Notes for a More Coherent Sermon—Trinity VII

NOTES FOR A MORE COHERENT SERMON
11:00 AM., Sunday, August 7, 2011
St. Andrew’s Old Catholic Church
Meeting Room, 138 Pears Ave. (Toronto)

FIRST LESSON: Romans 6: 17 – 23
But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Gospel: Mark 8: 1 – 9
In those days the multitude being very great, and having nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples unto him, and saith unto them, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat: And if I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way: for divers of them came from far.

And his disciples answered him, “From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?”

And he asked them, “How many loaves have ye?” And they said, “Seven.”

And he commanded the people to sit down on the ground: and he took the seven loaves, and gave thanks, and brake, and gave to his disciples to set before them; and they did set them before the people. And they had a few small fishes: and he blessed, and commanded to set them also before them. So they did eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets. And they that had eaten were about four thousand: and he sent them away.

SERMON PROPER BEGINS

Our world is not a simple place. We weave together different demands on our time and emotions, on our money and our skills. We rarely get to be whole people; instead we tend to have different ways of being in the world when we are at work or at home, with friends or with strangers…being a complete person seems to be at odds with what is expected of us as we go through our normal lives.
We approach social and political problems the same way. We condemn murder but accept war; we condemn private greed but reward corporate greed.
We separate what we know is the right behaviour for individuals from what we accept as proper behaviour by institutions.
It isn’t just negative behaviour for which we treat individuals and corporations differently. Take donations to food banks, for example. If I make a cash donation, I get a tax credit, which can be deducted from income tax one has to pay (approximately 15% on the first $200 and 29% on amounts above $200).  If I make a food donation I receive no financial reward.  It is a true charitable gift. A food chain that donates, whether money or food, can deduct 100% of the value of their donation. Indeed, thanks to various Good Samaritan laws, food that can not be legally sold due to problems such as expiry dates can be safely given to food banks. These corporations also benefit from income from those buying food to donate and the publicity that arises from their participation in such a valued community effort.
These seems a long way from the message of today’s gospel, but I see in the actions of Christ an approach to life that is far more inclusive than our world expects. He was part of an organised body of people and yet the focus of his ministry was on responding to the spiritual and physical needs of those around him. He didn’t gather food together to feed those close to him and then gave away whatever was surplus—he took what he and his friends could gather together and shared them with everyone. There was no corporate or collective benefit from being a part of Jesus’ official circle. It wasn’t only those part of the official church structure that we cared for—everyone that was present was fed.
A few decades ago, on a small farm in upstate New York, over 500,000 people gathered together for a commercial activity—listening to music performed by some of the richest and/or best known musicians in the world at the time. Far fewer were expected than came—186,000 tickets were sold and facilities and food for that many were provided. Somehow, though, the 500,000 people who came were fed and sheltered—a minor but overlooked miracle of the time.  Far more food was available than was planned for; it was distributed to all that were hungry in ways that were beyond the expectations of the organisers. Such miracles do occur more often than we think—whenever the spirit of a group expands to include everyone somehow all can be nourished and cared for. Food appears at a potluck in amounts that can feed everyone with leftovers to share. Space can be found for everyone to sleep when a funeral occurs and family and friends come from out of town to share in the celebration of someone’s life. The power goes out in Toronto and neighbours who don’t talk to each other bring food and water up 20 flights of stairs to shut-ins. When the thoughts of people turn to others individuals are cared for and miracles abound.
When thoughts turn to institutions, somehow values change. Process and accountability rather than compassion and action become dominant concepts. We expect individual people to behave well; when those seem people become enmeshed in the structures of large organisations we expect them, indeed we encourage them to act in ways opposed to the values our society claims to promote. It isn’t just businesses that seem to push away values of sharing, compassion and generosity. Non-profits and QUANGOs (quasi autonomous non-governmental organisations) institutions can take on the values of the corporate world, ceasing to act on behave of the individuals they were created to care for and becoming focused on the needs of the institution itself.
Jesus took part in the institutional life of his community—he read in the synagogue; studied at the temple; paid his taxes and gave his offerings. But we are not specifically called to imitate that Christ. Rather, we are called to imitate the Christ that talked to the Samaritan women, who healed the centurion’s child, who turned water into wine at a feast, who feed the hungry multitude… the Christ that in his daily life put the needs of individuals ahead of the organisational needs of the time.
We are expected to be dead to the world, to find life in a place that heaven and earth come together. We are expected to act as if the shalom kingdom is a physical reality and we are a part of it. In this kingdom are many mansions, so that everyone can live in comfort and dignity. In this kingdom there is no wailing and despair because there is medical care for all. In this kingdom there is no fear because our neighbour is not at war with us. God calls us, individually, to this communal expression of love.

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