Sermon for Sunday August 3rd – 18th in Ordinary Time – Year A

Sermon for Sunday August 3rd, 2014
18th Sunday in Ordinary time – Year A

Genesis 32:22-31
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

Deep Roots
Deep Church

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.
And David was the father of Solomon . . .
You cannot spend too much time reading the scriptures without becoming aware of the prevalence of genealogies. The people of God know where they have come from, and knowing where they have come from , and knowing this they know who they are. There Roots are the source of their sense of who they are. As the Pharisees protest to Jesus ‘We have Abraham as our Father . . .’ Who are we . . . not Who am I, Who are we – ‘We are the children of Abraham . . .’ Our Roots . . .
Of course that protest immediately alerts us to something, that roots can go rotten. Not that there is anything wrong with having Abraham as your father, unless it becomes nothing more to you than a name in a list – something you take pride in, but do not live out of. {For us moderns, the sense that we lived out of our ancestry is an odd one. We might take a certain interest, even a pride in our genealogy, but we think of ourselves as individuals, that our identity is personal, not given. ]
Paul’s gospel to the Romans is in some respects an extended meditation upon the question, ‘what does it mean to be a true child of Abraham?’ Our reading from Romans finds Paul in agony over his people who have lost touch with the lifeblood of their descent from Abraham. They loudly declare they are children of Abraham, but their lives belie that truth. I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen. To Them, to Them! They are the True inheritors of the promises of God, but they have not inherited. This Life Giving Gospel message should be flowing through their veins, but the root has rotted . . . Like Esau, they have despised their birthright. Cutting themselves off from their past.  And losing touch with your roots is s serious matter – a tree which on the surface may look so secure will come crashing down in a gale if its roots are no more.
Of course we in New Zealand know a lot about felling trees, and not just the rotten ones. It is only recently that we have learned to value our native trees, although economics and those with friends in high places, continue to win out. Orokonui is a wonder, but how appalling is the thought that trees and native fauna need Sanctuary, a place safe from the ravages of human insatiability.
When we were holidaying in January up on the West Coast, it was horrifying to contemplate what had been done to the native forest, to see the only the odd solitary Rimu, above the canopy – somewhat bent of course, of no economic use. All that was left. That pioneering spirit which seeks to ‘establish a new land’ – had cleared the land, to leave its own mark upon a blank slate, a Tabula Rasa. Like in so many modern cultures – lacking a sense of place within the order of things, a sense of lineage, a sense of Place and History. ‘Out with the old!’ (language which increasingly we use of people – having run out of trees there is not much left to fuel our passions . . .) Out with the Old! is our mantra. Henry Ford is our prophet. History is bunk.  LIfe is what We make it. It is not a gift from the past.
And even in the church. How many even without meaning to, fall into the trap of saying ‘We are to build the Kingdom of God!’ – worse, how many say it and mean it . . . The past?? Even in the church, this spirit of the age, confused as it is for the Eternal Spirit of God, inevitably leads us into secularism.
And thus we live at a critical juncture in the life of the Church in the West. Perhaps like the Pharisees of old the root has gone rotten. Perhaps ‘Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees’ Because as some have noted the critical Schism, the critical divide in the church seems to be between those who in the spirit of modernity disavow the past, and those who see it as life and health, however strange to modern ears. And I do not here mean the recent past, not traditions of recent years, but Deep Past. Its disavowal in the refusal to acknowledge what God is doing in a first century Jew in Palestine.
I have spoken from time to time about how the modern church seems strangely divorced from Jesus, as anything [sic] more than a conventient hook for our own preoccupation. It is as if Jesus is for children, but more grown up Christians need to let him go . . . For, to be sure, in modern thought he is an embarrassment.
That God uniquely, once and for All, took on human flesh in the person of a Jewish man in first century Palestine revolts the modern imagination. It isn’t enough for those ‘cultured despisers’ the church has for years sought to persuade by copying them. A simple analysis of church writings of sermons on the web, of new and ‘more relevant liturgies’, of books on the false trail that is ‘spirituality’ readily exposes this abandonment, of the first century Palestinian Jew,  . . . Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah. Everywhere we see the sidelining of His particularity, to reduce Jesus to one amongst many moral examples, or a teacher of timeless truths, or to carelessly refer to him as Christ, with no sense of the Roots of that name – Christ – Messiah – the annointed King of Israel, the King of the Jews, God’s chosen one for the Salvation, the healing of the entire cosmos. who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.
