Guildford Sermons

Preached at S. Matthew’s Church February to May 2011

Volume I

February 2011

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Carl Gustav Jung. As the Living God warns the folk in Isaiah‟s time: ISA 58:4 Look. you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. sell. a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush. With such a God we cannot buy. who accomplishes the divine will and purpose through the hearts and hands and minds of faithful people of every generation. Is such the fast that I choose. hung above the gateway to his home. manipulate divine behaviour. cajole. 5 ISA 58:5 . Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. God will be there.6th February 2011 : Epiphany 5 : Year A 7:45am and 9:00am Guildford Isaiah 58:1-9a : 1 Corinthians 2:1-13 : Matthew 5:13-20 One of my favourite sayings is the sign that the psychoanalyst. time and place. This is the God whose presence is a given. Vocatus atque non vocatus Deus aderit Called and not-called. bribe. This God – our God – is present eternally because that is what the Living God does – be present.

so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. to undo the thongs of the yoke. and bring the homeless poor into your house. to cover them. and not to hide yourself from your own kin? ISA 58:7 If any of that sounds familiar.and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast. Jesus may also have had this passage in mind when he said. when you see the naked. and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry.” 6 . to let the oppressed go free. a day acceptable to the LORD? What wants has nothing to do with the kind of formulaic practices that even today plague the spiritual life of the Church and no doubt many another religion. it ought to! It‟s one of the passages that lie behind Jesus‟ “my yoke is easy” saying and his proclamation of justice to the oppressed in Luke‟s gospel. This is what we hear through Isaiah: ISA 58:6 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice. “Let your light shine before others.

codes or interesting.For both Isaiah and Jesus the light comes when the faithful attend to matters of what today we would call social justice. For one thing. do either Jesus or the prophet Isaiah so much as hint. rules set boundaries – which is a Good Thing – but the Living God knows no limitations. Where. regulations. But they are NOT the essence of what it means to follow Jesus or the Living God. And we know from so many recorded confrontations Jesus had. we don‟t think of it like that. lepers. statutes and regulations delude us into believing that we have some sort of control over God. that he would always take the opportunity to shine God‟s light into 7 . statutes. outcasts. indigenous Australians and others whom Jesus and Isaiah commend to us. let alone suggest that anyone will recognise the presence of the Living God by attending minutely to rules. we should ask ourselves. orphans. Equally. But that is effectively what we are doing when we pay more attention to legislation than to widows. No. bizarre and confusing rituals? These things probably have their place.

the under-privileged. should behave. In an age when righteousness – having a good. the oppressed. Jesus also tried to distinguish between the useful and proper elements of order on the one 8 . What Jesus did. he did as an example of how we. That‟s why he can make what otherwise would be an absurd and ridiculous statement about not abolishing the law or the prophets. as if righteousness were accessible through the application of the correct formula – in such an age. authentic relationship with the Living God – was a matter of obeying commands and commandments. therefore he could do that sort of thing but we can‟t. Jesus told us to use our commonsense and remember whose needs were most important – the needy. it is no argument to say that he was Jesus. And no. his followers.dark places – even if it meant ignoring or blatantly disregarding the regulations. Just as Isaiah centuries before Jesus tried to drag an ancient faith community out of the dungeon of thoughtless and automatic regulation. open.

End of story. using slightly different language. the ordering thoughts of the law and the prophets was meant to be the solid foundation upon which to do the proper work of God. we get into trouble. As human beings we typically seek security and comfort in the worst sense of the word. It was never meant to be the churlish replacement of social justice. Do not pass Go. The things of the Spirit.hand. In other words. and the real business of God which those regulations sought to underpin. Jesus reminds is of that distinction – how the foundation is to remain so that what it actually stands for can be accomplished in our own Jesus-driven actions in this terribly damaged world. reminds us also that what is at stake here is the difference between the human and the spiritual. We do or we don‟t. And time and again. do not collect $200. Law and regulation are surface-layer easy things. however. by word and example. are far less predictable and pay no attention at all to what might be easy or couch-potato 9 . If we don‟t. Paul.

When the Spirit settles on the law and the prophets their most profound nature becomes apparent and suddenly we are recognising fulfilment – perhaps Matthew‟s gospel‟s favourite theme – recognising what these regulations are actually trying to say. At times like these – floods in Carnarvon and Queensland and Victoria. As our world and our nation struggles with disasters that are both natural in origin and human-made. And the answer is always – God is here. 10 . how they are telling us how to behave truly as creatures made in the image and likeness of the Living God. in those who offer assistance and compassion. That is the Living God at work.comfortable. it is all the more important to understand our role – our crucial role – in shining the light of God‟s presence into these places of despair and darkness and chaos. Where was God! as if God only turns up when a nice little shiny sunbeam sidles into view. for instance – people often cry in exasperation and rage. right here. who feed the hungry. in the midst of suffering. comfort the terrified and grieving. clothe the sodden.

