Saturday, 7 March 2015

Lent, day 16: Sunday sermon, lent 3 yrB 'Meek? Mild? As if'

Continuing the Lenten series 'The kin-dom of heaven: living as God's community'
This week, 'A reforming community'

1st READING: Psalm 19                                                                  
2nd READING: John 2:13-22

SERMON  ‘Meek? Mild? As if’
Let’s pray:
may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen.

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child;
Pity my simplicity,
Suffer me to come to Thee.

Lamb of God, I look to Thee;
Thou shalt my Example be;
Thou art gentle, meek, and mild;
Thou wast once a little child.

Loving Jesus, gentle Lamb,
In Thy gracious hands I am;
Make me, Saviour, what Thou art,
Live Thyself within my heart. ...
For some of us here, this morning, hearing the words of this old, beloved hymn
may have taken us right back to early childhood -
to Sunday School, or school assemblies,
or perhaps bedtime prayers
after warm milk and a chocolate chip cookie.
It’s a hymn that’s familiar and comfortable
and comforting.

Written in 1742 by that great Methodist hymn-writer, Charles Wesley,
‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ expresses
a quiet simplicity,
and a child-like desire to be just like Jesus -
quiet, good, gentle:
a well-behaved Jesus,
perhaps seen, but never heard,
and certainly never speaking out of turn.
A role model for any parent to present to a small, somewhat noisy person
as a reminder to behave.
Which is all very well until you come across a reading such as the one we encounter
in John’s gospel this morning.
...Which occasionally has me wondering if Charles Wesley ever actually read this particular text!
A very different Jesus is portrayed:
here, it’s less ‘Gentle Jesus meek and mild’,
and more ‘Rambunctious Jesus, loud and wild’.

If you were wanting your child
to be seen and not heard -
to keep out of trouble,
then this passage is perhaps not the best one to use as a model for behaviour:
With loud shouts and a whip made of cords,
Jesus rampages through the temple courts,
overturning tables
scattering the coins of the money changers,
driving out the various animals on sale
for use in the ritual sacrifices.
The temple courts are cleared of the clutter
by a Jesus who is anything but meek and mild:
this     is angry Jesus,
prophetic Jesus - acting in the manner of prophets before him,
calling God’s people to repent, to reform,
to put aside those things that
distract from being God’s people -
to resist the temptation
to become comfortable,
or of getting a little...slack in the
way of doing things.

While there’s a wealth of material in the text
that could be used to explore the church’s uncomfortable issues around anger,
and a pervading pressure to fall into a comfortable culture of niceness,
that’s a sermon for another time.
This morning, I want us to reflect a little
on the sense of the church as a
reforming community.

There’s an internet meme that’s been doing the rounds for some time now.  And I’ve copied it onto the back of your orders of service:
The text, over a picture of Jesus in
the Temple reads:
“If anyone ever asks you
‘What Would Jesus Do?’
Remind them that flipping over tables and chasing people with a whip
is within the realm of possibilities.”

Putting on my historian’s hat for a moment:
In a famous sermon in Perth, John Knox preached on this particular event in Jesus’ life
to a crowd no longer comfortable
with the old religious ways.
Such was the power of his preaching,
that his call for reform
effectively resulted in a 16th century version
of a clearing of the temple -
removing altars, statues, and anything
that the crowd felt was
cluttering up, and distracting from
the worship of God.
This was judiciously assisted by the use of stones that just happened
to be in their pockets.
Apparently they had a smashing time.  J
But reform in the church was not just some Protestant invention:
the church has always been in
a process of reform,
going right back to the time of the disciples.
There’s an expression
‘ecclesia reformata semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei’
basically meaning:
‘the church reformed always to be reformed according to the word of God.’

The church - the body of Christ - us...
is not called to be comfortable
we’re called to challenge,
to encourage repentance
and reformation of lives...
to clear away the clutter that distracts
from the worship of God.
And so, we need to ask ourselves some potentially uncomfortable questions:
Are we a little too comfortable
with the way we do things?
Is the phrase ‘we’ve always done it this way’ pointing to deep theological and liturgical reasons for what we do...
or, is it more a case of
‘we don’t want to change,
to do new things,
we’re quite comfy as we are,   thanks’?
Do our comfort zones help,
or distract us from what we,
as the people of God, are called to do?
What are those things we do within worship,
within our meetings,
...within our lives
that clutter up and distract ourselves, and others from seeing,
from hearing God’s good news?
and which dull our longing for God?

