Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Focussing on "Core Business": a sermon for All Saints' Day (Matthew 5: 1 - 12)

More and more, organisations of all sorts are encouraged to concentrate on their “core business” and to shed all sorts of “non-core” activities.  For example, a publishing company that may also own a winery, a chain of travel agencies and a few shopping centres may decide to sell off any of their non-publishing enterprises, so they can concentrate on doing their core business - publishing books and newspapers - well.

In this light, we know that some people criticise the churches for not concentrating on our “core business”.  At times, these people may include politicians, journalists, talk-back radio presenters, and even letter-to- the-editor writers in church newspapers.  The churches and their leaders are called names such as “politically-correct” and “bleeding hearts”.  It begs the question of what is the “core business” of the church ... the “core business” of the life of faith. 

There have been many attempts to state the “core business” of the life of faith.

              In the Hebrew Scriptures, the prophet Micah stated the “core business” of the life of faith as, “... what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

              There was an old Jewish story (a story I told in last week's sermon as well) about the Rabbi Hillel, who lived about a generation before the time of Jesus.  A Gentile made a bet with him:  “If you can teach me the whole of the Torah, the whole of the Law, while you stand on one leg, I will convert.”  Hillel thought for a few seconds, stood on one leg and replied:  “What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your … [neighbour].  That is the whole Torah.  All the rest is commentary.  Now go and study.”  (According to the story, the bloke converted.)

              In our gospel lesson last week, Jesus was asked what was the “core business” of the life of faith.  He replied:  “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it:  ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’  On these two commandments, hang all the law and the prophets.”

So then, I personally think that the politicians, journalists, and letter-to-the-editor writers who criticise the churches for ignoring our “core business” are actually annoyed at us because - at least in terms of our neighbour - we are sticking to our “core business” a bit too well for comfort:
              “doing justice” a bit too enthusiastically;
              “loving kindness” a bit too practically;
              “loving our neighbour as ourselves” with a bit too inclusive a definition of “neighbour” to suit the tastes of some people.
We are at least trying to be the “politically-correct” bleeding hearts that Jesus wants us to be.

And another classic set of statements of the “core business” of the life of faith is the cluster of statements of blessing spoken by Jesus in today’s gospel lesson.  In these statements, an odd assortment of people are seen as being particularly blessed by God:
              the meek, the merciful, and the mourners;
              the persecuted and the peacemakers;
              those who, even if they are not financially poor, identify with the poor in their attitudes and values;
              those who hunger and thirst for justice in the world’s life;
              those whose commitment to the inbreaking of God’s kingdom of peace, justice, and mercy is so single-minded as to appear to the cynic to be naively innocent.

While they may appear to the movers and shakers of our culture to be slightly comical “losers”, these are called particularly blest by Jesus.

On All Saints’ Day, we give thanks to God for all those who have lived their lives in Christ’s light:
              centuries ago and recently,
              far away and in our midst,
              acclaimed and unknown;
and have demonstrated to us all the impact of lives focussed upon the “core business” of God’s kingdom.

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Constructive comments, from a diversity of viewpoints, are always welcome. I reserve the right to choose which comments will be printed. I'm happy to post opinions differing from mine. Courtesy, an ecumenical attitude, and a willingness to give your name always help. A sense of humour is a definite "plus", as well.