14th Nov, 2004

The Twenty-fourth Sunday After Pentecost

8am Low Mass, 10.30am High Mass & Baptism of Cody Shane Therrien

Lections:
Malachi 4: 1-2a the sun of righteousness shall arise
II Thess 3: 6-13 brothers and sisters, do not be weary in well-doing
St Luke 21: 5-19 eschatology- signs of the end

From the twenty-first chapter of St Luke’s Gospel: Jesus says, “I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to contradict.”

The Christian faith and our own Episcopal Church might have had our heart and living centre set in a series of philosophical or religious propositions- much like a political party or club; you know, a sort of statement of religious intent or moral purpose- but we do not. The foundations of Christian faith and practice and our theological concepts are laid in the diverse collection of ancient texts that we call the Holy Bible. Central convictions such as Jesus is the Messiah, that the time is fulfilled, kairos, that God’s just reign has come near, that God is revealed as the Most Holy Trinity, were not delivered, even to Christ’s disciples, in discussion groups or in tutorial form like a kind of university course in spirituality; rather they emerged from the early reflections and relationships with historic books, prophecies, promises, characters, the acts and words and sacraments of Christ and, most significantly, in living relationships with God. The Gospel narratives, as we have them, are already interpretations, already seen through the eyes of faith, through the eyes of individuals and of communities, they are saturated with devotion and belief. And in St Luke’s world, with the conviction that God’s kingdom is here, to narrate, to tell this faith-story is already to explain, to delineate and make real, in the here and now of this world that we inhabit, the living presence of Christ.
These living, moving and ancient literary texts that we call the Bible for Christians are the very Word of God spoken anew and afresh in every generation, in every time and place where Christians meet, remember, retell and hear the message of God’s kingdom present in the world. That is why, in our liturgy, the Gospel Book is treated with such great respect and immense dignity, why it is accompanied at the High Mass by acolytes and incense and why we all stand and turn to face the proclamation of the words of Christ.
We cannot avoid it, but these texts are shot through with our human cultural perspectives, with the peculiarities of human behaviour and character (for that is how God works in incarnation) and thus bear witness to the Word made flesh. The Word of God, the Church, the sacraments, Christian faith are all about this world. It is in this world that we know incarnation and God’s presence- we cannot know God in any other place- it is in the very experiences, language and grammar in which we participate that we can hear, know, understand, grasp and apprehend God. [or, more accurately, perhaps we should say, it is through these things that God apprehends us]

Some Christians find this profoundly shocking- that God comes nearer to the world than the world is able to be near to itself- and it seems a contradiction in terms to say that what is from humanity is also from God. Those types of Christians long for an intellectual and spiritual purity unconstrained by our human, frail and fragile condition, they wish for “a theology done by angels” – that drops from heaven like a divine text book complete with the very black and white questions and answers. But grace does not abolish nature; rather grace brings nature to perfection. (This is hard to accept, believe or remember after two World Wars and countless other violent struggles and not least what is going on in the Middle East today or in West Hollywood where we see our brothers in the gay community ravaged by crystal meth)- we need to be faithful to this Gospel of redeeming grace.
Today this Parish welcomes on behalf of the Universal Church Cody Shane Therrien into the Body of Christ. This action, this baptizing is not some little, private affair – Cody becomes one with the saints and angels, the prophets, apostles and martyrs, with all the company of heaven and with all the Church throughout the world.
We get this wonderful moment in this morning’s Gospel when the kingdom is announced, the kairos, the time of fulfillment, the time for you to bear testimony and God’s just and true reign are here. But instead of epiphany, thunder and lightening, earth shattering angelic revelations and the deposition of the wicked – Christ starts his journey toward Jerusalem and suffering, bidding some common labourers to accompany him on his pilgrimage. The world still appears very much intact; it seems business as usual. Tomorrow morning and the next and the next will seem very much the same as every other morning has done for Cody and for each of us- there will be no cataclysmic demonstration, each of us will get on with the job of being David or Dorothy, Cody or Kate- but with an orientation that has Christ at the centre.
The point is that following Christ requires not just an assent of the heart, but a fundamental reordering of our relationships, our responsibilities and our priorities- not just as individuals but as a Church and as communities.
In God’s kingdom we are not defined by ego, by self-worth or by accomplishment- but by our relationships, most notably our relationship with God: the self turned in on itself is the very antithesis, the very opposite of who and what we are called to be.
Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in well-doing.

 

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