Thursday, 2 July 2020

“Whom Ought I Welcome?”

This Sunday, the Rev. John’s sermon was focused on “Whom Ought I Welcome?”  – Matthew 10:40-42 “Jesus said, ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’”  A number of times during his reflection, the Rev. John reminded us of “Our obligations of welcome and hospitality; Such an understanding of hospitality, of the obligation of welcome, dates back to well before the time of Jesus. It was a matter of survival and community health which translated into the religious understanding of what God wants of us. Where and how do we experience such welcome today?”
That is indeed a BIG and difficult question!  Of course, the world is and has been ever changing and it becomes confusing and sometimes unnecessarily guilt provoking if we try to judge everything and everyone against a yardstick from a different time in history.  I sometimes wonder how many of the modern world problems which cause the most angst, are left over from the incredibly tumultuous and war ravaged 20th century and are a direct result of the loss of country, identity, customs and traditions and millions of lives?  History shows us that almost every country has at some time been invaded by bullies who have changed the way the ordinary people can expect to live; and migration has been the pattern for thousands of years.
The study of Ancient history in the first year of high school had already taught me that one great Empire followed the other with monotonous and inexorable regularity.  Even at the tender age of 12 it was obvious to me that greed, unrest, distrust and intolerance generally resulted in the decline of an empire - and isn’t that still happening today?  We are certainly watching the great “American Empire” appearing to self-destruct right before our eyes and some are perhaps bemoaning our changed allegiance after the fall of the British Empire of which many of us, our parents and our younger selves were so proud to belong.  Now as a country and as individuals we ask; should we blame or admire those who want to catch onto the coat-tails of the movers and shakers of the emerging modern Chinese Empire?  Didn’t the 20th and early 21st century teach us that Communism and Christianity often do not sit well together.
The Dark Ages stretched in historical terms from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages or from 300 to 800 - when time morphed into the early Middle Ages – again not a really happy time to be alive.  I was recently fascinated to discover that historians today consider the use of the term Dark Ages, implies a “bad value judgement” because of the “negative connotations” of barbarity and intellectual deficit.
Well, historians can call it what they like - and it seems that the preferred term today is “The Migration Period”- however it cannot be denied those days were shrouded in darkness of many kinds.  Surely I am not alone in thinking that this period of time - when an estimated 100 million people died as the result of war, poverty and plague - was indeed a dark time.
Once again we are watching huge “migrations” making a mockery of established borders because of aggressive and violent invasions, poverty and famine.  I don’t know about you, but I certainly wonder what history will make of all these events.  There are such diverse views on the morality of almost every situation - whose history can possibly be “the truth”.  Whose “truth” is God’s truth?  The Crusaders certainly didn’t emerge from the early skirmishes with Islam looking too Godly and neither will we; if we condemn any people without thought, acknowledgement, or the lessons of history tempered with compassion.
Conquest of  Constantinople by Crusaders in 1204 - A 15th Century Miniature painted by David Aubert (1449 - 79)
Public Domain  - Wikipedia 

