The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s031e08 Seventh Sunday of Easter 4/5/08
'Greet one another with a kiss of love' 1 Peter 5.14
One has to be careful these days just how one exercises Christian love. A number of female type persons have been anxious when male type persons have invaded their personal space during the greeting of peace. But this sort of invasion of other people's privacy has been all too common. Leaders of prayer groups have sometimes expected to know the 'ins and outs' of everyone's afflictions - then wonder why some others back off. Similarly a time of prayer and anointing of the sick during worship can expect a degree of self-disclosure with which not all are comfortable. When God is invoked it may come across that 'true' Christians are those who share their troubles without question. This is not true. It is also simply not true that everyone in a congregation will keep things to themselves.
As a hospital chaplain I have to be particularly conscious of people's privacy. Some people do not want their pastor or lay minister to know they are in hospital, precisely because they know that their name will go on the prayer list, and they know that people, in a sincere effort to be kind, will ask them what is wrong.
The kingdom of God will not come about if christians express their love for other christians, but when we accept others who are not. Love, true Christian love, implies not invading someone else's personal space. Terrorism is just invading someone else's personal space writ large.
So properly exercised love involves listening carefully and trying to take note of where people are at, and with what they might feel comfortable. It is not just blundering in, expecting others to appreciate our bravado.
Of course there is a problem with this and it is that this takes time. What seems easy, simple and above all quick, a kiss of love, actually requires us to spend considerable time working out how best to do this. We live in an instant society. We live life at frenetic pace. But we are human beings not commodities. The things that are valuable to us are precisely those things for which we have worked, and in which we have put some effort. If we are looking for instant results, like full churches, then we are likely to be disappointed, not because God does not want these things too, but because it may well distract us from actually listening and loving others.
Of course this does not sanctify the traditional reserve that most of us have so that we don't do anything. We do have to listen, we do have to consider others, these are positive things that we do. They will be obvious even when we do nothing else.
One of the ways we can avoid listening is to invoke the Bible or Church Tradition. By invoking the Bible we can dismiss the affections of gay and lesbian persons, by invoking Church Tradition we can dismiss recognising the ordained ministry of women.
St Peter tells us that Christ will 'restore, support, strengthen and establish you', so if we are trying to put down others, decry, dismiss and remove others, then we are not likely to be following Christ!
For greeting 'one another with a kiss of love' implies we want a relationship with others. Instead of trying to change others, telling others what they should do, what they should believe, or how they should live their lives, we affirm that we accept others as they are. If we are bidden to 'greet one another with a kiss of love', it means precisely the opposite of trying to remove gay and lesbian persons from communion.
For again, we can take on personal humility yet this is hardly likely to change the world. It is far more important that the Church adopts a humility, particularly when it comes to pretending to have 'the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth' and that everyone else is deficient. This only means that any personal humility we might take on is a charade, for we 'will' get into heaven whereas others 'will' go to eternal damnation. It means that in fact we are not open to the contribution that others can make to our lives, and this is hardly an example in humility.
This emphasis on the necessity for the corporate institution of the Church to exercise Christian virtues has become a recurring theme in my meditations recently. For all I exercise a valuable ministry in accepting others as I visit in the wards of the hospitals in my care, people are rightly still wary of embracing the Church, for that is much more complex. I don't blame people at all for this reticence, for I myself ask what does the Church stand for? Does it stand for acceptance or does it exist for exclusivity? It is certainly not true that every Anglican parish is welcoming and accepting, and I know this from personal experience! Often the forces of conservatism have been a small but vocal minority who use moral blackmail to get their way. More than once I have come to the conclusion that in some people's opinion, only their feelings are important. It does not matter who they offend.
So in reality there are some who call themselves 'christians' and see themselves as loving who are in fact thoroughly critical. In their usual personal dealings with others, they are tact personified. 'Butter wouldn't melt in their mouths' is perhaps the phrase. Yet don't ask them to accept the sacrament from a woman priest or to accept that a gay or lesbian person could exercise an ordained ministry! Their usual 'charity' masks an underlying vehemence that will not be moved. So personal Christian virtues can excuse corporate disregard for them.
Greet one another with a kiss of love this works both ways and all ways. We cannot discriminate between one person and another in our greetings. If the church and our churches are noted for their acceptance of all, then they will truly be blessed with a kiss of love.
Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"