The readings on which this sermon is
based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r107.htm
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.
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
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
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Gibbon_Wakefield 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.'
http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Desmond_Tutu Hardly 'doing
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
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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