Jun 3, 2016
Today’s readings have two themes.
One is the miraculous healing power of God. Some people find the
idea that God would literally raise the dead difficult. I don’t but
I sympathise with people who do. This kind of thing simply does not
happen in “real” life. It is magical, and yet from Kings and Luke
we have two stories of sons being raised from the dead. In our
modern scientific world such things are hard to believe. The second
theme is the notion that God is compassionate. There were very few
people more at risk in the ancient world than a childless widow. A
widow who had a son may have some hope, but in both stories the
women even lose their sons. Without their sons the widows would
have faced almost impossible futures. These stories paint a picture
of the nature of God. God restores to the widows what they need and
value most, their beloved sons.
How do we know this is the character of God? The answer could be Jesus. If Jesus is both truly human and truly God. If Jesus is truly the creator and truly part of the creation, then we see the character of God in his life, teaching and action. We have a foundation for our hope. If Jesus is not truly human and God then...
How do we know the character of God? How could we better reflect God’s character in our worship, other church activities and in our daily living?
Image Copyright: kasto / 123RF Stock Photo
******************** Text of full Sermon notes below*****************
Why is the church shrinking as a proportion of the population? Why does a church like St Stephen’s which once had 900 confirmed members now only have around 150 with only 60-100 attending on any given Sunday?
I think today’s readings can help us explore that in two very different directions. Firstly there is something supernatural or magical or mystical about today’s readings. The dead are raised. We live at a time when the supernatural and the mystical are rejected as being unscientific and impossible. Indeed I have heard more than once that this is the explanation for why people don’t come to church. How could anyone believe in a jar of flower, like Sydney Nolan’s magic pudding which never runs out? How could anyone believe that a person who is dead, whose cells and body have begun to decompose, who has not been breathing for even a half hour, who could believe that they could be revived? Who could believe in someone walking on water, or a man born blind being given sight? And if there is such a thing as God, creator of the whole universe, how could we believe that the fullness of this One could live amongst us as a human being?
I don’t agree with this view, I believe in the supernatural, the mystical, if you want to call it that, the magical. I don’t agree with it but I have some sympathy for it, and a think part of the reason some people aren’t in church and why many are not attracted to it. Way back in the first half of the 20th century Rudolph Bultmann a liberal Christian Theologian put it like this “We cannot use electric lights and radios and, in the event of illness, avail ourselves of modern medical and clinical means and at the same time believe in the spirit and wonder world of the New Testament.”
Today Authors such as John Shelby Spong, Robin Myers, and Marcus Borg ask the same questions from a liberal or progressive Christian viewpoint and New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens ask the question from an anti faith viewpoint.
In the end the main defence of people like me who believe in the supernatural is the very things that Dawkins most strongly rejects. Our defence against this criticism is faith. It is however not blind faith. I won’t do it in detail but it is possible to make a strong historical case for the resurrection of Jesus. It is difficult to explain the existence of the early church without it. In similar vein it is hard to explain the early church at all coming out of Judaism if the life teaching of Jesus even before the Resurrection had not had a huge impact on those very early disciples who believed he had been raised from the dead. Faith is not without foundation, or unreasoning. I have however to be honest and say that while I believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus and can defend it historically I simply can not defend it scientifically.
In the same way I can not scientifically defend the raising of the two widows sons in the old and New Testament stories. Historically I can defend the belief that the earliest followers of Jesus believed he was a healer and miracle worker as well as a teacher greater than Moses and Elijah and these stories reflect this. Indeed the impact of Jesus meant that certainly following his death and resurrection and perhaps beginning beforehand the first disciples came to believe that Jesus was not only a greater figure than Elijah, but that he was God come amongst us as one of us, a real human being. I will come back to that.
What every person in a country with a Christian past or background can see in these stories is something that says God is compassionate and we should be too. In Jesus’ time and in Elijah’s time some widows were very vulnerable..... In the time of the early church a contrast with society was seen when the church got large enough to be noticed...
In our time it is my fear that a similar thing is happening. I want to be a bit risky here and say something bout the way we as a community support single parents...
It is not just the way governments behave that is worrying. Look at our community organisations. Once in every town of any size in Australia.... Unions... Political parties... Our own meals on wheels....
This decline in community can partly be attributed to both parents working... TV.... but at least part of it is to do with us becoming more selfish. The churches are actually doing much better than some... It is true that some people are not in church because they can not believe in things like bodily resurrection, but I believe more are not here because they do not believe in community.
One of the reasons I believe in Jesus as not just a great prophet or teacher is because of what he did in his own lifetime and what he has done through the church to draw us together in him as the one household, or family or body. The weaker members, the victims, even the undeserving victims like the tax collectors or the (I think largely mythical) unwedded mothers who have extra children just for the welfare money, even these are to be honoured and cared for and even the very real mums and dads who are alcoholics and dependent on drugs need to be honoured and cared for too. For me this is because Jesus commands it. It is because he is Lord and in his life our Lord loved the pharisees and tax collectors as well as the poor and the vulnerable. And those of us who believe in the supernatural and the incarnation are filled with hope, for we believe that the one who asks us to do this can raise the dead, heal the sick, restore the son to her widow and feed the hungry, with or without us, and so our small faltering, mixed up, sometimes even mean and pathetic efforts not only can be used by God to make a difference but they are also a small part of the renewing of the whole universe that began on the first Easter day, and therefore there is always hope.
For me the great sign of this hope is Jesus my risen and living Lord who draws me by the Spirit into his loving relationship with his Father and longs to have that same relationship with all creation including the widowed and the orphaned, the tax collector and the prostitute. That for me is part of who we are and I believe it is what our world needs too! I don’t know if it will fill the church with new and younger people but I believe that if we are faithful to this vision it will mean that we are part of a living temple, a great and eternal city.