The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s063e05 Lockleys Sunday 30 23/10/2005
"we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God" 1 Thessalonians 2 .7
This sounds like it could well be used as an excuse for "speaking the truth in love" which is really telling other people off, good and proper. It may well be taken to legitimize good old-fashioned "bible-bashing" and "thumping the pulpit". I find it curious that in my experience, the preachers who use these methods look down on anyone who doesn't use them. They define this sort of fearless preaching as being led by the Spirit. Anyone who uses rather more gentle methods is branded a "liberal".
But intimidation in the name of God is intimidation still. In fact it is worse than ordinary intimidation, precisely because it casts into hell.
When I was visiting Brisbane recently, the Rev'd Joan Claring-Bould and I were doing the tourist bit. On one busy street there was an evangelist, shouting his message to all who passed by. Joan commented that one day she would like to ask such a person what they would think if she shouted back at them :-) !
This approach takes these words entirely out of context -- for St Paul says: "we were gentle among you" -- and I am not about to brand St Paul a liar and a liberal.
So we have to ask what pleases God and each and every one of us will come to our own conclusions about this. For me, what pleases God is that all people know that they are loved by God and are enabled to love everyone else similarly, that all people are enabled to stand on their own two feet rather than grovel before the Almighty, and to use their God given brains. These do not seem to me to need anything that "spring(s) from deceit or impure motives or trickery". They seem to be straightforward enough.
There is no need for deceit or trickery when one has the best interests of everyone at heart. The only time one needs to use deceit or trickery is when actually someone else is going to lose something. The only person who loses something in the gospel is the person who believes that they have some status above others.
Now this is not always a popular message, simply because so many people operate on the law of the jungle and the survival of the fittest, and so inevitably this implies some will be "more equal than others". Their driving ambition is to make sure that they end up near the top, and if this means climbing over others, well that's just too bad.
But before we think of those "out there" who live this way, this happens often enough in the Church as well. How many Evangelicals think that theirs is the true church? Or Catholics? Or Pentecostals? We use church-person-ship to define who is at the top of the ecclesiastical pile. And just like intimidation, church pyramid building is far worse because it invokes god and hell and damnation; and the perpetrators can never see what the effect this might be having on others. They operate in god's name, so if others miss out, they can blame this god of theirs.
Now there is in fact no need to worry about those who intimidate others, for the real God is a God who welcomes all. Eternally, the religious outcast will be included.
But there is still a need to worry because people live blighted lives when they accept this sort of intimidation. And I include myself as much as anyone else in this. I have accepted being put down in the name of god and the church.
I think of Lot and his wife and family, fleeing the intimidation of their neighbours in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Sometimes one can only flee intimidation, and leave those who wish to practice it to fight it out amongst themselves. I wonder why Lot's wife looked back. Perhaps she was just curious, but being turned into a pillar of salt seems a harsh punishment for merely satisfying one's curiosity. More likely she was looking back wistfully, for the prospect of power and influence is strong.
I find it interesting that often the Sodom and Gomorrah story is frequently interpreted as being about sexuality, often by people who might be upright when it comes to this; but they have no qualms using scripture (or tradition or whatever) to intimidate others who are different to them.
I recently had a letter from the Hon. Andrew Evans OAM MLC, leader of the Family First Party, urgently requesting me to get people to attend a rally to oppose the Statutes Amendment (Relationships) Bill -- which in his words: "wants to give same extended rights to same-sex couples (his emphasis) to that of opposite-sex de-facto couples." For me the people of Sodom and Gomorrah wanted to stop Lot extending the basic right of hospitality to his visitors -- not so much different to what Andrew Evans wants to do to people who are different in our society.
Again, I recently heard Margaret Throsby interviewing Dr Alison Broinowski (who with James Wilkinson co-authored the book "The Third Try: Can the UN work?"). She said that the Christian right in the United States has such influence in Congress that funds are withheld from the UN showing their displeasure when they are trying to help someone in ways they disapprove. This is simply blatant intimidation in the name of some god or other. The God I worship has no need to use such intimidation.
Some people look to the priest to exercise authority and power -- often to get other people to do things. The number of people and organizations who would like to get into this pulpit is legion. The number of people who would like to get hold of my address book in my computer is the same. I have much discomfort with stewardship campaigns (and I am surely not alone here) for, particularly in the past, directors have breezed into a parish, and by hook or by crook, got people all fired up. Then they leave, leaving the priest to pick up the pieces, and begin again to treat people gently. The number of people and organizations who write to me and to the parish -- like the Hon Andrew Evans -- blithely assuming that I am going to get someone to help them is again legion.
In each and every parish I have been in, parishioners have made it clear that they do not wished to be asked to do any more. Of course I know a little of the personal circumstances of most anyway, and I know that they already are leading full lives, doing those things that often they have no option but to do. People do not have spare money or time, just waiting to give. I certainly don't have spare money or time in my life. I am not looking for extra jobs to do, or extra causes to support.
I am sure that there are few people in this congregation who have not had one or more phone calls recently from people who speak ever so quickly; wanting us to join this or that phone company or this or that energy provider. I cannot tell you whether any of these are worthwhile or not, but the mere fact that they have this habit of speaking so quickly makes me suspicious. I ask myself: "what are they trying to hide?"
In the proclamation of the Christian gospel, I am prepared to take time and to speak slowly. God is light, in whom there is no darkness at all. (1 John 1.5) There is no need to hurry or to raise our voices, for the truth of this is a growing realization for each and every one of us. And for me when all people realize that the statement " God is light, in whom there is no darkness at all" is true for all people, is something that will please God immensely. This realization often comes about not using words at all.
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