NOTES FOR STEVE’S SERMON OCT 20TH 2013
2 Timothy 3.14 – 4.5
· Firstly a few words about the readings today and how they are partly at least about prayer and the need to be persistent in prayer:
Psalm 121 asks “Where does my help come from?” and the answer – “From God who made heaven and earth. If you like, a pre-requisite to prayer, knowing who you’re praying to;
· Genesis 32: Jacob at the Jabbok – “Bless me” – grabbing hold of God – even if you don’t know at the time that it is God; being bold, persistent, risking even being rude or selfish. Wrestling with ‘God’, or your conscience, or fate, or your demons… God as a help is in all…..
· 2 Tim 3.14-4.5: Scripture is there as a help … “proclaim the message: people will look elsewhere than God , so carry out your ministry fully – do the work of an evangelist… (meaning tell teach tend transform treasure – 5 MARKS OF MISSION) live out the gospel. To be persistent in these is also a form of practical praying.
· Luke 18.1-8 The judge has no fear of God or respect for people. If he could ultimately grant the woman justice, how much more will a loving God give justice to those who cry out to God day and night. Also an encouragement to those in difficulties – and an encouragement to be faithful in prayer for ourselves and others.
But as well as the traditional exposition of the readings for today I want to talk about a related issue: justice and how we respond to issues of justice today.
Last week Jack preached a great sermon on Jesus healing of the 10 lepers and used the nine lepers who didn’t return to thank Jesus, as alternative models for discipleship.
In his sermon he asked the controversial question, “Can the touch of Jesus become what seems to be not a blessing but a curse?”
The Old Testament reading for this Sunday is the story of Jacob at the ford of the river Jabbok wrestling with a strange figure all night. At daybreak Jacob receives a wound to his hip from the figure (who Jacob takes to be God ) who then proceeds to bless him. I found myself thinking, what kind of a message this was… That God can strike hurtfully one moment and then proceed to give a blessing (and then only after much pressing).
That of course is to view these things in very black-and-white terms and there are times and situations when we need to let go of our either-or mentality and see beyond such thinking for the ways in which seeming curses, injustices, disappointments, and so on might, when looked at through the lens of the grace of God, actually bear the seeds of blessing.
In the bible, examples might be Abram’s wife Sarai’s inability to bear children – it was this in part that led to God’s covenant with Abraham and the promise of descendants more numerous than the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the seashore.
Or the Israelites’ slavery in Egypt which in the end led to freedom in the promised land… ?
And of course God can and does bring good things out of bad but it strikes me that if we start to justify bad stuff by looking at it in retrospect, in the light of good stuff that happens later on, we can get dangerously close to condoning almost anything – and worse, giving the chilling message to those who suffer dreadful poverty or illness or torture in the here-and-now, that one day it’ll all be put right … and in doing so we discount their suffering in the present moment and demonstrate our inability to really empathise with those who suffer.
Back to the gospel story of the woman and the unjust judge:
It seems to me it’s all too easy to judge and to condemn those who may well be guilty as hell; those who absolutely brought it on themselves … but are they not, like us, people for whom Jesus Christ lived and died as he did and shouldn’t that make a difference in how we treat each other, regardless of how good or bad we see other people as??
I watched The da Vinci Code the other night (again) and in amongst all the sifting through clues and codes and things, there was one particular line spoken by a character who turns out unexpectedly to be a baddie: “We tend to see what we look for”
Cue the gorilla in the basketball game! – This is a set-up where people are asked to watch a video of a basketball game between a black-shirted team and a white -shirted team and (on some pretext to with research or similar) asked to count the moves made by the white-shirts. Afterwards when they’ve all answered what they thought was the point of the video clip, the audience is asked if they noticed the gorilla moving amongst the players. People don’t believe it but on re-playing the clip, there, walking nonchalantly through the basketball players, is a man in a gorilla suit. And not one person notices him! We see what we look for – in that case what we are told to look for; and our subconscious mind blanks out everything else!
Is it possible I wonder, that the woman in the gospel story recognised perhaps at an sub-conscious level, something good, potentially, (even something of God, maybe) in the unjust judge? That vestigial bit of him that, though hidden by his bruised and cynical humanity still resembled the God in whose image he was made? Could it have been this that made her persevere in complaining and giving him no peace? Or maybe it was just her plain need for justice. It is just a story Jesus made up, anyhow. BUT:
The important question that I think needs asking is, What do we look for in other people?
· A target for our desire to avenge another’s suffering?
· An excuse to punish someone for an injustice done to us?
· Someone to help perpetuate and provide the pay-off in the self-destructive games we play and replay throughout our lives if we’re not careful?
· Someone to make me feel better about myself, by comparison?
Because if we are looking for these, even unwittingly, we are liable to completely miss the hurt child of fifty-something whose selfish, arrogant or hurtful behaviour is hurting him-or herself – behaviour that may be an unwitting cry for help to get out of the pit that they can’t climb out of by themselves. So when I say I am strongly in favour of justice and especially social justice, which is often about finding justice for other people, what exactly do I mean? What am I after?
1. What is ‘just ‘according to the law (Which law? Whose interpretation of the law? Mine?)
2. What I’d like to happen to others (good things – blessings – to those I see as good people; punishment or shame – cursings – to those I see as bad)?
Ø We’re not told what the woman’s case was about; all we know on that score is that she ‘wanted justice’– compare the story of the King and the thief (The king granted the thief, having been found guilty, a boon; he asked for justice, to which the king replied, “Then you shall hang; if you had asked for mercy, mercy is what I would have given you.”) The Christian message contains includes the idea that justice -real justice- cannot be divorced from mercy: “Justice and peace have kissed (or embraced) each other – they have become enmeshed…
Ø So the demand – or even the request for justice is one we should take very seriously and think very carefully about and remember that we are called by the merciful God to show mercy too. And what we expect in terms of justice, for ourselves or others, may be very different from the expectations, the needs, or the desires, of others.
Ø Finally, Jacob says in the old testament reading, “I have seen God face-to face” – and later sways to Esau, “Truly your face is the face of God”. If the face of God can be seen in those who have, or might, cause us pain, let us determine always look for the face of God in the face of every person we meet – whoever they are ‘just or unjust’. We may be surprised at the blessings that ensue.
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