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Sermon - 19th October 2014

posted 8 Nov 2014, 00:17 by Rosie Addis

The Pharisees weren’t bad people. They were acutely aware of their history, and of being the group of people whom God had revealed Himself to, had lead out of slavery and said that He would be their God. They knew the Hebrew Scriptures inside out. They were aware of God’s awesome majesty, of the story of Moses hiding in the cleft of a rock because to see God’s holiness would be death. Their Temple worship was set up on the knowledge that only the priest could enter the holy of holies once a year. The Jewish people had to uphold the covenant which God had made with them, and this included keeping their group pure. No inter-marrying, no false idols, and adherence to the Law as laid out in the Torah. And to cap it all, here they were living as aliens in a foreign land, a land under occupation by the Romans. They were feeling pressure on them from all sides.

And then along comes Jesus. A born troublemaker, but a Jew, one of them, he starts to speak obliquely about the fact that Yahweh, the God of the Jews, is somehow the God of all humankind. What is this going to do for the purity of the Jewish people? What will this do to the covenant that has lasted so long? How will an angry God react to an unfaithful people? How can this idea of accessibility relate to such a holy God, whose holiness radiates out like blinding light?

And they were right to be afraid. Because for us standing here today, we can flip further through our Bibles and read one of Paul’s earliest letters, one of the oldest Christian documents we have today – to the Christian community in Thessolonica, one of the major cities in the Roman Empire. Paul, along with Silas and Timothy, Jews, writes to this group of Gentiles using a mixture of Greek expressions – such as the word ‘ekklesia’ for church, which originally had the sense of a civic assembly of citizens – and then takes expressions from the Hebrew Scriptures and uses them to describe this new Christian community – “he has chosen you”. How right the Pharisees were to want to get rid of Jesus the troublemaker. Look what’s happened now! These converts they are writing to have left worshipping their own idols, and now “serve a living and true God”. The genie is out of the bottle. Something has happened and now this gospel, this good news, is spreading throughout the Empire “in power and in the Holy Spirit”. Those strange stories that Jesus went around telling have become true. The Law has been supplanted by two new commandments- to love God with all your heart, and your neighbour as yourself.

The Pharisees didn’t’ want to stop Jesus just because he was a troublemaker. They genuinely feared the consequences of allowing a false message to be spread. Relationship with God was all important.

You know, I wish I were like Jesus as he is portrayed in this gospel story. He was painted into a corner and managed to leap out over their heads with what seems like a quick come-back. You know that feeling? When someone finds out you’re a Christian … so, what’s your opinion on – gay marriage …. salvation through other faiths … home schooling ….. abuses carried out in the name of the Church …. Eh?

And I buy into it. It becomes so easy to disparage other Christians who have different views on secondary issues to me. Take the issue of women being ordained. It was hard to see the pain in some of my friends’ eyes when I told them I was going to train for ordination. But a starting point for me has been the realisation that like the Pharisees, they didn’t want to risk the loss of salvation. Their aim is that none should perish but all should be saved. And that is a good thing, but also painful to live with. The God of the Old Testament is the same God today, and we should remember the holiness that is so bright we can’t look.  

And that challenges me to live in the tension. Because I can also blur the boundaries between what are essential issues of faith and what are not. And yet in the end we need now more than ever to show others that we have been called into a new family, … that like the Thessalonians, others can see our faith acted out in the way we treat each other – because it is through the Church that God’s holiness, God’s mercy, love and grace, will be revealed to the world.