The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:
s035e05 Lockleys 16/1/05 Sunday 2
"you are not lacking" 1 Cor 1.7
I have to confess that there have been numerous occasions when I have thought: "You know, if only I would win Cross Lotto, just think how much I could do for the diocese, the parish, the kingdom of God. Actually, I only buy a ticket when the pool becomes over ten million dollars, and then only one. But God has different ideas and priorities .. bother .. :-)
We often think of the church and how poor it is. Parishioners are aging and moving away or dying. There seems to be no young people to take over "our" ministries.
Or sometimes some think, if only we can sell some of our property and fund ministries we might be all right. Of course, we usually actually mean someone else's property, not that which is precious to us.
St Paul speaks to the Corinthian Church and says they have everything they need, right at their disposal. The Corinthian congregation was interesting to say the least. I won't bore you with the details, for we will hear more in the next week or two. It bore a remarkable similarity to most parishes I have known. Let me assure everyone that they were no more blessed than every parish I have been in. They didn't have lots of money or influential people. They were a very mixed bunch. They had people who knew it all and were not reticent in telling others how much they knew, including the apostle himself.
In the midst of all this blessing, Paul discerned the need to speak about love.
One of the prayers I use regularly before services begins: "Go before us, O Lord, in all our doings with your most gracious favour, and assist us with your continual help .." (APBA p 217). God is with us. We do not need more money. If we needed more money, God will provide it.
The trouble is, of course, God will provide this money through the generosity of other people, and often these other people will have their own ideas about how they think it ought to be used. If we want to insist that other people's contribution is used in "our" way, we may well find that their offerings are not so readily forthcoming.
So the situation is that we have everything we need, provided only that we are open to the contributions others are desirous of making. Again and again there is this essential openness to others that determines how much we will be blessed; our preparedness to be blessed by others.
If we want other people's money but we don't want others to change anything (and certainly not our own perceptions of life, which are truth itself); we are actually not interested in others, but only how we can use them. Child molesters operate in precisely the same paradigm. If we expect God to bless the Church using this paradigm, then I have no doubt that we will be waiting a long time.
I was reflecting recently how religious fanatics (of whatever religious persuasion), terrorists and child molesters are entirely convinced of their own innocence and rectitude; failing to perceive, care about, and even positively gloating over the harm they inflict on others. Some passages in the psalms spring immediately to mind in this context.
However if we decide to operate by being open, the blessings will follow automatically, inevitably .. I was interested to reflect on those words of Jesus: "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back." (Luke 6.38) I have always thought of this positively; but it is not necessarily so. If we have nothing to give, there will be nothing received and our lap will be empty.
The open ear, the open heart, these are the things that are not denied us, except were we deny them for ourselves. And, as Christians, we do not need the contribution that anyone else might seek to make to our lives!
Before and after Christmass, when people are naturally concerned with family celebrations and get togethers, and do not want to see clergy, it is a good opportunity for them to do some reading and planning. Such has been my life for a few weeks as I have been learning to use a PDA to do the parish calendar and reading the "Windsor Report". As I have said in the pew bulletin, we can all be proud that we belong to an organization that is able to produce such a scholarly report.
Again and again in this report it talks about the Anglican Communion as being marked by the "bonds of mutual affection" and lamenting that the current controversies have shown that these are insufficiently recognised and appreciated for the value they have.
We may like to pretend that we are a poor part of the Anglican Church here at Lockleys, being in the "western suburbs" rather than the "poshe" eastern suburbs. Yet we have a functional church, caring people and our money worries are relatively inconsequential in that we have no debts over our head. We have the support of a diocesan structure that ensures that things are done decently and in order. I have on occasions met clergy or partners from other, and newer denominations, for whom thinking about long service leave and superannuation is fantasy land stuff; they have to worry if the next pay cheque will come. We do not lack anything, except of course people who will continue it on unaltered.
Perhaps the problem is that we consider we are rich enough, that we are comfortable enough. We are comfortable enough to not need anyone else. How much God has blessed us, but we curse ourselves by thinking that it will continue while we disregard the contributions others want to make. The job of the priest is to recognise the wonderful contributions of the past, and convince others that they will go to hell unless they agree! I think not.
In my ministry experience, I have been privileged to serve in two parishes that are relatively recently established. One, of course is this one. It is really wonderful not to have a Church where the maintenance is a millstone around the necks of all who attend. But in both cases those who come, by and large, look to the halcyon days of yesteryear, when everyone banded together to erect a common edifice. What has changed? Most of the people who built the place are still here, but no one new can "build"; because what has been built is finished, complete. It's purpose is to inspire others to marvel, and NOT do anything else. We reason that other people's ministry is to admire what we have done, not consider what they can contribute to the building. And I wonder if this is not symptomatic of the Anglican Church at large?
Like the church at Corinth, we lack nothing here at Lockleys. There is nothing incomplete or deficient in this structure. It is wonderful. But, just as St Paul was moved to commend the church at Corinth to love others, we too need to be open to the contributions that others can make here.
The Windsor Report indicates to me that like the church at Corinth, we lack nothing in the Anglican Communion. There is nothing incomplete or deficient in this structure. It is wonderful. But, just as St Paul was moved to commend the church at Corinth to love others, we too need to be open to the contributions that others can make.
This is not a criticism of the "Windsor Report" in the slightest, for the question is way beyond it's mandate, but the issues of our ecumenical intercommunion and relationships with people of other faiths is scarcely alluded to. I have said, often enough from this pulpit, how my experience of the church (as well as society and institutions of learning) has been to reward compliance and how difficult it therefore is to find oneself and one's own place in this world.
And it caused me to reflect how we spend so much time defining who is an Anglican and how we are different from Roman Catholics and the Uniting Church and people of other faiths (as well as committed and loving couples of the same gender) who harm us not one iota, and it seems child molesters used to find in the church environment a secure place to continue to abuse children.
We lack nothing and are quite able to distinguish between those who hurt others and those who do not. Let us welcome those who do not hurt others: those who "do justice .. love kindness, and .. walk humbly with .. God". Micah 6.8
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