The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

In the name of God, Life-giver, Pain-bearer and Love-maker.   (Fr Jim Cotter 

s029g11  Sixth Sunday of Easter  29/5/2011


'keep my commandments'  John 14.15


I hardly think that it is co-incidental that Jesus talks about our unity in Christ within the parenthesis of keeping the commandments Jesus specifies.   Our being depends on our doing.   If we don't do what Jesus says then we cannot claim that he is in us and we in him.


So the desire to be at one with Jesus and with God is dependent on keeping God's commandments.   So we don't keep God's commandments by desiring to be at one with Jesus and with God.   Keeping God's commandments means something other than coming to church, being devout, being orthodox, even being forgiven.   Keeping God's commandments is something other than keeping our relationship with God in 'proper' order.   We don't keep God's commandments by coming to the church with the especially divinely ordained ritual, the one that wears particular vestments or genuflects the appropriate number of times during the service.  All of these focus on what we do to try to keep us close to God and Jesus.   But being close to Jesus and God comes not from desiring and doing things for God, but doing things for others.


Jesus' whole ministry was characterised by service to others, and he surely would have been made high priest if Jesus had lived a life of service only to the religious others.   But the rub came when he lived a life of service to others including people the religious thought were excluded.   So if we are to follow Jesus, to be close to Jesus and to God, we too need to live a life of service to others, all others.  


In the 'Rule of Life' on my confirmation certificate (22/6/1962), five things were listed.   They were: 'To be present at Divine Worship every Lord's Day, and to pray daily.  To receive Holy Communion regularly and frequently.  To make humble repentance and confession of sin.  To make devout and regular use of the Bible. (and) To support the Church and Ministry by gifts and service.'   Each of these is concerned with our relationship with God through the Church and the Bible.  None of them is about our relationship with anyone else and none of them hint at the relationship the church should have with others.


Recently I was disturbed to see a news report of a fight between Gay and Lesbian persons and 'christian' preachers from the Adelaide Street Church in my hometown of Adelaide.   For me this incident highlights the desperate need for we in the church to be clear just what Jesus commands.   If we have got it wrong, then we are not who we claim to be, indeed we never were.   It is quite plain that opinion within 'christian' circles is divided about the thorny issues surrounding human sexuality, a fact that seems to have escaped the members of the Adelaide Street Church.  Since I was and am completely unaware of who these people are, I googled them to find a really flash web-site, with no reference to a Sunday service – that was coming soon!   The evidence of the fight shows that some conservative 'christians' have no interest in loving their gay and lesbian neighbours.   Indeed the evidence is that these conservative 'christians' would hate me and my message of acceptance.   Jesus never talked about the diversity of human intimacy, and I have contended and will continue to contend that neither did St Paul.


Often 'christians' talk about the exclusive claims of Jesus, often quoting the verse 'no one comes to the Father but by me' that I talked about last week, and they perceive 'liberal secularism' as a repudiation of this exclusive claim.   But there is an exclusive claim, that those who go off into their holy huddles do not see – that Jesus calls them out of their holy huddles – and that 'out' is the only way to life in all its fullness – life in all its fullness for them and life in all its fullness for the rest of humanity.


Jesus promises that we will not be left as orphans.   Recently we had a publication posted to us about keeping the ten commandments.   It was published by 'Remnant Publications Inc' and often those in the church consider themselves as the 'voice of one crying in the wilderness' – the lone solitary figure standing up for God all by themselves.   The great prophet Elijah was such a one.   After defeating the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel he fled to the mountain of God.   Alone, he protests his devotion and sacrifices: 'Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’   He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’'  (1 Kings 19:9-10)   The prophet Elijah had got it wrong, he was not meant to be by himself defending God.   I still remember the warden of the theological college I attended, last century, over the ditch, saying that he had declined joining a newly formed society for the defence of the Catholic Faith.   He said that if the Catholic Faith needed defending by him, it wasn't worth defending.   And it's the same with God.   God doesn't need humanity to defend the divine.  


We are not to be orphans, we are to be part of a great company of people, all guests at the marriage feast of the lamb, where the only qualification to be present is that we want to be there with everyone else who are similarly qualified (or unqualified).   So Jesus tells us that rather than thinking that we have to be like Elijah, alone fighting a hostile alien world, Jesus promises us and all people a ready welcome.   God will not disown us when we reach out to others, like Jesus did.


Presently the Anglican Communion is considering an 'Anglican Covenant' – a document that is designed to delineate who qualifies as an Anglican and who doesn't qualify as an Anglican.   I suppose that we do recognise (sort of) that there are other 'christians' who aren't Anglicans, but if the only qualification for the kingdom is the willingness to be there with others, what does this say about our efforts to define who is in the Anglican corner?   It seems to me that by concentrating on defining who are and who aren't Anglicans we are avoiding keeping the commandments and distancing ourselves from being at one with Jesus and God.   And in doing so we in the church show ourselves to think in precisely the same terms as the world does – who is in and who is out?   Jesus and God calls us to see others as people to learn to love and appreciate.

And it seems to me that it is only when we are reaching out to the other that we need the Advocate promised by Jesus, the one who will with us forever.   We will often be flying in the face of orthodoxy and need the divine re-assurance promised.   The forces of conservative 'christianity' are as scandalised by this message today as conservative orthodoxy was in Jesus' day.

Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"