Notes from the sermon by Dr Jan Betts 16 June 2019
Last week we heard about the roaring flaming energy of the Holy Spirit which came to the disciples so dramatically at Pentecost. It just filled them with life in every way, and they went on to pour their hearts and lives out filled with that amazing energy of love of Jesus come back to them.
Today I want to think about another way in which we spend energy, the darker side, and how that dark side can be baptised in the energy which filled the disciples that day.
Very often the bad things people do are so much more interesting than the good ones, aren’t they. What sells newspapers? Crime and scandal, wars and hate. Michael Gove taking cocaine. Happiness and goodness, peace and reconciliation appear as ‘features’ but not as the main diet.
Two of the things I suspect are attractive about crime and scandal are firstly that it’s something hidden which has come into the light, so there’s a sense of being in the know about something which someone didn’t want you to know about – we may gloat a little and point the finger and feel indignant. The second thing is that we just may think silently that the bad things we do or have done are nothing like as bad as that. Someone else deserves blame more than I do.
I want to explore something of what he had to say about the things we do that we regret and which I grew up thinking of as ‘sins’ but which now I think of as ‘ disorderly places in my life’. It’s very clear that such disorder is a common wound: no one escapes doing something against their neighbour and themselves at some point. Jesus meets the way we put our energy into being disorderly and out of touch with Him head on, and it’s quite sharply challenging.
How did Jesus deal with this? Our tendency to see the minor crime in someone else’s life and not the major crime in our own?
We have two stories to listen to about his reactions to what were seen and felt as sins.
The first is that of the New Testament chap I have a lot of sympathy for because he was short!
His name was Zacchaeus and you may well know the story but let’s hear it again.
READING Luke 19 1-10
This man was a wealthy tax collector, a man who was able to rip people off with out rebuke because he had bought and continued to pay for the right to collect taxes. He was hated, totally unacceptable. This is the equivalent of some of the stories we hear of many oppressors who can do what they like: it’s the stories we are hearing about in Sudan at present and it also reminds me of stories I have heard of some G4S guards in detention centres, able to do what they please without rebuke or redress. There are many more examples of such group brutality. Zacchaeus lives today. He knows he’s hated but the money and the power mostly make up for the hatred and some of the other oppressors will talk to him even if no one else will. Maybe he thinks he’s just smarter than those he rips off too.
So when Jesus comes to town Zacchaeus hauls himself up a tree away from and above everyone else – how symbolic! . He’s curious about Jesus, – I wonder why? Has been having some of those uncomfortable nudges that we so easily ignore saying to him that he really can’t go on like this? Whatever, there he is, at the back, craning his short little neck and clinging on to his branch until Jesus hikes into view.
At which point there is a terrifying moment. He is greeted by name. Maybe Jesus teased him lovingly a bit and paused a moment after he called everyone’s attention to him. Did they hope he would tell him off? Zacchaeus must have been wetting himself, with everyone looking at him. Is he going to be publicly shamed? Then Jesus says he wants to break all the taboos of Jewish society and enter his house and break bread with him. When we meet Jesus and he says ‘I want to come and be with you’ it is a terrifying moment. It’s life changing and that’s why we avoid it. But what an invitation. Jesus is daring people to say that he can’t go to a tax collectors house, that he would defile himself: as on another occasion Jesus is saying let the ones who are totally sinless speak first because I want to meet this man.
Jesus, like the Holy Spirit, works by gentle invitation and encouragement. Jesus is always and always about relationship and his invitation is always to put ourselves in a right relationship with him, to offer him hospitality. Life changing and terrifying but wonderful.
The rest of the story is not inevitable as we know from our own lives. We can hear the invitation but we don’t have to respond. Zacchaeus could have fallen out of his tree and run away or said no I don’t want that I only wanted to see you passing by and I might think about it for tomorrow or the next day ….but he doesn’t. He dances home maybe thinking ‘aha that’s one in the eye for all those snooty Jews’ who think I’m so unacceptable.
But when Jesus has finished with him he gets the message that he is finally acceptable as the person God has made him. The energy of God’s love replaces the energy of self love. He shows this by radiantly saying he will make recompense for the things he has done wrong to others. He realises that he can’t be in a right relationship with God and not do the same with his neighbour. If we meet the challenge of Jesus to have our eyes and ears opened to how we can be in a good relationship with God, then we will also be challenged about having the courage of the consequences.
The disorder in our lives may be hidden but it is never ever private. What we do when out of touch with God affects others in many ways both obvious and subtle. In the roman catholic church the confession begins ‘I confess to you my brothers and sisters..’ We are never alone in our prayers or our sins but always part of the body of Christ in the world. When we listen and respond to the invitation of Jesus, we are not so much redeemed from our sins as restored fully into the body of Christ.
What God wants first last and always is for us to be included in the marvellous work of love which is God as trinity, mother and father, redeeming and restoring brother Jesus and energising and guiding Holy Spirit. What lasts is not our sins but faith hope and love. The trinity encapsulates this, the ever flowing love between the three aspects of God which we are included in. God doesn’t want grovelling, she wants us to be full of life in relationship with her.
Our second reading underlines this.
READING John 21 15-17
Peter had really really screwed up his relationship with Jesus, saying three times at that awful moment when Jesus was on trial, that he had nothing to do with him. How that must have haunted him but how much more does Jesus’ response restore him. The question Jesus asks isn’t ‘Peter are you sorry?’ He asks ‘Do you love me? Do you want to be in a relationship with me? Do you want the faith hope and love in me to be in you and flowing through you to the world too?’ being restored is not about cleaning up our lives but waking up to the invitation which Jesus offers. It’s not about sin management or whether God has enough love to go round for all of us, it’s about getting over our terrible preoccupation with ourselves and focusing on the light and love of God. Jesus says to Peter, ‘’ if you mean that you love me, go feed my sheep because I want you to show others what you know and have received from me.’ That’s the invitation to us as well. Jesus names us as he did Zacchaeus and Peter. Restoration and the consequence of joyfully and often at a human cost, sharing the love of God. Peter was crucified. Many others are dying for their faith in God today.
We live in a fallen world. We make mistakes and we pay for them and so do other people. We make the same mistakes over and over. That’s a matter for sorrow, but Jesus says come to me all who are burdened with the things which get in the way of our relationship, and I will give you rest from them. I once heard someone say that it felt like killing something in themselves as they turned away from an addiction. To which Jesus says yes, and I killed your death, the wound we all share, the wound of exploiting ourselves and others, by my own death and brought you all back to life with my resurrection.
Mistakes are transformative. Mistakes are where we grow, where any relationship grows. When we confess or forgive or are forgiven we release ourselves and others from the awful focus on our pride or our fear, or our shame or desire to shame them. All God is interested in is restoring us and she longs for us to want that restoration.
The invitation to restoration from our disorderly sins and the promise of the energy of the Spirit in the hard work of dealing with the consequences can happen now.. and now… and now.. and always.