Join in the dance


Pentecost 4   2014

Matthew 11:15-19, 25-28

Marian Free

Loving God, open us to the movement of your Holy Spirit in and among us. Amen.

I am not a Roman Catholic, but I don’t think that I am speaking out of turn when I say that Pope Francis is a very different style of Pope. His refusal to live in the Papal apartments is just one indication that he will not be like his predecessors. Added to that, Francis is a Jesuit. The vows that he made when he was professed and the fact that he is accountable to his order will make a difference to the way he lives out his papacy. That he comes from South America means that social justice issues will be a primary focus and we will observe other differences because he does not come from a European background. He will not look or behave like any other Pope.

What should our leaders look like? What sort of person do we expect them to be? How should they go about their lives? How do we think that they should exercise their authority? Do we want them to be “heros” – people who will carry us along in their wake or do we hope that they will be more collegial – people who will walk together with us? Do we want leaders who are distinct from ourselves or those whose lives are more like ours?

I suspect that one of the reasons that many people like the monarchy is that the Royal family (while not leaders in a real political sense) is somehow elevated and mysterious, part of a world that we cannot even aspire to. The same is true of the American presidents. To be elected they must first have sufficient wealth to campaign, and after they are elected they live in the White House, which while not a palace, does inspire a certain amount of awe.

At the other end of the scale, Australia is, or has been, an egalitarian society. Our Queen lives oceans away and our Prime Minister has nothing of the stature of the President of the United States. In Australia we have a suspicion of success and while we might show some deference towards those whom we chose to lead us, the last thing that we will allow is for them to “get above themselves”.

So the question as to our expectations is complicated. It depends on the role the leader is called to play, the culture of the nation in which they find themselves and many other factors besides. The issue becomes even more complicated when we begin to think about what we expect from our religious leaders – are they to be examples of holiness and purity or can we allow them the same frailties that we exhibit as part of our humanity. The tension is further exacerbated when we bring Jesus into the mix. Do we think of him as remote or familiar, more as a moral guardian or more as a friend? How do we want to think of him?

Jesus recognised this as a problem in his own time. In today’s gospel he names the tension. “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,

‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;

we wailed, and you did not mourn.’

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

As best we can tell, the nation of Israel was looking for a Saviour – someone to set them free, to lose the bonds imposed upon them by the Roman Empire. They were hoping for someone to rebuild the house of David and to restore their relationship with God. It is clear however that they were conflicted in this regard. Beyond the broad expectations named above, there does not seem to have been one consistent idea of what the Saviour would look like or how he would behave. Neither John nor Jesus conformed to the image that was in their mind.

To begin with, they were disconcerted by John’s piety and aestheticism. Not only did John condemn the behaviour of the people and the religious leaders, his radical lifestyle exposed their relative shallowness and made them uncomfortable. Few would have been willing to give up their personal comforts to follow in his footsteps and to adopt his way of life. Then Jesus came, but he also disconcerted them. He was too ordinary, and his lifestyle confronted them in a different way. Whereas John had tried to emulate the austerity of the prophets, Jesus’ behaviour was too wild and free for the establishment. Jesus’ behaviour didn’t match that expected of religious leaders, let alone of good Jews. If the religious leaders were looking for someone more relaxed than John, they weren’t looking for someone quite as relaxed as Jesus.

From the point of view of the religious leaders at least, neither John nor Jesus fitted the bill – the former was too serious and the latter too frivolous. One was too remote and the other too familiar. John exposed their unwillingness to reform their lives and Jesus revealed their inability to relax and enjoy life. Both John and Jesus made the establishment uncomfortable when they had expected a Saviour who would make them feel comfortable. Jesus found himself in a lose/lose situation. He knew that the religious leaders hadn’t responded to John and he could see that they weren’t responding to him. It didn’t seem that he had anywhere to go – the religious leaders didn’t want a funeral, but neither did they want a wedding. They didn’t want to mourn, but they certainly didn’t want to dance.

However, while the religious leaders may have had a problem in recognising Jesus the people did not. The people did not have minds that were clouded by ideas of what should and should not be. This meant that they were free to respond simply to whom Jesus was. Their openness to what could be, allowed them to see past the fact that Jesus did not conform. They could see Jesus for who he was. They were willing to be convinced by Jesus’ teaching and healing that he was indeed the one sent by God.

It is an important lesson for all of us – that we do not become blinded by our own ideas and understanding, but remain open to the presence of God in the most unlikely people and the most unlikely places. If we do not, we may find ourselves in the position of the first century leaders – unable to recognise Jesus when he is right in front of us.

Let us join in the dance and go wherever it might take us.


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One Response to “Join in the dance”

  1. Betty Dingle Says:

    Dear Marian,

    I found this sermon moving and helpful ,and forwarded it to Libby to see if she wished to send it to Katie…it seemed particularly timely to me.

    Libby’s words “gives a broader picture of our Faith, and shows a generosity of spirit and belief “

    Could not have put it better myself.!

    As always , thankyou Marian, and my love Betty


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