A Sermon for the Ordination of Andrew Broadbent
22 Feb 2015 Wesley Central Uniting Church in Perth Australia
Come stand with me
Bible Readings: Matt 28.16-20, Luke 4.14-21
Preacher Rev Dr Ian Robinson firstname.lastname@example.org
Come stand with me and see what I can see in these gospel readings. From the 21 century grandstand, we’re watching the village square at tiny first century Nazareth.
See the limestone walls and flat rooves, a few stalwart donkeys with flies in their ears and their lead trailing to the ground, plots of market gardens scattered around steep green hills. Can you see a bunch of believers waiting for a quorum that will turn the village square into the village synagogue? The ark of the Torah scroll has been rolled out ready. See that man by the almond tree who just joined the waiting? That’s his family over there, Mary and her lot, but I don’t know those strangers.
Something about him, isn’t there? His eyes are bright but he is very thin, a bit ragged even. Hang on, it looks a bit like, can it be, Yeshua, Mary’s oldest? He used to run his dad’s building business here but he left town quite a while ago. So, he’s come back home again, Mary will be pleased.
The synagogue ruler starts proceedings and Yeshua has been asked to read, Very appropriate – a favourite son has returned from God knows where. What’s he going to read?
Read Luke 4 Vv18-19.
I wonder if you realize what you just heard?
The people who were there that day had the same difficult that we have in hearing it. They hear the text of Isaiah as ancient.
But Jesus says it is TODAY. “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (v 21).
That is, the life of faith is no longer a long hope or an ideology, no longer an impossible dream. This scripture is the agenda for the Kingdom of God TODAY. Does it sound like the agenda of the last church meeting you went to? Has it described your week?
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Where does Jesus get this immense sense of assurance from?
This young man Jesus has just spent forty days and more in the desert of the northern Aravah region, probably the most rigorous possible act of spiritual discernment. He has been held, marinated, in God’s loving presence
in ways that we only sniff from time to time. He has returned from prayer and fasting having lost probably a third of his body weight. He has discerned god from Satan, discerned power from service, sifted PR from proclamation, sifted welfare from healing, sifted church-agenda from the reign of God.
Do you sift your agenda this rigorously? Did you think it impossible?
And now he stands beside us in this church, “in the power of the Holy Spirit” Luke records, with a read-out of the agenda of God.
At this ordination service, this passage is the crux of future church. For Jesus says, this is what it looks like when you live under the Reign of God in a contested world and a contested church.
Agenda Item 1 The Spirit of the Lord is on me
Item 2 Because he has anointed me, sent me,
3.To preach and proclaim
4 good news to the poor
5 freedom for the prisoners,
6 recovery of sight for the blind
7 To release the oppressed
8 Announce the year of the Lord’s favour,
9 Before he finishes, where the old text goes on to urge revenge on their enemies, Jesus conspicuously omits that part. The crowd don’t miss the omission, though we too would like to. It immediately gets the proud home crowd confused and upset.
What have we just heard?
I don’t want to concentrate on any one item just now (read books), but ask you to get your head around it. It is nothing less than this – Coming from the most disciplined desert discernment to the fullness of the spirit, this gospel of Jesus is the single clearest lens by which to read the entire Bible and act upon it.
The agenda is not:
Liturgically correct eucharists and ordinations, pretty meetings with tailored words, ancient histories with philosophical critique, powerless endless meetings, progressive speculations sparring with conservative ethics, the security of our institutions around a hierarchy of clergy and councils, etc.. Wait, I know our agenda looks like all that and more besides. Sorry to have to say it, but these ways are wrong and do wrong even in the church.
We simply must change, must sift, reject these terribly interesting but false influences that are all unsustainable luxuries. Jesus would later say to his followers. “Beware of the influence of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matt 16.6).” I think we have been too nice to be wary and been sucked in badly by both.
The agenda is:
· Have we been Spirit-led and spirit filled? Or following good ideas that are not God’s-ideas? Or are we proud of our minds? Or of our passion?
· Are we being desert-formed, discomforted from the primacy of wealth, peace-making where peace needs to be made?
· Are we spiritually assured of your calling (and then throwing your whole self at it)? Or are we just another organisation?
