The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r106.htm
s106e03 Lockleys Easter 3 4/5/03
"do not love the world" 1 John 2.15
These words ought to make us sit up and think when we remember that "God so loved the world, that he gave his only son É". They ought to make us realise that we do have to think about what we believe. We cannot blithely sail through life, supremely confident that we are being lead by the Holy Spirit, and therefore, despite any damage we do to others or to the environment, consider ourselves justified and cannot be the subject of criticism. This should also lead us to realise that the words of scripture are not "self evident". They may be self evident to those who seek to God's will, but scripture itself tells us of God: "to the crooked, you show yourself perverse". Psalm 18.26
When we start to think about what are the things of the world that we are called to "not love" &endash; the list is many and various. High on the list, at least in the perception of people who don't come to Church, is that Christians are called to not love physical intimacy. Of course this has usually been alluded to when considering those things which might lead to physical intimacy, such as dancing, cosmetics or particular sorts of attire. I wonder how many new music groups which have been formed in the last 50 years have been labelled as "satanic" by conservative Christians? I am reminded that that the 1549 Anglican Prayer Book had this direction at the "Offertory": "Then so manye as shallbe partakers of the holy Communion, shall tarry in the quire, or in some conuenient place nigh the quire, the men on the one side, and the women on the other side É" At the place where we (used to) have the greeting of the peace &endash; this book had the congregation separate, lest they be tempted by the wiles of the opposite gender, distracting them while receiving the Holy Communion :-) It makes one rethink the importance of the direction in the prayer book that the newly married couple receive the Holy Communion. Perhaps it was envisaged that marriage was the only time when couples came to the alter side by side?
The Church has for centuries made it their business to determine just who and who may not engage in physical intimacy, and indeed often how they may do this. I am not sure that we have entirely left this behind. This is all based on the perception that physical intimacy has to be regulated or that it is "of the world" and therefore to be avoided.
Another form of the same thing is to think of the world and humanity as opposed. So often in conflicts traditionally the "enemy" has been portrayed as less than human. I hadn't picked up until recently that this was the reason why "fraternisation with the enemy" was and probably still is so frowned on.
Or we can think that the main moral principle is that humanity "advances". I suspect that cancers are just ordinary organisms which are particularly hardy and prolific, so that they push out other vital organs &endash; a bit like weeds in the garden. The law of the jungle &endash; the survival of the fittest &endash; is how the rest of creation exists. It is the mark of humanity that we think of others beside ourselves. The Church has often been perceived to oppose any attempt to allow people to control their own reproduction even to the extent of banning contraception to stop the spread of AIDS.
There has been, I think traditionally, some antipathy between some Christians and the environmental movement, which is probably based around this verse. Genesis tells us that humanity has been given dominion over the rest of creation &endash; and this has been interpreted that we are boss and we can do what we like. The trouble is that this implicit neglect will leave our planet an immeasurably less pleasant place in which to live. We, or our children, will be boss of a desert.
And just as there has been a traditional antipathy between Christians and the environmental movement, there has been a corresponding embrace of anything mysterious, secret or spiritual. Books on spirituality abound as never before. And I should not want to suggest that nothing inexplicable ever happens. The reality is that inexplicable things happen all the time. But the problem with such an embrace of spirituality is that it can tend to magnify a particular "enlightened" person over others, a particular "enlightened" sect over others, a particularly "enlightened" faith over others &endash; there is no difference in the dynamics, only in the scale. Hating the world, loving the spiritual. If we replace the word "enlightened" with "true" - is this not what we have thought of Anglicanism in the past?
Jesus related to people, all people, ordinary people. This was precisely the reason he was hated by those who wanted to remain in their exclusive little clubs. Indeed it makes me wonder that Jesus could have suggested just about anything to the religious authorities other than accepting others.
St. John recalls that Judas (not Iscariot) asked Jesus: "Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?" (John 14.22) Jesus replies in terms of loving him and keeping his word. It is in the same passage that Jesus seeing the Father in himself and himself in the Father. It is all about OUR perception. The world is that miniscule area where we don't find Jesus, or it is that enormous area where we don't find Jesus - we can take our pick. However if we see Jesus in only a miniscule area, we might find ourselves hard-pressed to see ourselves in it as well!
The world we are called not to love and the world that God so loved are different. We have to think and we are bidden to choose. God is quite logical. God's choice will bring blessings to us and to the world.
And it is a real choice, not a pretend one. God doesn't say to us "choose me &endash; but, by the way, you'll be condemned to eternal damnation if you don't!" That's not a real choice at all &endash; and God is not deceptive. God continues to love those who seem to choose not to follow God at all. God's love for all remains unabated.
And so we too are bidden to choose to love others, because in loving others we will find a multitude of blessings - or alternatively because in not loving others we will continue on the path towards greater environmental degradation, continuing ethnic, racial or religious conflict or whatever.
The world we are called not to love, but to hate, is living by the law of the jungle and the survival of the fittest. The call of God is the call to be fully human. The call of God is ever to lift us and all people to our feet - which is much more about the inherent dignity of each and every person and using our brains as it is about how we travel across the ground.
I want to return to where I began, that Christianity is not self evident, that we have to think about it and choose. This is because it is people who are important, not God or doctrines or modes of worship or lifestyles.
Christianity is not self evident, because if it were we wouldn't need to use our brains at all, and it is precisely in using our brains that is the highest expression of our humanity and our freedom. Far from God wishing we were all compliant subjects, bowing and scraping at the appropriate moments, God rejoices that we have intelligence as well as when we use it. For surely God isn't scared if we use our brains, lest we come to different conclusions. There is just so much in this world to marvel and delight in, God has nothing to be scared about. The God I worship will not cease to exist if the Anglican Church in the Diocese of Adelaide goes "belly-up" and praise the Lord for that.
Some time ago I heard two consecutive reports on the news. The first was about a concert in America raising money to help the children of Iraq - followed by a report of demonstrations by religious groups in Iraq wanting the coalition forces to leave. It caused me to wonder which were doing the more useful thing for others, and which was more likely to be inspired by God.
The resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ does not demand us to put our brains into neutral and believe the unbelievable, it is God's victory over and rejection of slavish devotion, it is God's blessing of our intellects - the invitation for us and for all people to think and be ourselves, provided only that it is not to the detriment of others. If God did prefer people who slavishly believed the historicity of a particular event, this is only to replace one form of slavery with another - and someone's dignity will inevitably suffer.
I invite you to look around in this building and consider what is the most important thing here. For some it will be the altar, the cross the Bible, the pulpit, to organ, the aumbry, the font or the stained glass windows. It might be the particular gift with *your* name on it. The reality is of course that it is you and I who are the most important thing here, for it is you and I for whom Jesus died and was raised. Jesus on the Cross, which are retold at every baptism and eucharist, is Jesus genuflecting to us, to say how special we are in God's eyes. The risen Jesus assures us that the forces of repression and fear have not and will not ever overcome this glorious love of God for each and every person alive.
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