s026e99 Somerton Park Third Sunday of Easter 18/4/99
"If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile." (1 Peter 1:17).
I was interested, when I began the preparation for this sermon, to read reported in the "Advertiser" (Monday 5/4/99) our Archbishop's sermon for Easter Day at the Cathedral, calling on South Australians "to shed their "inferiority complexes and selfish individualism" to help "resurrect" the State" (p5). I note with pleasure that the editorial in the same edition comments favourably on the sermon - as did the leaders of the three major political parties. I must admit I am pleased about the level of interest being shown in things religious in our paper - may it continue.
And I thoroughly enjoyed Atchison's cartoon on Tuesday after Easter, where the parishioners leaving the Cathedral remarked: "It would seem we have an eleventh commandment ... "Thou shalt pull thy finger out!"" and the ever-present little dog in the corner saying "By George, I think he's got it!" (Our Archbishop's name is +Ian George :-)
Let me say immediately that I would agree with the sentiment and I am challenged to examine my text from 1 Peter to see how this squares with this rather more activist stance. For I could well imagine many South Australians reading the words from 1 Peter and consider themselves to be living lives of "reverent fear" already. Are Christians being called to do more than 1 Peter asks, and if so, what? Is this what the Archbishop means?
On a number of occasions I have heard the sentiment that all we really need to do is live according to the 10 commandments. Indeed a recent (web) issue of "Church Times" in England reports that: "The retired headmistress Dr Irene Riding ... has been elected to the General Synod for the diocese of Bath & Wells ... (she) stood for election on "back-to-basics" ticket ... (her) crusade calls for a renewed emphasis on the Ten Commandments and Book of Common Prayer ... (and) is a strong believer in the laws and dietary requirements set out in Leviticus." There certainly seems a goodly dose of "reverent fear" here. However I have preached before on how inadequate I consider the 10 commandments to be (http://www.geocities.com/Athens/2125/100.htm) - surely we have moved beyond them by now.
On Easter Eve I was asked to be the deacon at the Vigil Mass at St George's Goodwood, and it was a delightful experience getting back to good high church ritual. It was a lovely service, with all the "bells and smells" you can imagine and to even invoking St Basil and St Catherine to "pray for us". Here too is a rather more palatable dose of "reverent fear". After the service I reflected that perhaps the emphasis on ritual is to say: "We don't see ourselves as evangelical in the sense of confronting the world and trying to change it." Theirs is not to raise their voice like St Peter did (as we read in the first lesson) saying: "God has made ... this Jesus whom you crucified ... both Lord and Messiah." (Acts 2:36). And I have a considerable amount of sympathy with this. For St Peter, if asked now, would also surely want to add to the words: "this Jesus whom you crucified ..." and whom I denied, whom we all misunderstood and whom we all wanted to fulfil our expectations ... St Peter was not pointing the finger of blame or recrimination at anyone else, as his words could easily be interpreted as implying.
So I want to suggest a third way lies in these words of St Peter which bids us go forward gently. They are in fact the first of the words from my text - the words about the "Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds" - and a little later "love one another deeply from the heart." (1 Peter 1:22).
I believe that the sort of "reverent fear" that St Peter is talking about recognises one's own frailties and hence is prepared to accept the frailties of others. I was told that Archbishop Desmond Tutu said once that if we really took the words of St Peter seriously when he says "Honour everyone" (1 Pet 2:17) we would be genuflecting to everyone as we genuflect to the Lord. The word for fear and the word for honour are almost interchangeable.
To love one another "deeply from the heart" means surely something different from loving someone superficially - saying we love them - when in actual fact we would prefer them to be something different, even if only ever so slightly different. No, loving someone deeply means accepting them as they are.
If we live in reverent fear, we don't go around trying to change others, for we know how perilous our own journey has been to ever recommend that path to others as one more sure.