Let me tell you an old story...
On a rocky seacoast
where shipwrecks were frequent
there was once a ramshackle life-saving station.
It was no more than a hut and
there was only one boat,
but the few people at the station were a devoted lot who kept constant watch over the sea
With little regard for themselves and their safety, they would go out fearlessly in a storm if there’d been a shipwreck somewhere.
As a result, many lives were saved
and the station became famous.

As the fame of the station grew,
so did the desire of people in the neighbourhood
to become associated with its excellent work.
They generously offered of their time and money
New members were enrolled,
new boats bought
and new crews trained.
The hut was replaced by a comfortable building which 
could adequately handle the needs of those who had been saved from the sea.

Now, shipwrecks in those parts,
while frequent, didn’t happen every day.
And so the building became a popular gathering place – a sort of   local club.
Over time, the members became so caught up
in socializing, fundraising, and other such activities, that they had little interest
or energy left for life-saving -
although they duly sported the life-saving motto on the badges they wore.
It got to the point that, when people were actually rescued from the sea,
it was a bit of a nuisance -
they were dirty and sick -
and they made a mess of the
carpets and furniture.

Eventually, several members became concerned that the club had lost its focus.
At the AGM, they insisted that all the social activities - nice as they were -
had become a distraction:
they called the members to move from a social club back to a life-saving club once more. 
After a stormy meeting, a vote was taken.
The small handful who had called for change were accused of being troublemakers,
of   upsetting things,                                                  
of creating hurt and discomfort with their provocative behaviour.
Having lost the vote,   they were asked to leave.
‘Why don’t you start your own club?’ they were asked, as they were shown the door.
Which is precisely what they did – a little further down the coast, with such selflessness and daring that, after a while,
their heroism made them famous.
Whereupon their membership was enlarged, their hut ...was reconstructed…..
and their idealism smothered.
If you happen to visit that area today
you’ll find a number of exclusive clubs dotting the shoreline. Each one of them is justifiably
proud of its origin.
Shipwrecks still occur in those parts,
but    nobody seems    to care much.  ...
[story from Anthony de Mello]

As we are called to pick up our cross
and follow Jesus,
so too, we are called to be a community
of repentance and reformation.
The season of Lent is one traditionally
used as a time for repentance,
for refocusing upon God,
for re-forming unhelpful practices.
For getting rid of clutter:
those things that distract us from
being connected to God
- both individually and communally.

Sometimes, the process of reforming,
and renewing, is gentle.
But often it’s a discomforting process.
We are not called to be comfortable
we’re called to follow the One
who knows us completely,
who discerns our errors
and who forgives our faults...
the One who is both gentle Jesus meek and mild
and angry Jesus - challenging, reforming, removing the clutter that prevents others moving into relationship with God,
...from worshipping God.

Thinking of Jesus’ decluttering of the Temple,
I was reminded of an advertising campaign
by the Church of England, back in 1999.
The advertising firm they hired came up with an image of Jesus as a type of Che Guevara - revolutionary idealist and freedom fighter -
a turner-over of tables.
The campaign itself caused quite a controversy -
suddenly everyone, even the Guardian - was talking about God and about church.
The tag-line on the picture of this revolutionary-looking Jesus?
‘Meek? Mild? As if’
Quite.

Change for the sake of change is pointless -
but not changing the way we do things
just because we’re comfortable
is something that Jesus made quite a
dramatic statement about.
So,   we carry the tension between
tradition and not getting stuck.
This morning,
each and every day,
we’re called to a decluttering challenge:
to be in a process of reform and renewal
to question how and why we do the things we do, individually...but more importantly,
as the kin-dom of heaven - as brothers and sisters in Christ -
as we worship the One who calls us for his own.
And to Him, be all glory, honour, and praise, 
now and forever, Amen.

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