a powerful set of concerns.” As Rev. John pointed out hospitality and concern for those less well off had been foundation principles of the Jew’s religion and weren’t invented by Jesus, but then and now people needed to be reminded of what their God expected of them.
Rev. John’s next words are very true:
“There seems to be a growing intensity in the fear of strangers in this generation. We have become preoccupied with the risk of opening our borders, churches, homes, and lives to the stranger. We speak of the stranger as an “alien,” which has become a pejorative term.
Truth is, except for the Aboriginal tribes and the Torres Strait Island peoples, all our forebears were aliens. Hospitality for the stranger, the poor, the homeless, and the oppressed is a virtue proclaimed by the Australian people.“
But when push comes to shove, how do we act? With true hospitality! Or out of misplaced fear of anything a bit different such as the colour of the top millimeter of a persons’s skin or the food they have learned to eat as a matter of availability?
Time to think deep and hard.
Rev. John’s sermon on 8th September was quite complex but the words that jumped out and grabbed me concerned my behaviour as a disciple of Jesus.
For starters, God comes first, before Mother, Father, Husband or Wife. It’s not that we are not to care for those people or love them but when there’s a conflict between the requirements of God and the requirements of anyone else, God’s requirements are those that we fulfill.
Then there’s our behaviour towards others:
Rev.John, speaking about the reading for the day said: “During his time in prison, St Paul wrote a letter to the worshipping community who met at Philemon's house. He describes a new family member in Christ named Onesimus, a runaway slave. Paul claimed him as an adopted son and is asking Philemon and the community to receive Onesimus not as a slave, but as an equal partner in the community of Christ. St Paul calls all Disciples of Christ to a higher standard of love, one of forgiveness...”
Once we are disciples of Jesus, we are motivated by something quite different from the rules of secular society. God IS Love, and that love, which is graciously flooded over us, should motivate all that we do. But that will only happen if we keep our focus on God.
Rev. John spelled this out:
“We are the earthly vessels for God to use as witnesses to God's continuous acts of love. Disciples are responsible for preaching, teaching and manifesting the word of God and loving all people regardless of race, creed, colour, class, social status...”
And our acts of love are not going to be effortless and maybe empty words. As Rev. John said:
“As disciples we accept the costly grace of God, where we are called to act. We cannot stand by idly and not protest at the social ills of our communities. We cannot be bystanders as homeless, uneducated and abused children grow into illiterate, unemployed adults. We cannot stand by silently and accept institutional racism, social economic injustice and constitutional changes that serve the privileged few. We, the disciples of God, cannot stand by and quietly accept the deviant, hateful, political slurs against such as the poor, women and ethnic people.
We cannot accept the political structural corruption that erodes our neighbourhoods, destroys our families and endangers the future of social security for the elderly. As disciples, we are called to experience costly grace by being God's prophetic voice in a world unplugged to God's love. We are called to scream from the rooftops for equality and justice for all people in the love of Jesus Christ!”
As I said initially, Rev. John’s sermon was quite complex, but just this much has left us with enough to keep us challenged to live authentic lives as true disciples of Jesus. Living out God’s love as we are loved. We may not think others do not deserve our love and effort but think again about Almighty God’s graciousness to each of us.