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sermon 12/04/15

posted 9 May 2015, 07:10 by Rosie Addis

Today is Low Sunday, and although we continue to celebrate the season of Easter there is a feeling of the ‘so what?’ So God is there. So God loves us. So Jesus died and was raised up by the Father. So what? I’m tired. Personally, my knees are still aching from Good Friday. I got caught up in the whole excitement of the story. So what?

Back in New Testament times, religion was very much a public matter. People were known in the area where Jesus lived and preached – Jesus of Nazareth, that one. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” The early Jewish Christians were very soon thrown out of the synagogues and were forced to meet separately. So you go from Paul apparently being able to turn up somewhere new and preach in the local synagogue, to new communities meeting in local homes. From the Jewish point of view, why would you allow a developing sect which seemed to attract unwanted attention from the authorities continue to use your buildings and bring you into the limelight. Oh no, much better to send them away and deny that you had anything to do with these ‘troublemakers’. And especially as this new community was very public. They did strange things. They publically turned their back on their culture – selling off the ancestral land, declaring that God did not reside ultimately in the Temple, saying that the Torah had been superseded. Refusing to acknowledge that Caesar was God. It’s no wonder the Roman authorities kept on trying to wipe them out through persecution. And yet still they refused to give up their new-found faith that Jesus was the Messiah they had been waiting for all these years.

This week I visited someone in prison. And my faith was yet again challenged. This man will be released this summer. I don’t want him to come to my community. He doesn’t want to go back to where everyone knows him. He wants to move far away and be anonymous. And yet, his best chance of not reoffending is to be where he is accepted but remains accountable.

And I read in the papers of people trying to make sense of people who fight for ISIS. Faith has become such a private matter that no-one outside a particular faith seems to have any understanding of what ‘the other’ believes. Whole religions get mushed down to particular stereotypes that seem to be created to make us feel more safe, and to know what side of the line we stand on.

And we do that between ourselves, within the Christian community. The Church as an Institution is when we privatise our lives and our faith. Then the Church seems to revert back to the Ten Commandments – ‘Thou shalt not ….’

Where this new community really works is when our faith is shown in public. As a community we walk alongside each other and are accountable to each other because people know our history. This is the Church as a community where there is space to take on board Jesus’ radical teaching that the Ten Commandments have been replaced with just two – Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, mind, strength, and love your neighbour as yourself. And that’s the ‘so what’. That’s where we begin to experience the same radical form of living that the early church did in Acts. We have fallen so much for the individualism and idea of religion as private that we in effect force the Church back into the legalism which the first Jewish Christians found they could escape. And then we say – ah see, the Church is not for me, see what it says about x, y, and z. I’m just going to go off on my own and …. And what? How does that show the Kingdom of God?

As 1 John says, the work of the church is to continue to testify to what we know of God through Jesus. And that results in fellowship – koinonia – the ‘shalom’ peace that Jesus speaks to his disciples when he appears to them again. The first glimpses of the Kingdom of God. And yes, it is about love, but a love that says ‘ok, I will walk alongside you and be with you in all your frailties and muck ups and happy times … and as a community we will remember your journey and love you through that, and live with the resulting tension that comes from accountability, from not brushing things you’d rather forget under the carpet or changing your history to make it sound nicer so that you don’t have to change in the future. That’s love in action.

That’s what.