Saturday, July 4, 2015

Pentecost 6: Riding the Roller Coaster of Faith (Proper 14B 5 July 2015)

RCL Proper 14B
5 July 2015

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Riding the Roller Coaster of Faith

Click here to listen to the Sermon as preached at the 10.00 a.m. Eucharist on Sunday the 5th of July.   
      Summer has come with some vigour to Metro Vancouver and our Province.  Our temperatures are reaching new heights, our water reservoirs are reaching new lows and our electric bills are rising as we turn on fans and air conditioners.  Some people seek refuge on the Gulf Islands or the Sunshine Coast, while other folks close the blinds and wait for the relative cool of the evenings.
         It’s also the season when the PNE is open in full swing.  Despite the high temperatures young people and some older folk will find parking or take public transport to enter the park and enjoy its many pleasures and thrills.  For some families it is a ritual of summer to spend at least one day down on Hastings Street and challenge each other to new and more death-defying rides.
         This past Thursday The National on CBC aired a story about why it is that the ridership of most thrill-seeking carnival rides falls within a younger demographic.  It seems that there are physiological and cognitive reasons why young people enjoy such rides and older people prefer to watch from the shade.  I think back to our family’s trips to Disney World and Disney Land.  Owen, the youngest, was the most disappointed at not being allowed on several adventurous rides because he was below the height requirement.
         Carnival rides make use of two physical forces to thrill us.  One force is centripetal force, the force that presses you down into your seat as the roller coaster reaches the bottom of one of its dips.  The other force is centrifugal force, the force that tries to fling you from the roller coaster or one of the spinning-rides so common at amusement parks.  Centripetal force draws us to the centre, while centrifugal force throws us away from it.
         In the First and Second Books of Samuel we hear stories told of the desire of the people of Israel to find a centre that will unite them against the many nations that threaten the survival of the people.  Even though the people have the common experience of the Exodus, have the gift of the Law and are guided by prophets, including Samuel, they want the powerful symbol of a king.  In one memorable passage Samuel warns the people that a king will exert centripetal force on them, drawing resources, whether these be crops, money or people, to serve the centre.  Despite the warning the people get Saul and, when Saul fails, David comes onto the stage to take the reins of power.
         In today’s reading from Second Samuel we hear how David becomes king of the northern tribes of Israel as well as the southern tribes of Judah.  He needs a unifying symbol to unite the two factions and he sets his sights on Jerusalem, an ancient city located in neutral territory.  Jerusalem falls to David and his army and becomes the physical centre of the whole people, north and south.  Under Solomon the first Temple will be built and poems such as Psalm 48 which we recited today will be written to praise the city as the sign of God’s abiding presence with the people.
         We all need a centre, a nucleus which provides us with identity and continuity.  It’s why cities have city halls, why provinces and countries have capital cities and why religious movements such as ours have places of worship.  These centres become symbols of who we are, what we value and what we believe our role is in society.
         But the danger of powerful centres is that they can become physical, intellectual and spiritual ‘black holes’.  They exercise such power over us that we expend more and more of our resources to ensure their survival.  For some Jews Jerusalem became such a powerful symbol of God’s favour that they neglected to hear the message of the prophets that called the people to be a light for all peoples.  Even today the energies of many Christian leaders, whether lay or ordained, are used to identify ways of sustaining the structures and physical assets that we have accumulated over two thousand years.
         It is appropriate that today we hear of the centrifugal force of faith.  Although it might have been tempting to hang around Jesus, to enjoy his message and be astounded by his many acts of healing, the first disciples are not permitted to do so.  Jesus flings them out, two by two, to reach out to the villages and towns of Palestine, preaching the good news and healing those who are in physical and spiritual need.
         Time and time again prophets have arisen to remind the Christian people that their primary vocation is the proclamation of the good news of God in Christ beyond the walls of our sacred centres.  As I have said before here at Saint Faith’s and in many other places, it is worth noticing that the last words of the liturgy are those of the deacon who sends us forth in order to do what we have been called to do.
         Please do not misunderstand me.  Human beings need centres which help us understand ourselves and which, from time to time, rightfully serve as places of refuge, reflection and relief.  We are right to exercise care of the many assets our ancestors in the faith have bequeathed to us.  But these beautiful centres, these places of refuge, reflection and relief, are not the purpose of our movement.  They are the hubs of spinning merry-go-rounds which we hold onto until we are confident enough to let go and to be flung into the hurley-burley of life.

         To choose to be a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth is to share in the mission that God began in creation, revealed in Jesus and continues in the witness and ministry of Jesus’ disciples.  It is a roller coaster that sometimes pulls us back to the centre for renewal and then pushes us away to engage a world that hungers for the message we bear.  It is not a choice for the faint-hearted nor is it a choice that favours the young over the old nor the old over the young.  It is the choice to dare to believe that there is another way of living, another way of loving, another way of being.  Who’s up for the ride?

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