Saturday, March 31, 2007

Palm/Passion Sunday




When I was a boy, today was a very important day.  We’d prepare for it in advance, work out our strategies – we knew the two important phases, the fact that up until lunchtime was Phase One – getting people to fall for some ridiculous story – Phase Two of April Fools Day started after lunch, the phase of playing practical jokes and the all-important sticking of notes on other peoples backs.  Phase Two was the really paranoid half – the absolute pinnacle of humiliation was to find you’d been walking around for half a day with a ‘kick me’ sticker on your back.

April Fools Day has got a long and uncertain history – it seems the playing of tricks was an important part of spring celebrations right back to Roman times but many historians believe that the April Fools tradition is also related to the medieval festival of the church known as the Feast of Asses – a day when all the solemnity of the church was overturned, when peasants pretended to be bishops and sermons gave way to a sort of ribald drama and a procession in which clergy dressed up as fools rode hobby horses into the nave.  Eventually the Feast of Asses was banned because congregations got into the spirit of it just a bit too much.

So it seems like a stroke of divine good humour – to this preacher at least – that April Fools Day this year falls on the Sunday of the Passion – that dual celebration when we think both of Jesus’ festive procession into Jerusalem and his trial and execution less than a week later.  Because when you really think about it, much of what Jesus said and did during his life seems pretty foolish by regular standards.  He told some crazy stories and said some pretty outlandish things.  Stories like the farmer who deliberately goes out and plants a field of noxious weeds - and he tells us God’s kingdom is like that.  Outlandish claims like unless you hear the good news with the credulity of a child then you’re going to miss the point, like the claim that the poor are lifted up and the rich miss out, or that if you want to be first in God’s eyes then you have to live as the servant of everyone else.  Upside down stuff, foolish stuff, and he acted in ways that anybody could tell you were a recipe for disaster in the real world.  Like allowing a woman with a shady reputation to give him an extravagant foot-rub at a respectable party.  Like hanging around not with righteous folk, not with people who had any influence, but with nobodies, and lepers and prostitutes.  Upside down stuff that comes from loving indiscriminately, from not being strategic, from following your heart when everybody around you is following their head.  And he tells us God’s kingdom is like that.  It never was going to end well.

And on this feast of Asses we read this strange story of Jesus on his hobby-horse, sitting on the foal of a donkey with both his feet scraping the ground, riding into Jerusalem like a king while his disciples dance and cheer and roll out the red carpet for him.  Except, I bet it never would have made the next morning’s edition of the Jerusalem Post, not the way Luke tells it, anyhow.  Matthew tells it differently, it’s in Matthew’s gospel that the whole city is buzzing with excitement because Jesus is coming to town, and it’s in Matthew’s version that we get the Hosannas and the palm branches.  None of that in Luke’s version of the story.  Luke, I think, fits better with the notion of a solitary fool on a donkey riding up the nave of a cathedral.

Course, I can’t say which gospel account is closer to how it actually happened – both Luke and Matthew are writing their gospels years after the event and both of them have got their reasons for putting a different spin on it – but this year it’s Luke’s turn to tell the story and I think there’s something to be said for following it through the way he tells it, and seeing where it leads us.

No palms.  That tells us something significant.  Because waving palm branches is what you do for a triumphant military leader, that’s what the people did do for Judas Maccabeus, the great Jewish resistance fighter a hundred years before Jesus when he led a brilliant campaign and threw the Greeks out of Jerusalem.  A hundred years later, the people could have used another Judas Maccabeus, a warrior Messiah, but they didn’t get one in Jesus, that’s for sure.  So, no palms.

 No crowds either.  In Matthew the whole city is ablaze with excitement.  In Luke, it’s just the disciples yelling and prancing about.  Luke says it’s a multitude of disciples but, well, there’s the inner circle, the 12, and a few others like blind Bartimaeus who finds he can see again and follows Jesus, there are some women like the three Marys, maybe Zacchaeus now that he’s given away all his money and probably lost his job as well, and let’s say a few dozen more who’ve realised that in Jesus they’ve come across something life-changing - but that’s about it.  Maybe a multitude like we get at St Michaels on a good Sunday, but not the whole city ablaze with excitement, no crowds and nobody else there at all except the disciples and a few grumpy Pharisees telling them to shut up.

