The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s029g08 Sixth Sunday of Easter 27/4/08 St Barnabas Orange East
'the world cannot receive' John 14.17
The words of today's gospel are incarnational through and through. The advocate is with us, abiding in us. The risen Jesus will come to us. He is in the Father, we are in him, and he in us. And the essence of incarnation is that different things co-exist. The divine and the human; the Spirit and the flesh; the risen Jesus and those who keep his commandments.
And we recognise that this incarnation is God's initiative and God's work. We did not seek it, earn it, or bring it about by our own efforts. It is miraculous in the sense that it is of divine rather than human origin.
However twice in this passage we are told that if we love Jesus we will keep his commandments. Here it seems as if we do seek incarnation, that we do earn it, that we do bring it about by our obedience. Here is a conundrum if ever there was one!
We, by definition, cannot manufacture our incarnation with the divine with that which is ultimately different from us, but we can manufacture our incarnation with others in humanity, with whom we are certainly different, but nowhere near as different as we with the divine.
The very essence of incarnation, that we did not seek it, earn it, or bring it about by our own efforts means that it is as true for others as it is for us. And if we are to be incarnated with the divine, we will by automatic consequence be incarnated with these others. We have no choice. If we choose to be incarnated with the divine we will be at one with others. If we choose to avoid being at one with others we cannot be incarnated with the divine.
So those of 'the world' are those who choose to avoid being at one with others. Clearly some parts of the 'church' avoid being at one with others. But just as clearly there are those who are not part of the Church who have a passionate desire for the betterment of the poor and the needy in society, and these too have their atonement with God.
There are parts of the Church who see the church as inclusive and accepting of others, and there are some in society who see their existence as simply the survival of the fittest.
Over the years, within the Church, I have seen various movements come and go. The charismatic movement, the ecumenical movement, cursillo, alpha; all have flourished for a while, but then seem to come to a natural maximum number beyond which they could not go. At this stage they either start looking in on themselves and people start thinking if they are the cause of the lack of continued growth, or someone finds the passage about the 144,000 and guess what, there is no point in further growth.
But there is a third alternative, and that is to see beyond the criteria of entry to those outside, and to see that they are part of God's plan already. Instead of closing in on oneself, this is God's invitation to open up to others and to be enriched by their experiences.
Sadly I've seen congregations who proclaim how welcoming they are, yet they are so desperate to remain as they are, no one new can make their own unique contribution. Others are only allowed to admire and to give their money to maintain the edifice in it's original state. They have become part of a world that cannot receive because they refuse to accept others. 'See, your house is left to you, desolate.' (Matthew 23.38)
But the good news is that the kingdom is very near, but not as if Jesus is playing hide and seek with believers. It is simply up to us to recognize the risen Jesus in the others God has put around us.
A while back a colleague was pondering what the Church will be like in 20 years time and I guess if we look at the infrastructure and organization, it may well be unrecognizable from what is now. The real question is will society be a more welcoming and accepting one, or will the old hatreds and divisions continue? This is surely God's real concern, and it is only about this that we can really expect any help and grace.
For let me be frank, the Church has a very mixed track record when it comes to breaking down old hatreds and divisions. There are some in the Anglican Communion who are seeking to define an 'Anglican' identity. I believe that similar things are happening in secular society too, with British and Australians seeking to define who they are. Such definitions can be helpful, but they can also be discriminatory. So for some any 'Anglican' identity will by definition exclude gay and lesbian persons.
And the sad but interesting thing is that exclusion can rally support whereas inclusion often goes unnoticed. Humans seem to have a penchant for blowing others up, sadly, and often in the name of some god or other.
As I look back over nearly thirty years of parish ministry, I reflect how easy it was to get caught up in fundraising, stewardship campaigns, building appeals and etc all trying to preserve what was, rather than looking to what might be. Fundraising, stewardship campaigns and building appeals can be fun, but when they become the only thing one does, with the threat of closure over a parish's head, what really is being served here? And again, it is a distraction from the central message of our acceptance of the other. The answer is so near and yet so far. Do we choose to receive, or do we struggle on by ourselves?
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