The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s052e05 Lockleys Sunday 19 7/8/05
'the word is in your heart .. and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved' Romans 10.8,10
As I've gone through the Church, one could be mistaken for thinking that the word is found primarily in the Bible, in the teaching of the Church, or in the application of some other exterior authority, like the Holy Spirit -- compelling belief and witnessing.
And I suspect that this has many consequences. People have had to learn the current orthodoxy, so their task is to accurately proclaim the word -- parrot fashion. But God calls us to be fully human, not compliant parrots.
The history of the Church (as well as other religions) has been littered with arguments over the correct exposition of the faith. Ordinary people have learned by bitter experience to keep their mouths firmly shut, to go into our own rooms and shut the door, and do our praying in secret. Jesus tells us that it is precisely these prayers that our heavenly Father hears.
Sadly, of course, this means that we do not get to express our own faith, and so the Church effectively denies us that salvation which we are charged to bring into people's lives. It is only now, after 28 years of full-time ministry preceded by 3 years of full time study at a theological college, that I'm beginning to know what's in my own heart and to have the courage to confess this in sermons.
I continue to find liberation and salvation each and every Sunday when I preach.
St Paul conceives the word as far more personal than these external authorities. It is in your heart and my heart, but I suspect that it should not stay there. We all need to have an opportunity to express our faith as we see it. If I look at my own life and faith development, it is entirely dependent on my ability to articulate it. As I've prepared sermons each week -- it could be something like 1400 sermons -- and preached them, I've been enabled to move on, to see things deeper and richer.
If we are denied a voice, we are likely to get 'stuck' on a particular point, and we are likely to begin making this a standard of faith for everyone else. I have little doubt that terrorists have a good deal of frustration because they haven't got a voice.
But I need to repeat that the word is not the sole possession of any individual or group. Yes, the word is in the hearts of people, but it is all people, not just some. So if we want to learn and grow in our faith, we need to dialog with others, to express the truth as we see it, and appreciate the convergences and divergences in the expressions of faith by others.
This dialog must include Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, and those of all other religions, for what makes us so special that we can be deaf to the insights of others?
Of course this dialog can include the people of faith who wrote in the Bible, it can also include those Church Fathers and Mothers who have expounded on the faith, before and after Jesus. But it also must include the brothers and sisters God puts around us, for the temptation is to apply the orthodoxies of the past to make ourselves deaf to the concerns of those real people around us, and those seeds of terrorism remain.
So true spirituality includes dialog with the poor, the religious outcast, the person who never darkens the door of any Church. These are people for whom Jesus died, not just us.
One of the things about being a priest is that we undertake to be a part of a dialog -- with the authors of the scriptures, with the fathers and mothers of the church, with contemporary thinkers and with the people God puts around us in a parish. Of course, I do not spend time consulting the congregation about what I should preach about, but I do spend a lot of time trying to explain the significance of the ministries you already conduct in your families and your community.
But this does not answer the question of how members of the congregation have an opportunity to engage in this dialog and to express their faith.
So how do we put this into practice, here in the Anglican Parish of Lockleys? How do we encourage dialog, when our rules state quite clearly that a person needs to be trained, called and licensed to preach in an Anglican Church, and even then only things that can be proved by scripture?
You will know that I have, for a long time, been putting my sermons on the internet. More recently new technology has enabled personal 'blog' sites where readers can make a public response. I have been doing this for a number of weeks, as well as including things I write for the parish paper, the 'outreach' and other forums. This is designed to promote dialog.
Similarly I do not exercise any editorial control over what is written by others in the pew bulletins, the parish paper or our "Outreach" magazine. I deliberately do not determine what is said in the Bible Studies in the parish. Lenten Studies are best lead by lay people, so again it is not my personal theology that only ever gets a hearing.
I think I say reasonably regularly that you do not have to agree with me. I can only speak as I am led, and you take what is helpful and disregard what is not. If you're struggling with some personal issues, then you are completely welcome to switch off what I am saying and carry on with your own prayers. That is more important for you.
I am aware that some parishes bend the rules and do have lay people preaching, but even then they generally are theological students. But I have been wondering if there was a group of people who wanted to collectively look at a Sunday's set of readings, say once every two or three months, and collectively draft a sermon -- this might assist this process of dialog. I think it would have to be a minimum of five people. It would have to be fully prepared and written out -- for this is what I do each week. I would be happy to include them on my 'blog' site. I would be quite happy to not exercise any editorial control other than limiting the length to 1300 words and to say that the object of the exercise is to expound the meaning of scripture -- not telling others what they should or shouldn't do. My experience of most extempore preaching is that it can easily become undisciplined haranguing and I suspect that you've had enough of that in the past already. If this were to happen I would expect howls of outrage from the rest of the congregation. (The best example of extempore preaching is the Dean of our Cathedral -- he really does it well -- I'm sure he has a gift for this.)
I was grateful to my Yoga teacher for drawing my attention to an article by the Rev'd Andrew Dutney, principal of Parkin-Wesley College and Associate Professor in theology at Flinders University, in last week's "The Independent Weekly" (p8). He explains that since the writing of the Creeds in 325AD "the theological definition of orthodoxy became increasingly precise .. but now it had no reference to behaviour at all." He concludes: "Regardless of their particular beliefs, a real Christian doesn't murder a doctor who performs abortions, doesn't vandalize the sacred places of people of other faiths, and doesn't make gay and lesbian people afraid for their safety. In the same way a real Muslim doesn't blow people up in the London underground. Nor does a real Jew, Hindu, Sikh, or Buddhist."
Salvation comes, not just to us, but to all, as we speak words of grace one to another. Or to put it the other way around and in the words of St Paul, following on the more well known words: "For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself"" by continuing: "If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another." (Galatians 5.14,15)
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