s074g98 3/5/98 St Philip's Patronal Festival Somerton Park
"No one comes to the Father except through me." John 14.6
I have often heard these words used as if to suggest that Jesus somehow stands in one's way to God, keeping people away from Him (or Her). One doesn't have to look very far in the Bible to find list of the sorts of people that Jesus would obviously keep away from the Father. The book of the Revelation has fairly clear-cut and precise lists: "The cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur ... nothing unclean shall enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life." (21.8,27) All good stirring stuff, easily used to arouse the fear of God in the unbelievers. The risen Jesus obviously has his work cut out for him, keeping all these people out!
But we need to be a bit careful in using these passages in this way and for a number of reasons.
Firstly we are told: "perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4.18) so without doubting the existence of these words, to use them to instil fear may possibly be to misuse them. If there is another way of using them, other than "putting the fear of God" in others, then perhaps we can see why they were said.
Secondly, Jesus didn't seem to me to speak in this way to anyone, or if he did, it was to the religious authorities, rather than those "normal" people - those who had no pretensions what so ever to sanctity.
Thirdly, I believe we have to be careful of protecting or defending God. God doesn't need us or anyone else to protect him from people. In the gospel stories the disciples sought to protect Jesus from children (Mk 10.13), even to giving Jesus advise to send away the hungry multitude to buy their own food (Matt 14.15). These are just a couple of examples that immediately spring to mind. The picture of Jesus with the woman caught in the very act of committing adultery, of welcoming, saving her from her accusers, and forgiving her, is for me forever in the forefront of my mind.
Fourthly, we tend to betray our own insecurities when we proclaim the vengeful God. In our frustration that we don't seem to be getting our own way - and that God seems not to be active on *our* behalf, we comfort ourselves that our opponents will have their "comeuppance" sooner or later.
As I briefly explain at every funeral I take, all of St John's gospel - chapters 13 to 17 -are all words spoken to the disciples on the night before he died. Thus these words (in chapter 14) that "No one comes to the Father except through me" have to be seen in this context. Clearly they were said to reassure the disciples about what was about to happen to him, beginning that very night and culminating in the Cross and resurrection, was all in God's plan. The purpose of the death and resurrection was to open the gate of heaven to all who would come to the Father. Therefore, far from standing between us and God keeping people away; Jesus in fact stands at our side to help us along the way as we travel towards our heavenly Father. He helps us through that cross and resurrection.
I was interested after conducting one funeral some years ago and saying these words, one of the family (from interstate so it transpired) came up to me and said: "You obviously didn't train at ... College!" (an Anglican Theological College).
What then are we to make of all (what seem to be) the "conditions for entry" that St John lists in his Book of the Revelation I listed earlier?
Surely the life beyond this must be something to look forward to. We would want to have an existence free of the frustrations and anxieties that now beset us; we wouldn't actually want eternal life if it was just the same as now. So eternal life must be similar to our present existence but without those things which now despoil it.
So no one will be cowardly, faithless, polluted, murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, or liars; the need for any of these things will be done away with completely. We need have no fear - everything which might upset the peace and harmony of life with God will be done away with. People will be brought into the presence of our heavenly Father, healed, forgiven, and made whole. Of course all these things will be done through the Cross and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Jesus said to our patron saint, St Philip, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father ... the words that I say to you I do not speak on my own ..." (Jn 14.9,10) All that Jesus said and did was what the Father wanted him to do - there can be no turning back from it. God wants everyone to come into his presence and enjoy eternal life (and I need to emphasise the word enjoy) and has done and will continue to do everything to help us.
Today we are to reaffirm our ministries in this place, and perhaps that word "enjoy" is a good place to start. Over the years, I guess through thick and thin, despite differences and, at times, contention, we have enjoyed making our contribution to the fabric and the fellowship of St Philip's Church. Some part of it is "ours" in a way that the churches in neighbouring parishes can never be. Today let us remember the enjoyment of being able to contribute, because even though that contribution might have stretched us a little, we have learnt from that.
So often these days it seems as if Church people spend their time lamenting that others don't consider the Church their home, that they don't come, or that they don't come regularly enough. But look at your own personal experience and ask yourself the question: "Why do I consider St Philip's *my Church*". The answer is most surely: "Because here my individual contribution or ministry has been or is accepted and valued." There is a brick or a kneeler with *your* name on it. You are mentioned in the lists of officials or in the text of the parish history booklet.
It becomes immediately obvious that the way others will come to consider St Philip's to be their home is when their individual contributions and ministry is accepted and valued. When there is a brick or kneeler with their name on it. So often, and I need to immediately preface this by saying of course I am now speaking of the whole Anglican Church not of St Philip's in particular, we want others to come only to admire our contribution and to value what we have provided for them! Even worse we hope others will not contribute anything significant (except of course their money), for if they make their own contribution they will surely change something.
I have no wonder that the Anglican Church still seems to be struggling; it is asset rich and the job is now to preserve rather than be open to new developments, to preserve what we have contributed rather than be open to the contributions of others. The Church struggles with this all the time. People want *their* Churches to remain open, even if only for a handful, come what may. Yet there are new housing estates springing up on the edges, where the Anglican Church needs a presence, now, or we will be left behind. Only just recently someone was saying how the Catholics, the Lutherans and the Uniting Church all have their parishes in a (not so newly developed) suburb not far from here, but not the Anglican Church.
Can we remember the enjoyment of making our contribution and let go of the necessity of everyone following us? If we do not find ways to let others enjoy making their own distinctive contribution, they will simply find other places to do so. There are enough *new* denominations beginning who will welcome people's contribution if we don't.
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