Romans 10 : 5-15 Luke 4 : 1-13 Sermon

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1 Romans 10 : 5-15 Luke 4 : 1-13 Sermon Today is something of a landmark day for me, and perhaps also for us as a congregation. For today 14 th February 2016, marks exactly 15 years since I started working as your minister in Geneva. My work permit began on the 14 of February 2001, back when I had three children at home and considerably more hair on my head! The fact that it is also my last Sunday here as your minister seems like enough to justify me being is a bit of a reflective mood. I can reflect of course on my own experience here which has been enormously enriching, not always easy, but rarely dull. Roberta and I will move on older but wiser and with many memories which will sustain us. Certainly, as always in life, there have been times of celebration, times of laughter and times of sadness. That line from Bob Marley keeps coming into my head, the one where he speaks about good friends we ve had and good friends we ve lost, along the way. I recognise that I have been privileged to share much of that with many of you. But more significantly this morning I want to reflect on what our congregation has been doing, and what it might be doing moving forward. We have been blessed here with many good people who have come and made their contribution to the community, some of whom have been here rather a long time, some of whom are rather new and others of whom have come in and moved on all too quickly. And we have been blessed to have been able to maintain our witness to the faith and the values which have for so long have echoed around these historic walls. Yet we cannot avoid the fact that we have been doing this in a context which is increasingly difficult. Traditional churches like ours are shrinking faster than has ever happened before in this continent and I heard recently that there is now no Presbyterian Church anywhere in the world which is growing in numbers, not even in the places where we might once have assumed that was happening. And this change is taking place is a context where peace and harmony are not exactly increasing in other places either.

2 We cannot argue that the church is declining because the world no longer needs its message. Somehow our human race has created a situation where we do increasing and probably irreversible damage to the very planet we depend on for life, and for all our apparent intelligence we don t seem capable of finding forms of leadership that will enable us to do anything about it. Somehow our human race has created a situation where, rather than helping each other in ways that are mutually beneficial, many are caught up in war, as our nations put their best resources - not into improving life for us all but into finding very more effective ways to destroy life. Somehow our human race has created a situation where, rather than those with most helping those with least, the rich increase their wealth at record rates while the poor remain trapped in poverty, and part of the world suffers from eating too much while other parts suffer from having too little to eat. It is all so crazy and irrational that it is little wonder spiritual thinkers have taken seriously the pictures used in the New Testament of a devil going around stirring up mischief, tempting us to do what seems easy and selfish rather than what is good and rational. How could apparently logical and sensible people ever get into a mess like this on their own! So perhaps it sounds as if I am going to end my preaching here on a rather bleak note but no. Here is the key question. Given what we know of the world we live in and the challenges we face, can you think of any organisation on this planet which might just have within it the kind of message which might be needed to save the world? Can you think of any organisation on this planet which has consistently spoken of a different way of living together and has sought to demonstrate a different way of living together? Can you think of any organisation on this planet in which the greed which causes us to consume more and more of the earth s resources might be dampened by our learning to be content with what we have; in which the human pride which causes so much conflict can be dampened with a bit of honest humility; in which the fear which causes us to fight our enemies can be overcome with love.

3 I m not saying that the Christian church is the only organisation with the answers which the world needs. I cannot claim that through its history the Christian church has successfully demonstrated that it has the answers to the world s needs. But I would claim that the Christian church carries within it the seeds which can grow to change human hearts in such a way that the answers start to appear, and solutions start to look possible. For the teachings of Jesus Christ, and perhaps more importantly the example of Jesus Christ, still contains what we all so desperately need. What our congregation has been doing, through all of our very human clutter is to keep that seed alive and to give it room to grow. What our congregation will continue to do moving forward is to keep that seed alive and give it room to grow. Ivan Illich was an Austrian Philosopher and Catholic Priest who died in His writings have come to be increasingly influential, including words like these. He wrote that: Neither revolution nor reformation can ultimately change a society, rather you must tell a new powerful tale, one so persuasive that it sweeps away the old myths and becomes the preferred story, one so inclusive that it gathers all the bits of our past and our present into a coherent whole, one that even shines some light into the future so that we can take the next step forward. If you want to change a society, then you have to tell an alternative story. The old myths and the preferred stories of our culture tells us greed is natural and that buying things will make us feel better, and that causal relationships can meet our need to feel loved. They tell us that everything is temporary and that we need to look after ourselves before we care about anyone else and that strangers pose a threat and need to be kept at a safe distance. We know the sort of world these myths and stories create because we are living in it. Where can we find an alternative story which might lead to a better way? If the Christian church carries within it nothing else, it certainly has a powerful tale to share an alternative story to tell. Perhaps the church, like any human organisation, has often fallen into the temptation to tell easy stories, the kind that will be popular and will bring

4 the crowds in. But at its heart the church carries a story which offers such a different set of values and priorities, such a different way of thinking about ourselves and our neighbours such a different way of understanding our world and our place upon it; that it can sweep away the old myths which have been so destructive that it can gather our past and our present into a coherent whole, that it can shine some light into the future and show us the next steps that we need to take. It is the story of how love overcomes hatred, how hope overcomes fear, how forgiveness washes away guilt, how life triumphs over death. Of course this great story often gets smothered beneath a whole lot of nonsense that we impose upon it, but like a seed which might appear dormant or even dead, as long as the story remains there, it will keep popping up through the surface and reminding us of its existence, directing us to its deeper truths. We are called to have faith in that story, to keep it alive as we live it and proclaim it and share it; whether it is easy or not, whether it is popular or not, whether it is bring signs of success or not. For this is the story which offers us an alternative, which can change human lives, and change the world. That is a big message this morning but I want to say all of that. Firstly because I think or at least I hope, that is a bit of a summary of what we have been trying to do and to say here over the past 15 years when I have been your minister. Secondly because I want us all to remember that while a time of change can be a challenge, we have a purpose and a calling as a church which is bigger and more enduring than any single person who might come along to play a part in it for a while. And finally because I want you to be clear going forward that we are all part of something which is of the greatest importance, that what we are doing, even when church gets a bit dull and difficult and even boring, even when the people around us display their most irritating qualities, even when we might feel disappointed or let down, what we are doing is something which is of the greatest importance. So wherever we are, wherever we find ourselves, whoever we find ourselves with, let s not lose sight of the message which is so vast in its

5 scope, so generous in its inclusivity, so powerful in its ability to change the human heart and to change the world. 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13 For, Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. 14 But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15 And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!

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