And Jesus is riding a donkey.  Just a little one, according to Luke, and it’s not even his.  A borrowed one.  We’re really meant, I think, to notice the donkey, Jesus seems to be riding into the city like a conquering warlord or a king except that he hasn’t got the right vehicle.  No warhorse, just a hobby-horse.

No cheerleaders, no crowds of expectant locals, just a ragtag bunch of ex-lepers, ex-fishermen and prostitutes and fools.  Course there were a few normal folk – a few academics, one or two Pharisees like timid Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, who thought that Jesus had got it just about right, but most of the ones who knew that Jesus’ take on the love of God was not just right but mind-blowingly life-changing – most of them were the poor and the marginalised and the sinful men and women Jesus had bumped into along the way.  King of the ragamuffins on a donkey, a humble beast of burden, borrowed for the day.

But Luke adds an extra detail, and it’s this.  The disciples are yelling, ‘blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord’ – that’s the standard greeting for a Passover pilgrim except that they call him a king – and then an echo of the song of the heavenly host that greets Jesus’ birth - ‘peace in heaven, and glory in the highest!’ – but in the very next verse the mood changes because Jesus weeps over the city that actually hasn’t greeted him at all, that actually hasn’t heard a word he’s said, and as events over the next few days will prove, has rejected outright his radical message of God’s indiscriminate forgiveness and love.  ‘If only’, this is more or less what Jesus says here, ‘if only you could have recognised what peace is really about’.

Do you know what the name of the city means?  Jerusalem – the ‘salem’ bit is a Canaanite word, a variation of shalom, the Hebrew word for peace, and it means a bit more than our English word, it means wholeness and wellness and right relationship. The Hebrew word shalom means living together in harmony, which is why Jewish people use it even today as a greeting.  The point is, here, that Jesus has come to the city of peace with a message of peace, a message of compassionate love that turns the structures of inequality and privilege on their heads, and he says, ‘that’s what God’s like’, and the city says, ‘no way – shut up or you’ll be in big trouble’. 

You ride into town in a jester’s suit, sitting on a hobby-horse and telling folks, turn yourselves upside down and inside out.  Love the silliest and the least, do good to those who hate you, give away whatever it is you think makes you special, it’s when you’ve got nothing at all that you can count yourself lucky because then you’re in the right frame of mind to rely on God.  The Feast of the Asses.  No wonder nobody listened, and he ended up less than a week later, nailed to a Roman cross.

But, what about us?  What are we going to do with this fool who looks like a cheap imitation king on a donkey?  Because, make no bones about it, when Jesus rides into town on his hobby-horse there’s a challenge for the locals.  Do you get it?  Have you got the point and if you have, are you game enough to actually live like this?  You see- let’s not kid ourselves - there’s a cost in living and loving as wastefully and indiscriminately as Jesus does.  There’s a promise, too, and it’s the promise of life that’s fuller and more generous and more authentic, the promise of life that’s so bursting at the seams it can’t be stopped even by death itself – but we’re not there yet.  We haven’t got to that part of the story yet.  We’re still talking about the cost of living and loving authentically.

Sp, what about us?  Are we game to follow this fool for a single week?  It’s going to be a long week, a rollercoaster week - but a week, I promise you, that if you pay attention, is going to change your life.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Lent 5 - Luke 19.1-10 (Zacchaeus)




From time to time Alison and I get away on holidays and go down to a caravan park on the south coast – we’ve got a favourite spot that I’m not going to tell you about! – but I remember when we first started going there just after we got married we were amazed to find what looked like a village of vans in various states of permanence.  The ones up on blocks, that you assume aren’t going anywhere, especially when you notice they’ve got little white picket fences and lawns and fibro annexes.  These people look like they’re there to stay.  It’s easy enough, also, to pick the ones that are just down for the summer holidays – medium sized vans, a bit untidy-looking, surrounded by kids’ bikes and fishing rods.  But the ones that fascinate me are the permanent nomads and gypsies, well-equipped vans pulled by four wheel drives, all the creature comforts, the owners pull in and have everything unpacked, sitting down to a cup of tea and the evening news within 20 minutes, interstate number plates and often as not a little sign in the back window of the van saying who they are and where they come from. 

