The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s057e05 Lockleys Sunday 24 11/9/2005
"Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarrelling" Romans 14.1
Recently I have been reflecting on how amiable some clergy are, when they actually sincerely hold theologies that marginalize others. Some of the most gracious clergy I know actually are vehemently against the ordination of women and support the continued alienation of gays. I suspect that they would argue that God gives them no choice. The doctrines they hold, they hold regretfully, even apologetically.
But the God I worship gives you and me choice. I recall a high church colleague once lamenting that there were as many expressions of the protestant faith as there were protestants! It took me many years to realize that the same can be said of every branch of the church. I would be fooling myself to assume that any, let alone even a small proportion of my congregation actually believe in the faith as I express it! I can only give you my expression and it is up to you to take what is helpful and discard the rest.
Each and every one of us here uses our brains to think about what we believe, and a good thing too. You and I choose what we believe and what we don't believe. God treats us as adults.
A decade or so ago, someone may well have said that this congregation here at Lockleys was opposed to the ordination of women. There are a few people here who sincerely oppose this, but now that you are actually allowed to think for yourselves and express your own opinions, the majority of this parish is not opposed.
My attention was recently drawn to a letter to the editor in the 'Weekend Australian" (Aug 27 p16) by Kendall-Aztlan Horrocks of Erskinville NSW, suggesting that after we deport the Muslim terrorists, "I would expect this is also extended to those Christians who attempt to enforce their dated theocracy upon us." It is only a matter of degree of terrorism that separates the suicide bombers and those devout Anglicans who hold theologies that essentially marginalize those who believe or act differently.
This is but a prelude to my comment on how we categorize each other. Of prime importance is what we believe. How frequently we quarrel over matters of faith, rather than welcoming others. We welcome others who are weak in the faith, often because we hope to mould them into replicas of ourselves, in order to support us in our quarrels. We don't welcome those who are strong in the faith, because they will not be of any use supporting us.
The person who told the parable of the Good Samaritan could well be described as a secular humanist. The essence of this parable is to get off our butts and help others, whoever they are, where ever we can. It doesn't call us to change the world, berate ourselves when we actually are unable to provide assistance when needed, or if we have concerns for our own safety if we were to try to help. It simply calls us not to make God our excuse to not help someone else, to marginalize someone else, suggest that they will not attain to eternal life, or, heaven forbid, make God an excuse to blow others up.
I was listening to the radio while I was on sick leave and there was a discussion on the nation of Israel and the thesis of the person speaking was that originally the nation was set up as a secular humanist state, but very soon it became a model for a religious state, and the current troubles remain because this gulf has not been bridged. I want to say that this is hardly confined to the nation of Israel. The gulf between the secular humanism that Jesus preached and the religious fundamentalism that exists, alive and well and vitriolic in Australia and in our Anglican Communion to this day. It is why a remain a priest.
In last week's gospel we heard Jesus' words about the excommunication of a member of the Church. First the parties at variance discuss it together. If they cannot come to a resolution, two or three get together to discuss the matter. If there is still not resolution, the matter is brought before the church -- and here I suppose Jesus means the congregation. It is only after all these avenues are exhausted that a person is expelled. I would point out that at no time does Jesus suggest that they get out the scriptures to determine who is in the wrong. The process is all about human interaction, getting on with one another, not proving who is right and who is wrong.
How easy it is to quote chapter and verse to prove a point, and another is dismissed as irrelevant. It might be chapter and verse of the Bible, or chapter and verse of one of the Fathers or Mothers of the Church, it might be any one of a number of "authorities", but the effect is the same -- someone else is made to look wrong and small. As soon as an exterior authority is quoted, it shows that that exterior authority is loved more than the other person; and that my friends, is simply not the Christianity I know and love. It is not the message of the Bible.
Each and every one of you here listening to me this morning has your own "take" on the truth as you see it. Each and every one of you has thought through the big issues of life and come to your own conclusions. I remember being astonished when hearing that a person with whom I worshipped during my choir days was not only a good and faithful Anglican but also a British Israelite. In my youthful naiveté, I thought that this was entirely unusual, but now I have come to realise that this is largely true for most of the people in congregations.
Let me repeat and expand that statement I made earlier: As soon as an exterior authority is quoted, it shows that that exterior authority is loved more than the other person; and that my friends is simply not the Christianity I know and love. Whatever that exterior authority is, as soon as it is quoted, it demonstrates that the authority is more important than the other person. How easy it is to sound religious, using entirely orthodox rules and ending up not loving others, not acknowledging the sacredness of all people.
Much has been made, in recent times, of teaching "Australian values" to our young people and those who come to our shores. Values associated with secular humanism, like respect and tolerance of the other. I can but applaud and wish that the Anglican Church uniformly upheld similar ideals. But, my friends, we do not. Certainly, parts of us try. But some of our most successful parishes and dioceses actually thrive on intolerance of anyone who doesn't think like them. Indeed they make much of their numerical strength and the earnest enthusiasm of their members. Some of their clergy are the most amiable and gracious you could find.
In the latest issue of "Eureka Street" there was a report by Anthony Ham entitled "Europe's Muslim future" and he quotes "Moneir Mohamoud Ali el-Messery, imam of Madrid's M-30 Mosque (Europe's largest)" saying: "When I studied in Saudi Arabia, I interpreted it with little analysis. In Spain, I have to be more rational, I have to talk not only as a Muslim; I have to be a bridge. I have come to know another place, another way of thinking." (p 18) How refreshing! On the same day I read the report in our Anglican Newspaper "Market-Place" that the former Vice-Principal of Moore College who later became the Archbishop of Sydney, Marcus Loane was never invited back to preach at the college chapel. (Aug 10th p 14) Would that Anglicans who teach and study at Moore College might similarly come to know another place, another way of thinking, as the imam from Madrid has come to do. The secular humanist teaching of Jesus should lead to a "cultural integration" that the author suggests "must be matched by a willingness of Europeans to embrace Muslims as equals and not just the other way around." Replace "Europeans" with "Anglicans" and "Muslims" with "others".
All of this applies in microcosm in a parish situation. We are called to welcoming but not in order to prove our point. We simply welcome others whether they support our particular ministry, version of the faith, or whatever, or they have a completely new thing to offer. We are called to welcome both the weak in faith and let them grow in the faith along their own path, as well as the strong in faith who perhaps will have a ministry that eclipses our own, for this may just be what the parish needs. We welcome others not for the purpose of quarrelling -- but for the purpose of encouraging one and all.
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