The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s064g05 Lockleys Sunday 31 & a commemoration of All Souls 30/10/05
(A shorter sermon because today we remember by name deceased family and congregational members.)
"nor are you to be called instructors" Matthew 23.10
The more familiar reading is "master" rather than "instructor", and this highlights the difficulty of all forms of courtesy and respect. For "Mister" is simply a weakened form of "Master", and "Mistress" = "Mrs" is the feminine equivalent. So those who call ministers "Mr" rather than "Father" out of deference to the word of God are, I'm afraid deluding themselves. I don't mind what you call me. When I wasn't elected Archbishop, I took some delight in calling myself the "almost Rev'd" :-)
It is also a curiosity that often those Churches where the title Mr is used are often those where the minister is placed on a high pedestal as an instructor.
I want to say strongly this morning that we have to follow our own hearts.
I know that our Church rightly has stressed the importance of scripture and the teaching of the Church as normative. Yet I believe that Jesus bids us primarily to look at our brother and sister, to feel some sympathy for them.
It is easy to be delusional about religion; I am not sure I would claim to be entirely free of delusions. But if we are fighting others over matters religious I suspect that something is seriously awry.
Some Christians have used the Bible, some Muslims the Koran, some Jews the Torah, some of whatever group -- have used their sacred scriptures to proclaim how right they are and how God will applaud the destruction of those who don't follow their way. How easy it is to use the texts of the past to avoid relating honestly and courteously with those around us - and to miss the whole point of each of these great texts - to forget what they are all about.
I have often found in my dealings with people that those to whom I am supposedly ministering are actually an encouragement to me. I recall the funeral of the wife of a member of the clergy -- tragically taken at a young age. One of the eulogies was from her spiritual director -- a Catholic Nun -- who said the same thing. She, as the Spiritual Director, actually learned much from the person she was directing. Now this seems particularly healthy. I am wary of those who know the truth and are not afraid of telling others just what that truth is. There is sometimes little or no reciprocity -- and I think to myself: "Gee, I'm glad I don't live with that person!"
One of the organizations who are having a quiet but determined campaign to come to this parish and get us to support them is Gideons International. I have to keep telling them that the Anglican Church only allows licensed ministers to preach in Anglican churches, despite what might have been the practice in other places.
I told you recently that I changed to use the "New Revised Standard Version" of the bible a long time ago. The reason for the change is found in the preface "to the Reader" (p xv) which states: "During the almost half a century since the publication of the RSV, many in the churches have become sensitive to the danger of linguistic sexism arising from the inherent bias of the English language towards the masculine gender, a bias that in the case of the Bible has often restricted or obscured the meaning of the original text." The version of the Bible that the Gideons' distribute is the New King James Version, which I understand does not take into account not just these modern sensitivities but also the deficiencies of the English language to adequately represent the Hebrew and Greek texts on which the translation is based.
What individuals may or may not think personally about gender inclusive language, I believe that particularly in public worship, where presumably we are trying to worship an accurate picture of God, (in the words of the preface in A Prayer Book for Australia p viii) "to be sensitive to this is a matter of courtesy and justice". For me -- if we neglect this courtesy and justice we neglect the whole purpose of the Bible.
What are we fighting for? Our version of the truth?
At a recent meeting at the Great Synagogue, Sydney, the representatives of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC), the National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA) and The Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), offered their support to all serious initiatives to breakdown racial and religious stereotypes and to strengthen Australian defences against terrorism and religious fanaticism. John Henderson, General Secretary of the NCCA said, "The history of religious martyrs is a long and honoured one, but it remains controversial. Martyrs are inspirational examples of people who live out what they believe whatever the personal cost. Their emphasis is on living, not dying."
So the test of our faith, is not in how many people we can convert to our way of thinking, or how many infidels we can kill, but what our faith costs us personally. And for me the cost I am prepared to bear is when other people are treated with respect -- that we live, like Jesus did, amongst the ordinary people of our day.
This day as we remember with thankfulness those who have gone before us, members of our congregation and of our families, we remember that they and we are all simply people for whom Jesus died. There is no need to fight.
Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"