It’s a romantic dream, for some of us anyway, the idea of not having any ties, no need to stay where the weather’s not perfect or there’s nothing interesting to see.  For real nomads and gypsies, the reality has always been a bit less romantic, never quite belonging anywhere, never quite accepted, always a stranger and people always happy to see you go. 

I think the image of the caravan is actually a useful metaphor for what it’s like to be God’s people - especially for the Jewish people who, right down deep in their psyche, have got this sense of themselves as having being displaced, of being dispersed and homeless - and it’s out of this experience that the most profound understanding is born of what God is like.  There’s a Greek word for this that you might know because we also have it in English, diasporosthe Diaspora, or Dispersion, and it’s not a modern phenomenon, Jewish people even today have a profound sense of their identity as the descendents of a wandering desert nomad, Abraham, who found favour with God.  A sense of having been slaves in Egypt, of having been guided by God through the trackless desert.  But maybe the most searing, the most appalling experience of having been scattered – prior to modern times and the Holocaust, at least - was the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 538 BCE.  You can read in the book of Lamentations, and in the prophet Jeremiah, the devastating impact of exile that in Hebrew is called ????? – a hard, ugly word that means to be stripped bare, utterly humiliated and exposed.  It was only through the vision of the prophet Jeremiah, who came to understand that the God the people of Israel had worshipped in the Temple at Jerusalem had not abandoned them but was with them wherever they went, that God’s people began to recover any sort of sense of who they were.   It was Jeremiah who told the people to put down roots in Babylon, to build houses, give your sons and daughters in marriage, build a future, and it was Jeremiah who came up with the stunning insight that - through the disaster of exile - God intended God’s people to be a blessing to the goyim, to the non-Jewish peoples around them.  It was there, at that point, that the beauty of Judaism was most fully revealed, the understanding that to be chosen by God was to be chosen as a blessing to the nations.

And I think we in the Christian church today need to recover this sense being off-centre, the sense of being God’s exiled people, because it’s also foundational for the earliest communities of Christians.  In the first letter of Peter, the apostle addresses his readers not only as diasporosthe Dispersion – but also as parapidemosa word means an alien who has the right to settle somewhere but never to actually belong, a person without legal rights because their citizenship is somewhere else.  This community of Christians isn’t actually Jewish, like us they are Gentile Christians but they have understood that to be followers of Jesus Christ that their real sense of belonging has to be somewhere else, their real citizenship is in the reign of God that in one sense we already experience and in another sense we long for.  The reason for the Greek lesson is that this Greek word – parapidemosis related to another word - paroikosor as we pronounce it in English – ‘parish’.  And for at least the first three centuries of the Christian church that was exactly how we understood ourselves – God’s gypsies, always passing through but never quite belonging, resident aliens whose whole purpose for being here is to be a blessing to others.  God’s outsiders, sensitive to the presence of others who are excluded or lost.

