The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s044g08 Sunday 11 15/6/08
'give without payment' Matthew 10.8
I find it significant that soon after these words, Jesus says: 'labourers deserve their food'. This points to the fact that one can take a particular text in the Bible and come to a conclusion, yet the complete opposite conclusion from a passage so close to the first. The disciples are not to expect payment, yet they deserve to be fed.
One of the great joys of being a hospital chaplain is that I no longer have to worry about money, buildings or meetings. Of course in this modern multi-faith society I also rejoice in being able to accept people unconditionally. I don't worry if people are Anglicans, Calathumpians or nothing at all. I go offering friendship to one and to all. Because I do not have a parish church I do not expect payment, either personally or with any expectation that people become part of 'my' congregation. I simply do not have a congregation apart from the hospital patients, family and staff.
In the hospitals I rejoice to accept all those who have problems with addictions, the developmentally disabled, those with mental and physical illnesses, straight and gay, people who attend church and those who don't.
I said earlier about our modern society, accepting one and all, regardless of faith or lack thereof. Lying behind this is the myth that all Anglicans or 'christians' believe the same thing - which has never been the case. Individuals believed and still do, what is in their hearts, often quite at odds with what is taught from the pulpit. I suspect that this is as true for other denominations and faiths as it is for Anglicans. I am currently reading the book: 'From Inquisition to Freedom' by Paul Collins and he describes there the same phenomenon of Catholic theologians whose private convictions are meant to be inviolable.
In our modern society we can actually say without fear what we actually believe, rather than reciting the creed or some other statement of faith, and surely this is a good thing. For the process of articulating what we actually believe means often that we can move on in our journey of faith rather than remain static. It is one of the reasons I continue to prepare sermons, for otherwise I too would stagnate.
Private convictions can work both ways. There are as many Christian terrorists as any other type, despite the message of Jesus to love our neighbour. But on the other hand there are many who quietly neglect preaching against the ordination of women or discrimination against gay and lesbian persons.
Give without payment means that our love is entirely unconditional. We do not expect love in return. People are welcome to be who they are and remain as they are.
Put the other way around, the logical opposite is child molestation. We have no difficulty recognizing that this is a travesty of love, where the grooming of victims is all about what the perpetrator hopes to gain from the other. So when the Church is seen to be mainly concerned with the number of 'bums on pews' the unconditionality of our love is severely called into question.
Recently I may have had some unintentional contact with one of those perennial 'pyramid schemes' that seem to surface every now and again. The essence of the pyramid scheme is that those who get in early make their riches on those who enter later. Clearly the person up higher benefits from the subservience of those below. But this reminded me of the fact that the greatest and longest surviving pyramid scheme is the institution of the church itself. I fear that much of what is called lay participation is simply a way of reinforcing the pyramid, rather than turning it upside down as Jesus did. I have come to realise that my hatred of pyramid schemes derives from the fact that I myself have been in one for a long time, and as one seen to be somewhat 'higher up the ladder'.
And 'giving without payment' also illuminates the relationship of marriage and the 'battle of the sexes'. Clearly there must be give and take in every relationship, but in the end if there is no element of unconditionality, any relationship is eternally fraught. This unconditionality is not one way the wife loving the husband unconditionally - as has traditionally been taught.
My experience of being a hospital chaplain shows me every day how appreciated being loved unconditionally is. Indeed I know that those who are wary of my approach are worried about expectations being placed on them.
It might seem idealistic to see a vision of the world without discrimination, without pyramid schemes, without the battle of the sexes raging, without the young being molested yet it is unconditional love that we all look for, it is what really makes the world go round, it is the thing that will lift us out of despair. It is the most valuable of things and yet is given freely to one and to all. I don't pretend that I have got either a monopoly on this, or that I personally operate this way, in my personal life, even some of the time yet it is the leaven in the loaf.
I often say to people I meet in hospitals, that if they want to know where I see God at work, it is in hospitals rather than Churches, precisely because it is in hospitals that people are raised to their feet physically, and helped to think for themselves mentally and this is offered indiscriminately to one and to all. This is what God has done to all throughout history - restored the primal dignity of all human beings.
And it is interesting and instructive that the impetus for chaplains to offer pastoral care indiscriminately comes not from the Churches but from the government. As far as many Anglicans are concerned the most important thing I do is to care for those Anglicans in hospital, whereas for me the most important thing I do is to offer God's unconditional love to all.
The parable of the one poor lost sheep being brought back to the 99 safely in the fold, parallels Jesus bringing the religious back into the fold of society, I suspect in some cases kicking and screaming in protest! No wonder they had him crucified! So the Churches still have to learn the message that the government knows only too well, that any form of sectarianism has nothing to do with God or the kingdom.
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