readings on which this sermon is based can
be found at: http://web.me.com/frsparky/iWeb/r035.htm
s035g11 Sunday 2 16/1/2011 Presbyterian Church Mt Pleasant.
In the name of God, Life-giver, Pain-bearer and Love-maker.
(Fr Jim Cotter http://www.cottercairns.co.uk/)
‘What are you looking for?’ John 1.38
Mary tells me, a longer than usual sermon :-)
Jesus question makes me ask: ‘What are we looking for?’ - when we come
to church, either to the Presbyterian Church here or the Anglican
Church. I guess we most often come because we are looking
for love or
have found love. Somehow we have perceived that God loves
us and that
here in these congregations others love us too. And, of
want more and more people to experience this love of God and the
fellowship of these congregations - that’s what ‘christian’ mission and
ministry is all about. And I guess one of the reasons we
together from our two different congregations this morning is because
we are finding it more than our present numbers can reasonably support
continuing to try to do this on our own.
We all here know that Jesus loves us. We all know that
incarnated into humanity to show us how much we are loved, and we know
that Jesus died on the Cross in an ultimate act of love for each and
every one of us.
But the trouble is that there is a catch. Jesus said to
would follow him: ‘If you love those who love you, what reward do you
have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the
same? And if you greet
only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than
Do not even the Gentiles do the same?’ (Matthew
5.46-47) So if we
love Jesus because we know he loves us, what reward will we have?
doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference how often we sing our
praises to God or invoke the name of Jesus.
But before we all quietly switch off and think that here’s another
impossible demand being laid upon us, let me assure you that I do not
want to do that. You and countless Presbyterians and
you have given of yourself, your time, your money, your energy, and
mostly you are burnt out. The last thing you need is
half-assed preacher to whip you into action. But the game
There are precious little resources left to spend. That’s
worshipping together here this January.
But, as I say, there is this catch. We love Jesus because
we know he
loves us. We love the church because we have found an
fellowship in which to worship. We love Pastor Neil and Vicar
because we know that, with the best of their ability, they will be with
us in our time of need.
But if we love only Jesus, because we know Jesus loves us - what reward
do we have? Others love Jesus in such a variety of ways
completely astonishing and if they only love Jesus because they know
Jesus loves them, their reward will be no more, and no less, than
ours. If we love the members of the congregation with whom
worship, because we know that they love us, what reward will we
There are a multitude of other congregations whose worship is
completely different to ours, and they love the other members just as
much as us, and their reward will be no more, and no less, than
If we love Pastor Neil or Vicar Mary because we know that they love us,
then know that there are a multitude of other pastors, vicars, priests,
imams, leaders of synagogues and spiritual guides who similarly love
their congregations and followers, and the members of those
congregations will receive no more, and no less, reward than us.
If we love others because they measure up to our expectations of
doctrine, worship or lifestyle, what reward have we? - the residents of
Sodom and Gomorrah loved those who toed their line - and expelled
On Tuesday the 4th of January the governor of Punjab, Mr Salman Taseer
was assassinated in Pakistan by one of his bodyguards - it is presumed
because of his criticism of the country’s blasphemy laws.
If so, the
culprit acted out of his love for Allah.
Let us turn this around. If God only loves those who love
God, is God
any more righteous than a tax-collector and a Gentile? If
loves those who love him, is Jesus any more righteous that a
tax-collector and a Gentile either?
If Jesus opens the gate of heaven just to white, straight, male
Anglicans, can Jesus actually ask us to love wider than this?
What are we looking for? Someone to love us? Yes,
well we’ve found
that person, but that person loves others too, and not just those who
love Jesus in return.
And this is not a liberal secularist plot - these are the words from
the bible, the words of Jesus.
In the history of the Church, we are slowly extracting ourselves from a
latent neo-colonial spirituality that infects all
extraction of Christianity has been particularly difficult because it
has been so successful in extending their various tentacles and has
become so politically powerful. The invasion of Australia and New
Zealand and the forcible appropriation of the land was done by good
upright ‘christians’ who knew full well that it is against one of the
ten commandments not to steal. I acknowledge that New Zealand is
somewhat better in righting this wrong than is Australia.
those days others didn’t really matter!
So what am I asking you to do this morning? Well, nothing
don’t know what form the church will take in the future, so there’s
little point in trying to prepare for it. Indeed I suspect
sincerely hope that the church of the future will have more input from
the divine and less from humanity anyway. I invite you to
not get too
fussed with the continuing existence of this or that congregation,
world without end, Amen. Be open, not just to those who
in through our doors, but also be open to the spirituality, devotion
and the sincerity of others - who are not white, straight, male
Presbyterians or Anglicans (as the case may be :-), those who don’t
wonder through our doors. God loves people who do not call
by the name we give, who worship in different ways to us, indeed people
who do not love him or her at all; but try their best to get on with
other people indiscriminately - which is not an especially visible
characteristic of the church.
What are we looking for? A spiritual bouncer at the
ready to admit us who love God and have all the right credentials -
baptism, confirmation, communion, read the Bible properly (especially
the bit about ‘no one comes to the Father but by me’), give to the
Church and to others as we have been able - and damn the
in those lovely words of Jesus, which can be taken two ways but most
only hear them as a blessing: ‘Give, and it will be given to
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) If we give nothing to anyone other than
love us, we will get nothing in return!
For me the importance of this is illustrated by some other words of
Jesus: ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife
and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot
be my disciple.’ (Luke 14.26) If our love of those who love
return becomes a substitute for loving those who don’t love us, then
the first has to go!
And I was reminded recently of some more familiar words of St Paul:
‘Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he
was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something
to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being
born in human likeness.’ (Philippians 2:5-7) The ‘church’
us to take this personally and submit ourselves to their rules and
regulations, when if the church does not take this upon herself,
nothing you or I do will make the slightest bit of difference in the
the wider community. The church has to be reborn in human
Perhaps to illustrate this by contrast, G. K. Chesterton once said:
'The .. church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading
slavery of being a child of his age'. The ‘church’ that
denies the incarnation and denies the love of God for others.
We are doing well this morning, even if begrudgingly, we are extracting
ourselves from Anglican and Presbyterian neo-colonial aspirations, even
if we are doing it because we have no other choice. God has
each and every one of us a brain to use, and the problem with giving
everyone a brain is that we are surely meant to use it. And
we will inevitably come up with different answers to
others. We will
come up with different names for the divine, we will come up with
different ways to worship. We may choose to share our
affections with someone of whom others don’t approve. The
that others have to comply with my standards is no different from the
inhabitants of Sodom and Gommorah, and the man who shot the governor of
Punjab. I ask you to use your brains and reason if a ‘god’
demanded I kill others to protect that ‘god’ is worth worshipping
anyway. That ‘god’ sounds more like a demon to me.
What are we looking for? Well, what we have found is plain,
for God hasn’t ever changed.
And I would invite you to celebrate that God is bringing this about,
that the kingdom is more than the continuing existence of the
Presbyterian and Anglican congregations here, but whose mercy is far,
far wider than this. Celebrate that God is indeed bringing
about, even as we lament the passing of this little outpost of
christendom that we have loved so much for so long.
And finally a plea: don’t look to Pastor Neil or Vicar Mary to rescue
this or that congregation by getting more people to come and prop up
the ageing institution, to admire the contribution of the past and
present members rather than make their own unique
world has changed, those who are already a part of God’s church (even
if they are not here this morning) are far too precious to be made to
conform to the old verities and thanks be to God it is so.
If what I
say is indeed true, it is to try to get Pastor Neil or Vicar Mary to
resist what God is doing, not assist what God is doing.
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