Ordinary Sunday 15

July 14, 2002

Sir Paul Reeves

Ordinary Sunday 15     Genesis 25     Matthew 13:1-2,18-23

 

The book of Genesis is about beginnings. It tells of a small group of people who set out on a long and dangerous journey to another land that they believed God had promised them.

 

Chapters one to eleven set the scene. First God had to create order out of the primal mess called chaos. This is a story of disobedience, rebellion and judgment. Chapters 12 to 36 concentrate on the founding fathers, the Patriarchs, through whom God establishes the People of Israel.

 

Our reading this morning is from Genesis Chapter 25. Isaac's wife Rebecca is having a difficult pregnancy and ominously her two children are fighting within her even before they are born. Esau is born first but with his brother Jacob clutching his heel. Jacob became a smooth man; crafty, patient, fearful, a sinner and a sufferer. Esau was a hairy man, generous, impulsive, and quick to forgive and forget an injury. The point of the story is that the future of the People of Israel lay with Jacob, not Esau.

 

These are people for whom the past was never past and could return when least expected. In the beginning God had created from chaos that was clearly evil, threatening, unstructured and out of control. But as we read Genesis it's clear that chaos had not finally disappeared and had a frightening tendency to claw its way back and destabilize everything. And clearly here was a God who could be flawed, unpredictable and capricious

 

Is this the sort of God you would want to journey with? The People of Israel decided it was. It was a risk worth taking and the chance was that along the way they would learn more about this compulsive and compelling God. But Christians are also on a journey where we have to struggle and in the midst of our uncertainty God will be revealed. In fact uncertainty and discovery may be two sides of the one coin. You can't have one without the other.

 

For us, religion is a cable of meaning stretching throughout the length and complexity of life. You could say it is our whakapapa. For some, like the Buddhists, it may not require the presence of a creator but is still a religion because it offers meaning and a rationale for why we are here.

 

This cable is made up of strands woven together. There is the visible part of religion, the rituals and the real estate, the clergy, the creeds and the rules. Then there is morality where meaning and values are applied to me as an individual as a member of the community and as a citizen of the country. Lastly, there is spirituality where the essence of who we are meets with the greater essence of who God is. Everything we do in prayer and meditation is an attempt to make that meeting or exchange with God real.

 

The great development of our age is that we can now look at each of those parts separately from the other. In 1517 Martin Luther, sensing that change was in the air, nailed his 95 Theses to the door of a church. That Reformation is all but complete and the Church will never be the same again.

 

The pressing moral issues are still to come and they will center on the question, what is human life? The controversy over genetic modification and whether we know enough about the web of life is just the beginning. How much should we intervene in the formation of life just because stem cell research has now given us tools and techniques we never had before? Should I share with my cousins what genetic testing tells me about the thread of life and the genetic makeup we have in common and which I now know includes a predisposition to bowel cancer? Do they have a right not to know?

 

I met an American whose mother was a Jew, his father an Iraqi; he said he was a self-made millionaire before the age of 25 and was now offering courses in non-religious spirituality. He had been in New Zealand eight weeks. People's sources for spirituality are as wide as human experience itself. More and more, I am convinced that the current emphasis on spirituality arises from the death of hierarchy. People who hurt are often better able to help each other than those above them can help. So now without the assistance of theology, priest or counselor, people are 'self--medicating', if you will, on spirituality.

 

So where does that leave Christians? We should take heart from the People of Israel, who on their journey discovered that they were the product of God's love and intention. It was a journey of faith. That can be our experience too.

 

So what is an indigenous expression of my faith for today's world? Regular prayer at a fixed hour so that we might ponder on what God is doing may be one? Domestic ceremonies like the sharing of a meal so that we can keep the Sabbath and honour it, as God's day of resurrection, may be another. But above all, there is the Eucharist where the community of faith gathers to understand that our life and death and whatever is valuable about us is in the hands of our neighbours. We must honour each other.

 

I want to finish on a brighter note and tell how my wife and I reached back to what was a chaotic time in our lives and dealt with it. In the early 1960's we lived in Lowestoft, a fishing port in the east of England. Our first child did not survive the experience of birth and he was buried in a churchyard in the presence of another priest, the funeral director and myself

 

For years we have gone back to that place and stood where we thought our child was buried. Three years ago we obtained a copy of the entry in the burial register and last year we learned that the site of the grave was marked. This year we returned to Lowestoft and the Rector of the parish blessed a headstone we had erected in the churchyard to commemorate a human life that briefly flickered and was commended to God's care forty years ago. Next morning was the Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, two of our most fallible saints. I celebrated the Eucharist in the parish church and sensed that in this comer of England we were joining with all of God's people, both living and departed, including our son, in an eternal round of worship.

 

The point is we have the means to deal with chaos when it threatens to overwhelm us. In this century we will become smaller in number, we may have to distinguish between observant and cultural Christians, the moral and ethical challenges will be complex, but the essentials of faith are there and no one need fear the journey to which God calls them.

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