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s105e03 Second Sunday of Easter Lockleys 27/4/03

"If we walk in the light ... we have fellowship with one another". 1 John 1.7

I sometimes find it helps me, when I am looking at a passage of scripture, to omit the "adjectival" words which can clutter up the meaning. So today the force of this sentence is about us having fellowship with one another. The adjectival words "as he himself is in the light" do add to the meaning in that we do only as Jesus did and we only live as Jesus lived. But the primary purpose of all this is fellowship with one another.

Indeed if we look at the first part of our reading, the author writes so that his readers might have fellowship - not with God or Jesus, but with the author - himself - that his joy might be complete. Again the words "truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son" are adjectival. The primary and most important thrust is our fellowship among people.

Now "fellowship" can be a mixed blessing. I suspect it does not mean that we have to live in one another's pockets. A farmer working the land during the day will naturally want to relate to people when he or she is relaxing. A doctor or shop assistant who sees many people during working hours naturally will appreciate time to themselves. I myself find I vegetate in front of the TV or devour a book at night. Sunday after lunch I need a rest, not because celebrating the sacrament a couple of times is hard work, but trying to relate intelligently to those who have come is exhausting. These differences between people are natural. Similarly there are people who are more gregarious and those who are more retiring. None of these is in any way of the nature of sin and none is more "Christian" than another. This is as it should be.

St John implies that the ministry of Christ is to enable fellowship, so, by definition, it has enabled something which did not exist prior to Jesus. Or, to put it another way, Jesus came that previous divisions hindering fellowship between people are eliminated. Jesus came to say that the gulf between the pharisee and the publican at prayer is entirely of humanity's own making - of the pharisee's own making. Jesus came to say that the difference between Simon the Pharisee and the woman who anointed Jesus with the oil is entirely of humanity's own making - of Simon's own perception. Jesus came to say that the gulf between the offering that Mary and that which Martha gave is again based on human perception. Jesus came to say that the division between saint and sinner was entirely artificial.

And of course it was this proclamation of the artificiality of the gulf between saint and sinner which lead the "saints" to crucify Jesus - for they did not want to have fellowship with others. Let me repeat this. The religious authorities were motivated by a desire to remain separated from others. Indeed the very word "Pharisee" means "the separated one" (Ringgren "Israelite Religion" page 343).

Jesus came that we might have fellowship with others, to break down real or supposed barriers between people - not just to shift the goal posts slightly! Christ came that all barriers between people are done away with, not to replace one set of rules with another. Jesus didn't come to replace hurdles that some can jump with 6 foot high fences that everyone needs a ladder to get over &endash; or vice versa.

Jesus came, not just to change the qualifications for people to whom we relate. Jesus came that we might relate to everyone with mutuality and respect.

We should notice the paradigm that humanity shies away from fellowship and it is God who establishes it.

And there are many ways of avoiding fellowship surreptitiously. Human fellowship is more often characterised by a power imbalance rather than by mutuality and respect. Every exercise of power is inimical to true fellowship - even if it is "legitimate". The Church has for centuries legitimised the authority of men over women and as a consequence been complicit in avoidance of real fellowship between the genders.

Christianity itself has sought to be the dominant religion, to flourish at the expense of people who exercise their faiths in different ways or called their God by a different name to ours. If we continue to do this we are saying that Christ has only moved the goal posts a bit.

Often one hears phrases like "building community". And this is indeed important for I think, deep down, none of us really want to live by ourselves - behind our fences - metaphorical or real. But the reality is that the community doesn't need to be built - it is already there - it has been put there by God. Our job therefore is not to try and bring people together in some sort of artificial fellowship, but to remove barriers between people. All of us will be attracted to a community and fellowship where we will be respected and our contribution accepted. These are the true marks of Church and our society.

I was particularly impressed with the part of Philadelphia I visited last year. There we no fences between the homes! I could not help but think of our propensity to stake out what belongs to us and make it plain to everyone else &endash; "This is mine &endash; No trespassing!"