Well what, you might be wondering, has all this got to do with Zacchaeus?  A story that is so familiar that it’s difficult to penetrate beyond the cute Sunday School image of little Zacchaeus up his sycamore tree.  But the image of little Zacchaeus up the tree isn’t meant, I think, to be cute.  This is a powerful and dangerous man, the idea of Zacchaeus climbing the tree to see Jesus so utterly inappropriate and even humiliating, as undignified as the picture we had last week of the aged father running through the streets of the village to reclaim his lost son.  And notice that Zacchaeus comes along in Luke’s gospel just after the story about the rich man whose great wealth made it impossible for him to follow Jesus.  There’s something symmetrical about this story, here’s another rich man who does make the right response to God – a response just as foolish, just as extravagant, as God’s own response that we see in the story of the Prodigal Son.  The other thing is that this is a story not about forgiveness, but about assumptions and the power of stereotypes.  We do know, not only from the gospels but from historical sources, that tax collectors who worked with the occupation forces were despised and hated, and when they got wealthy as they often did, it was assumed they were corrupt.  We actually don’t know whether Zacchaeus was corrupt – but the crowd assumes he is, and it’s this assumption that is the point of the story.  Because Zacchaeus is ostracised, he is an outsider and an alien in his own country.  We know that he was eager to see Jesus, Zacchaeus had apparently been attracted for some time to what he had heard about Jesus so it’s not a sudden change of heart.  But the point of the story is that Zacchaeus, an outsider and an alien - Zacchaeus who is in exile ????? - is restored to human dignity, restored to social visibility and a place in the community because he is recognised and taken seriously by Jesus.  And for that reason he responds with generosity and with joy.

The wonderful thing is that this story really tells us what God is doing for us in Jesus himself.  Jesus, of course, is the gypsy in this story, the one who comes among us as an exile, his true citizenship not here but with the one he calls his Father.  It’s the story of the Incarnation – God welcoming those who are alienated – Zacchaeus and us - restoring us to our true selves and our true relationships - with God and with each other. 

That’s why God’s people should never start to feel too comfortable.  Psychologically, we need to remain nomads, always off-centre, always aware that we are away from our true home.  As the people of God’s blessings our purpose is to be a blessing to outsiders, to the lost and the marginalised.  The first job is to recognise them, and the more settled we feel, the harder that is – who are the Zacchaeus-types in our neighbourhood?  Who has to climb a tree to be noticed?  Who in our community feels alienated, or unwelcome?  The second job is to enter into conversation, as one caravanner to another, to take them seriously as partners on the road.

Then, and only then, will we become a church in mission.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Lent 4




I remember a minor neighbourhood scandal that erupted once, many years ago, in my suburb in Brisbane.  A couple of blocks away from where I lived with a group of students a big hand-painted sign had appeared on a fence next to the entrance to a double garage that read, ‘Party, Friday 8.00pm.  Everybody welcome.  Free beer in shed.’  Needless to say, the word got around pretty quick, for impoverished uni students this was like a dream come true.  Nobody seemed to know who was throwing this too-good-to-be-true party, and it did sound like a peculiar idea – I had visions of hundreds of people trying to cram into this backyard shed, neighbours and friends, complete strangers and freeloaders all presuming on this strange and wonderful hospitality.  Unfortunately, within a couple of days the sign had been taken down, and in it’s place there was another one that read, ‘Sorry, no party this Friday.  Someone’s idea of a joke’.  Turns out the elderly couple who lived there were in the habit of inviting a few friends over to practise their square-dancing.  They almost got a bit more than they bargained for.

Still, for a day or two the idea that there was a party going on and we were all invited was tantalising.  Even more so since we had no idea who might be throwing it or why.  And because it seemed to make no difference at all who might come, who we might be when we walked in through the roll-a-dor, or why we had bothered to show up – whether out of curiosity, or boredom, whether we were life-of-the-party types or introverts, whether we were there for the company or just the beer.  A party where it didn’t matter how you found out about it or how you got there, the only thing that mattered was that it was a party.

Course I’m a lot older now, it doesn’t sound quite as much fun now as it did at the time.

A party just for the sake of having a party?  Does that sound at all like church?  Because the story we heard from the gospel this morning – this parable of Jesus that someone once described as being like the whole Bible in a nutshell – this actually is Jesus’ defence against the accusation that he’s not respectable enough.  Right at the beginning of chapter 15, where the Pharisees, the religious professionals of their day, are accusing Jesus of being a party boy, somebody who is a bit too fond of a good time and who isn’t too particular about the company he keeps.  ‘This man’, they complain, ‘receives sinners and eats with them’.  The point seems to be, what sort of prophet can he possibly be if he hangs around with ne’er-do-wells?  Shouldn’t he be more concerned with telling them to lift their game, and a bit less keen to party on with them?

