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Sermon and Reflections For Ordinary 19 - Proper 15 - Year C
Isaiah 1:1,10-20; Psalm 50:1-9,22-23; Hebrews 11:1-2,6-16; Luke 12::32-40
"A Confident Wandering"
Barry Robinson


From time to time we feature "Keeping The Faith in Babylon: A Pastoral Resource For Christians In Exile", a weekly set of comments and reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary texts by Barry Robinson (Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada).   Barry describes his resource this way: "Keeping The Faith in Babylon... is a word of hope from a pastor in exile to those still serious about discipleship in a society (and, too often, a church) that has lost its way".   Contact Barry at fernstone@fernstone.org to request samples and get further subscription information. Snail mail inquiries can be sent to Barry at the address at the bottom of this page.
KEEPING THE FAITH IN BABYLON
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
Barry J. Robinson
Ordinary 19 - Proper 15 - Year C
Isaiah 1:1,10-20; Psalm 50:1-9,22-23; Hebrews 11:1-2,6-16; Luke 12::32-40
"A Confident Wandering"

     Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of
     things not seen.  Indeed, by faith our ancestors received
     approval.  By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared
     by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things
     that are not visible.

     Had I no other faith to live by, I should yet live and believe
     with him, and one single beam of his light in our existence seems
     to me more important than the full sun of orthodoxy.  For... what
     is decisive for all time is not how much we have believed, but
     that we have believed and followed him however little we
     understood about him.      - Ernst Kasemann, Jesus Means Freedom
  
 His name was Ernst Kasemann.  He was a young German entering parish
ministry in the Lutheran Church in the 1930s, at about the same time, in
other words, that the National Socialist movement under Adolph Hitler was
rising to power. 

The Nazi regime wanted the allegiance of the German Protestant churches and
set up the German Christian movement.  This movement offered the Nazis
uncritical support and religious sanction for their activities.  As a
result, Kasemann and many of his contemporaries faced a choice.  They could
identify with the German Christian movement or they could refuse and face
the consequences.  Most pastors and their churches chose the former -
including many of the more conservative and orthodox Christians.  Others,
including Kasemann, refused, and identified instead with the confessing
church.

In 1937 Kasemann challenged the Nazi Regime openly.  Quoting Isaiah 26.13,

     O Lord, our God, other lords beside you have ruled over us, but
     we acknowledge your name alone,

he identified the idolatrous nature of the demands the state had made of
the church and called on the German people to resist such idolatry.  It was
not long before Kasemann was removed from his pulpit, arrested and
imprisoned by the Gestapo.  And it was from that German prison cell that
Kasemann continued to develop a biblical critique of the Nazi regime, a
process that resulted in a book called The Wandering People of God.  It was
a study of the New Testament book of Hebrews.  In that book Kasemann
identified the church as a pilgrim community, for the book of Hebrews, said
Kasemann, was a call to Christians to be without ties to nation, geography,
temple or city.  Far from being at peace with society, he argued, those who
follow Jesus are destined to be in conflict with society.

     When the Gospel began its course in this world,... its first
     hearers were shaken by it in their pious convictions, customs,
     and practices.  They were thrown into conflict with their elders,
     teachers, and synagogues.  Therefore they could, if they became
     disciples of Jesus, be killed or expelled from the community.
     Whoever does not grant that such a battle is described in the New
     Testament and whoever does not personally become involved in this
     battle has not grasped the real origins of Christianity.
          - Ernst Kasemann, Australian Biblical Review, October, 1982

                                    +

The key to understanding the book of Hebrews, our text for the next few
weeks, is a passage from Jeremiah (31.33)

     "...I will put my law within them, and I will write in on their
     hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  No
     longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know
     the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to
     the greatest, says the Lord..."

When God restored his word to Isaiah's burned-out exiles living in Babylon,
in other words, they were called to pack up their bags and leave again in a
new way but in an old way too.  They were recalled to the wandering ways of
Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah, and others.  They
returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple, but what God really called
them to do was to take up the journey of faith, to rebuild a people who
knew how to live without a temple.

For a time, you may remember, God consented to his people's desire to house
him in a temple and institution; but his relationship with them was always
the most vital when he moved with them, dwelling in tents.  Together, they
were the future, were the homeland they were seeking because they were
restored to right relationship.  It is this same paradox, this sense of
being in the world, but not of it, of being there, but also not needing to
to which the book of Hebrew speaks.

     All of these died in faith, without having received the promises,
     but from a distance they saw and greeted them.  They confessed
     that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people
     who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a
     homeland. - 11.13-14

For people like Abraham and Sarah, faith did not mean clinging to a stake
driven into the ground.  It was rather that steadfast clinging to a promise
that moved through time and history.  Even if we stay in one place
literally, God always calls us to leave and move on to new horizons.

     Faith thus becomes a confident wandering.    - Kasemann, The
     Wandering People of God

We move in response to the summons of God, and in so doing move from one
alien existence to another.

     By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out...  not
     knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time... as
     in a foreign land, ... living in tents....  By faith he received
     power of procreation, even though he was too old....

And that was what God found so worthy about Abraham and Sarah - not just
that they were willing to hold on to each other, but that they were willing
to hold on to the promise that led them forward.  That, says the book of
Hebrews, was why God was "not ashamed to be called their God".

