Messages of Hope

Month: May 2014

Just one calling: to love one another

Published / by Sandy

Rev Prof Andrew Dutney, President, Uniting Church in Australia, writes in his Blog: National Reconciliation Week runs from May 27 to June 3 this year. It’s a celebration of the rich culture and history of the First Australians. Initiated in 1996, the week aims to foster reconciliation discussion and activities. You can find out more about it from the Reconciliation Australia website.

In March this year The Uniting Church in Australia held a week of prayer and fasting for justice for First Australians. We called it “A Destiny Together” and it brought First and Second Peoples within the UCA together in a remarkable way.

Information about that week and resources prepared for it are online: A Destiny Together.

The week of prayer and fasting was observed by individuals in their own homes and lives, by local congregations and regional events throughout Australia. One of the key events during that week was a public prayer vigil held on the lawns of Parliament House, Canberra. It was attended by representatives of every part of the UCA and by our Aboriginal and Islander members from all over Australia. There’s a short video from the event here.

I thought National Reconciliation Week might be a good time to post my sermon from that event in Canberra.

Just one calling: to love one another (1 Corinthians 13)

“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:8) That’s how Paul sums it up in one of his letters. The command to love is specifically addressed the Christian congregation. It’s about how we must treat each other. The congregation is called to do just this one thing – to love each other. Everything else flows from that.

The love that Paul is writing about is nothing to do with the sentimental, romantic love of popular culture. It’s the love that Christians owe each other in the day to day life of the new community that God is making of them.

And in the case of the Corinthian congregation that day to day life was a mess. In the chapters that come before the one we heard read, Paul called them out on their internal divisions, their jealousy and quarrelling, their inability to manage sexual relationships, their perpetuation of class-based inequities even when they gathered for worship. For heaven’s sake, their internal disputes even had them taking each other to court! (1:10-12; 3:3-21; 5; 6:1-8; 11:18-22)

In this context, in chapter 12, he tries to help them think of themselves as being like a body, with all sorts of different members – every one of which is important to the health and life of the whole. In this body, “If one member suffers all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured all rejoice together with it” (12:26). He tries to get them to think of themselves as Christ’s body. And then he moves into the crescendo of chapter 13.

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things.” (13:4-7)

These are the ordinary practices of Christian love. Practices that – if we sustain them – will be used by the Spirit to transform our fellowship.

The command to love is specifically addressed the Christian congregation. It’s about how we must treat each other. The congregation is called to do just this one thing – to love each other. Everything else flows from that.

God puts together a congregation of people who don’t belong together, and have no history of getting along together – Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, men and women (1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:28). God puts together people who don’t belong together and says to them, Love one another.

And it’s hard, really hard. Here in Australia God puts First Peoples and Second Peoples together in one congregation. It can be hard enough for the First Peoples to be together – more than 400 nations from the Adnyamathanha to the Yolngu. It’s hard for our multicultural Second Peoples to be together too – everyone from Anglos to Zambians. But God goes further. In Christ God puts First Peoples and Second Peoples together in one body and calls us to do just one thing: love one another.

Why? Why would God do this? Because in Jesus Christ God fulfilled his promise to Abram: “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Why? Because “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Why? Because “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19).

God commands us to do one thing: to love one another. Because in doing that we become a sign of what God has done in Christ for the whole world.

That’s why we’re here today. We’ve come to the most public place we can think of to stand together as First and Second Peoples and say, “We’re very different from each other. In many ways we’re very divided. But in Christ we have been made into one body… and we’re in pain.”

The cruel injustice and crushing disadvantage that our members from the First Peoples deal with every day hurts us all.

So we’ve committed ourselves to the task of working towards justice and reconciliation in the church – through our Covenant, through the truth-telling of our amended Constitution, and through all the day to day, practical loving of one another that they imply.

God has commanded us to do just one thing: to love one another. In doing that we become a sign to Australia of what God has done in Christ for the whole nation and the whole world.

posted 26 May 2014 by Sandy

the Way, the Truth, the Life

Published / by Geoffrey Boyce

“I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me.” John 14:6

We all know how this verse is used as a proof text – as the test to who is a Christian and who is not a Christian.

And I have spoken in this congregation before about the closed circles of those Christian communities who think that the most important question is ‘who is in?’ and ‘who is out?’.

And at that time I proposed that this exclusionary in-out model should be discarded as the dominant model in favour of a centred model, in which being a Christian has to do with a focus of life lived mindfully toward a God-centre.

What might be the characteristics of such a God-centre? – surely, for Christians, one that reflects the values revealed to us in the life of Jesus. We are Christian because we choose to orientate our lives toward a centre that is illuminated and informed by the values we find in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. For Muslims who embrace the centre-orientation model, it will be a life illuminated and informed by the life of Mohammed and the writings of the Holy Koran.

As Christians, we relate to that centre, and, in our decision-making, go to that centre as a mirror to see ourselves, and align ourselves more closely with the values of Jesus who is that centre.

