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2nd October 2016 - Hugh Perry

Date Given: 
30 September 2016

Readings

Lamentations 1:1-6

We read from the opening verses in the book of Lamentations which depicts Jerusalem as a widow.  Its placement following Jeremiah is perhaps because it depicts Israel after the Babylonian conquest and exile that Jeremiah describes.  Maurice Andrew notes that exile can be a significant image for people who have lost but have not literally been exiled and he quotes Canon John Tamahori from an article by Jack Lewis.

‘The Maori people are experiencing the Exile.  It is not that they have been forced out of their country – although some have followed the journeying tradition of their tûpuna and have joined in a voluntary Diaspora into other lands. It is rather that there is a sense of something lost, something with great injustice, sometimes by natural circumstances. There is a deep hunger to put down roots again. 

Urbanisation has broken bonds of community, secularisation has eroded religious conviction.[1]

This lament is also relevant to Christchurch after the earthquakes as rebuilding seems painfully slow and the war in Syria has highlighted the plight of refugees.

Luke 17:5-10

Chapter 17 in Luke’s gospel begins with a warning to disciples about opportunities to stumble and the dire consequences that happen to anyone who causes someone to stumble.  Then there is instruction about warning another disciple if they should sin, along with the call to forgive those who repent.

In the light of these hard instructions the apostles ask for increased faith. 

It is important to remember that disciples learn from Jesus and apostles go out into the world to act on Jesus behalf.  In Luke’s two part saga the apostles are empowered after the resurrection at Pentecost and from there go out to seed the Church.  So the use of the term apostles indicates that Luke is writing with the post resurrection community in mind.  Luke is telling us that   ‘Even the small faith we have cancels out the word impossible, (a tree being uprooted) and absurd (planting a tree in the sea)’[2]

Sermon

Our reading from Lamentations is really quite depressing but in the circumstances it was written quite understandable.  Also understandable is Maurice Andrew’s quote from Canon John Tamahori about the feeling of exile among some Maori who have moved from traditional homes to seek employment and opportunity in the cities. 

Following the recently highlighted issue of the decline of water quality in our rivers I often have flashes of memory of playing in the creek that ran through our section in Stokes Valley.  I also remember when we moved to Levin, swimming in the Ohau River.  Memories of clear crystal water with abundant life. 

In Canterbury we used to take our boys for picnics to Coes Ford which now has a health warning.  There are certainly times when I can identify with Psalm 137 ‘How could we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land.’ (Psalm137: 4)  

A recent photograph of the river by the Selwyn Huts looked quite foreign, and evoked the opening line, ‘By the rivers of Babylon—there we sat down and there we wept.’ (Psalm 137:1)  The joy of our youth has gone and our happy memories are lost.

We are of course exiled from many things and it probably does us good to make ourselves thoroughly miserable from time to time.  Last week we talked about the loss of the church of the past and the loss of the egalitarian society.  The growing gap between extreme wealth and poverty challenged us to allow God’s Grace to bridge that gap.

This week the Rev Glynn Cardy, minister of St Lukes in Remuera put a wee prayer on Facebook and I told him that I would probably have to steal it.   

May you be blessed with a bridge

to help you from here to there

over the uncertainties that gnaw at your soul.

May it be a fragile bridge

not a big sturdy one that trumpets

strength or anaesthetizes your pain.

May you have company on that bridge

fellow seekers of sanity and serenity,

familiar with loss.

You are not alone.

Hope is a fragile bridge

as is the courage to walk it.[3]

Perhaps that is the bridge across the metaphoric chasm invoked by the story of Lazarus and the rich man.  It is also the bridge between the lament for what has gone before and the huge possibilities that begin with faith the size of a mustard seed.   Glynn’s prayer makes a bridge between our Lamentations reading and our Gospel reading.  The prayer not only stresses the fragility of the bridge but prays that it should be fragile. 

The prayer also asks that we have company on that bridge which reminds us that following Jesus is something that we do in the company of others.

Indeed our reading is directed towards the disciples. As Fred Craddock points out Luke has significantly labelled them as Apostles indicating that the gospel writer is giving instructions to the post resurrection community which of course includes us. 

As we celebrate World Communion Sunday it is worth remembering that Luke is telling this story to instruct all the followers of Jesus, all the apostles who represent the risen Christ throughout the world and throughout more than two thousand years of history.

The message of this strange wee passage is that the tiny Christ seed can tear out the trees of empire oppression and privilege and cast them into the swirling changing sea of time.  Furthermore the transplanted trees will re-grow as the ever spreading realm of Christ.  The Christ seed is a small seed of faith that changes old trees so they become new trees in a new environment, trees that spread out their branches in an inclusive embrace of all humanity.

