The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:
s014g05 Lockleys 27/2/05 Lent 3
"they were astonished that he was speaking with a woman". John 4.27
Behind all this rather long story is the theme: with whom does Jesus have communion? And as I have read the "Windsor Report" precisely the same issue is before the Anglican Communion: with whom do we have communion? In fact this has alerted me to the fact that this same question lies behind the whole of the ministry of Jesus.
I note that many people in the Church look at this time with dread. An e-mail I received from a priest last year had the subject line: "Troubled Times". The world and the Church is in turmoil and the Church does not seem at all able to address the situation. The fact that the Primate of All Ireland can begin his forward to the "Windsor Report" with the question: "What do we believe is the will of God for the Anglican Communion?" is significant to say the least. The Church that once had all the answers now is questioning its whole raison d'etre.
I do not look at the present controversies with dread. I believe that they are the continuing work of the Holy Spirit, leading and guiding the Church into all the truth as we have been promised (Jn 16.13). I do not want to go back to the church in it's halcyon days when everyone went to church and those who didn't went to hell; to those days when the Church had all the answers and parishioners were compliant children and some of them abused to boot.
It is not coincidental that the world is teaching the Church much about the wideness of God's mercy. It is not coincidental that often people outside the Church are more accepting of religious differences than people inside. For all the wonderful scholarship of the "Windsor Report" it is, by its very mandate, concerned with the makeup of the Anglican Church. The world has got more important issues to deal with, and thank God they are tackling them reasonably effectively. I look at the education and competency of my own offspring and I thank God how far more advanced they are than I was, at their age.
Jesus was not crucified because he instituted a different variation of useful personal amorphisms by which people might live. He was crucified by the people who ostensibly loved God; but in fact hated the God Jesus proclaimed. Jesus' mission was about the correct picture of God, and the working out of that correct picture remains as relevant and as controversial today as it did then. If it doesn't; then we might as well throw away the Bible as no longer relevant.
The issue of communion is as crucial now as then. "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" the religious asked the disciples (Mat 9.11, 11.19, Mk 2.16, Lk 5.30, 6.39, 7.34, 15.2, 19.7, Jn 4.9). It is hardly likely to be coincidental that Matthew recounts the decision of Judas to betray Jesus straight after the anointing by the woman at Bethany (26.14). This same question continues to be directed towards us - with whom do we associate? With whom do we have communion? Jesus tells us "Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." (Jn 6.57) This means more than receiving the sacrament regularly, but participating in communion with those with whom Jesus associated. And the choice is ours. The issue of communion was central to the life of the early Church and the turning point for Peter was his declaration "God does not have favourites" in the context of table fellowship (Acts 10.34). St Paul gives us his opinion of some others with characteristic forthrightness: "I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!" (Gal 5.12) The rather more restrained James notes the differences in attitude to the poor and the rich who come to worship and pointedly asks: "Do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?" (2.1)
If our "favouritism" is enshrined in who may come to communion and who may not, does it not make it any the less favouritism?
The Windsor Report talks about the "mutual bonds of affection" within the Anglican Communion, and there is nothing wrong with these, provided no one is excluded. There were, no doubt, mutual bonds of affection amongst the scribes and the Pharisees. In fact the treatment of Jesus led Herod and Pilate to become allies. We are told: "That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies." (Luke 23.12)
So I rejoice to read the Report comment pointedly: "We know this well enough in the cases of, say, racism or child abuse; we would not say "some of us are racists, some of us are not, so let's celebrate our diversity" (paragraph 89). Racists are people who have favourites; those who abuse children, those who are only interested in others for what they can get out of them; and it is these who are their favourites.
So the issue that faces the Anglican Communion is the same that faces the whole Church and has not changed since the time of Jesus. Do we rejoice in what God is doing in this world, in terms of acceptance of the other, non-discrimination, seeking justice and peace for all; or do we nit-pick and complain that not enough people come to church? And I have no wonder they don't! Anyone is welcome to do the later, but I am happy being in the first category.
Chi-Ha Kirn, a Korean poet, wrote a play titled The Gold-Crowned Jesus, part of which runs: "The Jesus made of cement answers: "People like the Pharisees did it, because they wanted to separate him from the poor in order to possess him exclusively.""
I'm not at all certain that the God I worship is the same one as some other Anglicans I know.
The Anglican Church has the motto from John "h alhyeia eleuyerwsei umas": "the truth will make you free" (8.32). Some people have found freedom and we worry because they are using their freedom for the benefit of the world rather than the building up of the Church. I thank God! As our gospel for today ends with the statement of faith: "this is truly the Saviour of the world"; it is God who inspires this. If we are not being a blessing to humanity, we might as well not exist.
The wideness of our communion and fellowship is primary rather than secondary, for it brings about faith. I note that Jesus didn't say "please" to the woman. It was not his courtesy that inspired faith but his desire to have communion with this woman that so surprised her and brought about, not just her conversion, but the conversion of her whole community. While we are considering the wideness or the narrowness of our Communion, inevitably we will be tempted to admit our favourites and the rebuke of James is equally directed towards us: "Do we really believe in Jesus?"
Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"