This week I tackled Robin Hood (and frankly it doesn’t matter which version – they’re all romances of one sort or another). Quite useful to check out the interview with Russell Crowe which can be located on youtube. We used some of it in the service – well would have if the technology had behaved. What follows are the notes that were handed out yesterday morning…an MP3 of the message as preached can be accessed on our church website a bit later in the week [www.fhpc.church.org.nz].
Matthew 25.31-46; Isaiah 58.6-7, 9b-10
Trudging the suburban streets of Hamilton (in 1962) with a big tin in my hands and a bag of pamphlets, a sticker on my jacket proclaiming me to be an official CORSO collector; mastering my embarrassment at knocking on strangers’ door and asking for donations for people in refugee camps in East Europe, India, Africa and Asia who couldn’t look after themselves; hearing afterwards that though I did better collecting in a state house area than my school mates did in one the posher suburbs we still didn’t collect a whole lot; it made me wonder…maybe they’d respond better if we sent Robin Hood in to “help” them give more generously. I was part of a Hamilton Boys’ High School group, never occurred to me that my church might have any interest in feeding the poor, or even that God was concerned about the nobodies at the bottom of the heap.
God has called together a group of people who make Robin Hood irrelevant! He’s been at it for a very long time, because He has a prior concern for anyone who is doing well in life…the poor, the weak, the alien, the estranged, the resourceless, the fragile. This is shows in two key verses. One is a very old passage from the prophecies of Isaiah and the other is still quite old but is something Jesus taught in the context of telling and terrifying parable.
Through Isaiah’s words God is attacking the emphasis on religious practices that His people have used an excuse to not concern themselves with what God wants – listen to the sharpness of His words:
Isaiah 58:6-7. 9b-10. He expresses His disgust at their fasting and their self-righteous piety. [1-5, 9b] He calls them to a higher standard of spiritual obedience in caring for the oppressed, the hungry, the homeless, alienated, the naked. This message is repeated by Isaiah in chapter 61 and by various prophets including Micah [6.8 He has shown what is good…act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God].
Then just when a new religion seems about to flourish Jesus spoils it by repeating the same message in an alarming parable of judgement: Matthew 25.31-46. Who are the sheep? Who are the goats? The sheep are the favoured ones and the goats the rejected; they are divided around their obedience to the same standard – with an alarming kick. As much as you did it for the least significant people you did it for – Jesus. His message is that person you served in extreme need was me. Reasonably those favoured and those rejected both say when did we do anything for you Lord – when was that? I don’t remember doing that? I would have remembered that face.
You don’t have to go out and coerce people to share their obscene wealth with the poor ( the communist experiment failed because it had to be enforced – brutally). Conversion of our hearts first to Jesus and then to His heart’s manifest concern begins a revolution just as it did when the Spirit jolted a bunch of fearful reactionaries into a lively community of demonstrated love and generosity that spread their message across the face of their world and ours too. Do you hear the voice of God and of His Son, the prompting of His Spirit calling you to join the revolution of love?