(a sermon for January 22 – Jesus calls the fishermen)
I invite you to spend some time looking at the image. It is a tree in an urban setting, where the roots are above the ground, and wending their way through the cracks in the pavers in the footpath. The roots themselves are shaped by the pattern of the pavers. The tree and the landscape have become interwoven. It’s a great image to think about ourselves and our shared mission and ministry here in the heart of the urban landscape in the city. It invites us to consider how we are embedded in this landscape.
Let me offer two pathways.
Firstly, when Jesus calls the disciples, he is in many ways asking them to ‘uproot’ from family, friends and familiarity and their work. To disentangle themselves from familiar patterns and pathways. In the ancient world, extended family and one’s community was central to one’s being, but Jesus calls them to leave that behind and to be embedded in a new pattern of community, the kin-dom of God.
Perhaps the call for us is to disentangle ourselves from patterns and practices in our social relationships that don’t reflect the hospitality of Jesus, and from political patterns and practices that we find don’t reflect the commitment to peace, justice and the common good. The same may be said about disentangling ourselves from familiar economic patterns and practices that we have adopted as normative, with assumptions about how we acquire and use financial resources.
When Jesus calls the disciples, he is literally asking them to uproot and to follow him, to establish new pathways, to root their lives in a new pattern that Jesus invites them into, to widen their social circles, to critique systems that exclude and fail to give priority to the common good. The sobering reality is that in their behaviour and impact upon the world, Christians are not much different than other people. The culture in which we are embedded slowly reshapes us; do followers of Christ have capacity to influence the culture?
Perhaps this is something to give attention to: what guides the patterns of your own living? What needs to be uprooted? What are the distinctive teachings and practices of Jesus that invite you to new patterns in your living and your relationships?
Now, here’s another way to view the same thing. Perhaps the two perspectives may co-exist?
‘Exile’ was central to the Hebrew people’s self-understanding. People like Joseph in Egypt, Daniel in Babylon, Esther in Persia, all lived in foreign lands, and adopted some of the patterns of their host cultures’ values and practices while remaining faithful to God even in contested space and contested values. They helped shape their adopted culture.
The prophet Jeremiah wrote to the Babylonian exiles to warn them that their exile may be long and gave this wisdom to them: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jer 29:5-7). In other words, be good citizens. Make a home. Raise your family. Contribute to the common good of the community.
This image of the roots of the tree slowly winding their way through the pavers perhaps serves as a wonderful image of being embedded in the culture in which we find ourselves.
The question for us may be: How do we remain faithful as followers of the way of Jesus while also seeking to live as productive citizens in a global village that is post-Christian, post-modern, post-truth, and in a particular cultural setting in Australia with its own narrative about what defines the culture.
Mike Frost comments: What we need now more than ever is a forest of “exiles” who put down roots deep into the soil of their host empire, and who model an alternative ethic, an ethic of peace and justice. But we don’t do this in some secret field. We do it in city squares, school yards, university campuses, offices, work sites, town halls, pubs, and street corners. It is public ministry, public theology. There have to be visible roots that show our alignment with and our enjoyment of the culture that hosts us while at the same time modelling the way of the Christ, and critiquing aspects of the culture not in alignment with the ways of the kin-dom of God.
Called to be in the world, but not of it. To recognise that suffering, fear, violence, injustice, greed are the antithesis of the gospel that speaks about freedom, reconciliation, justice, forgiveness, and a commitment to the common good. That the reign of God has dimensions that will demand a critique of practices that are assumed to be normal in our global village. That it is not acceptable that 8 people – 8 men, including Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, own the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population according to a new report from Oxfam entitled An Economy for the 99 Per Cent found the incomes of the poorest 10% of people increased by less than $3 a year between 1988 and 2011, while the incomes of the richest 1% increased 182 times as much. And since 2015, the richest 1% has owned more wealth than the rest of the planet. Half the world lives on less than $3.34 a day. It is one example amongst many where following the way of the Christ necessitates a critique of systems that unfairly disadvantage the poorest and most vulnerable people. The same can be said of Government cuts to financial support for the poorest and most vulnerable people, including in pensions.
Richard Rohr comments, “The majority of Christians are not highly transformed people, but tend to reflect their own culture more than they operate as any kind of leaven within it. Most Christians do not reflect the “mind of Christ;” thus they often reflect the common mind of power, greed, and war instead”.
Diana Butler Bass says, ‘What will make a difference to the future is awakening to a faith that fully communicates God’s love – a love that transforms how we believe, what we do, and who we are in the world”.
Let me conclude with a prayer by Steve Garnaas-Holmes, following Donald Trump’s inauguration yesterday, as we reflect on our call as followers of Christ:
Today, God, you create me anew; today I inaugurate a new life.
By the power invested in me by the Holy Spirit
I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute your call in my life, and will to the best of my ability uphold your commandments.
I will act with love and gentleness,
with reverence and forgiveness toward all people.
I will practice humility, generosity and truthfulness.
I will honour and delight in the diversity of the human family,
respecting the true unity of all people
and the oneness and sacred worth of all living things.
I pledge to live, speak and act for justice and peace.
I accept the power you give me to resist evil, injustice and oppression
in whatever forms they present themselves.
I will stand against all violence, disrespect and bullying.
I will speak out against meanness, give voice to those who are silenced,
and include those who are outcast.
I acknowledge that I shine with your light, O God, that my life is not mine but yours.
This day I pledge to do your will, not mine,
for your sake and the sake of the healing of the world.
I understand that this pledge will often set me against my culture,
and that the culture will resist me.
With your help and those of like mind and heart, I will persevere.
I give you thanks. I ask your blessing. I trust your grace. Amen.
Here in this church, the call as a community and as individuals is to give witness to the way of the Christ here in the heart of this city. It is also our call to model an ethic of peace and justice, compassion, hospitality, inclusion and welcome, to the wider community, to the nation, and as citizens of the global village. It is no small thing. It is our life’s work. May it be so. Amen.
Diana Butler Bass, Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening (HarperOne: 2013), 37.
Richard Rohr, an unpublished talk, Canossian Spirituality Center, Albuquerque, New Mexico, December 3, 2016.
Mike Frost blog, To be shaped as much to shape, http://mikefrost.net/homepage/shaped-much-shape/, Jan 7, 2017
Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Inauguration poem, published on www.unfoldinglight.net, 21 January 2017
Oxfam report 2017, An Economy for the 99 Per Cent