I am a music lover, I listen to it, down load it, and even sometimes attempt to play it. But I am not an expert like some, who know everything about classical music and nothing about the Beatles or everything about jazz and nothing about Angus and Julia Stone. Rather I see myself as a generalist. I love all sorts of music, modern music that is played on the radio, some classical, opera, jazz, country and folk and even the occasional rap song.
There is music that reminds us of home, music that reminds us of our youth, and music that that makes us soar and think that anything is possible. There is also music that reminds us of our responsibilities to others, that protests at the injustices in our society, and calls us to stand up and be counted.
In this small space I confess to being a John Denver lover, and can sing his songs from memory and with gusto. Many already know this from the church camp, where his songs were a prominent part of the proceedings.
I was listening to one of my favourites the other day, Calypso, which was written in 1975 by Denver as a tribute to Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his research ship, the Calypso. Funny, I know it so well, and then I realized I didn’t, because suddenly the opening words spoke to me in a way they had not done before….
“To sail on a dream on a crystal clear ocean, to ride on the crest of the wild raging storm. To work in the service of life and the living, in search of the answers to questions unknown. To be part of the movement and part of the growing, part of beginning to understand……”
Suddenly it was as if the God found in the depths of my heart, the God revealed in Jesus, was speaking to me. “To work in the service of life and the living, in search of the answers to questions unknown” echoed all around me and gradually settled, finding meaning when before they were just words.
Isn’t this what we are called to do as followers of Jesus, isn’t this what we are called to do as a community of faith? “To be part of the movement and part of the growing..”
It was like I was encountering the song all over again, but with a message just for me.
While we come to worship on a Sunday morning, and value it, there are many who would say it is a waste of time and energy, far better to be having a coffee with the family or a well-deserved sleep in. And it’s not that I don’t find those answers valid. It’s just that there is something else..
I believe that when we meet, when we sing, when we share our concerns, when we explore the scriptures, both modern and sacred, we open a space where we can encounter God’s call, sense God’s presence, feels God’s love. This encounter renews and refreshes us, as though we have been spoken to personally, and points out the road we must follow. Much like my John Denver song, a song that I thought I knew well, but suddenly in a rare moment gave me something surprising and inspiring.
Rex Hunt has said of worship….
“It is about the celebration of life, the whole of life. It’s a human activity, celebrated in the presentness of God”.
Occasionally that God presence will touch us in surprising ways. But we have to be listening.
For many people the Parable of the Talents is a puzzling one and sounds like a lesson in venture capitalism – the gospel according to Hockey so to speak. It is about using someone else’s money (what we call credit), investing it and reaping the reward. So uncomfortable do we feel with this parable that many have adopted the fanciful interpretation of the talent representing our natural abilities and asserting that we should invest them in the name of God. As admirable as this may be, this parable has nothing to do with our personal talent. A talent was simply a large unit of money and had nothing to do with inherited abilities and gifts. A more accurate name for this parable would be: “The Parable of Invested Money”.
The other problem with the parable is the identifying of God with the venture capitalist providing the money. Why people do this is completely beyond me! It completely distorts our understanding of God. God is not some harsh, grasping capitalist who rewards those who make him rich and casts aside the rest. God is the energy of life inviting us to fullness of life, a life that is typified by what we call love. To see God as a capitalist who is more concerned about his profit and loss account than anything else is a disaster! It is a disaster because the image of God we hold in our mind is one of the most important things in determining our relationship with God. To see God saying “those who have much will have more, and those who have nothing will have even less” is not the kind of God I want anything to do with.
How then are we to understand this parable? Once again it is a case of “No text without a context”. What were the social and economic circumstances when the parable was spoken? Then, as today, there was at the top of the social structure a wealthy elite, an entrepreneurial class that provided high interest loans to the peasant in times of drought – and took the plot of land when the peasant farmer was unable to repay the debt. Sixty five percent of the wealth and control of society was in the hands of about two percent of the population. Below the wealthy elite was a class of bureaucrats. They represented about five percent of the population. Society in those days (as indeed today) was organized around serving the needs of the wealthy. This was the Kingdom of Herod with which Jesus contrasted the Kingdom of God. Jesus was a peasant among peasants and spent his days promoting the cause of the poor, opposing the rich, and dying without a penny to his name. The point is, both here and in the rest of the Gospel, Jesus was counter cultural. As Keith Rowe says, “The more I read, study and meditate on the parables the more I become aware of the radical nature of the way of Jesus.”
Where then is the “arrow to the heart”, the “sting in the tail”, the thing that makes this parable unforgettable? It is that the hero here is the third bureaucrat, the one who exposes the unjust system which serves the privileged few at the cost of the many. William Hertzog refers to him as “the whistle blower who refuses to play the game” and who incurs the consequences of so doing. Parables are about the Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom of God is present when injustice is named and when courageous people turn whistleblower.
Let me conclude by referring to last week’s Financial Review. The journos were commenting on the cessation of Quantitative Easing, which is just another name for the printing of money. They were saying that the benefits of the four trillion dollars printed went to the wealthy. Surprise! Surprise! This is the damning indictment of capitalism: the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. As the capitalist in the parable says “to everyone who has, more will be given, and to everyone who has nothing even that will be taken away. The poor can go to hell!” Reference is sometimes made to the trickle down theory of capitalism. The best description I have heard of this is that it is the rich pissing on the poor.
