You have heard

Service Sheet for 120217 CommissioningYes, we have heard. So many Christians have heard. Sadly, sometimes the hearing only happens among ourselves.

Today, Sunday 12th February 2017, we have heard again, in Matthew chapter 5, some of the teaching from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. We have heard it today in the context of a refreshed call to ministry, which offers us all an opportunity to re-discover our calling as a people of God, a people who follow Jesus.

At this commissioning of Liam and Richard as University Chaplains and members of the Epping Ministry team, we also receive a call to us. It is our commissioning too, with them. And this is what we need to discover:

1. Our need to interpret the faith with each new generation. Tertiary students are exposed to all kinds of knowledge. Some nurturers of faith seem to believe that whilst knowledge is gleaned in the field of choice, one’s faith must remain as an unchallenged bulwark of certainty in an uncertain world. And so, often a militant, almost exclusive kind of faith can be encouraged in the tertiary setting, by those charged with ‘keeping the faith.’ Jesus demonstrates what Liam and Richard, and others here today try to do: to remain open to the dynamic movement of God’s Spirit in each new situation and with each new generation – some who may be encountering Jesus Christ for the first time.

2. We have a commission to choose life over death. A passage which some Christians will have read from Scripture last week and today is Deuteronomy 13. It includes the words (v.19): I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death. In many areas of its life, the Church universal and the Uniting Church in Australia, has to face institutional death. Some make the sad mistake of tying their future to particular institutional forms of faith. We can see the consequences of that in congregations and agencies that are resigned to death. We also, despairingly discover how institutions of death will try to hide from the light of Christ – and who have betrayed that light by acts of abuse in darkness, bringing death and despair to those who could have been nurtured in faith, hope and love.

3. We have a commission to embrace the self-transcending love of Jesus Christ. “You have heard that it was said …. but I say to you” is Jesus saying, the law is valuable, but you can surpass it. The Pharisees (Matthew 5: 20) are righteous, but you must do better.

Now I’ve known people who’ve become even more guilt-ridden and passive in their faith by thinking that the seeming impossible demands of Jesus, in what’s called the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), form some kind of scary divine “gotcha” moment, where you are forever captured by sin and psychological enslavement. No, when Jesus invites you to surpass the law and to do better than the Pharisees, he is giving you a great gift. You can do this, because I will be with you, he promises, in that great commission to go into all the world (Matthew 28).

How? By accepting that we live only by grace: by a faith, a hope and a love that is greater than our individual accomplishments or achievements in life. A faith, a hope and a love that resides in living communities of disciples, not brave, lone individuals carving out the path of faith on their own; and not sad, dependent individuals who put themselves in the hands of despots who will tell them what to believe, what to say and what to do. Jesus claims to fulfill the law, not to overthrow it. And the fulfillment comes through an embrace of the impossibly wonderful grace of God.