Lovers in a Dangerous Time – Gary’s Final Sermon

 (this better be good!)

Luke 16.1-13 . Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

So I thought – on my last Sunday with you all – that I would like to do three things. To speak from the heart about my time with this wonderful and inspiring congregation; to speak about creation season and water … and if I was really clever… to be able to weave the texts of the bible into a lovely knitted message , a ‘what have we discovered together?’ inspirational note. But then I looked at the text … we cannot always get what we wish for!
We’ve spoken through creation season about the Prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah is a lover – with anguished tears as he laments the (very literal) ending of a world. We have identified modern prophets who are like Jeremiah – those who speak truth to power, who with both wisdom and innocence critique the political and economic systems which eventually wreak destruction – both human and environmental, (‘squandering’ the gospel says). And maybe we have tasted something of the radical – truly radical – nature of Jeremiahs art – his dreams, his passion and his tears..

As a prophet Jeremiah offers both critique and new imaginations… to open choices before people.. to suggest possibilities; The prophet wrestles and yearns, can the world be transformed, fairer, compassionate?

And we have seen how Jesus echoes Jeremiah’s difficult and challenging words.. how Jesus is also flamboyant with language, uses almost over-the top images to make a dramatic point, ‘logs in eyes’ ‘hating of family’ ‘runaway sheep and runaway children’ etc

And here today, Jesus is insisting on something like passionate integrity. Because Jesus also is a lover; the love of God and love of others is before everything else. In this most complex reading he summarises – “you cannot serve two masters”.. He speaks of “God and wealth”, we may translate that today as ‘our own interests, or the interests of ‘the other’. (Levinas) the foundation of relationship. He’s uncompromising.

Which brings me, at this point of change – this fork in the road – to try to reflect about this church; ‘what have I learned here as curate, what insights have we shared as a congregation? What stories have we told?

Working for the first couple of years with Vincent was a wonderful opportunity to explore ‘the edges’. Vincent and I discovered in each other similar gifts, passions and perspectives… and I found the encouragement to work with this church, with the community, with café and with the school ways to bring fresh perspectives to the place of faith and religion. I’ve gained a huge amount from Mark too, as I’ve considered the unique role of chaplaincy as a means of ‘being with’ our community. And through the last year I’ve had the opportunity to be your pastor, your companion.

“Religious people *, the “people of God,” the people of the impossible, impassioned by a love that leaves them restless and unhinged, panting like the deer for running streams, as the psalmist says (Ps. 42:1), are impossible people. In every sense of the word. If, on any given day, you go into the {deprived} neighborhoods of the inner cities of most large urban centers, the people you will find there serving the poor and needy, expending their lives and considerable talents attending to the least among us, will almost certainly be religious people — evangelicals and Pentecostalists, social workers with deeply held religious convictions, Christian, Jewish, Islamic, [Hindu and Sikh], men and women, priests and nuns, black and white. They are the better angels of our nature. They are down in the trenches, out on the streets, serving the widow, the orphan, and the stranger, while the critics of religion are sleeping in on Sunday mornings. That is because religious people are lovers; they love God, with whom all things are possible. They are hyper-realists, in love with the impossible, and they will not rest until the impossible happens, which is impossible, so they get very little rest.            John D. Caputo, On Religion

Religion is about the impossible… don’t get me wrong… that’s not to dismiss it. But really – why are we hear this Sunday morning? What draws us to enter this non-sensical world? Is it something of that wild, extravagant love, to hope against hope? This is the fluidity of the kingdom of God; pouring into our present – though not yet here.

Through creation season – as lovers – we seek to feel in our own flesh the wounds inflicted on the planet, the squandering of our responsibility, (as Luke tells us). And today, we give an – admittedly slight – focus on water. Water is the basis of our life – our shared life. Water is basic, primal – it tells us whats going on. We think about the burden of both life and exploitation carried by the oceans… and carried by all creatures (as Lauren said on friday).  To imagine steering a course away from environmental destruction seems impossible, yet on the streets on friday such lovers carried both our sense of grief and desire; and turned them into hope.
Water also speaks of mystery. At Fireside we were amazed to discover that 5% (3%) of the oceans have been explored. Water speaks of depth and desire stirred by such! The love of God – Like water – is fluid, refreshing, wild and beyond taming. Water fills the holes in our paths, the wounds in our lives, and ‘composes rivers’ in unexpected places – making space for misfits and poets, the wounded and the lovers.

For me that word ‘desire’ was helpful in my return into all things Christian as I embraced questions more than certainty, and experience more than knowledge.

More passionate that simply ‘love’, I recognised that desire encompasses the struggle, the doubt and the glinting shafts of light which occasionally descend upon us… to desire is to wrestle… not to simply sit in satisfied complacency. To love is to struggle with the complexities of the world, to acknowledge pain, to be realistic and to hunger for the insistence of hope… and maybe hope – bruised and breathless – is what we discover each day?

And therein lies a deeper question; is it our desire for God – or God’s desire for us? (or a dance between both?)
And this is where I want to end, or to pause and a breath… As I hold close to my heart the three years I have spent with you all, I thank G-d for our shared passion, and offer you encouragement for the future. On behalf of Rachel and all our family I want to say a huge thank you for the love you have given us.

This church and community is a beacon.. It speaks realistically, acts with passion, it is imaginative, creative and not afraid of risk! It is inclusive, welcoming, makes space for diversity. It blurs the boundaries between in and out. It makes hope real. Makes the impossible – possible. It is small, local and inspiring. This church carries so many gifts in so many hands – hands which greet and welcome, hands which pray or make coffee; hands which write theology papers, hands which nurture our children, hands which edit Newt, attend the PCC and look after the sound desk; hands which hold others, and some which simply be.

And at our heart we focus all our activity around this holy mystery – the sacrament which affirms divine love embracing and weaving through the story of humanity and our planet.

Maybe we are here – maybe I am here – because we are compelled by the impossible, the desire of God. The message of Jesus is the challenge of love, the wisdom of compassion, the non-sense of sacrifice, cycles of death and resurrection. It doesn’t make sense – it doesn’t make a profit – it doesn’t build empires – it doesn’t make problems simply go away. Instead it inspires our desire, passion, love, ridiculousness, and the point of doing something because it truly refreshes our lives with like water;

Love, Like Water by Julia Copus
Tumbling from some far-flung cloud
into your bathroom alone, to sleeve
a toe, five toes, a metatarsal arch,
it does its best to feign indifference
to the body, but will go on creeping
up to the neck till its reading the skin
like Braille, though you’re certain it sees
under the surface of things and knows
the routes your nerves take as they branch
from the mind, which lately has been curling
in on itself like the spine of a dog
as it circles a patch of ground to sleep.
Now through the dappled window,
propped open slightly for the heat,
a light rain is composing
the lake it falls into, the way a lover’s hand
composes the body it touches – Love,
like water!  How it gives and gives,
wearing the deepest of grooves in our sides
and filling them up again, ever so gently
wounding us, making us whole.
God bless you my dear friends…

may God hold you, inspire you, refresh and allure you; and when we need it – may Christ kiss our fevered brows.



Picture Credit. Photo by Viktor Jakovlev on Unsplash