The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at
s032ce04 Lockleys 30/5/2004 Pentecost
"a spirit of adoption" Romans 8.14
I was struck as I read these words - to the comparison of slavery and adoption.
We often look to others, not to be our servants, certainly, but to be co-operative, helpful, and acknowledge that the path we are pointing out to them is correct. All they have to do is follow. "We've" done the "hard yards" establishing the system, and it is a good and worthwhile system, all that has to be done is that it is supported and everything will turn out all right. I suspect that the Anglican Church in the Diocese of Adelaide is much like this. We expect people to support us because "we" have set everything up, and it is all very acceptable and respectable and what a loss to society it would be if it all fell in a heap.
Now I do not mind if people choose to accept this, for I have nothing against the Anglican Church, having been a part of it all my life. Indeed I am not against anything. What I am for, is to encourage a Spirit of adoption - of accepting others.
I recall once the parish of Glenelg hosted a visit from a minister from South Korea. It was in the time of Fr. David Cobbett who had had lots to do with the Church in Korea. David relayed this minister's astonishment at everything that made up the parish of Glenelg. How could they expect new people - it was all there - there was nothing for new people to work for!
And in some ways this is the joy of "Church-Planting" - in that it gives people something for which to work. Building a church is a way of putting one's mark on the world - something that will outlast us, and if it becomes sacred enough, something that will outlast our children and grandchildren. But such success is fairly illusory. Jesus did not build one building. It is good, it is fun, and it can provide a worthwhile arena for people to work together to achieve something that is good. But if it is done in the sense of proposing a place where "true" worship can happen - in opposition to other places where "less than true" worship happens, something is seriously wrong.
I was reflecting recently that it is really a matter of speculation as to how a memorial will last the longest. If a memorial is allowed to be modified by later generations it may well mean that those of that later generation will have somewhat more personal attachment to retaining the modified memorial; but of course this admits the possibility of the memorial ceasing to be altogether. And let me immediately add that I'm not suggesting the right answer to this. Nothing is forever. Jesus did not die and rise again for bricks and mortar, but for you and me and all people. If anything is eternal - it is you and I!
Yet the thinking that "we" are "right" and "others" are "wrong" pervades our Church. There are some who oppose the Ordination of Women who claim their rightness over and against less "orthodox" views. I am not talking about those who find the idea new and the controversy upsetting. I am talking about those whose whole "raison d'etre" is against this "innovation". One of the intercessions we use each year on Ash Wednesday - from A Prayer Book for Australia (p200) is: "We lay open to you: the victims of violence whose only memorial is our anger; those whose suffering was sustained on our behalf; those whose continued oppression provides the ground we stand on. The remembrance of them is grievous to us: The burden of them is intolerable."
I have often been led to think that we must make sure that the sacrifices we make to God are our own and not someone else's, or there will be hell to pay. The story of King David, Uriah and Bathsheba tells us this in no uncertain terms. Even the anointed and greatest King of Israel was not exempt from this.
So I'm not at all sure that which passes for evangelism aka "church-planting" is not actually a way of giving people another way to immortalise themselves. But as soon as I say this, I want it to be clearly heard that I'm not having a 'shot at' the Diocese of Sydney or Holy Trinity North Terrace here. We have foundation members of St Richard's in this congregation who see this building, lovely as it is, as their own memorial.
The question that faces us all is "Are we embracing people for who they are "warts and all" as the phrase goes; or are we actually rather more interested in soliciting help for our own personal cause; a surreptitious form of slavery?"
If St Paul encourages us to "do unto others" and we would want to be accepted "warts and all" by others, and would quickly discern when we are really only being accepted for what we can contribute to others, does this not lead us to accept others "warts and all"?
Today is Pentecost and the celebration of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the apostles, which really is the birthday of the church. Birth, as distinct from conception, begins the life of a person amongst the rest of humanity as well as his or her mother. So Pentecost marks the beginning of the life of the church amongst the rest of humanity as well as our Lord who has brought us to birth.
When people say that the Holy Spirit has directed his or her to do this or that, as if the mere mention of the Holy Spirit puts an imprimatur on the action; I look to what the person is claiming the Holy Spirit is leading them to do. If it is a Spirit of adoption of other people; whoever they are, then I have no difficulty. However if I perceive something which places conditions on others, however godly or biblical those conditions may sound, then the fullness of that "Spirit of adoption" is compromised, and I wonder.
And as I think about this, it is probably this that lies behind my personal difficulty with notices during worship. I do not mind what is put in the parish papers, the pew bulletin, the notice boards, or what is announced at morning tea. I don't want to censor anything. But I do appreciate the concept that here in worship we are all accepted for who we are, and whatever else we might do for God is left to another place. The purity of that Spirit of adoption during worship is un-compromised. And I have no doubt whatsoever that when we get to realise that Spirit of adoption for ourselves as well as for others, all the other good activities that we think "ought to be" will come naturally.
Pentecost is the birthday of the church, when we burst from the nice snugly womb of the personal relationship we have with Jesus, the church, the Bible, the sacraments or whatever, and are lead to embrace other people, metaphorically, not physically. Our theology is one of embracing others, seeing the good in others and praising God when we see that good.
I often say how shy I am, and that the only reason I have been able to overcome my shyness is to realise that others are as shy as me. It is only that others have perfected strategies for hiding their own shyness. But as I have been led to see the good in others, I have found personal encouragement bouncing back to me; not unsurprisingly when one thinks about it. I have found personal strength as I have followed this path. The slavery that inflicted me, my shyness, has been eased as I have followed this Spirit of adoption, and quite frankly I want to go on with this, I would never want to go back.
And for me the joy of this is that this has no limits, because there are limitless numbers of people around us and there are limitless ways God uses other people for the benefit of others, including ourselves. As I've looked at the various new movements in the Church, proposing this or that path, it seems as if there is a core of people who find a benefit, yet this core then tries to convince everyone else of the particular blessing they have enjoyed. It is not that the blessings were illusory, it is just that God blesses other people in other ways as well. By focussing on the blessings as we have experienced, we fail to acknowledge and see that God touches other people in just as real but in different ways to us; and we can be affronted rather than rejoice at this. Spirituality becomes a matter of who is right and who is wrong, when the Holy Spirit leads us to see that all are right.
Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"