The economic society we have today is not that much different to that of two thousand years ago. The percentages may have improved a little, but we still have a long way to go. The point being made in this parable is that the gospel of G20 is simply not good enough, and the world needs a lot more whistleblowers.
Incidentally, if you want a perceptive assessment of capitalism have a read of “Sapiens” the international best seller by the historian Yoval Harari. He maintains that capitalism is founded on an imaginary future and that “credit enables us to build the present at the cost of the future”. He sees the recent printing of money as “pumping cheap money and hoping something big will come up before the bubble bursts”. He regards capitalism as “our new religion” with its encompassing ethic being “economic growth as the supreme good”. He maintains that ”We are more powerful than ever before but have little idea what to do with all that power. Seeking little more than our own comfort and amusement yet never finding satisfaction, we remain unsure of our goals.” His last chapter is entitled “The Animal that became a God” and the final sentence of the book contains some of the most chilling words I have heard in years: “Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible Gods who don’t know what they want?”
As Tim Costello and his mates say of the G20 “Aiming for growth is not enough. What we need is inclusive growth, growth which includes the poor.” I wish them well, but I am not holding my breath. Our cigar smoking financial gurus and their money laundering accountancy mates are preaching a very different gospel.
Neville’s Sermon – Wembley Downs Uniting Church 16/11/ 2014
I read yesterday that the CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, came out as gay. It was suggested that this announcement would shake the foundations of our world more than most things we have heard in the last few years. That, as the Huffington Post reported, his action would irrevocably change the American corporate landscape and force the country to examine its perception of homosexuality.
It makes me feel sad that in the 21st century an announcement like this has the power to “change the landscape”. That we still see people battling the stigma of their sexuality, as though this is the thing that makes or breaks them. In the Uniting Church we are still having debates over the legitimacy of gay marriage, and whether we should support it. Really!!! Isn’t it time to move on and accept that humanity comes in all shades of the rainbow, and what matters most is love? Love in all it fullness, whether it is between two men, two women or a man and a woman.
The problem many in the church have is that they are stuck with an interpretation from the bible that says the opposite. They cling to 2 or 3 passages that talk about homosexuality being bad, yet they forget the hundreds of passages that talk about love and compassion.
Emeritus Professor Bill loader is a New Testament Scholar and internationally recognised as a leader in understanding the context in which the bible, and particularly the New Testament was written. He has spent 5 years exploring sexuality in both Old and New Testament times, and the way people in the ancient world understood it, both individually and as a community. Now you may think that is boring, but if we are to bring the gospel message alive today, and bring a new vision of what it is to be human we also need to understand our own tradition and the cultural political and social influences that were present when the scriptures were written. Loader’s work has profound implications in terms of the churches response to same sex marriage and gay and lesbian rights.
What is refreshing about Professor Loader is that he does not shy away from what the bible says about homosexuality, pointing out the distance between ourselves in the 21st century and those in the ancient world. The biblical writers assumed human beings could only be male or female, and that sex belonged between male and female and only in marriage for the producing of children. As Loader says, anything else was deemed a perversion.
Unlike the ancient writers however, we affirm that homosexuality does exist in nature, including amongst humans, we affirm that there are people who feel that this is the path for them, and part of the reason is biology and we affirm that we do not marry just to have children. We also marry for love, for companionship and for intimacy. As with many other things times have changed and our knowledge of how the world works has greatly increased.
We can see our relation to gay and lesbian people in the same light as other issues in which there has been a contradiction between what the bible may say and what we, living at another time and another culture, accept. We cannot forget that these writers also assumed the world was flat, that the world would end soon, that demons caused sickness, that women should and could not exercise leadership and that slaves should stay slaves.
We have seen the abolition of slavery and the pursuit of equal rights for women and minority races as the realisation of the divine purpose in life. Now we are talking about the rights of homosexual people. So we have to weigh up what we hear in the bible about homosexuality and what we hear in the rest of the bible about love, compassion and inclusion. As Professor Loader says, human beings are to be valued and loved, whatever their race, gender, religion, culture, or sexual orientation. It is a core value derived from God`s love embodied in Christ and affirmed as the fruit of the spirit. It is a call for the dignity and liberty of all human beings
The church must not change with the fashion or be at the whim of the current culture, but rather it must look to Jesus and to the heart of the gospel to find the way of the future. We know Jesus himself overturned many earlier statements of scripture or customs of the day in the name of compassion. He welcomed the stranger and the outcast, not to condemn them but to love them. This is what we are called to do.
So where do we go from here? Hopefully as people of faith we will open our minds and our hearts, exploring the boundaries of faith and life with our fellow travellers without applying rules that do not fit. And as Jesus` followers, remove barriers, respect people, and love one another.
This ideal is reflected in a song put out last year, called Same Love. Modern music can quite often say very profound things about life, things that reach into our hearts and touch us deeply. This is one of those songs…
For video of the song, please go to http://www.youtube.com and search for Same Love.
It is time for the church to lead the way, not be shown the way..