Mark 2: 23-3:6, 1 Samuel 3: 1-20, 2 Corinthians 4: 5-12
Over the last few weeks and definitely at synod yesterday, I’ve been pondering, and maybe you have too:
What does it mean to be Christ’s church? His church, his body, active in the world? What does it look like, this church today? And into the future? And what is it to do?
We are called to our roles in this church, like the boy Samuel was called to his role as a prophet-that’s what God’s people needed most urgently in his lifetime. The people of Israel felt that God was a long way away, had not been part of their lives for many generations. So God called the boy Samuel, and he in turn, called the people back to their God.
Our calling comes to us through scripture, through prayer and is guided by the many nudges we get from God along the way. An idea we get from the news on TV. A need we hear from a friend. As his church, we are called to serve, as was the apostle Paul, and through serving we introduce people to the kingdom of God. Our calling to serve leads us to battle on through the difficulties. Like Paul, we are filled with an amazing power, that we rarely remember, let alone use. Yes, we are fragile creatures, like clay jars, easil y damaged, but containing the enormous power of the spirit. Yes, like Paul we are often afflicted, disappointed, frustrated, but like paul, not crushed. For 2000 years, Christ’s church has battled on through many crises and still stands. Like Paul, we are perplexed, what is the future for our Anglican church in Tasmania? So many church buildings for sale, so much community anger, resentment, pain. In some communities we are selling off much of the history of the church and the thown.
There are so many family connections with buildings. Memorial plaques and windows, tombstones. Yes, we are perplexed but not driven to despair.
Like Paul, even persecuted: there have been angry letters, meetings, personal attacks on our bishop also from the media. Thank God this is nothing like the violent and lethal persecution of Christians in Indonesia, Egypt and such places. Paul experienced persecution, as did many in the early church. Persecuted, yes he said: persecuted, but not forsaken.. The suffering he experienced he said was like carrying Jesus’ suffering, Jesus’ death, in his body. Paul was always remembering the suffering that Christ went through for us, that he still shares with us as we struggle on. Jesus struggled on against opposition, false accusations, threats and danger, false arrest, a travesty of a trial, and a criminal’s death on his way to save us all. Paul battled on through the suspicions of Jesus’ disciples, ostracism from his former Jewish colleagues, dangerous travels, persecution, false imprisonments, floggings and more. All but one of the apostles suffered and were killed for being followers of Christ.
The reason why we go on, why we struggle through the difficult times Paul says is so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our bodies. So people can see and understand more about Jesus by looking at us, seeing what we do. We are called to serve as his church, but sometimes darkness can seem to surround us, as it did for Paul. But for Paul the very darkness surrounding him seemed to make the glory, the wonder of Christ, of being part of Christ’s body shine brighter: For God has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
That’s what we share with Paul and it is wonderful. God is awesome and glorious, and that glory is revealed to us by our leader, our wonderful Lord Jesus.
God’s design and purpose for his church are revealed to us by our Lord Jesus Christ.
He came to model for us, to show us what God wants of us as his church, what he wants of our attitudes, our behaviours our motivation and our actions. That’s his calling to us.
Among other things, he made it clear to us what was going wrong with the religious practices of his day. Too much attention to too many rules and details, too little attention to the important things: love and service. That is the message for us, his church today, in this gospel reading from Mark. It brings us two stories about Jesus’ attitude to the strict rules of the temple, with a deeper meaning for us today about priorities. Through the storiest Jesus tells us what is important for his church and what is less important..
On the surface, both stories are about keeping the Sabbath holy, based on the fourth commandment: Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy..the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God, in it you shall do no manner of work.
Jesus’ disciples were hungry, so they picked and ate grains of wheat as they walked through the grain fields. They were hardly breaking the commandment by working at harvesting that field! In fact they were breaking two rules that had grown out of the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy: they were traveling on the sabbath and harvesting on the Sabbath. That’s OK , Jesus said. God set aside the Sabbath as a day of rest from work to benefit his people, to refresh them, not to add burdens and restrictions and hunger! The Sabbath was made for God’s people, not the people for the Sabbath. Even the revered King David broke the rules of the temple when he and his men were hungry, helping themselves to the holy bread, which was set aside for the priests alone. This strict adherence to rules may seem extreme to us, but one of my colleagues in the head office in Melbourne was an orthodox Jew from New York.
Whenever we ate out as a group at a restaurant he would have a different, kosher meal. That was fine, but he told us about one day when he was travelling to his home outside New York he was stuck in a huge traffic jam. 3pm came, the Sabbath began which meant he couldn’t travel anymore. So he got out of the car he was driving, left it there in the traffic and walked home. He was keeping to the rules, as were the Pharisees in our readings.
In the second story, Jesus again broke the rules of the Sabbath, when he healed a man’s paralysed hand. And he did it right in front of the crowd and the Pharisees in the temple. It was his deliberate demonstration to teach them about the ways of keeping God’s Sabbath holy: to use it to do God’s work, to heal, to bless the lives of others, when you have the opportunity to do so. But sadly the lesson the Pharisees heard was this: this Jesus has power, he does not acknowledge the authority of the temple and its rules, he is threat to us and the traditions of the temple. Jesus knew what they were thinking, he knew their hardness of heart and he grieved for them and for the people they led.
In both stories, Jesus was showing us, his church that we can and should question the accepted rules of the religious establishment. He showed us that we can challenge those rules , when they go against the spirit of the commandments: Love God and love your neighbour as yourself.
Our calling is to act in love, act in service to God’s beloved people, act like Jesus our leader acted.
If that is our calling from God, what questions and challenges are relevant for us as church here today? We need to think carefully and prayerfully about our priorities in being the church, Christ’s body in the world and our community.
We will be putting our ideas and plans into a written plan on how we will be church, our ministry plan for the next 5 years, to be submitted to the diocese in September. The plan will contain our decisions about what resources we will need to carry it out, buildings, money, personnel and so on. We are asking the question: What would Jesus be doing here and now? How important are our buildings for ministry in his name? Is the way we worship God helpful or a hindrance to people coming to know God? Do we have enough leaders, preachers, disciples to carry out our plan and if not how will we get them?
Whatever happens, the Anglican church in Tasmania will look and be different after this year. It has lamented its sins of the past and arranged to do what it can to pay redress to its victims, to pray for them and help them in any way we can. We are sacrificing a lot. All parishes are suffering and grieving.
The church, as Christ’s body will continue but in many places it will not be meeting where it has met for generations. We need to decide prayerfully what to do here in Woodbridge. It’s up to us as the church in Tasmania to find new ways to be church, and that’s not all bad. Perhaps less time and money will be spent on maintaining beautiful heritage buildings all over Tasmania, freeing us all up to concentrate more on the work that Jesus showed us.