s001e01 Advent 1 Lockleys 2/12/01
"Love your neighbour as yourself." Romans 13:9
Recently there have been a number of television programs dealing with what may be described as "esoteric" religious phenomenon. The program about the Anglican Church of Yankalilla was re-run a couple of months ago. Then there was the program about the ghosts in Kapunda. I must admit when I was there - from 1984 to 1990 - I did not hear of anything unusual happening in the old Catholic orphanage. I had reasonably close contact with the Catholic community there. The local delicatessen owners - the Rawady brothers - were all devout Catholics and they would certainly have known if there was anything "going on" in the orphanage. They would have known just about everyone in the town, but there were no reports of anything then. Then Catherine saw the recent program of Mike Willasee about the lady with the stigmata a week or so ago. It was reported that she was able to communicate to others in different rooms while she was in a deep meditative state.
Let me say that I do recognise that unusual things do happen in this world. I really don't think that one can say that everything is predictable, even from a scientific point of view. The reality is that humanity, for all we can study and categorise behaviours, we all remain quite unpredictable - and I do not just mean those of the female gender :-) I have no doubt that individuals are able to do quite remarkable things with the mind. One only has to look at what contortionists can do with their bodies.
However I remain convinced that for all the manifold gifts and talents God gives to individuals, esoteric or mundane, all remain subservient to the law of love.
One only has to look around in this parish to see the remarkable gifts God has given to individuals. The musicians have gifts which truly amaze me. The suppleness of mind, voice and fingers, in harmony with those around them, is truly remarkable. There are others who have gifts of administration which are liberally used for the good of all. Others have a wonderful gift for encouraging others - of simply being gracious in all circumstances. Others have the gift of being able to be "up front", reading and leading worship. Even in the short period of time I have been here - the "networking" in this congregation is truly amazing. I have only to visit one person and others seem to know about it the very same day. It would defy all attempts to organise this - it just happens naturally and quietly - just as it should. There are people whose talent is quiet and prayerful support, and this is vital. Some people lament that this is an old congregation, yet the Bible tells us that God called Abraham at 90 ... The wisdom of the elderly is to be welcomed and honoured. But we also have our young people and their gift to us is to be enthusiastic and to be open to new ideas.
I love the phrase in the old BCP intercessions, "And to all thy people give thy heavenly grace; and especially to this congregation here present ..." (BCP p 242) While I know God loves all people equally - those who don't come to Church as well as those who do - it seems appropriate that those who come to Church and have to put up with my sermons - deserve, if nothing else, to be particularly remembered in the prayers, even if just in corporate terms.
So while all these gifts and talents being so clearly evident among the people here, it is important to affirm that we all are under the law of love. The law of love is that we recognise God in other people as well as ourselves. And of course, I recognise that I am saying nothing new to you here. Not only have you heard this before, but you have taken it to heart, and do try to live your lives this way already. Indeed, as I witnessed how the Vestry meeting last Sunday dealt with the agenda, it was abundantly clear that you each have your particular views, but they are expressed with charity, and with the recognition that others, quite validly, do think differently.
Now the object of the exercise is not that we be all matey-matey with everyone else here. All of us will find that we "get on" with some people here and not with others. That is normal and natural, and not of the nature of sin at all. But we still recognise that God has given gifts to other people and rejoice that this is so. We all recognise that no one person here has a monopoly on truth - no one person here keeps the show going - even me. Please, I don't want it ever to be me alone! The contribution that everyone makes is vital for the continuing existence of this congregation.
Now all of this has certain practical outcomes, the first of which is that the "success" or otherwise of this parish is not a function of the gifts and talents that a particular priest may or may not have. I obviously bring certain gifts and talents, and I hope that these are of assistance to individuals - that they realise God loves them and are encouraged to develop their talents too. But the primary command - to love - springs from your hearts. It is your desire to do God's will which is paramount.
For sometimes we look for things outside of ourselves to make us happy. If only so-and-so would do this or that, I would be happy. If only my husband didn't snore, I would be happy. If only my wife didn't nag! If only I won "cross-lotto" ... :-) We invest in other people the ability to make us happy or not. We give others power over ourselves - to determine whether we are happy or not. The reality is that we must love ourselves and find our own happiness for ourselves. Certainly it helps when we are in a supportive relationship and in a supportive community - but, in the end, no other person or community has the power to make any person happy - it comes from within us or not at all.
So often when Jesus talked to people, he said to them: "your faith has made you well". I never recall him saying: "my power has cured you". I am not here saying that if someone isn't relieved of their symptoms there is something wrong or deficient with their faith. But whatever healing and salvation might mean, it is more likely to be a function of how we look at ourselves rather than something that comes to us externally.
St Paul says: "Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light ..." (12) - so clearly we have a part to play. This might be thought of - as some might say - "a big ask", yet St Paul is not asking us to do anything really remarkable. It is possible to live honourably.
I actually believe that it is possible to live honourably and enjoy oneself at the same time. I, who thoroughly enjoy my claret, and with my weird sense of humour.
St Paul gives us three pairs of behaviours to avoid: In revelling and drunkenness - we see a lack of personal restraint being highlighted. Debauchery and licentiousness refer to a lack of respect for outside constraints. Quarrelling and jealousy refer to active antagonism towards other people.
I am not going to comment on the second or third of these injunctions, only on the first. For there seems to me to be a good deal of difference between enjoying the fruits of the earth and enjoying the ordinary fellowship of other people in a light-hearted way - which is quite different from indulging in behaviour which is personally demeaning. We are bidden to love ourselves - if only not to put ourselves down. And we can put ourselves down by indulging in revelry and drunkenness - as well as in excessive self denial.
From my experience it is impossible to make others act in ways we think "appropriate". Individuals choose to act in personally demeaning ways, without restraint or consideration for others, or actively opposing other people - and there is simply nothing we can do that will change them. On the "Anglicans Online" home page they talk about the various options of dealing with those who are anti-social - praying for - or bombing the Taliban - it is very difficult to know what is most effective.
We all have to fix our own lives first. We all have to choose to be happy, to enjoy our lives in the circumstances we find ourselves, and if we find ourselves in situations where we feel uncomfortable or put down - to walk away. Lot and his family were told to flee the bullies in Sodom - but the exercise of power over others is indeed beguiling and perhaps it was this that made Lot's wife looked back wistfully, to her own demise.
We end our snippet from St Paul with the words: "make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires" (14) and the most frequent desire of the flesh that I experience, is not in fact concerned with inappropriate sexual intimacy between people, but power one person tries to exercise over others.
"Salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers" - not because we are nearer to the end of our human existence, but because we begin to realise that God wills our happiness and the happiness of all others, and gives us everything to allow us and others to find happiness - to find personal happiness and happiness with all other people. Salvation is indeed near to us all, not because the abyss which God expects us to jump over is made plain or made manageable. No - salvation is near us - as we begin to realise that in fact there is no abyss to jump over - the jumping has been done - by God in Jesus - and so we and all people are loved as we are.
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