Sermon 17 Sep 2017 by Rev. Michael Hydes
My Husband said to me, “How do you like the idea of a little role play?”
I said, “Ok yeah. What do you suggest?” Police officer, doctor, secret service agent, fire fighter.
Ooooh! I said, I can be in distress, and you can be the hunky fire fighter that comes to my rescue – that sounds like fun!
Fun? I was stuck up that tree dressed as a cat for hours.
Are you a firefighter or pussycat?
If we are the hands and feet of Christ then surely we are firefighters?
When someone was in trouble Jesus never hesitated to leap to their aid, no matter what the danger.
Visiting his home town of Nazareth he was in danger of being thrown off a cliff, but that didn’t stop him going.
When he healed on the Sabbath they might have stoned him to death for breaking the Sabbath law, but that didn’t stop him healing.
He preached the good news of the Kingdom, even though the scribes and pharisees plotted against him. It didn’t stop him.
He brought his friend Lazarus back from the dead, even though he knew that if he caused a stir around festival time that the Romans might see him as a troublemaker and send him to the cross.
Jesus never shied away from a fire if someone could be saved.
Saint Teresa of Avilla said:
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
Jesus was a firefighter, so – if we are his hands and feet then we are firefighters too. What is it Paul says to the Ephesians, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
Except, when I was growing up in my church I wasn’t taught how to be a firefighter. I was taught how to dress as a cat and hide in a tree.
Not literately. Jehovah’s witnesses don’t generally dress as furry animals and hide in trees. Well, some might, but what I mean is that I was taught to hide who I was and pretend to be someone I wasn’t.
When I was a young I had my life all planned out for me. I was going to marry a nice girl. Have a family. Knock on doors with my Watchtower and Awake magazines.
I was going to do the right thing. Make my parents proud. I’d have to keep up an act my whole life – make everybody happy by pretending to be straight.
But I managed it for years!
I made a good name for myself. I was a missionary – regularly out knocking on doors. I looked all Godly and spiritual in my shirt and tie, and I worked very hard to keep up that act.
I’d been taught that these were the things that pleased God, and as long as I wore the disguise, kept up the act, then God would be happy with me. And my mum and dad would be happy with me. And my family, my friends, and the church would be happy with me. Everybody happy, except me. Because it’s horrible, pretending all the time. It’s like living in the fire of hell.
But then Jesus stepped into the flames with me, took me by the hand, and led me out. He showed me that I don’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not, that God loves me just the way I am. The real me, Gay me, is enough. More than that, it’s who God created me to be, and who God wants me to be.
And suddenly I understood what the Apostle Paul was talking about in Philippians 3:4-9 when he talks about the old life he had before he met Jesus.
He said: If anyone has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more. circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
I wasn’t just born into a Godly family, I worked hard at living a Godly life. I worked hard to please God, my parents, my family, my friends. worked hard to live a righteous life.
And then in verse 7 he says ….
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.
Paul used to think you had to work hard to be a righteous person, but actually righteousness isn’t something you can work for, it’s a gift from God. Everything he’d thought was so important became meaningless when he met Jesus.
Once Paul had been saved it’s no surprise that he wanted to share his good news with as many people as he could.
His work with his churches became vitally important to him. In fact it became his life’s work.
It’s also why church is so important to me. The Good news of the Kingdom is not, as I was taught, “believe in Jesus and behave yourself or you’ll go to hell”. The Good news is that God loves you. End of story. No caveat. Whatever your sexuality or gender expression, -God made you that way – to live that way. What one person calls a sin is actually God’s Holy plan for your life! That’s the good news! The bad news is that sometimes we have to go through a little fire before we believe it.
One of my favourite gay stories in the bible is the story of Shadrach, Meshak, and Abednego. – You did know it was a gay story? I think it’s one of the gayest.
Set the scene: In Daniel 1:9 we read that God allowed Daniel to receive favour and compassion from the palace master, Ashpenaz. Well, that’s what we read in the NRSV version. However, that’s not what we read in the King James and BRG versions of the Bible. There we read Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs.
God caused the highest court official to fall in love with Daniel. And the Orthodox Jewish Bible backs this up. There we read that G-d had brought Daniel into chesed and sympathy with the chief of the eunuchs.
The Hebrew Chesed doesn’t have an English equivalent. Chesed in the intimate kindness that comes from a deep and abiding love. It’s used when talking about the way someone treats their lover, and the love that God has for the people of Israel. It’s wonderfully intimate, and comes from deep in the heart.
And Shadrach, Meshak, and Abednego, according to Daniel 1:4 they were three boys that were chosen to serve in the palace. Why were they chosen? Because they were good looking and quick to learn. They were chosen because they were pretty and they were clever. And where did they live? Daniel had a house near Ashpenaz the chief eunuch in the palace grounds, and Shadrach, Meshak, and Abednego lived with him. The four of them lived together, and Daniel was the beloved of the chief eunuch. Tell me that’s not a gay story.
But the whole point of the story is that they all loved God and God loved them. So much so that when Shadrach, Meshak, and Abednego get thrown into the fire it’s Jesus himself who joins them in the furnace and saves them. The king sees it happen, he says there’s a man walking around in the flames with the likeness of a God . The only person I know of that would fit that description would be Jesus.
Shadrach, Meshak, and Abednego weren’t seasoned warriors, or religious leaders, they were pretty boys with a faith so strong they held firm even though it meant facing the fire.
They remind me a little of Moses. When Moses was in the dessert he saw a bush on fire. You remember the story? Now, when you’re in dry scrub land, looking after someone else’s sheep, and you see a fire, what do you do? You run. You herd your sheep and you get out fast. Scrub fire travels fast and unless you get out fast you might not only lose the herd, you might lose your own life.
But Moses heads towards the fire, towards the flames, and finds God there.
Then, after just a few short years, and ten plagues later, Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt. God leads moses with a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night. Straight to the edge of the red sea. Impassable water ahead, a very angry Pharoah leading Egypt’s army behind. Moses has followed the fire. Imagine that moment when Moses thought “If I’d stayed away from that burning bush I’d still be on the hills looking after Jethro’s Sheep, not here in this mess”. and then God parted the waters and they all walked through the sea to their freedom.
Sometimes God leads us to the fire, sometimes God is with us in the fire, and sometimes God leads us out of the fire.
We create church so that we can be reminded, every week, that we are not in the fires of life alone. We walk in them together, with Jesus, – just as Shadrach, Meshak, and Abednego did. With God, just as Moses did. Just as God was with them Jesus is in each of us. When you are by my side, Jesus is with me. That’s why church is so important to me. It’s why it was so important to Paul.
As a church our job is to fight life’s fires. When we see the fires of discrimination, we walk towards them. When we see the fires of injustice, we walk towards them. When we see the fires of oppression, and pain, and lies – it is with our feet that Jesus walks into the flames, and with our hands that Jesus reaches out to save.
You are not a cat stuck up a tree. Maybe like me, or Paul, you once were , but not now. With Jesus by you, with Jesus with you, with your church, -you-, you are a holy fire fighter.