Will history offer apologies for the extreme violence of this century?  Will we take on the burden of responsibility for terrorism and extremism?  How can we ever agree on who we should welcome into our country, community, church or home?  I agree that successful integration and diversity can bring strong new alliances and friendships, but I believe that diversity both challenges and enriches us personally and as a society; but above all my Christian values tell me that tolerance is the glue that holds any society together.  In order to keep this civilized and enlightened social order that we call society, the enforcement of rules and laws must generally be seen to be the right outcome to preserve the rights of the majority.  It is in fact ironic, that the price for a person who exercises what they may consider to be their personal freedom, in an anti-social way in a “civilised” society, is often punishment by imprisonment, inflicted by that same society.
As I grow older and observe the lies and the misinformation which have been propagated as “history” and “truth” in my living memory, I struggle with the probability that my experiences of the time I was alive will not be accurately portrayed.  I lived through the 60s; yet my way of life and the life of all the people I knew, in no way resembled the culture and the morality depicted as “normal”, which is now being passed on to younger generations as fact.  Also, how can it be that it is regularly reported in the media by financial experts that my generation was blessed in easily being able to own their own home in Sydney, when from our first pay packet, both my future husband and I saved very carefully, making financial and social sacrifices in anticipation of a future involving marriage and our personal responsibility for any future children. Our home was modest, with no furniture except a new fridge and mattress on the floor and some ancient borrowed wooden chairs, a discarded laminex table and borrowed suitcases for our clothes. From our families we had collected an assortment of old bedspreads, war surplus blankets and sheets to cover the large naked picture windows so fashionable in the red texture brick dream home of the 1960’s.  There were no fences, paths or gardens in sight.
How much of the recorded history and way of life of previous centuries accurately depicts the truth I wonder?    Somehow as I grow old enough to have lived through significant historical events and actually been part of the history of more than half of the 20th century and two decades of the 21st century, I begin to wonder if education and science have now rendered history invalid and useless.  Before Columbus sailed to the New World did anybody dispute the belief the world was flat?
I am confused.   Yes it is easy for Christians to feel confusion and guilt, especially as better education allows everyone to have an opinion and certainly in democratic societies to express our opinions.  Does it matter how much new evidence has been “uncovered” - sometimes quite literally - about the Dark Ages or Middle Ages, or any other time in history?
Surely scientists can’t – and should not perpetuate theories like the flatness of the earth when we have marvelled at pictures taken from space and which prove the curvature of the earth!  Thousands of concepts like the forces of gravity which ensures that the water does not fall into space from the oceans and rivers as the earth turns upside down; have all been scientifically proved.  However, I can still, in sheer wonder, marvel at God’s amazing “work”.
I believe that proven scientific knowledge is different to the recording of events that we call history?  Now this is a really tricky question to which many might consider there is no correct answer!  Should anyone take it upon themselves to try to change the history that has been recorded?  If there are important changes that can correct mistakes in reporting, this could be a reason to make some authorised historical corrections; but we cannot allow the modern opinions of the morality or even the harshness of past events to allow history to be distorted to please the whims of the current generations. Surely this can only lead to anarchy!
The Rev John did in his thinking this morning put forward the challenge of who we should welcome, in this whimsical manner:  “Just so we get this straight: whoever welcomes you welcomes Jesus, and whoever welcomes your friend or neighbour or family member or work colleague or elected official or mother-in-law or next door neighbour or chatty seat companion on an airplane or the stall holder at the Farmers market or grocery checkout person or barber (if you still use one) – there was a slight chuckle here as he is not over-endowed with hair!) -  or the Startrack driver or the child who hit your new car with a soccer ball … and so on and so forth … welcomes God?   The Rev. John even suggested; “We could have fun with this!”
“But would there ever be an end to such a list of those who are welcome? If there is an end to such a list of who is welcome, what does this mean? And if not, well -  what does that mean?” he asked.
Perhaps there is no real answer to any of those hard questions, although we can truthfully offer some positive answers to the Rev. John’s other question; “Where is our witness to welcoming others, and thereby welcoming Jesus and the one who sent him?”
A Quarterly Friendship Circle Morning Tea after Church on a Sunday Morning
Everyone is welcomed for a regular morning tea every Sunday
and anyone who has a Birthday ending in an 0 has a Birthday Cake

Our Marsden Road Church is a place where to my knowledge and experience over the last 50 years, everyone has always been genuinely welcomed and been offered hospitality and friendship; and this has always extended far beyond reasonable expectations and has indeed reflected the love of God through the care of his people.  During the months of the Covid 19 pandemic; although unable to offer traditional hospitality, it has been remarkable the way so many church members have looked after the spiritual and physical welfare of each person, specially caring for all those who are isolated, ill or lonely.  People have been printing and delivering copies of the weekly orders of service, newsletters and blogs to those without a computer and hundreds of phone calls have been made by our caring congregation members. 
I am pleased to say that our friend Margaret and her husband are at this time the recipients of all manner of hospitality as we all are when we are in hospital or sick at home.  Meals, biscuits, phone calls, encouragement and love are given, as Margaret continues to struggle through the aftermath of two complicated surgeries, with another to come.  I encourage all Margaret’s Blog followers to continue to include her in their prayers of intercession.
Our special Solstice $2.50 Excursions for Seniors to see how far they can travel on trains, buses and ferries - and visit all kinds of interesting places are open to friends and family and everyone of any age is welcome - they just have to pay more! 

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