The readings on which
this sermon is based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r064.htm
s064g14 Sunday 31 2/11/2014
‘you are not to be called rabbi’ Matthew 23.8
These words show that the gospel is aimed squarely at the new Church
- it is not a diatribe against the ancient faith of
I must admit when I read those words by James: ‘My brothers and
sisters, do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our
glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold
rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor
person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the
one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please’,
while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there’, or, ‘Sit at my
feet’, have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become
judges with evil thoughts?’ (1) I think of how bishops everywhere
are processed into worship with the greatest solemnity.
How is this different?
So when the risen Christ commands the apostles to ‘Go therefore and
make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the
Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to
obey everything that I have commanded you’ (2) we need to reconcile
this with the command not to proclaim ourselves
teachers. So for me our teaching must be about the
inherent dignity of each and every human being - that all people,
regardless of gender, wealth, upbringing or choice of intimate
partner - all have one heavenly parent.
This is an essential part of that gathering of the children, ‘as a
hen gathers her brood’; the equality and egalitarian nature of the
kingdom. All are protected, all share the warmth of God.
But it is religion, and it can as equally be christianity as any
other, that is not willing for God to be this affirming and
inclusive. I recall a conversation with our good friend
Michael and his experience of walking the Camino. One of
his lasting remembrances was of a renovated church - the altar at
one end, a table with space to seat 20 or 30 in the middle, and
mattresses at the other end. And God was in each part of
the building. This was his picture of what church is to
Who are welcome to share our space under the mother hen?
The poor? The confused? The
divorced? The sceptic? The questioner?
I was sad to read that some prelates complained that the initial
document on the recent Vatican synod on the family ‘may give rise to
For the warmth under the hen does not all come from the mother - it
is also generated by each and every one of the chicks.
And again, this needs to be viewed corporately rather than just
personally. We as Anglicans deprive ourselves of the
warmth of others, people of other faiths and none, when we exclude
them from our metaphorical source of warmth and
security. When we marginalise, alienate and condemn
others we are depriving them of warmth and security, as well as
I have been reflecting recently how the command to love God and
neighbour which was the gospel last week is set squarely within the
framework of Jesus’ parables against the devout and the orthodox and
his denunciation of them in Matthew 23, of which today we only read
the briefest of snippets and ignore the rest of the chapter
altogether. The rest of the denunciations are never read
on Sunday morning! When our faith is exclusive and
judgemental, when we leave others out in the cold, are we not the
ones who need to hear the words of denunciation in these chapters of
Matthew? Why are they consistently omitted?
And I repeat, these last chapters of Matthew (4) are all about the
cursing of exclusive and judgemental religion!
I want to talk a little more about the warmth we receive from
others. When I see people in the chemotherapy suite
talking amongst themselves, I don’t interrupt. Those who
are experiencing the same treatment find strength talking with
someone going through the same thing, rather than me who
hasn’t. It doesn’t matter what the faith of the other
person is, how they live, whether they are wealthy or poor, gay or
straight; just the fact that they are human beings going through a
similar situation - is greatly encouraging. We are not
alone. I recall a priest once saying that he was an introvert
and couldn’t cope with synods and escaped to be by himself during
breaks. And this gave me permission to make similar
self-disclosure. For all this time I thought I was the
only one! And there are few who get through life
unscathed so we have something to share with others as others have
something to share with us. When we welcome the atheist
and the agnostic, we allow ourselves to question, to admit our own
niggling doubts, our own frustrations; to ourselves as much as to
I’ve reflected that conversations at the obligatory morning tea
after church usually consist of inconsequential banter.
Somehow the ambience is not conducive to real communion; communion
with people who are different, people whose very differences and
complementarity to ourselves bring the possibility of
enrichment. How often the conversation is about the next
fundraiser or meeting and who is going to do what!
Again I reflect that some parts of the church will do just about
anything except be affirming and inclusive. We will work
ourselves into the ground and criticise others when they don’t
follow our example: exclusive, critical and condemnatory with
ourselves being the rabbi, the teacher, the instructor ..
As a parent I knew I could never teach my own sons to swim or to
drive. If you want to retain a relationship, don’t try
to be that person’s teacher! Even real teachers know
that they can’t have their own children in their class.
There are also those ‘evangelists’ for whom using the word
‘challenge’ has been the other way of avoiding affirming and
including others. They challenge others to examine the
veracity of their message. It has often been used so
frequently that the contrast to how infrequently they use the word
love is startling. The only time the word ‘challenge’ is
used in the bible is: ‘You set a snare for yourself and you were
caught, O Babylon, but you did not know it; you were discovered and
seized, because you challenged the LORD.’ (5) It is
clear that ‘challenge’ is no neutral word - it denotes conflict and
opposition - characteristic of the Westminster system of government
- not love.
So the real question is: When will we as Church choose to do as
Jesus commands and to be the lover of others who are
different? When will we as the church: ‘make love not
war’ as I have (more than once) paraphrased Romans 1.26-27
1. James 2.1-4
2. Matthew 28.19-20
4. chapters 21-23
5. Jeremiah 50.24