The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s107g12   Fourth Sunday of Easter  29/4/2012

'the wolf snatches them'   John 10.12

In our gospel reading Jesus is talking about two different ways of exercising religious power.   We readily acknowledge this when he talks about him being the good shepherd, but we skim over the fact that he is therefore talking about others who aren't good, who snatch and scatter the sheep.   The opposite of the good shepherd is one for whom the shepherd regards as his (or her) possessions.   The wolf benefits from the number of sheep he (or she) is able to snatch and make his (or her) own.   Naturally those sheep who are fleet of foot and appropriately wary of the advance of the wolf scatter, lest they too are caught.   They do not want to become trophies for a wolf only interested in his (or her) own prestige.   It is when they perceive a shepherd who exists not for his (or her) own wellbeing but for the wellbeing of the flock, that they consent to become part of that flock.

So the church that is focussed on the number of people attending is operating as a wolf.   The church that is focussed on caring is operating as the shepherd would do.   The youth group, the mothers' fellowship, the mens' breakfast or whatever, that is focussed on bringing people into the particular group, into the church fellowship or on the importance of the leaders, is an agent of the wolf.   The youth group, the mothers' fellowship and the mens' breakfast that focus on the welfare of the members is following the good shepherd.

However Jesus talks about having other sheep 'not of this fold'.   He readily acknowledges that his concern is for others as well as for us.   So if we are to follow our shepherd's lead we have to acknowledge the reality that other people, not of 'our' fold, are equally as cared for as we.

So, for instance, it is a myth that all Roman Catholics agree with the Vatican's stance on contraception, celibate clergy, the ordination of women and gay marriage.  and   Similarly it is a myth that the Anglican Church is a monoculture able to articulate succinctly what makes us Anglicans.   The fact that the proposed Anglican Covenant hasn't been passed in the requisite number of dioceses in England means that attempt has failed.    The LGBT issue has highlighted the very real differences of opinions that exist in all churches.  

If our 'faith' is that God sanctifies 'our' brand of selfishness because we call God by the correct name, pray to the divine, read the bible, go to church, use a kosher liturgy, and / or believe the unbelievable - rather than doing unto others - especially when those others don't imitate us and do these religious things - then this 'faith' remains sanctified selfishness and arrogance, and God has nothing to do with it.  I, as a cradle Anglican, must recognize the selfishness and arrogance that is generally ascribed to 'christians' in general and Anglicans in particular, especially in Adelaide, which is where I was born, as well as in Christchurch, my more recently adopted home.   In both places the 'Anglican' heritage is very evident.   Edward Gibbon Wakefield, who was instrumental in the foundation of both Adelaide and Christchurch was previously convicted of abduction of the '15-year-old Ellen Turner after luring her from school with a false message about her mother.   Wakefield was brought to trial for the case known as the Shrigley abduction in 1827 and, along with his brother William, sentenced to three years in Newgate prison.'  He was working with John Robert Godley to promote a new settlement in New Zealand, this one to be sponsored by the Church of England.   This plan matured to become the Canterbury Settlement.  'At a meeting in March 1839, Wakefield was invited to become the director of the New Zealand Company.   His philosophy was the same as when he planned his elopements: "Possess yourself of the Soil and you are Secure."'    I am reminded of Archbishop Desmond Tutu's saying:  'When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land,  They said ‘Let us pray.‘  We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.'   Hardly 'doing unto others'.
Listening to a sermon recently, the preacher made the comment that while she got a form of peace through her Yoga practice, the peace of God is different.   And this was followed, soon after by the 'passing of the peace'.   And it occurred to me for the first time that the peace of God is different because of the connections with others.   If this is true on the personal level, it should lead us to realize that it is also true on the macro level.   The peace of God comes when churches 'pass the peace' amongst one another, and when the church 'passes the peace' to society in general and as a whole.   And it came to me that until the churches do this, the efforts of you and I are commendable, but essentially irrelevant.   It will only be when the church at large itself has the faith to practice what it preaches to individuals, that the efforts of you and i will be seen and appreciated.   When individuals are trying to swim against the tide of corporate sanctified selfishness, the world sees the disconnect and wonders why we bother ..   And perhaps we should too?   If the church doesn't actually have faith to reach across the sacred - secular divide, following Jesus, what good do our individual efforts do?

For of course the church looks down on real people.   It is the priesthood, the religious, the biblical scholars, the missionaries and the Popes who are revered, when they have made religion apart from the world their life's work.   Consequently we have loads of lay people who think that 'christian' service happens if they can get to wear a white dress on Sundays and tell others what they should and shouldn't do.    It is the 'ordinary' man, woman and child in the pew, who returns to real life and living after the service who are actually following Jesus.

And so often the church organization preaches as if the decline in church attendances is the fault of the congregation who come.   Now it is quite true that so often new-comers are only wanted as they serve to perpetuate what is, not to make their own contribution and hence make some changes to what is.   But is not this precisely the same as the broader organization?   Of course the larger organization is so much more important and sacred and can't be questioned!  

One of the things that worries me about new things like 'fresh expressions' and 'messy church' is that they are the church allowing others to do their thing as long as it doesn't interrupt the 'kosher' worship on Sunday mornings.   How has the church bred people who have sanctified selfishness, arrogance and inertia?   And the sanctification of this selfishness, arrogance and inertia means that it can be ignored!

When we are commanded to do unto others, and especially those who aren't members of our natural or spiritual families, and do not do this, then we, even though we claim to be the true church, actually are seen to not care for the sheep, we are seen to be wolves!

But this is Easter, Christ is risen, and the good shepherd lives and loves all people, still.   Alleluia!

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