One of the modern aspects of our society is that despite our affluence, the stability of the laws of the land, and the seemingly close proximity of neighbours and friends - people are in fact more isolated. Modern housing developments are built behind high fences. People live unto themselves, justifiably fearful of "home invasions" and neighbourhood parties. Yet perhaps our very affluence contributes to the problem - we are scared of loosing some things which are rightly precious to us. I'm not especially thinking of material things. We are more afraid of loosing those things with sentimental value. I've often said that if you find a way of making a bit of money - someone will miraculously appear to take their cut - even if only the taxation department. And isn't it true the world over that laws seem to be effective against the petty criminals, but they seem powerless against brazen offenders. And those from the country lament that there the neighbours were more friendly than in the suburbs - yet fail to see that in the suburbs we live proportionately closer to one another - so that we have to raise our defences. When we live miles away from anyone else, we could retreat to the security afforded by that distance. When it's only over the fence, the fence might need to be fairly high. And the fact that everyone knows everyone else's business in country towns is a mixed blessing too. So there is lots to be fearful of, and yet the Archbishop is right, we do need to reach beyond ourselves, for it is beyond ourselves that we will find great blessings.
But perhaps it may not necessarily be in "face to face" situations - when we have a serious "heart to heart" with another person. We might find God in music, in art, in the surf life saving association or on the football field. Life surely affords us an inordinate number of opportunities to accept others and to be forgiving of others without having to manufacture these situations artificially.
I am very grateful to have had my attention drawn to Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, the gospel reading for Maundy Thursday night. It is not a gospel reading I've often considered at length - indeed my records show that I did a meditation on these words in 1979! I wonder why Jesus washed the disciples' feet, other than that he wanted to answer the pretensions to importance, the disciples were squabbling about? Why would any host wash the feet of a guest? I might well be wrong, but I suppose it would be to honour the difficulties the guest had experienced on their way to the host, and by way of welcome, to say to the guest that here was a place where, for a time, those difficulties could be put aside, in a time of fellowship.
So when Jesus washed the disciples' feet, he was honouring the path they had travelled to come to this house. It was a journey not without its anxieties, privations and set-backs - and Jesus recognised this. And it was a sign of welcome, that this was a time when Jesus expressed his gratitude that they had arrived at a venue where he intended a supper and a time of fellowship with them.
So we are bidden to wash the feet of others, and in doing so recognise and honour that they too have come on a journey which may well have been as arduous as ours. Our washing another's feet means that we honour their path - different though it may have been to ours. And we wash the other's feet as a way of saying to them that we are grateful that God has brought them to us that we might share some time of fellowship with them.
For the reality is that God has "broad shoulders" - our "reverent fear" is far more needful towards our fellow human beings than ever it is needful towards God. After all God understands us far more intimately than any of our fellow humans do. For Jesus has said: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Let us indeed be proactive in our love for others - but may the hallmarks of that love be forgiveness and acceptance of them and of their journey in life.
Treating someone with respect is to allow them space to be themselves, and indeed this could be a hallmark of what I would hope for the Anglican Church in general and St Philip's in particular. To me it is vital that we do not insist on weekly attendance, coming to morning tea or whatever. We show our real love for others when we give them space to be themselves and make their own contribution, not merely to gush over the contribution we've made.
I suppose it is not unique to Adelaide and South Australia that there seems to be incredibly powerful conservative forces seemingly hell-bent on opposing anything that smacks of "change" even when the changes are indeed worthwhile. One doesn't have to look far both within the wider community, but also within our Church community, to see occasions when things are suggested, only to be howled down. Of course I speak hardly as an outsider here, being a fifth generation Adelaidean myself. My father's grandfather's grandfather - a coach painter and wheelwright - came to South Australia on the "Matilda Atheling" in 1865. He was, I am told, accidentally shot, at Glen Osmond, training for the reserve defences, in 1878.
There is nothing sacred about doing nothing and opposing anyone who wants to do something. God judges all people impartially, and God wants to bless other people's contributions as well as our own.
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