Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Who do you say that i am?

Romans 12: constructive nonconformity

I love Martin Luther-King's sermons for their passion and depth of thought. In this sermon he takes the first couple of verses of Romans 12 as inspiration. (forgive his exclusive language; a product of his time). I think this is a message for our time as well in relation to a Christian stance on asylum seekers, global poverty and war.
"Men are afraid to stand alone for their convictions. There are those who have high and noble ideals, but they never reveal them because they are afraid of being nonconformist I have seen many white people who sincerely oppose segregation and discrimination, but they never took a real stand against it because of fear of standing alone I have seen many young people and older people alike develop undesirable habits not because they wanted to do i t in the beginning, not even because they enjoyed it, but because they were ashamed of saying “no” when the rest of the group was saying “yes” Even the Christian church has often been afraid to stand up for what is right because the majority didn't sanction it. The church has too often been an institution seeming to crystallize and conserve the patterns of the crowd. The mere fact that slavery, segregation, war, and economic exploitation have been sanctioned by the church is a fit testimony to the fact that the church has too often conformed to the authority of the world rather than conforming to the authority of God. 
Even we preachers have manifested our fear of being nonconformist. So many of us turn into showman and even clowns, distorting the real meaning of the gospel, in an attempt to conform to the crowd. How many minister’s of Jesus Christ have sacrificed their precious ideals and cherished convictions on the altar of the crowd? How many people today are caught in the shackles of the crowd? Many of us think we find a sort of security in conforming to the ideas of the mob? 
But my friends it is the nonconformists that have made history, Not those who always look to see which way the majority is going before they make a decision not those who are afraid to say no when everybody else is saying yes, but history has been made by those who could stand up before the crowd and not bow The great creative insights have come from men who were in a minority It was the minority that fought for religious liberty, it was the minority that brought about the freedom of scientific research In any cause that concerns the progress of mankind, put your faith in the nonconformist Now let us make it clear that nonconformity in itself might not be good There is a type of bad nonconformity. There is no virtue in being a nonconformist just to be a nonconformist. Some people are nonconformist just to get attention and to be different. So Paul gives us a formula for constructive nonconformity which is found in the second half of the text. In order to discern the true will of God and become constructive nonconformist we must accept a new mental outlook. We must be transformed Jesus’ phrase for this experience was the new birth. And so only when we have been born again can we be true nonconformist. We are called upon to be transformed nonconformists. This is our eternal challenge as Christians.
The spiritual strength and moral courage of Jesus amid the temptation in the wilderness is our eternal challenge. Jesus was born at a time when the majority of people thought of the Kingdom as a political kingdom and thought of the Messiah as the one who would restore this political kingdom with all of his power and pomp and riches And all of the temptations that Satan offered Christ were temptations to
fall in line with this type of material political kingdom. In other words he was urging Christ to conform to wishes of the mob. 
Who will take the attitude of Jesus and be a sincere nonconformist? Today we stand on the brink of moral and physical destruction and the great need of the hour is sincere nonconformist men who will stand amid a world of materialism and treat all men as brothers, men who will stand up in a world that attempts to
solve its problems by war and declare that he who lives by the sword will die by the sword"."

big questions about life

There are several big questions that people ask about life and the universe. Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am?” is one of these fundamental questions that are in the hearts and minds of humans.
People say that the poor don’t drive cars, that indigenous inhabitants of Australia are not worth bothering about; that Muslims are terrorists; that all unemployed are dole bludgers and the elderly are a burden on society, that if you are rich you are to be admired, that if you are a top sportsman, you are worthy of idolisation etc… Often these opinions are conveyed in non-verbal ways. Jesus’ question calls us to reflect on who we say we are and who we say others are. It also challenges us to consider who we say God is.

If people asked us “Who do you say that I am?” how might they react to our stereotypical answers? In the reading from Hebrew Scripture, we heard that the new Pharaoh said the Israelites were a threat. Previously Pharaohs had said they were welcome members of society.  Things changed radically for them when the Pharaoh said this about them. Having labelled them a threat, he then felt compelled to eliminate the threat by ordering the midwives to kill boy babies. Midwives say by the very nature of their work, that all babies are important, welcome members of the community.
Rev Julianne Parker
(see sermons page for full sermon)

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Keys of the Kingdom

The keys of the kingdom have been lost.
We know that Peter had them,
but he swears that he hasn’t seen them
for a long while.
Rumour has it they ended up in Rome.