· Did we share the good news of God’s reign this week? (including, remove all the obstacles that silence us, address all the fears that freeze us over, tackle the media that drown the good news in compost.)
· Did we hang out with the poor, (building relationships of oneness there)? Or did we consult on the “issues”, talk about the “marginalisation” and read books on “best practise”.
· Did we go down to the jail to visit the broken, OR go make a nuisance of yourself in our underwear with the officials (release the oppressed on Manus Island) saying Love Makes a Way?
· Against the bias in our commerce and culture, how can we relocate ourselves to the social scrapheap of our market towns? (Go find the blind and lame and disabled and different and make sure that they know, in their raw vulnerability, that they have place and a purpose among us. OR, as I used to do, do we drive by too scared to stop.
Those of us who are doing Ok just don’t realise how oppressed others can be, how quickly the tide of oppression is rising, and therefore how nasty we are if we remain silent with the volume up in our shiny privileges. That’s why Jesus says ‘go’ looking, connect, live as a gospel community and proclaim the Jesus way.
This is not left wing nor right wing but forwards into all the world. He says it starts today, not tomorrow.
What about today?
a.This agenda is the single clearest lens by which to read the actions of any group we work with.
b. You can know whether you do it or not. These are our KPI’s.
c. Other people maintain other agenda and, be warned, if you insist on this agenda you will scare their budgies. Jesus speaks about such blessed conflict. But remember this – In the painful contest of ideas, as Desmond Tutu said, THIS is the winning side.
d. Another beautiful thing about this agenda – it is not too heavy for us. Not just for radical types or clergy types or idealistic types or any other types. You are not being handed a ticket to conform or to be a soloist, a hero.
e. That is because, lastly, there are varieties of humble ways to do all this, so let’s hear it again:
· The Spirit is on me – that sounds like the charismatics
· anointed me – now he sounds Pentecostal
· To proclaim good news to the poor – there’s the good old evangelicals
· freedom for the prisoners – there’s the social justice workers
· recovery of sight for the blind – there’s the global healing ministry both medical and miracle
· To release the oppressed and announce the year of the Lord’s favour – that’s a prophetic ministry, maybe exorcism, maybe public theologians who announce with hope to the rich that there is a better way.
There. We all have a place whether you like them or not. We are all sent out into all the world with a gospel to proclaim. We simply start doing it somewhere somehow anyhow anywhere with whomever whenever in the Spirit of Jesus. We don’t have the time and don’t have the money and yet we are sent forwards with this agenda.
There. I hope I have upset everyone by now, just as Jesus did on that day in Nazareth. If Jesus is the fullness of God who in the fullness of God’s Holy Spirit says that this is our list of KPI’s, then how can we not make sure that our meeting agenda looks like this, our diary looks like this, our Christmas newsletter, our radio interviews, and our Facebook posts. (Probably not twitter feeds – they don’t look like anything. J)
f. To continue with the analogy, if we do not have this lens we lose focus. If your church has lost its way it is because it has lost this lens, and made much of other things that are way too tame. Tame predictability is ‘the wide road that leads to destruction’.
My bones burn with hope at what the Jesus-movement could achieve now. In the sad and sandy slippage of the mainstream churches, I am excited to be alive right now. Why? The only way left to go is up. After death comes the resurrection and that promises to be a fun rollercoaster!
Among all the things we cannot know and cannot do, cannot understand and feel frustrated by, our leadership and our servanthood is that TODAY we are the community where God reigns. We have tried to be the church but our clear calling is to be Jesus.
Let’s give up trying to be church and be Jesus together. Church will then look after itself, as it always has. Truly, deeply, simply, clearly this village synagogue tells us how.
If you have been standing next to me to peer across Nazareth’s back fence, and if you have heard this word of the gospel, and if you want to push aside all other edifices and the agenda of church as institution, why not stand with me in prayer. If you have never prayed a prayer like this before, you can see me afterwards for some post-operative care.
A PRAYER IF YOU DARE:
Lord Jesus Christ, send us out today in the power of the Spirit to fulfil our part in your agenda. In every today, throw us open whenever and wherever we construct some other edifice.
In the love and way and beauty of Christ, Amen.