Sermon for Sunday 8 after Trinity – OT 18 Year A
The Reckless Kingdom
‘My Kingdom is not of this world’
Last Sunday, I spoke a little about that story which Ruth Burrows tells, of how we create this life for ourselves and carry it up the mountain to show it off to God, and then discover that God is not there, and that to find God we have to descend the mountain down a narrow perilous path, far too steep dark, narrow and dangerous for us to even consider carrying this precious vase of our life down . . . and we have to make a choice. Is it to be God or what the life we have careful made for ourselves??
For those who have ‘made much of their lives’ this might be a little hard to take, indeed it may be a little offensive. Rather like in CS Lewis’ book, the Great Divorce, where an Anglican Bishop refuses the gift of life in ‘Heaven’ because his great theology isn’t needed there, he’s too full of himself . . . The early church suggested that certain trades were incompatible with life in the church. Being an actor, for example, for it required deception, or being in the army, for it required you to kill people – I’m not entirely sure what the early church would have made of religious professionals either . . .
This last week Sarah and I were sharing our regular coffee, and she was telling me about an old friend and her children. How they were all committed Christians although one was an Army Officer. She wondered how the young man squared his faith with his work. After all, it might be reasonable to suggest that there is a bit of a problem with killing people ‘for a living’.
We do find ways to justify ourselves in this respect – we are very good at justifying ourselves, telling ourselves stories about ‘just wars and the like’, calling these killing entities ‘Defence’. But in the light of this weeks readings, I followed up her question with another? Why do we assume his father doesn’t have at least as big a problem as his son, after all he is an accountant . . .
For there is no accounting in the Kingdom of our Father – ‘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!’ Reading the prophet Isaiah we think – what on earth is going on? Where’s the profit and loss account! you can’t just give food away . . . but then if we found ourselves amongst the poor we might perhaps think that it was the announcement of Salvation . . .
‘You can’t just give it away’ I know of far far more reasons for not giving to those who ask me – lots of them – I am a child of my culture, i’ve been well drilled in it. ‘they will only spend it on . . .’ Of course we give all sorts of money to all sorts of people without running a moral inventory over them despite the fact that addiction to drugs and alcohol, and any other list of ghastly behaviours seems not to be a unique problem for the poor . . .
I have an association with a family who live in a remote part of rural NZ. two parents and a son, the son and the father have cancer. The father struggles to get any work, the police come round and get on their case because the boy isn’t often at school – because the father can’t afford fuel for his car – they are often hungry – drugs for treatment are beyond them, trips to hospital mean they go without more food . . . Escape from the economic order, from the unforgiving bottom line sounds like Salvation to such people . . . for the world of money and economics is utterly impersonal and utterly unforgiving. If you don’t have money you don’t eat – if you don’t have money you can’t keep warm or a roof over your head – that’s the bottom line . . .
Why live with an open hand to the poor? Or, perhaps to put the question better, why live with an open hand towards those who are undeserving . . . because after all that is one of the labels we use to avoid living with an open hand . . .Well I’ll give you two reasons that are at the end of the day the same reason . . .God
Firstly lets examine that ‘they’ll only spend it on . . .’ line. Firstly I ought to make a disclosure – I from time to time waste money on alcohol . . . 🙂
Our lives are lived moment by moment before God. Someone might say ‘you can’t trust this or that person’, but Jesus says ‘give to everyone who asks you’. To whom am I answerable? My life is a breath – so I am in town and someone asks me for money for food say, and I say no, and then am run down by a bus. So I stand before God – with my fist clenched . . . If I am answerable to God . . . now there is a fairly common get out at this point, it goes like this ‘God has given you a brain and understanding so that you can discern the people you should help and the people you shouldn’t’ Notice three things 1) does that come from God? Doesn’t that sound rather like what the serpent promised ‘you will be able to tell good from evil . . .’ After all, Jesus says ‘give to everyone who asks of you’ 2) If you are at all alert to the state of your heart, you will know that you will find ANY reason to avoid doing these things. If like me you are regularly confronted by these situations you will know that tug. I’ve spoken about Dante’s diving comedy a bit these past weeks – Hell is populated by people who had good reasons in their own eyes for doing what they did . . . and 3) Jesus doesn’t make those distinctions . . . For Jesus’ ways are not our ways, and they have nothing to do with the world of money – of accounting, of making distinctions
All of us stand before God – Jesus has given us his command – so I close my hand to someone I judge to be undeserving, I get run over by the bus – and do I really think that God is going to say, ‘well done, I’d have done the same thing in your place . . .’ Really??? This God who loves everyone without distinction???
Jesus feeds the five thousand, not counting the women and children. Not counting . . . he seems a bit slack in his counting . . . He has compassion on them, without distinction. He has healed their illnesses and he notes their hunger. Note the disciples question – ‘where could we buy . . .’ They can only imagine a world where everything has a price, and therefore where people are priced out . . . This is not the Kingdom of God – The Kingdom of God is in our terms utterly reckless!! Jesus feeds the these people whether or not they deserve it . . . This is what the Life of God is – it is poured out without calculation – without expectation of return. Many of those people whom Jesus fed will be in the crowd that cry ‘Crucify’ indeed they are the crowd that cries Crucify. for as of Old God fed his people in the wilderness and yet they threw off his rule – so too do these people . . . they prefer another kingdom, a kingdom where they are God and can judge who gets fed and who doesn’t. Who imagine that what they possess is theirs – even their own life . . .
To become Christian is as St Paul reminded us last week to be conformed to the image of his Son . . . to become Christian is to become like Jesus, and we become like Jesus as we spend time with Jesus learning from him, obeying him and conforming our life to His – that our lives might reveal the Life of Jesus, who feeds even those who will crucify him
Perhaps to be in the kingdom of heaven requires us above all to change our lives??
Isaiah’s announcement of Salvation – of bread without money or price – is followed by a plea – a plea from the Very Heart of the Living God – Sadly one which those who prepare the lectionary have missed out – for it is the Therefore – in the Light of this Kingdom – in the Light of the overflowing abundant generosity of God . . . Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; (Don’t put it off . . . you life is a breath! Not one person here can say with assurance that they will live to see tomorrow . . .) let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; (Stop trying to justify yourself – stop walking in the way of judging between people – James the brother of Jesus calls this evil an it is) Rather – Repent! If you have two coats and your brother has no coat . . . if you have plenty of food and your brother has no food – how difficult is this???? Repent – return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, Do we not desire the mercy of God – or do we not see how much we need it???
Return to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. God is no calculator . . . he doesn’t tot up – he doesn’t know what accounting is – bread without money or price . . . he even feeds us with his own life every week in the Eucharist. Living with closed hands to others is to live in the darkness, it is to live ignoring God’s revelation of himself in Jesus Christ – who dies for ALL, without calculation . . . He is utterly reckless with his Love and looks for those who are his children – those who are conformed to the image of his Son, who live with such abandon, for they See the Great Treasure of the Kingdom and Love God with an undivided heart . . .
God’s Life is not life for Himself – neither is that of those who are in truth his children . . .
A moment will come when ‘the Lord will take away’ . . . but the Gospel, the Good News is that Now – Even Now is the day of salvation. We feed on this salvation in Bread and Wine – let us not fail to discern God’s reckless love of us in the sacrament