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

s031g14  Seventh Sunday of Easter  1/6/2014

‘the hour has come’  John 17.1

How often I find myself thinking: this is ‘the hour’ - surely!   I wrote this on the particular day that the Ma Whea commission report on same gender relationships and ordination was being debated in our national General Synod.   We were waiting anxiously for the outcome with a mixture of fear and anticipation, just as those on the other side of the debate no doubt were doing too.   They wonder: will the church remain true to the ancient biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman?   Others, like myself, wonder: will the church remain true to the ancient biblical practice of hospitality?

And we are tired of waiting, and we want the Lord to act!

A while ago, someone asked me about praying for her cancer, sometime when it was convenient.   Given this prior warning, I wonder if I really ought to start by asking her how she would like me to pray.   I am reminded of Paul’s conundrum: ‘For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.   If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer.   I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.’  (1)   The person is a good age, someone of great faith, a loving family, a sharp wit.   When one thinks about it, there are lots of different prayers one might make.   Perhaps the exercise of prayer is to discern for what we ourselves might ask.   If we are not sure what we want, then perhaps the Lord has a similar difficulty :-)   If we want the Lord to act, just how do we want the Lord to act?   And if Paul had difficulty deciding, perhaps we can be kind to ourselves too.

I recall, many years ago, a lovely lady, living in the last stages of cancer.   She too was a devout lady and received the Holy Communion regularly at home.   But her journey was very painful and she often wondered aloud when the Lord would take her.   The Lord didn’t seem to be listening!   She was more than ready to be rid of the pain.   One day it came to me, from whence I wouldn’t know, to say to her words to the effect that perhaps the decision was her’s rather than God’s.   She was surrounded by her loving family, so that while she was intellectually ready to be gone and be done with the pain, perhaps emotionally she wasn’t, which is absolutely understandable.  Giving her the decision was not letting God 'off the hook', but gave her some power and control.   She was no longer a victim of God’s apparent deafness to her plea which was a large part of her angst.   She was able to relax, and let nature take its course, which it did.

Of course, 'the hour' for Jesus was the hour of the Cross, and the glory of Jesus was dying for others that others might be glorified.   The tax-collectors, prostitutes and sinners, the outsiders, the outcasts, the ones with whom he associated, were the ones the Cross glorified.   For the religious and the orthodox who had Jesus killed, the Cross was their eternal shame.

We are invited to live, not in the past ever repenting of our misspent youth, nor to spend our times anticipating what might lie before us, but to live in the present, in this hour.   Each and every one of us is put into society and it is into society that we are called to be, and relate to in the here and now.   ‘The hour has come’, not just as Sunday morning arrives; each and every hour is pregnant with possibilities for us blessing others and others blessing us.

In John, Jesus is concerned that those that are his ‘may be one’.   Again, this is no magical or mystical concept, it is something that we who claim to follow Christ, have to make our own.   It is NOT something with which others, strangers to the gospel, have to comply.   If we as followers of Christ are not prepared to be at one with others, the very same tax-collectors, prostitutes and sinners with whom Jesus associated, we cannot claim to be Jesus’.   So we glorify God, not by singing ‘psalms and hymns and spiritual songs’ (2) to God but by associating with others who aren’t part of our fellowship.     This is fundamentally why our primary service of worship is Holy Communion - though of course this has been made into an unholy service of ex-communication, by all our rules and regulations determining who might partake and who might not.

The decision of the General Synod was to pass a ‘resolution that will create a pathway towards the blessing of same-gender relationships, while upholding the traditional doctrine of marriage’ (3) to which one reaction was: ‘Today's decision by the Anglican Synod to move towards blessing same-sex relationships is a "tiny, tiny step forward" which one of the country's foremost observers and historians of religion finds "disappointing."’  (4)

The decision lead me to wonder, just how many more young people, straight as well as gay, will interpret this as another sign that the church is failing to address their real anxieties over sexuality and how many will turn to alcohol, drugs or suicide as a result?   You see, as St Paul says: ‘The wages of sin is death’ (5) - but it is not my death that my sin will cause, it is other peoples’ deaths that my sin, my failure to relate to the world around me in a humane way, will cause.   This was the essence of Paul’s conversion - he realised that his religion was causing harm to other people - and in doing so his religion was causing him to crucify the Christ.   The religion which fails to reach out in presence, acceptance and inclusion of all other people causes them dis-ease and ultimately death, and as such, even though we might call on Jesus for our justification, that religion is sinful.   As he concludes his first chapter of Romans: ‘They know God’s decree, that those who practise such things deserve to die — yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practise them.’ (6)   So frequently of course these words are completely misdirected towards people with same gender attraction when they really refer to the religious upbringing with which Paul was so familiar and that with which we find often passes for ‘christianity’ today,

I was interested as I re-read the article that stated that it was Martin Luther King Jnr who said: ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ that ‘The idea expressed by the phrase can already be found in the Pirkei Avot 5:8, a section of the Mishnah (1st century BCE – 2nd century CE): "Our Rabbis taught: ...The sword comes into the world, because of justice delayed and justice denied…”’.   So in all likelihood St Paul was drawing on his abundant knowledge of his religious heritage when he writes: ‘the wages of sin is death’ and his actual meaning - the death of other people - was current in Rabbinical thinking at that time. (7)    As I have said previously I rephrase this: ‘love delayed is love denied’. 

So yes, ‘the hour is come’ - to be present, accepting and inclusive of all - because real people will be dis-eased and damaged otherwise.   And so the question is to us who profess to know Christ - do we care enough for these multitude of others to re-examine our faith and love, today, this very hour, right now - and discover the eternal life that includes everyone, today, this very hour, indeed right now - or not?

1 Ephesians 7.21-24
2 Ephesians 5.19
5 Romans 6.23
6 Romans 1.32