The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s032bg09 Pentecost 31/5/2009
'he will guide you into all the truth' John 16.13
We have not been given the whole truth. Here Jesus in the scriptures invite us to be continually open to new and fresh expressions of truth.
I was reminded of the spirituality of young people again while on our recent diocesan retreat, when the conductor brought our attention to the lyrics of a U2 song 'Where the streets have no name'. Here we have people with no particular church affiliation articulating a fervent desire for the world to live where divisions between people no longer exist. And there is also a recognition that one can't do this alone. One needs a companion on this journey. And we were told that the place that inspired these sentiments was Northern Ireland, where the greatest hindrances to a world without divisions were those claiming adherence to 'christian' denominations. We have indeed to continue to be open to new and fresh expressions of truth, for some of the old and mouldy ones are distinctly destructive - and certainly not just in Northern Ireland.
Another realisation, before going on retreat, was the number of places in the world where child soldiers are used. I was listening to a program about Australian diggers in ww2 being taken prisoners by the Japanese, only to realise that those troops were no older than the Australians and even though at the time they were the 'victors', they were suffering from similar privations as the 'losers'.
We have much to thank God for in Australia, where young people in Australia must attend school from the age of five to sixteen (I think) are so are being encouraged to think for themselves and to explore what values they want for themselves and for the world. I noticed in the bookshop of St Clement's Galong (where the diocesan clergy retreat was held - http://www.stclement.com.au) that there is a book about bullying in schools and some creative ways to stop it. It is salutary to think that in other places young people in this age range are not only denied healthy education and how to act respectfully towards others but are forced to learn how to shoot other human beings.
I suspect that in Australia the age to vote, drive, drink and enter into legal contracts like marriage is set by the age when young people have in the past been conscripted for active service in the armed forces 18.
No doubt the world will be a better place in the future if we encourage young people to dream of a better world rather than using young people for other purposes. I confess I have some reservations about the church focussing solely on attracting young people I start to wonder why. Is it to hear their visions or to indoctrinate them in ours? Many people have worried about the great exodus from the church after confirmation but I actually think that this is a good thing to allow young people to explore life and find out what is important for them and what their own faith is.
And we in the church need to encourage this exploration too. One may question why, but really the answer is easy. If the church is not listening and encouraging to our young people then it is going nowhere fast. Countless people in the 'church' want young ones to step into their shoes, but if we want them only to replicate the present, again where is the church going? Nowhere fast. We need to see the good things that are happening in the world in order that we don't lose our church and lose our faith. If we only recognise faith when it is expressed in **our** terms, it is no wonder that those who do so think that the world and the church is nigh on doomed. (And I would cheer!) And of course if we only want any others only to replicate the present, young or old, we actually don't want other people for who they are, but to use them for our own purposes. This is hardly a good way to demonstrate unconditional love!
Of course the church of the future will be different. Hopefully it will have some energy and enthusiasm for positive things. In the past and indeed in the present the church has more being noted for being negative. As soon as someone does something, there are the nay-sayers. 'We don't do things that way here!' 'Make sure you leave everything as tidy as you found it!' 'Don't you use the Auxiliaries cups and saucers!'
I found it fascinating to hear recently a radio program about the 'third sector' - the charity and not for profit organizations in Australia. No doubt the same things could be said for other countries with comparable levels of affluence to Australia. It stated: 'There is a charity for every 437 people in Australia, all under the umbrella of the 700,000 not-for-profit organizations. Australia's largest 40,000 not-for-profits employ 900,000 people and contribute more than $80-billion to the national economy.' In the program Miles McGregor-Lowndes of the Queensland University of Technology said: 'We have really seen the golden age of giving in Australia since 2000. And clearly from the data that we get on an annual basis which comes from tax deductible giving, the year of the tsunami a 28% increase, just enormous.' Perhaps with the financial crisis, this has waned somewhat.
Does not God the Holy Spirit inspire in the young people of today, as well as the not so young, the desire for a better world? And if it is God the Holy Spirit, why is the church so tardy in taking any notice?
One charity for every 437 people means that there is a huge reservoir of people who are capable and willing to give of themselves for a cause in which they believe. We might begin to wonder how we can harness this energy for the church, for by far the majority of these would be outside our definition of 'the church'. But if we were able to encourage this vast number of people to spend their time in 'church' rather than achieving the good things they are doing, what a poorer world this would be! Again this betrays our desire to use others for our purposes rather than accept others unconditionally. Either our definition of 'the church' has to be broader, or modify the cause for which we strive. And I suspect that the Holy Spirit is leading us in precisely these directions.
But rather than weeping and wailing at this, this fact brings me great joy, for the realization that the Holy Spirit is indeed at work in this world is greatly encouraging. It saves me from the general pessimism pervading the church. This is indeed a joy that will last.
One of the things I have done recently has been to clear out much of my library, mostly those books from my theological college days in the 1970's. For years and I don't know how many times I've done it, I've faithfully packed them up, transported them to the next residence, unpacked them, then left them to gather dust. I've kept the biblical commentaries, but most of the others are simply out of date. I have moved on, the church has moved on and thank God that this is so. The Advocate is guiding us and all people into all the truth. We don't have to do it all ourselves, and it is in far safer hands than ours. Thanks be to God!
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