And in response, Jesus tells them three stories, one after another just to make sure there’s no question of missing the point.  A farmer who goes to extraordinary lengths to find a lost sheep, and then when he finds it, gets all the neighbours around for a party.  A woman who throws a party after she finds a lost coin.  A foolish father who allows his wayward son to make off with a good share of the family assets and then welcomes him home with a party when its all gone.  What sort of God is this, who not only allows sinners to run riot but who makes himself look undignified at best as he runs through the streets of the town to meet them when they come home bedraggled and woebegone, who tidies them up and throws a party?   I often think this story is misnamed as the Prodigal Son, maybe we should call it the story of the Prodigal Father.  And the original criticism of the Pharisees that Jesus is just a bit too cosy with sinners finds its echo in the older brother’s understandably grumpy question, a question that we sometimes echo ourselves whenever we see people getting what they need, not what they deserve – ‘how can you justify throwing a party for the likes of him?’

Well, the first thing that always gets noticed about this story is that it’s about forgiveness.  The youngest son’s behaviour is certainly beyond the pale, and by the standards of the day his dad wouldn’t be expected to give him a second chance.  Not only that, but I really think the father’s forgiveness happens even before there’s a real change of heart on the son’s part.  He ‘comes to himself’ only insofar as he figures that there’s no real future in eating husks out of the trough with the pigs, and he decides life at home would be preferable even if he does have to grovel a bit.  The story doesn’t actually tell us that he’s sorry for the way he’s treated his old dad – the story does beg the question what’s going to happen next in this most dysfunctional family - but the grovelling gets cut short because the first thing dad wants to do is celebrate.  It’s about God’s forgiveness but even more than that, it’s about God’s delight in us, about God’s foolish love for us that is so unrestrained that not only does God want to party with sinners like us, but God comes looking for us and cuts short all our explanations. 

And it’s true enough that because we all of us are sinful, because we all of us behave in selfish ways at times and in ways that reject the relationship God wants to have with us – that we can all put ourselves in the shoes of the younger son, so we all need to hear this message of God’s wasteful love.  But – and it’s a big but – let’s not forget that the people Jesus is telling this story to are the religious folk, the folk who know their Bible and who never miss going to church, the ones who are very, very serious indeed not only about following the rules but about loving and obeying God.  Folk, in other words, who have got a lot more in common with the older brother than the younger one.  We’ve been faithful, we value and respect the traditions of our religion, we base our whole understanding of who we are on the fact that we are God’s people and if we follow the Law of Moses, if we make sure we don’t associate with any of the sharp practices or the pagan lifestyles down the road, then we know we’re going to encounter God here, God is going to be with us and for us because that’s the deal.  That’s the covenant and we’ve been faithful to it, so we’ve got God right here. 

That’s the risk for religious folk –it’s the risk of being self-righteous and judgemental, the risk of being so focused on the traditions of the past that we don’t notice that God might be doing something new in the future, it’s the risk of overlooking the fact that God might be doing something new, right now, outside the narrow perspective of our own tradition.  And so the older brother refuses to go into the party which, really, is where he most needs to go in order to be reconciled, not only with his brother but with his father as well.  See what’s happened?  The insider has become the outsider, because he refuses to accept God’s shocking and inappropriate inclusiveness.

The profligacy of God who insists on giving both brothers not what they deserve, but what they need.  There’s an echo in this story, isn’t there, of the Incarnation itself, the prodigal Son of the prodigal Father who leaves his Father’s home and travels to a distant country – not in disobedience but in love and in solidarity for the broken and the lost.

