The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:
s027e05 Lockleys 17/4/2005 Fourth Sunday of Easter
"if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good" 1 Peter 2.2
When Peter instructs us to rid ourselves of malice, guile, insincerity and slander, we do so because we no longer have any use for these. Our catechism tells us that we were made children of God, members of Christ and heirs of the kingdom of heaven at our baptism, and there is no possibility to become any thing more than this. Whoever is the Pope in Rome, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Blessed Virgin Mary; none of these have any more qualifications than this. Everything that God can give us has already been given, to us and to all.
Therefore we have no need to use any methods, let alone underhanded ones, to get more out of God for ourselves. There is no need to use any methods, let alone underhanded ones, to bring others to a place where we think that they ought to be. There is no need to use any methods, let alone underhanded ones, to get others to give more money to the church.
Quite some years ago there was an evangelical crusade here in Adelaide, and it was advertised in our Synod. This was in the form of a video, and it ended up with a testimony from an excited minister whose only lament was that he wasn't involved earlier. About the same time there was the scandal of pyramid schemes running rampant. And the thing about pyramid schemes is that those who benefit the most are those who get in the earliest. Those who get in late always lose; their purpose is merely to line the pockets of those who got in earlier. The dynamics of the two schemes seem quite similar to me, and therefore the method is not "of God".
The religion I follow has no use for malice. We may find it difficult to understand someone else's faith, but we have no reason to be angry towards those who are not Christians, let alone seek their demise.
The word that Peter gives us is that for those who are in fact on the wrong path, then God has already provided the stumbling block. That stumbling block is the cross and resurrection. The cross and resurrection should cause us all to pause, to think what we are doing and whether others are helped or hindered; or that it is really ourselves who are effectively lining our own pockets with the contributions of others. St Paul, on that road to Damascus, was confronted with the realization that his actions were hurting others, and so hurting God.
It is odd to me that Peter suggests that we have to rid ourselves of slander. I would have thought that slandering someone else was not something Christians often did. Then I thought of how often people have said things like, well "of course they're low church", or "they're high church" or "they're happy-clappy" or "they don't take the Bible seriously" or "they don't give as much as I do" and it's more than derogatory. There is often a real thought that of course these people are on the wrong track, and that they are each going to hell. Is this not slander? Saying something of someone else in the name of God that is not true? They might be one or other of those things, but this does not preclude them from the kingdom of God. We, who are such authorities about such things, "ought" to know this. Again that question that Peter asks, which is my text for today seems pertinent: "if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good"; you ought to know this.
The Cross and resurrection is the stumbling block for all those who believe that their way is the only way, no matter on what spirituality this is based, for these are the sign and the promise that God loves all. God is not going to be forced into a little box of our own making, limited by parameters devised by us.
And for me this is why Peter asks that question which is my text for today: "if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good".
Our experience of the risen Jesus, the goodness of the Lord, must have its effect in our lives. It may not mean that we have happy marriages or are successful financially. It may not help much if we have got a mischief-maker for a neighbour. But it will have its consequences in how we deal with others of different faiths and of no faith; we accept them.
Now in our parish we are having a bit of a difficult time with money at the moment. I think that I have spent most of my life in parishes where the finances are tight. Let me reassure you all that I have had enough experience to know where I would prefer to be, and you can be sure it is in a parish where there isn't lots of money. Many years ago I saw the balance sheet of one of the more wealthy parishes in this diocese and saw the ways that parish "hid" money from the Diocese so that it didn't get accessed. I much prefer to be in a parish where there is little, for at least we are honest. The thing that really got to me about this other parish is how dismissive they were of the struggling suburban parishes, quite oblivious to the fact that their hiding of money in all likelihood contributed to the closure of some. Many, many years ago there was a deanery conference in the western suburbs, which proposed and eventually got a graduated rate of assessment. It took some people in the diocese 10 years to revert to a flat rate of assessment, but their persistence won out. It continues to gripe me that some people actually think that now there is a flat rate of assessment the implication is that every parish is treated equally.
All this seems a far cry from dealing with one another graciously, because we know the graciousness of the Lord in our own lives.
Do we know the goodness of the Lord in our own lives? If we do then we will already be responding appropriately. If we do not, then again we will already be responding accordingly. It all depends on God and our preparedness not to push others around.
Inevitably some people will say that we need more people to give more, but we need to ask how this is likely to happen. If our whole focus is on how others "should" do this (to get us out of a pickle) we have to first ask the question, do we deserve to be got out? I wouldn't give more money just to get someone else out of a pickle; particularly if they weren't accepting, caring and patient with one and all, like we know the Lord is.
So how will we move forward? By deserving to! By being the people God would have us be, accepting, caring and patient with one and all. Attempting to go any other way, to avoid being the people God would have us be, is simply a waste of time and effort, for there is no way that God will provide any increase.
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