The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:
s002e04 Lockleys Advent 2 5/12/2004
'whatever was written .. was written .. that we might have hope' Romans 15.4
Often when I hear the Bible quoted I hear it quoted in an effort to prove a particular theology, most frequently against someone else's theology. So the Bible is being used to justify one's own position and to dismiss as irrelevant, invalid or heretical someone else's theology.
So the issue of the ordination of women, for instance, parts of the Bible have been quoted on either side of the argument.
So the real person who is being addressed, the opposition, has no grounds for hope, unless and until they become like me and believe and worship like I do. So they might have this skerrick of hope, but it's not much really, and certainly not while they remain as they are. Recalcitrant wretches :->!
So the Bible actually gives ordinary people like you and I precious little ground for hope, at least as it is often used. No wonder Jesus went around amongst the ordinary people. Jesus went around amongst ordinary people also to give them hope. It wasn't to be found elsewhere. Jesus went around and accepted people as they were, without them having to become something or someone they weren't. Jesus gave hope to people as they actually were.
And I was reflecting recently, how often we use decrees and processes to avoid personal contact. No matter what a Parish Council or Synod might decree, it is not until something is taken personally to those it may affect, the decree is actually fairly useless. So Jesus spent his ministry, giving people hope simply by being there for them, and for all people.
And it was no wonder that those who enjoyed their power and prestige over others were dismayed that Jesus associated with these others. They didn't want THEM to have any hope.
So when we hear St Paul saying, 'Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you', this means far more than 'be sociable'. It means that welcoming is at the heart of our religion. If the Bible is at the heart of our expression of the faith, then the Bible is all about acceptance and about giving hope to all people as we are.
If the Holy Communion, the Mass, is at the heart of our expression of faith, then this is distinguished by how open and welcoming it is; not by just who may and who may not partake. The Holy Communion is about giving hope to all people.
If the work of the Holy Spirit is at the heart of our expression of our faith, again, this is marked by openness to the other. The Holy Spirit is about giving hope to all people.
To return to the Bible, we call ourselves Christians, so we naturally read and take more notice of the New Testament rather than the Old. And in fact we look to the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus as the most important part of the New Testament. By far the majority of the gospel accounts in fact concern the events of that couple of days which saw the end of Jesus' life and his subsequent resurrection; and even the accounts of the resurrection are comparatively disparate compared to the agreement about the events leading up to his death.
The central element of our faith is this death and resurrection of Jesus. It is the core of the creed we recite at most services and the creed is just a shorthand statement of the good news. And it is about hope for all as we are.
So the sacraments of baptism and holy communion which bring this hope in the cross and resurrection for all in general, become in the lives of individuals hope for each and every one of us in particular.
St John in particular links the outpouring of the Spirit to the death of Jesus, so again the Spirit is a spirit of hope for all.
And I suspect that it is no accident that these three fundamental spiritualities can be used as agents of hope, or as fences to make plain just who is acceptable and who is not. I do not mind if people get their hope through the words of scripture, the sacraments of the church, or the outpouring of the Holy Spirit - as long as the hope received is not at the expense of someone else's hope.
God is gracious, and provides many paths for people to find hope. It is humanity who misuses these paths to suggest that only one, mine, is kosher. Jesus' sternest criticism is directed against those who took other people's hope away in the name of the Almighty.
Likewise the use of the bible, the sacraments or the spirit to do something other than give others hope is likewise likely to attract a similar criticism.
I was grateful to read an interesting article in the latest issue of "Market Place" the theology of the Archbishop of Sydney Peter Jensen and the Dean of Sydney Phillip Jensen is presented. One particular sentence jumped out at me, which I suspects reflects their own thought: "the deeper malaise of secular humanist society is it's lack of hope", but when one looks at the article itself one could well conclude that in the opinion of the Jensens' there would be little point for anyone in the secular humanist society looking to them for any hope. They would have to become something entirely different. The article ends by saying: "The question .. Anglicans .. might ask themselves is "am I devout, or am I secular humanist coated with a nostalgic Christian veneer? If your answer is "I am devout", when was the last time your devotion made someone hostile?"
I do not think I am doing the Jensen's a disservice by concluding that their theology is one of hostility, separation, and devotion. It seems to me that others are just as devout, but also manage to align themselves with others in society in a spirit of humble gratitude for the contributions others make to society.
We in the church are the agents of hope for others. The Bible was written that all may have hope. The Holy Spirit who leads the Church, bring us into fellowship with all. The sacraments of the Church can hardly do otherwise. If our society has lost it's hope then if we actually believe in who we are, we can only blame ourselves.
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