The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s101g06 Lent 4 26/3/2006
"For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed." John 3.20
I reflect on my words of a week ago about our unwitting sins, and how actual sin is deliberate, and people go to some lengths to deny to themselves and hide from others what they have done. We see here again the paradigm of hiding from scrutiny that marks off those who do evil. The very fact of trying to evade responsibility makes the deliberateness of the action plain.
It takes me back to Cain killing Abel over whose offering was more acceptable to God. There was no way that this was unwitting -- it was premeditated and deliberate. When confronted by God with the question of where his brother was, he replies -- trying to wriggle out of responsibility for it -- saying: 'Am I my brother's keeper?' Generations of Christians have taken the absolute opposite line and said yes -- we must be our brothers keeper -- and have opened themselves to all sorts of manipulative behaviour -- as if this is what God demands of us. No -- the righteous are not expected to forward the kingdom by being eternal doormats for all and sundry. This is not good news.
Coming to "the light" is an interesting phrase. It makes me think of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well. She has in mind water that she can draw on without having to come each day to the well, water that can quench her thirst without much effort. But the living water that Jesus offers her, flows out of her .. to others.
In another place we are called to be salt, and salt brings out the flavour of other food. It makes plain a good flavour that otherwise might have been missed.
So the light of the world is most likely to be something in us, making plain something good in others that otherwise might have been overlooked.
Often we hear expressions like "transparency" being used these days. It is not enough that something good is done, but the process of decision-making must be able to be questioned. It is one of the functions of Synods and Annual Parish meetings, that enable this transparency to be made plain, yet bishops and clergy each have their own gifts, and neither can they or should they be forced to go down paths in which they feel uncomfortable. We are an episcopally and synodically governed Church, so we are not simply a democracy. We operate not simply by finding a concensus between us all, but also taking into account the wisdom of the past, the directions that others in our communion are taking, as well as always having an eye on the wider community to whom we are supposed to be ministering. Each of these brings our own actions into perspective with other people. We don't do things by ourselves, hiding ourselves away from others, being a law unto ourselves. This applies as much to Dioceses as it does to parishes. The dynamics in dioceses are only those in parishes writ large.
So the function of Bishops in Dioceses and Clergy in Parishes is to provide this link with the wisdom of the Church down through the centuries, as well as the wider Church, and the issues of the day and current trends. Clergy have a public ministry, not just to minister to the faithful, but also to recognize and acknowledge the contributions people outside the gathered community of faith make to our society. Sometimes it has been the ministry of the laity to inform the clergy of the importance of their contributions. I was reminded only just recently of the saying that some people coming out of a certain theological college were so holy that they were of no earthly use to anyone.
It might be thought that all of this consultation might mean that nothing would ever get done, a recipe for stagnation and inertia with which we are all too familiar in the Anglican Communion. Yet I recall 20 years ago we had a program called "Travelling Together", and this was commended by the then Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primate of the National Church and his equivalent in the Catholic Church, as well as the local Archbishops. Here were outside people encouraging people in parishes to move, not to stay the same.
It is not unknown that parishes only want to stay the same, and really want no-one who is new to do anything but admire what is here and to ensure it lives on into succeeding generations. This is a recipe for a slow death, and I'm afraid resisting change is only likely to prolong the agony -- our agony. God has rather more important things on his, or her, mind than getting everyone else to admire our personal contribution. Here I am reminded that Jesus noticed and pointed out the widow's mites.
In my estimation of the life of Jesus, he spent much of his ministry among ordinary people, people who didn't actually ever "come to church", and sharing their lives, listening to their stories, and accepting their hospitality. It was the people who went to church, those who were most diligent and obvious in their love for God, who hated Jesus for doing this, hated him enough to have him killed.
So for me part of this coming to the light, is intimately linked to how we relate to the people around us. Do we like Jesus spent much of our ministry among ordinary people, sharing their lives, listening to their stories, and accepting their hospitality? Or is our "real" ministry, when we are hidden away, here in Church?
Over the last few years the changes in taxation laws has meant that church treasurers have had their work-load multiplied enormously, filling in quarterly BASS statements. No longer can treasurers present hand written statements. It is quite impossible to do accounts without a computer. And those who have been treasurers for donkeys' years complain at this seemingly unnecessary work. But I wonder if perhaps it is actually God's call to let someone with computer expertise to take over. Someone young might actually take on the job! Trust me, I've seen it happen.
We, as Christians are bidden not just to not hide from the light, but to be the light. Not hiding away from the light means that we will have to change -- change our attitude towards those who don't come to church, towards those who don't worship as we do. The true light of Jesus finds the good in others. Salt brings out the full flavour of the food it seasons. The living water refreshes all to whom it reaches.
A couple of weeks ago I visited the admissions ward of the psychiatric hospital around lunchtime on a Sunday. There, in the yard, I suppose a dozen people had gathered around a couple of tables. They were enjoying the good weather and the company. Someone was quietly strumming a guitar -- and they were talking to one another. Here was a lovely example of community, rarely seen in 'normal' society. And I was glad that the Holy Communion they were enjoying was not disturbed as one came aside to me to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion.
And finally, those rather more well known words about Jesus earlier in our gospel: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life." Belief in Jesus is implicitly all about belief that Jesus includes others. Jesus is not the heavenly bouncer, only letting in all who believe, believe enough, or believe in my terms. It is precisely the people who believe they deserve a place in the kingdom before others who will decide to stay away because others are already there.
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