The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r094.htm
I am not preaching this morning, but this is the text of my letter in the recent parish paper here - somewhat expanded.
s094e02 Advent 3
"Do not quench the Spirit" 1 Thess 5.20
"Elizabeth has just been through the rite of passage that is most important to children in her culture: the driving licence. Some future day, will she place any value on some rite of passage in her church, such as a wedding? Will she attend church as an adult? The answers may depend more on us than on her. If we leave our children a rigid, lifeless, imperial church, they will either ignore it or fashion their own church. If our children's children's church is to look anything like ours &emdash; or anything like our parents' church &emdash; oughtn't we meet them halfway?" Anglicans Online editorial 17/11/2002
With our Confirmation service recently, a number of baptisms, and, of course, with Christmass coming, I have had cause to think about young people more than usual of late. We are well served by some very faithful young people here at St Richard's' and we need to acknowledge their presence and ministry.
We Anglicans are a reserved lot and we often attract the criticism that we quench the Spirit. After attending a Diocesan Synod, it can feel that we have made something of an art-form of this :-) I recall somewhere in the dark recesses of my brain prescriptions against "enthusiasm". St Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians urges respect for those in authority, exhorts people to live at peace, "to encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them". Making distinctions between those who are "enthusiastic" and those who aren't - has no justification here. I have sometimes felt that some Anglicans who take on extra parochial ministries look down on others who just come to Church. Nothing could be more inimical towards wholeness and community.
The world has changed and young parents live entirely different lives to our own. The time they can devote to *worship* is much less, yet their ministries in the community are vital. I have had occasion to think that if the *christians* in country towns ceased their community work, the town would collapse.
And St Paul's words are not restricted to the relationships amongst the community of faith. St Paul exhorts us to "see that none of you repay evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all." If we who come to worship are perceived as looking down on those who don't seem to, again, nothing could be more inimical to wholeness and community, and we cannot quote St Paul to justify it.
Everything we do that is inspired by the Spirit leads us to uphold community and break down barriers between people. If we look at the rest of our reading, the opposite of quenching the Spirit, encouraging the Spirit, is about accepting the situation in which we find ourselves and being supportive of those God has put around us, and to all.
Encouraging the Spirit is not about encouraging everyone to speak in tongues or take on this or that ministry.
And I was interested to read that editorial of Anglicans Online above and the comment that perhaps the young people presently coming to worship will make their own church. This awakened in me the hint of something exciting and creative. In my bookcase I have a very old "hippy" song book "Travelling to Freedom" (Tony Newmann & Peter Stone "A Living Parish Publication" 1971). There are the old classics like "Let us break bread together", "Blowing in the Wind", "Let it Be" and "The times they are a changin'". Looking back, I suppose the sexual revolution and Vietnam submerged all this, and that was inevitable. Yet even from 30 years ago there was something vital which perhaps just got lost.
Or, looked at another way, the sexual revolution and the Vietnam War ought to have caused us to rethink our priorities as Church as some of those songs and that culture invited us to do. So rather than fear for the future of the Church, perhaps we are invited to look to our young people and hope that the Church they create touches reality rather more positively than our own.
I still hear many calls for the Church to be more realistic and open about sexuality - it is clear to me that the lessons have still to be learned.
Again, I suspect the word of the Lord can be heard in the events around us as in the readings from the Bible during worship. God will ever call us to reality.
And as I looked at those words of description of the Church, "rigid, lifeless, imperial" I wondered about that *most important* sacrament for young people, marriage. If marriage has become "rigid, lifeless, imperial" is it worth all that it's cracked up to be? If people's relationships, one with another, even if not dignified with a certificate, are flexible, life-giving and mutual, surely they are thereby founded on better and firmer principles.
On the 7th of December I attended the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the first ordination of priests who happen to be female. Our Archbishop spoke about this event as initiating the changing face of the church for the new millennium. Some look at that change as a decline into obscurity. I see it as the Church finally appreciating what secular culture can teach us about relating in a mutual way.
For me, one of the beauties of our Anglican church is that we enthusiastically support all people and the ministries they have to offer. Descended from the established Church we recognise that we are called to embrace the whole nation and not just a monochrome "holy huddle". For it doesn't matter in the slightest which way we quench the spirit in someone else. If we overpower their spirit with our spirituality - no matter how fundamental we think our spirituality is - the Spirit of the other person is quenched and we have failed to appreciate the text for today.
A sure way to make sure we do not quench the spirit is to listen to the other, and to seek to appreciate what he or she may contribute uniquely to our lives. Indeed as we do this for all, we show people the spirit in their lives and they will want to join us in our worship of our gracious God.
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