The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s092g05 Advent 1 Lockleys 27/11/05
"then he will .. gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven" Mark 13.27
It sounds like it might almost be an advantage to have some experience in hang-gliding if we are going to be gathered from the four winds!
This seems like it might just include a few more people than those of white, Anglo-Celtic origin who are faithful to the tenets of the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 and the King James Version of the Bible of 1611.
The Lord brings people together, disparate people. So often we do not want to be brought together, and we would like the opportunity to choose just who we might be asked to include.
But this is not just in the future. Jesus' words imply a closeness, one might almost say it might actually be happening surreptitiously under our noses, so surreptitious that we might not even notice that it is happening.
In the scriptures, time and again, God leads people to different places, to people of different races and cultures. Abraham is lead to leave his home land for places far away. Moses leads the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. The tribes in the Promised Land are taken into exile to the dispersion, and then they are enable to return. Jesus, in the New Testament, associates with the tax collectors and sinners, giving us a paradigm to follow. The early history of the church shows us the church breaking from its Jewish heritage to embrace the Gentile community. St Paul is lead to stop preaching only in his native Asia and move to those of an alien culture in Europe.
At our recent clergy conference, one of the most interesting exercises was that eight clergy spoke about their spiritual roots. Archdeacon Cathy Thompson, Sister Julianna, Canon Cheeseman, the Rev'd Paul Hunt, the Rev'd Paul Harrington, the Rev'd Bruce Stocks, the Rev'd Simon Bailey and the Rev'd Warren Huffa. The object of this exercise was to show how woefully inadequate the categories we might place each of these in, actually are. Each had a number of very diverse influences in their lives, across the whole spectrum of church-person-ship. Most of them were able to say "I'm happy with this label .. but .."
I have been thinking of how the Bishops of the Church are expected to be the focus of unity within the church and how difficult this would be when various people and groups want to splinter off. I don't really have to recite all the various factions that bedevil this diocese, mirrored across the Anglican Communion and indeed the Church Catholic. And I thought of our detention centres -- they keep people together. I am sure that Bishops do not want their role to be reduced to that of prison wardens.
I began to wonder if we really ought to consider having another Consensual Compact of Synod, similar to the one that brought the diocese into being on the 9th day of October 1855, but which really only dealt with property matters. This Compact between the Bishop and the Synod would be about matters of faith; and it would throw the responsibility for the unity of the church, actually where it belongs, among all the people of God. If we want to use the Bishop in his role as the focus for unity to actually say to someone else that they have to change to conform to our perceptions, this is somewhat delusional. I was a touch amused to hear a member of the clergy ask the Archbishop to speak out in matters of personal holiness -- and the unspoken assumption he made was he himself didn't need to hear this, only others :-)!
This might seem a frightening suggestion, to have a new Consensual Compact, in that it might split the church, and indeed it might. Yet I also think that God has a habit of bringing people together, and even when someone or some group goes off on their own, God brings people to them who cause them to re-evaluate who they are -- or they die in their ignorance.
So I have seen the Charismatic Movement come and go, simply because they focused on a particular spiritual experience, which was valid enough, but was never meant to be a universal and eternal standard of membership for all.
Someone once said to me that often the splinter churches start being very open and flexible, but slowly their doctrines solidify in time and again their membership is self-limiting.
Now there is one thing of which I am certain, that even after four years as your Rector, none of you actually think precisely the same as me. In fact there are no two people in this place who think identically. I do not prescribe what you believe -- nor does anyone else. If this is so obviously true, why do we pretend it is not so or expect God to make it otherwise? I am sure that there are people in the Diocese of Sydney who actually approve of the Ordination of Women as Bishops, but they keep quiet.
Now these issues are the same in parishes as well. The health and unity in this congregation is the responsibility of us all. It does not consist of me as the priest acting as a jailor or the person who spends my time trying to do everything in my power to keep everyone happy. That would simply be an exercise in futility.
This is a Church of the 1960's. This spiritual experience, like that of the charismatic movement, is valid enough, but it can never be the universal and eternal standard of membership for everyone else.
I want, before our November Vestry Meeting after this service to quote the Archbishop of Canterbury in his Presidential address at General Synod on the 16th of November 2005, but modifying it to suit our situation: He began by asking this audience, 'Why are you here?' .. What do you .. hope for from your presence at a Vestry meeting?
"Well, presumably, you come to defend and advance a vision of the Church, a sense of the priorities that confront us. And you come because you believe that the Vestry meeting is important enough to take time with -- important enough to sacrifice your leisure and energy over a substantial chunk of time. This ought to tell us that the Vestry is, in the eyes of at least some, a body that takes responsibility for the Church's vision of itself.
"And that's why people come to Vestry. They come to take responsibility for a vision. You come, perhaps, to serve a particular kind of vision within the spectrum of our Church. But once we come together, we are also committed, just by being here and praying together, to listen and look for a vision that is that of the whole Church, a vision that is in accord with God's purpose for his people. Vestry is, in the full, ancient sense of the word, a Catholic body, or it is nothing. It is an organ of the Church's constant search for a fuller grasp of the all-encompassing mystery in the middle of which it lives and prays.
"Vestry may be a legislative body; it may be a sort of parliament; it may feel variously like a debating society, an amateur dramatic society, an interminable revising committee or a scene from Groundhog Day, but before and beyond all of this, it is part of our Church's way of discerning God's purpose for us, and it is utterly meaningless if we lose sight of that. We come to serve and to nourish a vision, to try and find for our parish a sense of its mission that is strong and deep rooted enough to be owned by the whole of our community and owned as part of the work and witness of the entire worldwide church.
"To the extent Vestry is a gathering of Christians who meet after prayer and reflection on Scripture, a Vestry meeting is a sort of Church. And the ethos, the 'feel', of the vestry meeting can contribute, positively or negatively, to the feel of the whole Church. An inward-looking Vestry, an anxious Vestry, a suspicious, ungenerous or legalistic Vestry, will have an impact on the kind of Church we become in the years ahead. A Vestry that is capable of patience where needed and impatience where needed, that is primarily concerned with honest and joyful sharing of what it has been given as part of Christ's Body -- that too has an impact."
Curiously he concluded his address by quoting two extracts from Australian cartoonist, Michael Leunig:
"There are only two feelings.
Love and fear.
There are only two languages.
Love and fear.
There are only two activities.
Love and fear.
There are only two motives,
two procedures, two frameworks,
Love and fear.
Love and fear.
"God help us to find our confession;
The truth within us which is hidden from our mind;
The beauty or ugliness we see elsewhere
But never in ourselves;
The stowaway which has been smuggled
Into the dark side of the heart,
Which puts the heart off balance and causes it pain,
Which wearies and confuses us,
Which tips us in false directions and inclines us to destruction,
The load which is not carried squarely
Because it is carried in ignorance.
"God help us to find our confession.
Help us across the boundary of our understanding.
Lead us into the darkness that we may find what lies concealed;
That we may confess it towards the light;
That we may carry our truth in the centre of our heart;
That we may carry our cross wisely
And bring harmony into our life and our world. Amen. "
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