Quite some time ago our Attorney General was planning to bring religious vilification legislation to our State Parliament. This would make it an offence to discriminate against anyone on the basis of their creed. At the time I was horrified to find that some Christian groups opposed this on the grounds that it would undermine the work of Christian school chaplains. If Christian school chaplains are vilifying people of other faiths I would not want to support them. I understand that the legislation has lapsed due to pressure from the Churches, despite my letter of personal support :-) Jesus would be horrified if religious vilification continued because of his name and in his name!

Recently I found an article which talked about another Christian denomination, though I have no doubt it would be applauded by some Anglicans. It stated that this denomination "is now the largest private employer in Australia ... funded by hundreds of millions of dollars of public money ... (and) demands - and gets - total exemption from all anti-discrimination legislation ..." We Anglicans are most likely to lament we are not in the same position of power and I have no reason to doubt that Anglican enterprises happily make use of and applaud this exemption.

But it doesn't just affect me out there. It is far more personal than that. One of my clergy colleagues said to me once about youth groups in the Church. He was keen that his children had "Christian" friends - and he added - as he was sure I would like my offspring to have Christian friends too. Not that I've got anything to do with it, but I'll be more than content if my sons find happiness in their relationships, whoever they are with.

This worries me and leads me to question: "Are we saying that fundamentally the light that Christ brings and in which we walk determines who of our brothers and sisters we may have fellowship with and with whom we may not?

I find it heartening that the exercise of power is greatly diminished these days. "Father knows best" is not even followed within a congregation let alone outside it. In other places I have sometimes felt the last thing I would do is suggest something, because that would immediately provoke some opposition :-) Doctors and Psychiatrists cannot force people to undertake treatment regimes - though sometimes this can be to a person's continued ill-health. Teachers cannot force students to learn. Employers cannot force employees to work. Even the coalition forces in Iraq - for all their superior weaponry - have to win over the hearts and minds of those people - to win the peace as much as win the war.

And this affects how we relate to one another in our parish community. If we "get our way", are others disaffected? And do we take responsibility for that disaffection &endash; or do we leave it to the Rector to "smooth things over"?

I was reminded, at this stage of my preparation of this sermon, by the staff at Anglicans Online (editorial 6/7 4/2003) of Article 18 of the 39 which states: "They also are to be had accursed that presume to say, That every (person) shall be saved by the Law or Sect which he (or she) professeth, so that he (or she) be diligent to frame his (or her) life according to that Law, and the light of Nature. For Holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby (people) must be saved." It is interesting that we assume that the Anglican Church is not a "Law or Sect" - only others! For me it is precisely the name of Jesus Christ which lifts us, as Anglicans, from being a law with hurdles over which people must jump or a sect with impassable boundaries, to the Church Catholic which embraces all people - for that is what "catholic" means. And while I heartily concur with the distaste for calling anyone accursed, the reality is that some people curse themselves by the narrowness of their outlooks.

Jesus came that we might have fellowship &endash; and I hope that I've made a convincing case that this implies with everyone. When we pray the Lord's prayer: "Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven" &endash; it means that any lack of fellowship in this life will not exist in the next. So we might as well get used to it now, for those around us will be with us for eternity &endash; those who frustrate us as well as those who are kindred spirits. Indeed I suspect we and the world will be a happier place, if we do treat all people now with the courtesy and respect Jesus commends.

And our Anglican catechism has told us for centuries that there are three requirements for those who come to the Holy Communion &endash; repentance, faith and charity with all people. It is sad that such fundamental teaching seems to have been neglected and things like the ordination of women, lay presidency, and the status of scripture have dominated our discussions and provided occasions for people to oppose others.

St John writes that we might have fellowship one with another, so if we use the Bible or the name of Jesus to do something other than this, we can be sure we are in fact misusing them.


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