Matthew 5:1-10 & Matthew 22:35-40
This is a two part sermon series, inspired by a recent blog by Rick Warren on Pastors.com. His blog was called Loving Like Jesus in a Fractured World. As many of you may well know, Rick Warren is the Senior Pastor at Saddleback Church in the United States and the author of many books – one which inspired me, transformed me and set me upon the path to ordained ministry. It was called the Forty Day of Purpose. Anyone know it?
Well, the holidays are over, the New Year resolutions taken up or thrown away, and we’re back into the swing of work, meetings, gatherings, study, etc.
For those of you who reflect a bit (reflecting is good – as long as we don’t get stuck in the past) will know that in many global respects 2017 was not a great year.
What featured on our communication devices or in our own personal experience were examples of terrorism, war, famine, increasing violence, adversarial politics on the increase, family stress, growing anxiety amongst our younger generations, a fast pace of change and fractures amongst social classes, and the economic breakdown in some communities, a rise in political and religious cults such as Nazism and witchcraft.
I’m not saying that we all have to do things the same way, or think the same way or even worship the same way or to be totally homogenous. Indeed society should be, as we say in the Uniting Church foundational documents, ‘Unity in Diversity’.
Increasingly though we see more diversity in diversity – where we focus not on the things that hold us together, but the things that keep us (or ‘me’ at this time in history) separate and different. In that diversity and difference there is a growing tendency for those with loud voices to try and shut out the other voice.
Think about the debate concerning when we celebrate Australia Day or the people who wish to take Christ out of Christmas, or those to who push for Easter to be all about chocolate eggs, rabbits and holidays rather than about the cross, the empty tomb and holy days. Increasingly people are shutting down, the alternate voice by the use of demonising the other, using anger and hatred to polarise and stifle genuine debate.
We have seen this, in some degree, in the same-sex marriage debate and poll, we see it writ large in the discussion about refugees, climate debate, alternate energy sources. Probably the best example we have at the moment of the polarising tactics employed to divide and demonise, sits with the current United States President and the North Korean President.
We are not immune in our churches either, from the growing tide of schism, break-away, anger, and even hatred.
Those with far leaning liberal and evangelical theologies seek to separate themselves from the greater church. New independent churches spring up and disappear all the time, weakening the body of Christ – the church. Instead of working for change on the inside, many folds go their separate ways, and may often cast stones from the outside. Or they target individuals they can see rather than systems that exist but are unseen.
Bullying and other forms of abuse seem to be on the rise – as folks in congregations that are going through the change of diminishing resources and congregants and young people are seeking a ‘someone’ to blame. Often, as I have found out from working with and caring for other church leaders, and as I have experienced at times in this church, it is often the minister who is seen as the ‘other’. Sometimes separation from the other rather than diversity with the other is seen in the words we say – We could never be like that church denomination. we should do our own thing! We could never get used to that type of music.
Now you sitting there probably thinking I have painted a fairly grim picture and on the face of it there is enough here to make anyone weep.
We have our faith and our hope. Many of us here today, hear and believe and live out the words we read in scripture such as:
Jesus comforts his disciples
14 ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.’
‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’
Jesus prays for all believers
20 ‘My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – 23 I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
So how should we respond to the anger, division and hatred that we see erupting today?
How can we, the followers of Christ, God’s family, the church, be the ‘peacemakers’ and the ‘ministers of reconciliation’ that Jesus not only calls, but commands, us to be?
How can we build bridges instead of a wall and barriers around our hearts and homes?
Rick Warren talks about five important ways to do it.
And I’m going to add a sixth way, but each way needs to be seen as linked and overlapping with each other – a box set that makes a complete picture.
- The first is to display dignity to others – for God created every person with dignity.
- The second is about diversity – honouring the fact that God intentionally created everyone to be unique.
- The third is to create and sustain truly inclusive communities.
- The fourth strategy Warren said was to ‘love’ – ‘if you don’t learn that, you’ve missed your purpose on this planet.
- The fifth strategy of creating a new heaven and new earth is to be a facilitator of reconciliation – as we heard earlier – ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the Children of God’.
The last point is linked very closely to the other five and that is to be practise selfless hospitality and generosity.
Next week, we’ll look at all six in some detail and look through various passages of the New Testament that show God’s intent in creating a world that looks so different from the one we currently inhabit.
God, we thank you for Jesus’ example on how we use our faith to bring more of you into the world. May we take comfort, take the challenge, and take the ingredients to recreate the gift of creation, as it should be.
In Jesus’ name we pray it.