If we look back at the two thousand years of the Roman Empire the crucifixion of a wandering Galilean rabbi is just one speck of anonymity amongst the thousands of brutal executions that secured the Pax Romana.  Executions that gave peace and order in an empire which at its greatest extent spread from the area north of the Sahara, from the Atlantic Ocean to Egypt.  It controlled the shores of the Mediterranean and spread north through Europe to Hadrian’s Wall in Britain and East to the Euphrates river.  Two thousand years of Roman history is about great battles, great emperors, amazing civil engineering and concrete structures and architecture that still stands as benchmarks today.  All that was held together with brutal efficiency that would make the Sensible Sentencing Trust leap with joy.

Yet from the hidden obscurity over shadowed by that world changing and defining empire that one crucifixion planted the seed of resurrection in the followers of Jesus that inspired a movement, gave such vision to Saul of Tarsus that he changed his name to Paul.  As new trees of Jesus’ followers sprang up in a sea of spiritual insight this seed of a new way of being human was carefully wrapped in words by the gospel writers and flung towards the future. 

Nobody, and certainly no Roman historian, would have noticed the small frightened and distraught band of Jesus’ followers coming together to remember the crucified Jesus.  The mood must have been very much like the writer of Lamentations.  With Jesus’ arrest and execution his followers most likely went into ‘exile with suffering.’ (Lamentations 1:3) 

Being with Jesus they had a glimpse of how life could be and then he was gone, everything they hoped for was gone.  They had left their jobs and their homes and although the fisherman had family business to return to that was not the same.  The Jesus experience had left a restlessness in the souls of his followers. 

All they really had was each other so they came together and shared a meal.  Perhaps they met the fishermen by the lake and they all brought food to share.  Just like they had with Jesus they gave thanks to God for food they had brought and like any good potluck meal they distributed the food among themselves.  They remembered Jesus, remembered what he taught and how they shared life with him.  Suddenly Jesus seemed to be with them, in them and around them.  The followers of Jesus remembered him in a meal shared; they remembered him in the breaking of the bread.

A tiny seed of resurrection faith was born among them and they held it in their minds, wrapped it in the words ‘took, blessed and distributed’ and sent that seed into the future.

Just how powerful that seed was became apparent as the future moved towards them.  Instead of diminishing their group not only grew but spread throughout the world they knew.  People began to retell the stories Jesus told and Luke recorded the warning about despondency and the temptation to stumble on their faith journey.  Then he recorded this story about the amazing power of the smallest amount of faith.  A mustard seed was the smallest thing he could think of, a very tiny seed.  What could that much faith do—someone with just that much faith could command a mulberry tree to pull itself up out of the ground and plant itself in the sea. 

Anybody who has ever transplanted a tree knows that it takes a good deal of physical effort, trees do not do as they are told.  Furthermore trees, like all plants, are fussy about where they grow, especially the lemon trees I keep trying to establish in my garden. 

Jesus was probably talking about the Sea of Galilee which is fresh water and there is a tree in Lake Wanaka that everyone wants to photograph.  But there are also trees around Horseshoe Lake that have died since the land has sunk and their roots are too far into the water.  One of the desperate issues for many Pacific Island communities as sea level rises is that a whole host of plants and trees die if their roots are in salt water. 

Therefore we can conclude Jesus’ metaphor of the tree transplant is a metaphor for the imposable.  The smallest amount of faith can achieve the impossible.  Of course the very definition of impossible is not able to occur, exist, or be done.  As those first followers shared a meal together the very idea of Jesus’ teaching being carried on and lived out by them would have seemed highly unlikely.  The idea that through their teaching, the very essence of Jesus passed on by them would not only outlast the Roman Empire but become one of the major faiths of the world and change the way people lived, would indeed seem unable to occur, exist, or be done.

Yet as they sat together, gave thanks, broke bread and distributed it the faith seed germinated.  The impossible happened; Christ had risen, risen in their lives.  With that simple sharing and remembering a new faith was born.

As the church that we know stumbles and perhaps even struggles to survive in a world so different to that in which it germinated our task is not to lament the glories of its past.  Our calling on this World Communion Sunday is to join with the world wide church and give thanks, break the bread and distribute it.  In so doing we send our small seed of faith into the swirling sea of an unknown future.  We do so in the full confidence that what has miraculously grown in the past will also flourish in a future beyond our knowing.

We are not called to be the church of the future; we are, with all its failings, the church of the now.

Our calling is to be the fragile bridge of hope that allows the small seed of faith to cross into the future.



[1] J.J. Lewis et. al., Koru and Covenant, p.78.in  Maurice Andrew The Old Testament in Aotearoa New Zealand (Wellington: DEFT 1999), p. 486.

[2] Fred B. Craddock Luke. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press 2009), p. 200.

[3] Rev Glynn Cardy Facebook 28th September 2016 

 

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