Making our Commitment!
Readings: Matt 5:1-20
Today, as I said previously, we are making a 2020 commitment. A commitment that leaves no one in any doubt about who we belong to and how we might live.
I feel it’s a bit like a wedding ceremony, that I often perform between people who have been living together for some time. Seems like that is always the way with my prospective couples, sometimes they may even have children. So what makes them suddenly decide to get married. It’s commitment, they want to make a commitment to love and cherish each other that’s public and binding. I often use a quote from the novel, The Brothers Karamazov in the ceremony. It goes like this …
“Love in your dreams is such a marvellous and glorious thing. Yet love in reality is active, labour and fortitude.”
The couple in question are making a decision to commit to one another in love, in good and not so good times. And it’s a beautiful decision.
So what is the commitment we are making today. It’s a commitment to the way of Jesus, to his life and teachings, which will be at odds not only with a lot of our secular world right now, but actually with many of our fellow Christians. So a commitment that is also made in good and not so good times.
The novel, “The Brothers Karamazov is a classic, written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. For those who are reading Jim Wallis’s new book, “Christ in Crisis”, this will sound familiar. Apart from the quote I used before, Dostoyevsky’s story within a story recounts the tale of the grand inquisitor. How Jesus comes back to earth during the days of the inquisition, when religious leaders were controlling, imprisoning and killing their fellow Christians and Jews, all in the name of Christ. The unwelcome return of Jesus results in his arrest, and the grand inquisitor himself comes down to Jesus cell to confront him. The inquisitor explains that the church of that time had been able to keep people in line and therefore create an organised and complacent society. Everything is working perfectly, the inquisitor argues, without allowing the people free with all its messiness. If Jesus is released, all he will do is mess things up. Throughout the encounter Jesus says nothing but simply responds with the kiss of peace.
As Bishop Michael Curry, the writer of the introduction to Wallis’s book remarks, “the contrast is a powerful one. There stands Jesus of Nazareth, whose life and teachings are a threat not only to the surrounding society but, sadly to the church that professes his name but tries everything possible to keep him and his message hidden away from view”
Maybe the truth in this story is the truth of today.
Today we have many people who are worshipping Jesus rather than living his way. People who confess to be Christian but act as though they hadn’t read the gospels. Somewhere along the way a disconnect between his teachings about the poor, about justice and compassion, and how people are to treat one another has occurred. Somehow this seems to have gotten worse in our global world. Right wing politics, fear and exclusion, out and out lying and misinformation seem to be the order of the day, and seem to be coming from people who are supposedly followers of Jesus.
Rev Prof. Bill Loader, at his talk the other night, showed how embracing the message of Christianity can lead to either inclusion or exclusion. It depends on how people see the good news, to be shared with everyone for everyone, or hoarded for a privileged few.
So sometimes we need to stop and review where we are, where we are heading. And remind ourselves what the good news actually is. As Jim Wallis says, we shouldn’t go right or left, but deeper.
In many Christian circles, both progressive and evangelical, and throughout the history of Wembley Downs Uniting the life and teachings of Jesus have been and are central to faith. Whatever you believe about Jesus death and resurrection Jesus was a man who lived a life for others. We hear this message mostly in the form of story, parables, which turned things upside down. Think of the good Samaritan, the prodigal son, a persistent widow, the mustard seed and the sheep and the goats to name a few.
Yet it wasn’t just parables or shorter sayings that he used. It was also found in his actions, eating with people seen as sinners, including women, and in his speeches, most notably the sermon on the mount, which was last week’s reading but we read again today. While probably not given all at once as recorded, the sermon reflects a manifesto for life, a way of transforming and the making the world better. This list, the beatitudes, are the essence of the gospels for many of us.
Today we also heard what comes after the sermon on the mount. Jesus commands his listeners to go out and be salt of the earth, a light to the world.
This is where the disconnect occurs for me most strongly.
Jesus doesn’t say, go and worship me, exclude those who don’t believe what we believe, and by the way, heaven is waiting so don’t be too worried about what is happening here on earth. No, he says, go out and be salt to the earth, and a light to the nations. And follow my way of living. Protect and support the poor, the marginalised, the widows, eat with sinners, form communities, be peacemakers, speak truth to power, and unfortunately, possibly even suffer because of it.
I try hard not to judge those who understand the Christian faith differently to me, but somehow we have to reclaim his message and his way. Jesus did not come to save a few, but everyone, and he did it by showing us how to live with one another within Gods spirit of life and love. We are called to follow him in enhancing life while also shining a light where darkness has taken hold and where people suffer because of it.
Which leads me back to Jim Wallis’s book, “Christ in Crisis”. He along with many others also recognise that Christianity has lost its way. Jesus has become an idol which people worship, but not a leader who we are to follow.
He, together with a number of other church ministers have put together a public statement, in an attempt to reclaim Jesus for the world. It has everything to do about Jesus teachings, and the God of life and love he reflects and nothing about Jesus as a personal saviour. It was written for lent in 2018 and up to now over 5 million people have supported it.
It is called “Reclaiming Jesus: A declaration of faith in a time of crisis” and reflects how they saw we are to be salt and light to the world.
While It is firmly aimed at America and the current President of the United States,
I still want to show you what it says….
It’s not an easy thing, to live to these ideals, really live them .
What my young and not so young couples in my wedding ceremony are signing up for is not the love of a romance novel or a dream, but the mystery of love in real life. Love that requires commitment, fortitude and sometimes labour. Because the love that is affirmed at a wedding is not just a condition of the heart, that comes and goes, but an act of the will. And the promise that this love makes is to will the others good, even sometimes at the expense of our own.
When Jim Wallis calls us to reclaim Jesus what does it mean. It means joining all those who love what Jesus loved, whether they are people of faith, different faiths or no faith to become the best we can be, as individuals and as a community and a world. To be more inclusive, more compassionate, more loving. To will the others good, sometimes at the expense of our own.
A huge promise, but a beautiful, exciting promise. For it speaks to us of what human life at its most human and its most alive and most holy must be. Even through the ups and downs of our messy, chaotic, joyful and sometimes sorrow filled lives, we can all become bearers of Jesus’ vision that can change the world.
This is our commitment today and always.