A u c k l a n d A o t e a r o a N e w Z e a l a n d
a n g l i c a n c h u r c h
The Unpredictable and Fiery Way of God
July 6, 2003
Ordinary Sunday 14 Matthew 11:25-30
Times are tough. Markets are volatile, you might even say diabolical at present. Only the bravest or foolhardiest investors are in the game. It's a market where fortunes can be won and lost in hours let alone days. In any case the best investment advice in these troubles times I have heard went like this- apologies to readers of the Saturday Business Herald, where this joke was printed. But it was mine first.
If you had bought $1000.00 worth of Nortel stock one year ago, it would now be worth $49.00.
With Enron, you would have $16.50 of the original $1,000.00.
With Worldcom, you would have less than $5.00 left.
If you had bought $1,000.00 worth of Budweiser (the beer, not the stock) one year ago, drank all the beer, then turned in the cans for the 10 cent deposit, you would have $214.00.
Based on the above, my current investment advice is to drink heavily and recycle.
If I was to say to you that the Kingdom of God is like the current global markets, would I lose all credibility in your eyes? Think about it! Jesus says the kingdom, or if you prefer the realm or way of God, is like weeds which grow rampantly and have the ability to destroy plants and may even do so quickly. He says it is like a mustard seed which is prolific, unpredictable and produces pungent taste with fiery effect. Like the weed, the mustard seed has the ability to destroy the garden; like the weed it can be deadly. And another thing. Weeds and mustard seeds tend to take over where they are not wanted.
So, Jesus says the way of God is less like the mighty cedar of Lebanon as we might have expected and not even like a common weed which we could deal with, but more like a deadly shrub which takes over and is only wanted in small amounts, if we could control it at all. Sunday school lessons taught us that mustard seeds start small and end up big. That's digestible as a moral. But pungent and deadly.
Then speaking of indigestion we come to the leaven. The leaven is in the Bible a metaphor for corruption- the leaven of the religious legalists. Leaven is all darkness and heaviness. And yet it rises and then it creates. Ah, I hear you say, at last a nice thought. This was all getting a little uncomfortable. Stay with the discomfort for a moment longer. Let me explore two situations with you, one personal the other social.
During the week I received an SOS from a woman who was desperately lost and confused. She wrote to me via email asking for help. She first of all questioned why God allowed unjust suffering. Then she went on to express her own desperation which for her felt like the end of a road; there was no light at the end of her tunnel and she imagined herself hanging in the garage from a rope. I thought long and hard about using her situation this morning, and wondered if somehow I was betraying her trust. I decided because she lives in another town that it was alright. In any case if she heard or read these words I wouldn't mind because I want to affirm the courage of this woman to seek help and face her crisis. I relay her story with only admiration, no judgment.
It struck me on reflection that suicide has some of the qualities of a mustard seed (unpredictable patterns, pungent taste). This was a woman at the point of the deepest of crises. It struck me that the rope she referred to was not a physical death so much as the end of a stage or dilemma. It was the light at the end of a tunnel. She stood at that awful moment at the point of decision and choice. The choice to move forward and make a change. None else could tell her what that place is or feels like- only she knows its pain and only she can know its resolution. Yet I couldn't help sensing that this was a point of rising up and creating something new and beautiful.
I wonder whether you have had times like that in your life, or even if you know that pain now. Take some heart from the parable of Jesus- the way of God is not a way of manipulation and cruelty. Its not a story of a God who allows or is even indifferent to suffering. The way of God is a journey to the centre of pain and from there a recreation of life. Don't minimise the pain, or spiritualise it. It is awful. Yet it is not the end of the story. The parable of Jesus is not a pious tale of morality. It is a lesson in travelling to the heart of reality, no matter how unsafe or frightening that journey.
Come now on a social journey. We have explored in this country in recent times the GE question. It is an issue which has tormented me. I have swung from a strong environmental and food safety stance, GE free, to a progressive 'it will have to happen sometime' position at various times. It has raised all sorts of issues around multinational hegemony, labelling of food products and environmental ethics, yet above all the fear of my children being guinea pigs is the strongest motivator. The thought of my own children growing up in a world of environmental danger is overwhelming.
Yet in spite of these reactions, consider the issue from the perspective of the parables. Unpredictable, pungent, hard to control, fiery- its starting to look like the way of God might just match GE experimentation. Risks must be taken in the interests of growth. The crisis must be faced and the journey undertaken- some time.
Which brings me to one final point about the way of God in the parables, and to my bottom line currently about GE; timing. Timing is often raised in the parables. Timing is everything. At the right time, the way of God becomes a reality more than a vision. So, at the right time the personal crisis is faced.
And so at the right time, when the calculated risks have been weighed, GE in fields should be explored. It seems to me that it is not now. It may not be in the short term. It may not even be in our life time. Yet there will be a time. At that time a risk will have to be taken. Our hope is that the risk is taken, with the interests of as many as possible in mind and not ruled by bottom line or power questions. This was my understanding of the essence of the Royal Commission recommendations.
So, whether the journey is personal or social, the way of God is always a journey to despair and loss first. It is always a matter of facing death and change head on and in that moment finding the strength to move on and recreate. God give us strength. Strength to hold on and strength to let go. God help us to change. To change ourselves and to change our world. To know the need for it. To deal with the pain of it. To feel the joy of it. To undertake the journey without understanding the destination. The art of gentle revolution. "That which is Christ-like within us shall be crucified. It shall suffer and be broken. And that which is Christ-like within us shall rise up. It shall love and create." Amen.