And there’s a similar echo in our reading from Deuteronomy.  God’s inexplicable love for Israel is because God cares for strays and outsiders.  It’s the character of God to notice the needs of strangers, to care for those in distress and Israel, who is commanded to love God, should also notice the needs of strangers because Israel itself is the stranger who God has had compassion on.  You know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of God’s extravagant and undeserved kindness, so you, too, need to practice going out of your own way to show compassion to strays and outsiders.

What does that mean in our own context?  If the risk for religious folk is the danger of being like the grown-up son who never left home, then how do we learn to connect with the generosity of God outside the four walls of our own tradition?  How do we get into the party that God just might be having with the irreligious and the irreverent?  At the very least, I think, for the Church poised at the entrance of the 21st century, that we need to loosen up a bit.  We need to learn to blur the boundaries a bit, to work out ways of celebrating God’s delight in and God’s love for all of creation in ways that include the wider community, in ways that engage us in conversation with neighbours and strangers, with the lonely and the curious and the compassionate folk who live around us.

How we do that might take some thinking.  But the party, I suspect, is worth going to.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Lent 2 (Deut 6.16-25, Heb 3.12 - 4.2, Lk 18.18-30)

One of the spate of frightful so-called ?reality? shows that the TV networks thought we wanted to watch last year was ?Australia?s Biggest Loser?.  Now I hasten to add that I never watched it ? but you know, when you switch on the TV and it happens to be on, how you can?t help watching just for a minute or two in a sort of horrified fascination? 

This sort of show seems to be mainly about watching other people getting humiliated, doesn?t it?  And the winner is the one who can take the most humiliation, the one so fixated on the million dollar prize that they can connive and manipulate and back-stab their opponents on national TV as well as being insulted by the judges week by week as they inch closer to the prize ? a sort of a celebration of all that?s most unattractive in human nature. 

For those who haven?t seen it, Australia?s Biggest Loser follows a group of impressively overweight people who compete to lose the most kilos while being badgered and taunted by personal trainers and dieticians.  The winner last year was a young man named Adro who ? I must say ? looked a whole lot better at the end of the season than he did at the beginning, but who ? whenever I accidentally happened to tune into the show for a few seconds, seemed constantly on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

Anyway ? what I found most interesting about the programme was firstly its name ? how it turns on its head the idea of being a loser ? normally if someone calls you a loser it?s not such a good thing, but here the more you lost the better it was ? secondly how genuinely hard it was, how much emotional turmoil we all had to endure so that Adro could lose his 50kg or whatever it was.  Rationally you?d think it wouldn?t be such a hard choice to eat a bit less and get a bit more exercise when you think maybe it?s going to save your life ? in point of fact as we all know, we find it really hard sometimes to let go of things that give us security and make us feel good even when they aren?t good for us.

I?m reminded of the story about how African farmers catch monkeys by putting a small hole in the end of a kerosene can, with a few peanuts inside.  You like peanuts, you?ve got them in your hand, you don?t want to let them go even though deep down you know what the consequences are going to be.

Today, on the second Sunday of Lent, our readings offer us a choice just like this.  Last week it was about living in trust, even when we find ourselves in hard places.  Today it?s about recognising the alternatives, making a choice and acting on it with courage - and our reading from Deuteronomy sets the stage for us.  This generation that?s just about to enter the promised land weren?t even born yet when God led the people out of Egypt, when Moses gave them water by striking the rock - but they do know the stories of God?s faithfulness during the desert wanderings of their people because the stories are part of who they are.  So the danger is that for this generation who weren?t around for all the hard stuff, now things are looking up they might forget about following the Law of God.  And Moses tells them it boils down to this ? choose life or choose death.

And in the letter to the Hebrews ? this is a group of Christians who have grown tired of waiting for Jesus to come back, and maybe they are at risk of giving up, and so the writer reminds them of the choice the people of Israel faced in the desert, and he tells them, your choice today is just as simple.  The good news of Jesus has come to you, so are you going to be like Israel in the desert, and choose death, or are you going to live by the good news you have heard, and choose life?