Called and not called. 11 . but certainly among those who suffer. The One who is present. Vocatus atque non vocatus Deus aderit. God will be there.That is where the Living God calls each of us to be – not necessarily in the flooded towns and cities of our country. called and not called. This is our God. the One we claim to believe in.

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But the sub-text – the „reading between the lines‟ part – is that this growth and prosperity does depend on remaining in a goodly relationship with the Living God. The basis of that relationship is „fear of the LORD‟. The author reminds the people that they are chosen. sometimes one scratches one‟s head and tears out the remaining fistfuls of hair trying to extract a meaningful relationship between the readings. that God made a deliberate decision to single out the Jewish nation as the recipients of a promise of prosperity and growth. The portion from Deuteronomy offers counsel on living faithfully with God. a concept easilymisunderstood and –confused. Fortunately it‟s not too bad this week. Sometimes this is reasonably apparent. 13 .13th February 2011 : Epiphany 6 : Year A 7:45 and 9:00 Guildford Deuteronomy 10:12-22 : 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 : Matthew 5:21-37 It‟s commonly held that when the men and women responsible for the lectionary assemble the readings they do so on the basis that all four pieces of scripture are related in some way.

to understand that God is the Creator and that no thing and no human can exist without God‟s awesome Spirit of life and creative energy. or Christian. vindictive Being who metes retribution upon the recalcitrant and uncooperative. portraying God as vengeful and cruel. 14 . It‟s still psychological abuse.Fearing God is not about „being afraid‟ of God. That is one of the very last things that God wants from the faithful. The Church has sadly become expert at slandering the Living God through centuries of verbal and psychological abuse. a nasty. to regard God with the deepest respect. It‟s certainly easy enough to paint God as fearsome and worthy of our terror. threatening the people with eternal divine punishment if they transgressed manmade laws or failed to adhere to clerical demands. whether they be Jewish in this case. Parents in past times have similarly abandoned God‟s love as very clearly and plainly seen in the life and work of Jesus. And also far from scripture‟s truth and teaching. To fear God is quite simply to hold God in awe. in favour of God-the-Bogeyman.

Do not underestimate either a smile or the powerful affect it can have. Trevor Huddleston. It is much easier to be violent than loving. that is clearly not the case.But we should not assume that God is some kind of wimp. Let no one ever underestimate the power of even a pinpoint‟s worth of God‟s love. Many would know the story of the South African archbishop. 15 . fire. That black boy in South Africa is today known to millions as Desmond Tutu. That black boy in South Africa was impressed. sunsets … We do actually see – and feel – God‟s great power in even the smallest act of lovingkindness. who once treated a black boy with respect and dignity – treated him as if he were a human being made in the image and likeness of the Living God. let‟s not assume we witness God‟s power only in those things and events that are obviously overwhelming. He was awestruck – as well he might have been. like many natural phenomena – tsunami. It is truly awesome. Equally. having experienced God‟s love firsthand through one of God‟s servants. It is easier to be abusive than tender.

he was not a moralist. But take any portion of these sayings and counsel. even though this is how for centuries we have chosen to understand what Jesus is saying. whereas Jesus expands and provides examples and illustrations. The latter is more compact in form. despite the way we portray him. However. But we do need to understand that Jesus‟ primary concerns were always spiritual. That isn‟t the case. it‟s the same mode as that of Deuteronomy: proffering wisdom in order to help the faithful maintain a close and authentic relationship with the Living God. It isn‟t as though we should ignore the echoes of moral thinking in Jesus‟ words. because it‟s far easier to cast Jesus in the role of 1st Century Lawmaker and craft our own Pharisaic ordinances than it is to seek the depths of relationship about which Jesus is really speaking. certainly.When we arrive at the gospel we find Jesus working his way through what tradition calls the sermon on the mount. 16 . It‟s this fact that underscores both passages but it‟s tempting to focus on Jesus‟ words as if they provide only some kind of moral imperative. and we begin to hear echoes of Deuteronomy.

