Hello again! I felt really challenged and inspired by this morning’s service led by our minister Tim Boocock. We sang songs of worship to start the service. The readings were from Exodus, where the plight of the Israelites under the new Egyptian Pharaoh had worsened and they were treated as slaves. The gospel reading was Peter’s recognition of Jesus as the Son of God at Caesarea Philippi. He started the sermon with an illustration that his mother had been a cheap date and never short of suitors. Why you might ask? Well her father owned a cinema and she had a free pass to the cinema! Tim described the first film he had seen in the cinema, which was ‘Star Wars’. His favourite character was Jedi Master Yoda. He said too that an increasing number of people who prefer to put Jedi rather than any traditional faith as their religion. We laughed but he made us think when he said that they do not see traditional faiths as relevant to their lives as the message of good defeating evil seen clearly in ‘Star Wars’.
Tim set the reading in context. Caesarea Philippi was built using forced labour and massive taxation. It was an occupied territory ruled by a brutal regime by a Caesar who saw himself as Son of the living God and was venerated as such. Peter understood that Jesus had that authority of the Son of the living God; not that he really at that stage realised what the reality of that would be for Jesus and for him and the other disciples. The gates of hell or Hades were the entrance to underground caves in Caesarea Philippi which people believed gave access to the underworld. Jesus was referring to the powerful destructive reality of the Roman Empire. Jesus wanted to start a ‘church’ or a new group, an alternative political structure in a place where empire building was the key. Tim suggested that young people had left the church as they saw it as irrelevant; not having anything worth saying in today’s world. After all we are the church of the empire and we find it difficult to see ourselves as the church proclaiming a different message from our empire.
Empires are after all addicted to violence, perpetuating warfare to gain control and power; war seems unreal to us so far removed from its consequences as we are not victims or civilians of the countries fought over. An empire is also addicted to wealth, Tim suggests; seeing wealth as power. We have advertising targeting us all with what we must have but don’t need; the only way for growth is for us to spend and get more things we do not need to preserve the wealth mostly of the few. We are not to be content with our needs being met and we are all implicated in this, but we are all encouraged to be consumers at the expense of others.
Should our church not be taking a stand as peacemakers? Are we not supporting violence and death, albeit not openly but by not directly challenging this need for power and control which our empire past has ingrained in us? Are we too addicted to wealth as a church that we cannot challenge such values and stand for the values Jesus introduced to his disciples?
Are we really here to provide all the answers to life’s questions? Tim does not think so. We are rather called to try and build communities where different answers are made possible. He suggests that we start by building the church as an alternative community shaped by different values and set in conflict with all that worships power, violence and greed.
We are in modern day Star Wars as we have the nearby airbase, a listening station as part of a worldwide network of such bases. The knowledge they gain gives them power and often control of others. How are we as a church to respond? Peter’s insight was given to him; Jesus acknowledged and was not what he had found out for himself.
We are an information seeking society, phone hacking, or the best listening technology; the latest scandals of the News of the World journalists reflect this. They can never have enough information and yet they cannot know everything; some insights are given to those who seek and are receptive to what they receive.
We too are in a time of greed, the bankers’ bonuses and gambling which led to the present crisis; the MP’s expenses scandal and the greed of those looting reflect a selfish society bent on consumption. How do we as Christians learn to live with less, meeting our needs, and supporting the broken and vulnerable of our society? How do we challenge the values of the world for wealth and power and truly follow the Jesus revealed through the gospels? As Tim concluded; we are called to build the church in strange and difficult times, may God give us the grace and wisdom to build on firm foundations?