Which sets the stage for our reading from the Gospel.  It?s one of the uncomfortable stories, isn?t it, because even if you?re not part of the upper crust, even if you?re not James Packer, I think you can?t help but put yourself in the young man?s shoes.  Where we come in today, Jesus has just finished telling his disciples that unless they hear the good news of God like a little child, then they?ll never be a part of it.  And then this important person comes along, he?s not one the poor who Jesus insists are especially blessed by God, he?s not a child and he says to Jesus, ?what should I do to have eternal life??  And this is what Jesus tells him ? ?mate, be Australia?s biggest loser?.  ?Sell everything, give it to the poor so you can share in their blessedness and come, follow me?.  Sounds simple, except ? are you going to do that?  I?m not!  We can make it relative, we can talk about finding the balance between self and others, we can say yes, we give to Anglicare but life?s a lot more complicated now than it was in the year dot, you can?t just sell your house and empty out your bank account and go wandering around the country with some mad preacher ? but all that misses Jesus? direct, uncomfortable demand.  ?Let go of your fake security.?  It?s the same choice that Adro faced, and he made the right decision even if enduring 12 weeks of humiliation on national TV was a bit questionable ? what?s most important to you? ? another plate of comfort food or life as it?s really meant to be lived?  What made it fascinating TV was that you could see him genuinely struggling with that question, week after week.  It?s the choice that Simon Peter faced, when Jesus called him to leave his nets and his livelihood, to leave home and family and follow.  And it?s the same choice that Jesus gives us.

We need to pause here before we get too metaphorical, because for most of us the demand that Jesus makes is tough enough at face value.  Actually, we can?t give up the material security of our lives in this wealthy corner of the world to follow Jesus, and if that?s what Jesus wants of us then it?s too hard, like the ruler we find ourselves squirming.  I don?t know about you, but I am greatly relieved to hear Jesus assurance that what?s too hard for me is not too hard for God.

And then of course we need to recognise that what?s at stake is more than just our BHP shares and our bank accounts.  We?re being asked to make a choice between the security we make for ourselves, and taking the chance that God?s love and faithfulness really can be trusted.  It takes some courage. 

And I wonder if in some ways the church itself isn?t a bit like the ruler in today?s story.  When we find our security not in being God?s people but in being evangelicals, or Anglo-Catholics, in being theologically conservative, or theologically progressive.  When our church traditions or our practices of piety become an end in themselves.  When we find our security in being a traditional church that sings traditional hymns, or in being a contemporary church with a band.  In having a priest who wears a chasuble or a pastor who wears jeans.  Being on the winning side of the argument about the ministry of women, finding the right verses from scripture to back up our opinions about gay and lesbian priests.  All these preoccupations actually are church versions of comfort food ? different ways of finding our security and our sense of belonging somewhere else than in following Jesus and learning from him the wisdom of insecurity.

I?ve heard some of the stories of this parish.  Stories about the hard work of building up God?s church here in the early days, the little weatherboard churches and then the hard decisions and the risks of building the church we?re worshipping in right now.  The stories of the times when the financial future of the parish looked bleak, when it looked like it was going to have to close altogether, and then the faithfulness and the vision of parishioners who raised money and invested wisely.  The stories of God?s faithfulness in the past that tell us it?s not investment in buildings but investment in community, investment in courage and investment in trust that forms us as God?s people.  That it?s OK to give up whatever St Michaels? version of ecclesiastical comfort food might be.

The choice, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews tells us, has to be made today.  And tomorrow as well, which of course will also be today when it comes.  The ruler?s choice is one we face over and over again.  Today?s version is: do we sell off part of the church property to extend our facilities?  Or do we use our vacant land to add value back to the community we live in?  How do we measure our choices against Jesus? demand to let go of our fake security and rely only on God?s faithfulness?

Choose life, or choose death.  Be Cannington?s biggest loser.  The good news for us, is that Jesus shows us how it?s done, that on the other side of losing everything is the new life that God promises.  That?s security.

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