But it is convenient for those who want to control others to use a text like John 14:6 to support their in-out system of inclusion – exclusion; this text can be used as a test on the boundary of their in-out circle, that membership inside the circle is determined by a positive response, the basis of a simple declaration of belief – do you accept that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life? – if ‘yes’, you’re ‘in’, or otherwise you’re ‘out’ because the rest of the verse confirms that you have to be ‘out’ – that no-one comes to God except through such an affirmation of Jesus.

John 14 verse six is a convenient text for controlling who is in and who is out. And if we accept this in-out model it is not far to spiritual blackmail – if you are ‘in’ you are on your way to heaven; and if you are ‘out’ you are on your way to hell.
But even closer to home, if you don’t believe what I, who is on the inside, believe, I don’t want to know you! If you don’t dress like I dress, I don’t want to know you…etc. Church becomes ‘Pleasantville’. The rest of the world – the poor, single mums, gays, Muslims, asylum seekers – they can all go to hell!

That is where a simplistic reading of John 14:6 takes us.

But rather than read the text in a simplistic manner, thinking that its meaning is obvious on the surface, what if we ask: ‘what can be learnt from the context of this text?’

Turn back a page or two in John’s Gospel and we find it is spoken in the context of the Upper Room, Jesus reassuring his disciples about his forthcoming death before his crucifixion.

You will remember that this upper room discussion begins with Jesus washing his disciples’ feet.
What is that about?
Jesus is demonstrating the ‘way’ – what ‘I am the way…’. in John 14:6 looks like.
The way is sacrificial service to others. The way to the Father is service to others.

Jesus then does something that most of us, particularly in the church, shrink from – telling the truth – telling the difficult truth.
Jesus tells his friends that one of them is going to betray him.
Why does Jesus feel he has to do this? Why spoil a good party? Surely Jesus doesn’t have to say this stuff – he knows it – but does he have to say it?

It is significant that Jesus offers bread to the betrayer. Judas is as much a member of the fellowship. But while Judas eats bread in common with the others he looks for the opportunity to enact the decision he has already made and slips out into the dark.

In the model of orientation to the Jesus-centre, we have an example of one who decides to head in the other direction.

Jesus knew Judas had decided to head in the other direction. But that didn’t stop Jesus’ truthful transparency and continuing to hold out the other opportunity as an option for Judas.

I am the way – the way of service;
I am the truth – being true to existential reality

Appropriating Jesus the truth means being true to our inner and outer realities, being transparent, being true to ourselves, being true and open to Sophia Wisdom.

I digress to make a footnote about ‘telling the truth’. It would be remiss of me not to point out that ‘telling the truth’ is not a license for becoming the kind of person who is always critical. Jesus’ telling of the truth about Judas was contextualized first by the washing of feet and secondly in his keeping relationships open by the sharing of bread. In other words, the license for negative talk is prior unconditional service to others and unconditional acceptance of others. And then, of course, there is always the reminder about the plank in our own eye!

Back to the text: following the Judas discourse, according to John’s Gospel, Jesus gives the disciples a new commandment.

‘Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples’.

I take this to be the ‘life’ part of the John 14:6 trilogy – the life lived by those who live with the orientation of Jesus and his values as the focus for their lives is to be a life of love for others.

I am the way – the way of service – I am the truth – – transparently honest to reality – I am the life – the life that loves others as Jesus loved others.

Then as we follow the Upper Room text of John’s Gospel, as if this paradigm of service, honesty and love is too neat, Jesus predicts that the leader of the fellowship, Simon Peter, will deny him three times. Even though Simon Peter impulsively blurts out that he is willing to die for Jesus, Jesus replies, ‘before the cock crows you will say three times that you do not know me’.

Sandy mentioned the other week about the cock weathervane on the top of Catholic church steeples in Europe. The cock on the church steeple is meant to remind the priest below that he is as fallible as Peter when he promised one thing and did another. The word ‘humility’ comes to mind.

Then comes the 14th chapter of John, which begins with those great words of comfort and assurance – ‘there are many rooms in my father’s house, and I am going to prepare a place for you’.

Thomas – that irrepressible questioner – says, ‘we do not know where you are going; so how can we know the way to get there?’ Jesus replies, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one goes to the Father except by me’.

In the context of the Upper Room the answer to Thomas is this: ‘Thomas, you want to know the way? – the way is the way of service. The way is the way of truth -of integrity between our inner and outer lives and the Wisdom of what is – the way is the way of love.

It then becomes obvious that only those who live this way, this truth, this life, will know God. There is a self-exclusion from God in the choices we may make, like Judas. But from Jesus’ response to Peter, acceptance by God is not dependent on our promises, but by the very goodness and ever graciousness of the continually unwavering God-centre.

John 14:6 only makes sense to me if it is understood, not as an exclusionary text, but as a commentary on what Jesus was trying to convey to his disciples in the Upper Room – the way in which we come to God, the way by which we may know God, is the way, the truth and the life of service, the way, the truth and the life of integrity and the way, the truth and the life of love.

Geoff Boyce, Oasis Coordinating Chaplain, Flinders University
Message delivered at Pilgrim Uniting Church in the City, 9.30am Service, Sunday 18 May 2014

posted 18 May 2014 by Geoff