There’s been quite a succession
of claimants to the role of custodian,
but some of us aren’t convinced
that any of them really knew
where the keys were.

Traditionally they hung from a ring
on the keeper’s belt. In recent times
they were apparently stored away,
and brought out on ceremonial occasions
with incense, robes and choirs.

Big and bronze, the keys clinked and rattled,
but were mostly only used
to regulate and control.
They did that effectively enough;
until recently.

They’re gone; not much doubt.
Doesn’t matter though,
and there isn’t any real point
prolonging the search; it’s widely thought
that the locks have all been broken

for some time, now.

© Ken Rookes 2014

Monday, August 11, 2014

Do we dare take such risks?

We tend to think of faith as only our faith in God, but faith is much bigger than this. The section of Matthew’s Gospel which we are reading at present is about faith.
1Corinthians 13:13 says, “Now faith, hope and love abide, these three, and the greatest of these is love.”  Love is the greatest and the other two are almost as important. In some ways of looking at it, they form part of love. To love someone requires that you have faith in them and hope for them. Jesus told us that the greatest commandment is to Love the Lord our God with hearts, minds, souls, and strength and to love our neighbours as ourselves. [Matthew 22:37,39] This is also applicable to faith. We are to have faith in the Lord our God and in our neighbours as in ourselves.
The central tenet of our faith is belief in the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We also have other important trinities. In the two passages I have just spoken about we have God, others, and ourselves, as one trinity and faith, hope and love as another. When things are linked together like this, they have a special relationship to one another. 
We are wonderful and precious creations of God, made in God’s image but we can fail to give God glory by lacking faith in ourselves and others. We want God to do things for us which we CAN only do for ourselves.  Jesus could not walk on the water for Peter.  Peter had to do it for himself. The woman in today’s story had to come and ask as did the brothers of Joseph. Jesus did not take the initiative in many healings. People had to take the risk of approaching him and asking. This requires faith in oneself.

Do we dare take such risks?
Rev Julianne Parker (see sermons page for full sermon)


The Bible,
that most ancient collection of writings,
esteemed by some and held sacred by others,
includes traces of racism and religious prejudice.
More than a few fragments,
if we’re able to admit it.
Its stories include a powerful foundational myth
asserting a nation’s superiority
as God’s chosen people;
making the avoidance of such prejudiced conclusions
somewhat problematic.
Occasionally a reckless prophet- type person
came along to question that myth;
they were generally pointed
in the direction of the door.
It is still so.
Even Jesus, the travelling teacher from the north,
seems to have been comfortable enough
with established opinion on this matter.
It took some time,
together with the insistent and intrusive pleadings
of a desperate foreign woman;
but at last, we are pleased to say,
his metaphorical copper coin loosened,
and finally dropped.

© Ken Rookes 2014

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Sounds of silence

The silence of the Church in the 21st Century is deafening. Perhaps the silence rises and grows because the call from the liberal church for inclusive, distributive justice is drowned out by the fundamentalists’ exclusive, retributive message, which the media have assumed defines “Christianity.”
No wonder old Elijah emerged from the silence in such a negative state that God had to act to replace him.
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon God they made.
And the sign flashed out its warning,
In the words that it was forming.
And the signs said, the words of the prophets
Are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls.
And whispered in the sounds of silence.
Christian “faith” has become believing in magic: walking on water, calming storms, curing terminal illness, finding parking places. While there are no magic wands or crystal balls, the cross has nevertheless conveyed magic power.
Christian “faith” is not just about Jesus coming back from the dead, nor is it about avoiding death altogether. Christian “faith” is trust in God as the source of Mercy, Hope, justice and compassion that holds sway in the Universe, despite us and sometimes through us.

Similarly the story in the gospel today about Jesus walking on the water is not about magic, even God’s magic, it is about the deeper truth that, even when we feel like we are sinking, or that God is absent or silent, God is still present to us and our distress and will walk with us and hold us up.
The news everyday is telling us that all is going to rack and ruin, but the gospel message is that God in Christ is moving all things to reconciliation and renewal.
And it is in the strength of that, with the strength of that vision that we continue to do the things we do.
The church’s call is to be that fellowship of reconciliation and renewal.