Why? Because each person is God‟s creation and God creates each person in the divine image-andlikeness. It‟s a powerful statement and we don‟t need a film like 127 hours (about the guy who cut off his right arm with a pen knife after a boulder trapped his arm) – we don‟t need that kind of graphic. It‟s an exacting demand. It doesn‟t even have to be that dramatic: an insult is enough to throw out the relationship.This wisdom Jesus shares with those who are listening appears to be about how to live in an ordered society. leave-nothing-to-the-imagination example to understand that if something is coming between us and God 17 . Why? Because every part of our relationship with God matters. To put it plainly – to insult another is no different in Jesus‟ eyes from insulting the Living God. But the importance of what he says concerns how to live with God. Jesus lets no one escape with the biggest and most obvious transgression. Therefore we can‟t escape with a self-congratulatory „I‟m not a murderer‟ if we harbour unexpressed. But not all of what Jesus says here has a literal focus. simmering anger. His thinking with regard to amputation is figurative. We all have an intrinsic worth and value because God created us.

and at the same time he is stamping his authority on scripture and society and human-divine relationship in a way that is both astonishing and risky. 18 . this is Jesus fulfilling the Law and the prophets – explaining what lies beneath the bald statements and demanding that we do more than simply treat „stuff‟ in the easy. What Jesus is doing is allowing the laws of the past to open up and flower with their deeper meaning. …Because God is not easy.then we need to do everything we can to remove that obstacle. God makes demands. and it is only through wrestling and wrestling hard with God‟s demands that we approach fulfilment ourselves and discover the fulfilling depths of a true relationship with the Living God. From Matthew‟s point of view. lackadaisical way of the untroubled literalist.

but perfectionism. 9-18 : 1 Corinthians 3:10-17 : Matthew 5:38-48 I‟m a perfectionist. therefore. The words seem to slide effortlessly off his tongue as if being perfect as God is perfect is just another matter-of-fact thing we do as we go about our daily business. What an amazing concept! Jesus makes it sound so easy. That doesn‟t mean that I necessarily do anything particularly well. so doable. By definition perfectionists can never achieve the sparkling brilliance to which they aspire: whatever it is is never quite good enough. It may have its debilitating aspects. The good thing about perfectionism is that those who find themselves enmeshed within its sticky tentacles actually do care about doing a decent job. never quite hits the exact spot. is one way to guard against being slipshod and lackadaisical. But perfectionism isn‟t what the Living God asks us to practise. though extreme. It‟s quite a liability in many ways.20th February 2011 : Epiphany 7 : Year A 7:45am and 9:00am Guildford Leviticus 19:1-2. 19 . It may sound like from the final sentence in today‟s gospel: Be perfect. as your heavenly Father is perfect.

One little word – Be. As is so often the case the difficulty lies within the twentyodd centuries that separate the speaking/writing down of these words ascribed to Jesus. I don‟t know – being perfect as God is perfect?” What he does say begins with an imperative – a command. an order. Here is Jesus saying. No if‟s. chasps. And yet. How about – oh. Be perfect. It‟s even more doubtful that any sane person would claim the ability to match even the most remote or minute ability of the Living God. He doesn‟t say. he says. but‟s or excuses. 20 . It‟s not negotiable. Do it. if you were to have a crack at being a tad more God-like. and what we in 21st Century Guildford hear or see when the text arrives within our consciousness. here it is.It‟s doubtful if anyone in their right mind would consider putting themselves on the same plane as God. “I think it would be a jolly good idea.

He‟s inviting us to seek completeness. But this isn‟t quite what the word we translate as perfect means in holy scripture. “beyond reproach” and similar fantasy formulations. without discrimination. That‟s nice. And we know what this terrible word fraught with unrealistic. unfinished. to attend to all aspects of our human interactions and relationships rather than leaving bits and pieces here and there undone. We hear perfect and we think “unblemished”. So when Jesus invites us to be perfect as God is perfect he isn‟t asking the impossible transformation that would make us beings other than human. “free from defect”. perfect “simply” means “complete”. In biblical terms. unrealised and unrealisable expectations means. It was one of my former spiritual directors who pointed out to me that when we encounter this invitation to be perfect as God is perfect. Jesus gives an excellent and inarguable illustration: 21 . But it isn‟t as all-encompassing as it sounds. perfect in loving – to love completely. of course. “finished”. what Jesus is actually inviting us to do is to be perfect in love.Perfect we hear.

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Being non-discriminating. and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. Let‟s face it. some behave in ways that we find offensive or abhorrent. even if they aren‟t nasty to us directly. offering to all people – and many would add. some are hostile and aggressive. How do we love such people? It‟s helpful to understand that love in the sense that Jesus means and practises is far less about the commonly-assumed 22 . 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. No one is saying this is easy. what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? In the words of the TV prophet: You can‟t say fairer than that… This is what completeness – perfection – in love and loving is about. all creation – the same attitude of caring and respect that most of us find it reasonably manageable to make happen for those we “like” anyway.' But I say to you. some folk just “get up our noses”. for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good. so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For if you love those who love you.You have heard that it was said. what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters.