                                    +

One of the dangers of sitting in a church is that one can get the
impression, the mistaken impression, that faith is like these bolted-down
pews - substantial, immovable, fixed, settled.  It is what Marcus Borg, the
author of "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time", meant when he said that
when he grew up in church faith meant affirming a set of beliefs, grasping
a set of ideas, or what some of us would call "taking Jesus into your
heart".  But what happens when you have trouble with some of those beliefs
and your own experience makes you question those ideas? Later in life, Borg
says, he came to see that it wasn't about our taking Jesus anywhere.  It
was about Jesus taking us and taking us to places we would never have
thought of going!

 For Ernst Kasemann, for instance, and his well-known friends in the
academic community like Karl Barth, Gunther Bornkamm, Rudolph Bultmann,
Gerhard von Rad and Claus Westerman, faith didn't just mean believing in
Jesus, it meant believing and following even though they had no idea where
that following would lead.  At first, it meant putting good careers in the
church and academic life on the line.  But it also meant putting family,
freedom and life on the line, too.  Believing and following meant refusing
to go along quietly with Nazi demands as so many others did.  It meant
being willing to follow without being able to see how it would all turn
out.

And faith is like that for people like you and me, too, it seems to me,
when we get it right.  We all started out with such fervent hopes and
dreams.  Faith seemed so sure and alive and wonderful.  But life has a way
of exploding those temples we construct for ourselves into a million
pieces.  For we find that keeping those marriage vows is not as easy as we
were told.  And the church is not always a Christian place to be.  And the
people you believed you could trust let you down.  And all that you had
ever worked for and wanted to be can also blow up in your face.  The day
your world fell apart and you thought you were going to die because the
place you thought was home - wasn't.  And it seemed as if your faith was
slipping away.

But by the grace of God, your life didn't end; and, looking back, it seemed
like a new chapter began.  God was turning your disaster into a new
beginning.  Jesus was asking you to get into the boat with him and sail off
to the other side of the lake.  It is times like those when faith stops
being something firm and unshakable and becomes an adult kind of
relationship.  It was the way faith happened for people like Abraham and
Sarah.  Just when they thought they were "as good as dead", God pointed
them to the stars in the heavens and showed them a journey that would take
them farther than they could ever have imagined.  It is where our wandering
will take us too when we have the confidence to make the journey.  Indeed,
it is the only thing that matters in the end - not how much we believed,
but that we believed and followed him however little we understood about
him.

                                    +

Isaiah 1.1,10-20 - Harsh words are brought to the people of Judah by
Isaiah, the son of Amoz, Isaiah, whose very name means "Yahweh gives
salvation".  The imagery of a wounded child and a desolate land (verses
2-9) forms the backdrop for the series of complaints that follow.  The
picture painted is of a praying person who has on his hands the blood of
the dying poor, the blood of the forgotten and the oppressed.  This is what
the agony of God is about.  Why have the people turned from what God
demands.  It is the question that haunted all of the prophets and that
haunts us.

1.   In what sense are Isaiah's words like that of a prosecuting attorney?
2.   What do verses 18-20 reveal about God's desire for us?
3.   In what ways do Christians today disjoin worship from ethics?


Hebrews 11.1-3,6-16 - Among the impressive list of exemplars in chapter 11,
Abraham and Sarah are highlighted for particular favour.  While Paul seems
to understand faith primarily as trust and utter dependence, the author of
Hebrews sees faith as holding fast to what was once seized, and by allowing
it to be normative for one's behaviour.  Clinging to the divine promises is
what consistently characterized our ancestors in the faith.  Responding to
the promise without seeing it come to full fruition is what made our
ancestors strangers and exiles.  At the heart of this week's text is the
sure vision of what we hope for and the firm conviction of what we cannot
see.

1.   Is it possible to "arrive" in the kingdom of God? Why not?
2.   Instead of venturing forth in faith, what are Christians often tempted
to do?
3.   How would you describe what God is calling Christians to risk in the
present circumstance of the church?


Luke 12.32-40 - The main point Jesus seems to be making in this week's
gospel is his passionate conviction concerning the riches available to
human beings if only they will truly open up their lives to relationship
with God.  Being ready to serve others, to extend the hospitality God
extends to us means being alert to Jesus, having the kind of reassuring
warmth, the exciting challenge, the quick responsiveness we need to be
greeted by God in our neighbour anytime, anywhere.  Not to be alert is to
miss the opportunity, to turn our back on Jesus, to miss our chance at
life.

1.   When you think back on the past week, when was God knocking on the
door when you were asleep?
2.   What clues does Jesus provide for us to be free from obsessive
self-concern?
3.   Where in the passage is God portrayed as wanting to be hospitable to
us? Why?


FOR FURTHER REFLECTION - "I sometimes joke that if I were ever to write my
spiritual autobiography, I would call it 'Beyond Belief'.  The fuller title
would be 'Beyond Belief to Relationship'.  That has been my experience.  My
own journey has led beyond belief (and beyond doubt and disbelief) to an
understanding of the Christian life as a relationship to the Spirit of God
- a relationship that involves one in a journey of transformation." 
                           - Marcus Borg, Meeting Jesus for the First Time


HYMN  595  We Are Pilgrims  (Voices United)
Keeping the Faith in Babylon:
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
A publication of FERNSTONE:
Transformative Resources for the Human Journey
All rights reserved.
FERNSTONE:
Transformative Resources for the Human Journey
R.R. 4, Lion's Head, Ontario Canada N0H 1W0
Phone/Fax: (519) 592-4551
E-mail: fernstone@fernstone.org

copyright - Barry Robinson 2004
            page by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2004
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.


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