And so when we come upon this story of the feeding of the 5000 – it seems to be for us ‘a fairytale for children’ and as adults we may well be tempted to think it a shallow matter for our consideration from the gospels. Trained in the shallows of our culture, it is an entertaining story but has nothing to offer us.   Disconnected from our roots, ahistorical as we are, this tale, seems of little import. but in Truth it is a foundational story of our faith. A tale which recalls us to our Roots. For here as it happens that is precisely what Jesus is doing, recalling God’s historic people, the Jews to their roots. No person who was in anyway aware of the Roots of the Jewish story could see ‘a metaphor’, or indeed ‘just a miracle, because God can do that sort of thing!’. No – here in the feeding of the five thousand, the only action of Jesus recounted almost identically in all four gospels, Here The Lord, Yahweh, is providing manna for his children in the wilderness. This is a profound encounter of Israel with her God in the person of Jesus – Yahweh-yireh – The Lord provides. Here is Israel’s God doing what he has always done, feeding his offspring, his children. Revealing himself as their Very Life. Recalling them to their roots.
And more than a mere memorial, he is recalling them to the Life giving obedience of God his Father. When the disciples are confronted by the hungry crowd, although they have heard Jesus announcing the Life giving Law afresh ‘you have heard it said, but I say to you . . .’, they still do not remember who they are, they still do not remember that the Law Giver of Sinai is the same One who feeds his children in the wilderness. The one who feeds his people through their obedience – ‘This is a wilderness, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ they do not recognise the Life Giver – they too think that we make our own lives, ‘let them go . . . so that they might buy food for themselves’ They have forgotten the ancient words of the prophet – forgotten their roots, forgotten who they are
‘Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price . . . Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. Listen so that you might live. Israel’s teacher feeds his flock – and the disciples are supposed to understand ‘‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ Jesus calls them to obedience – a life giving obedience. ‘You give them something to eat’
Here is the heart of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus – in obedience to Jesus His life is shared. Obedience to God in Christ leads to Life for the whole world. But they still have to be taught this. ‘The Disciples replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ obedience to Christ is life giving for all. Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.
Between our house and Yvette Williams, there is a Sycamore in midlfe. But last year part of it had to be taken down, a branch died off. The problem? the Roots, As the field had been excavated to build the nursing home, a senseless digger had cut through the trees roots. A tree is a thing of Wonder  We are dull to Wonder almost like no generation before us. A tree takes that which is death to us, Carbon Dioxide and turns it into Life – in the form of Oxygen.
So a healthy church can indeed inhabit what is a highly toxic environment for faith. The difficulties of the Church are not to do with the toxic culture, for ours is the Life of the one who hung on The Tree – His Life in us is Life for the world, irrespective of how much the world denies that life. The problem of the church is that it has ignored its roots, it is shallow. It has paid little attention to its roots and rather sought to shape itself with regard to culture. The world produces Carbon Dioxide and worse, strangling all of Creation, the Church is often too eager to mimic the world is the endless and hopeless quest for relevance. But it need not be this way.
As roots stabilise mighty trees in great storms, so the Church who remains deeply connected to Jesus – who knows HIm as her life – who seeks only to do his will – who desires only to feed on him in Word and Sacrament, the Bread that comes from heaven, truly in the gales of this present age, it will stand firm.
The tree with no roots, fed from the toxic streams of individualised modernity . . . great is the crash thereof. As without Roots a tree cannot live, so our Roots must go deep deep down into Him, the one who says ‘whomsoever is thirsty let him come to me and drink. Out of the believers heart will flow streams of living water’
If we imagine one of those trees in our church, As it grows it adds girth which adds to its strength above the ground. Still utterly dependent though on the roots. So as the Church grows it acquires The Tradition – those things which come from Christ for our health, which make HIm present to us. The Creeds which remind us of the truth of Christ, The Scriptures which testify to Christ, the Sacraments, Baptism by which we are included in Christ, the Eucharist in which now and always Christ feeds God’s children.

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