Any parent knows what real-world love is about. So he made the 23 . I know from my own experience that becoming a parent was one of the most powerful lessons I received in understanding how and why the Living God loves creation. it has little or nothing to do with real-life. especially humankind.warm-fuzzy feelings that the popular media spins out day by day by day. In his small but powerful book. For whatever reason – I don‟t think he even knew – he was aware of the dark abyss where usual parental love ought to have been. the Anglican priest and Jungian analyst. real-world experience. includes a poignant chapter in which he describes how he came to realise that he didn‟t love one of his daughters. Our children – who are never perfect in the non-biblical sense – receive our love no matter what they do. Morton Kelsey. Most of the media stuff is easy because it‟s inauthentic and based on fantasy and sentimentality. Caring. In other words. than about choice and decision. We may shrink from their behaviour but it takes something almost cataclysmically awful to make us stop loving them.

or working girls. Maybe it‟s that uncle who molested us when we were growing up… 24 .decision to do everything he could to start loving this daughter. We‟re bombarded with the notion that love is “just” a feeling and we have no control over it. Unconditional. maybe it‟s indigenous Australians. But biblical love – the love that Jesus invites us into – isn‟t just a feeling. this aspect of deciding and choosing that enables us to do what at face-value seems unlikely or maybe even impossible – to love those we might never consider worthy of our love. And we do have control over it. Full-stop. He means LOVING her. Loving who she is for no other reason than because she is. Maybe it‟s the local chapter of the bikie club. Jesus invites us to love terrorists too. He makes it clear that he doesn‟t mean “liking” her. Many would find it surprising that we can decide or choose to love someone. It‟s this control. maybe it‟s dole bludgers or boat people or even terrorists… Yes.

Their relationship did improve. All because he made a decision to do so. Tina is NOT her alcoholism. He does have 25 . Every day. he is choosing to love. This is what Jesus does in his life and work on earth. by choosing to love his daughter something positive did happen. I am Alistair. whatever problems the client might have. the human being whom we love and that they are separate from their behaviour. Jesus wants to remind us that it is the person. In the world of psychology and counselling.And the thing we need to hear loud and clear is that loving someone is NOT the same as condoning reprehensible behaviour. every moment of every day. whom he had almost excised from his life. In other words. who they are as a human being is distinct and separate from those issues. I am NOT my depression. Narrative Therapy coins the following axiom: The Problem is not the Person. Mildred and Hugo are NOT their cancer… Morton Kelsey discovered that by deciding. He does not discriminate on any basis imaginable. his daughter. He was able to say that he loved this young women.

alien or compatriot. Leviticus also legislates respect and nondiscrimination for all people. to choose to love…? 26 . Who in our lives do we need to remember. Jew and nonJew. to remind ourselves to decide. they do behave badly and with extreme prejudice.enemies. In the scriptures about Jesus it‟s called love – but it amounts to the same reality of decision and choice. whoever they are. On the same basis. But he continues to choose to love them.

By the that time in the movie we know enough about Mr Gekko to realise that his words are more than rhetoric and hyperbole: when he repeats the catchphrase. as I ran an eye or two over Paul‟s jottings to the folk in Corinth. 27 . And then. and Christ belongs to God. That was the movie that gave the world the notorious “greed is good” speech that Douglas‟s character. the wonderfullynamed Gordon Gekko. he means it. delivers unto his shareholders during a crucial moment in the film.27th February 2011 : Epiphany 8 : Year A 7:45am and 9:00am Guildford Isaiah 49:8-16a : 1 Corinthians 3:18 – 4:5 : Matthew 6:22-34 I‟m trawling through a set of photographs purporting to represent the Academy Award winners in the Best Actor category. Greed is Good. I read these words: For all things are yours. Then I come across Michael Douglas and Wall Street. Have I been living in a parallel universe for the last ten or twenty years? because I don‟t recognise half the movies in which these august gentlemen apparently appeared. and you belong to Christ. And I‟m thinking. whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future--all belong to you.

Desire. Marvellous! thinks Gordon.And I started thinking about old Gordon back in Wall Street. whose meaning depends on two things. greed for material possessions or emotional exclusivity. the very reason that all CAN belong to us is because we lay no claim whatever to it. Yeah! Greed is good. second. because. what Paul writes isn’t a statement supporting ruthless corporate takeovers. First. we do need things like shelter and food and love: neither Jesus nor Paul nor Isaiah nor any of the great world religions are saying otherwise. accumulate and dispose of at will. yearning. Buddhists call this freedom from desire. chanting his mantra. All belongs to me! Unfortunately for the Gordon Gekko‟s of the world. But what they are saying is that our true freedom lies in putting these things in perspective. The Marxist formula puts it succinctly – and rightly: To each 28 . It‟s a subtle paradox. none of the “all” that belong to us is a possessable commodity that we can personally acquire. Greed is good. Yes. “All belongs to you.” writes Paul.

from each according to their ability. in 20th and 21st century terminology. we have forgotten or ignored or avoided. holy scripture tells us. the true source of our yearned-for security. Which is exactly what Jesus‟ followers practised in Jerusalem immediately after Jesus‟ Ascension. What lies behind this desire for possession and exclusivity is. Compare the pair and choose the best nest for your eggs! And if Jesus today spoke the words we hear in the gospel in a public auditorium other than a church building we might well think we‟ve landed in a lecture on cognitive behavioural 29 . The fact that this stuff pops up in both the Hebrew and the Christian scriptures is a reminder – and maybe a relief – that humankind has not changed much in all these centuries. our need for security – a need that we have skewed and twisted beyond what is basic and reasonable. willfully or otherwise.according to their need. In the process. We know how often we see or hear advertisements about superannuation in the media. And not only that.

For instance. guiding us away from our negative thinking and cognitive distortions. He reminds us of God‟s love. Jesus of course adds another level to this sort of thing. And that‟s okay too. He reminds us that the source of our security – the place all security comes from – the beginning and end and everything in between – is the Living God.therapy. And that‟s okay. Sometimes we have to tolerate scuff marks or learn how to disguise them. He reminds us – using pure logic – that the God who cares for even the birds of the air and the lilies of the field will also care for the creature who is far more complex and 30 . I should be able to eat whenever I feel hungry. Because that‟s basically what Jesus is doing – trying to help us retrain our thinking about this feisty issue of security. we might think. But is that true? Where‟s the rule book for that sort of thing? Sometimes we can only eat when it‟s meal time and maybe having a glass of water is better for us than food. and get a new pair of shoes as soon as these ones are a bit scuffed.

Compare the pair? We can‟t do it – because the Living God has no rival or equal-and-similar number. my Lord has forgotten me. 31 . Find the best nest for our retirement egg? We can‟t. "The LORD has forsaken me. Does this mean that we should just sit back. No better nest exists than the one God has created for us. the creature made in the divine image-andlikeness – us human beings. breathe our proverbial sigh of relief and utter the immortal half-fallacy. See." Can a woman forget her nursing child. yet I will not forget you. The passage from Isaiah gives the same message in these lovely words: But Zion said. or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget. I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands What a marvellous image! We are indelibly part of who the Living God is and our God will not and does not forget us or our needs. in which we find comfort and security every second of our lives.demanding.

Jose! Yes. . That‟s one of the reasons God has given us these things. please let me win the lotto.O God. But God also expects us to use our gifts and our abilities. I don't often ask you for help and I have always been a good servant to 32 . Lotto night comes and somebody else wins it. why have you forsaken me? I've lost my business. my house and I'm going to lose my car as well. please let me win the lotto. His business has gone bust and he's in serious financial trouble. He's so desperate that he decides to ask God for help. Lotto night comes and Fred still has no luck!! Back to the church. I've lost my business and if I don't get some money. He goes into his church and begins to pray: . Fred goes back to the church. please help me. . It‟s like the email joke that appears and reappears. my house.“God will provide?” To quote from Paul: No way. I've lost my business. as these things tend to: A good Christian bloke named Fred finds himself in dire trouble.God. my car and my wife and children are starving. God will provide our needs. I'm going to lose my house as well.God.

FRED. Are we worried about tomorrow? I know I am. will and DOES provide for my needs and those of my family. BUY A DARN TICKET! Or. But I also know that I need to remind myself that God can. God steps in with the impossible things. as Richard Harris‟s Oliver Cromwell tells his troops in his warm-up speech on the eve of an important battle: “Put your faith in God. quite often.you. MEET ME HALF WAY ON THIS ONE. Why won't you just let me win the lotto this one time so I can get my life back in order? Suddenly there is a blinding flash of light as the heavens open and Jacob is confronted by the very voice of GOD: . and keep your powder dry…” So. AND that God does me the honour and courtesy of NOT assuming that I am some helpless victim: I can do some things – many things – in God‟s power. Together. we can do EVERYTHING! How about you? 33 .

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