The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r111.htm
s111e03 Lockleys 1st June 2003 Sunday after Ascension Easter 7
"Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life." 1 John 5:12
The 7th Sunday of Easter I always think as the Church's Sunday. Sandwiched between the great feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost, nothing much happens today. Each year our gospel reading is a portion of John chapter 17 - the great high-priestly prayer of Jesus - when he prays for the disciples. Today is, in some senses, a day of preparation for Pentecost next Sunday, the birthday of the Church, when the real action begins.
And today's reading from the first Epistle of St John: "Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life" appears to be very "black and white" - whoever is a member of the Church is saved and whoever isn't a member of the Church is damned. It is so seemingly straight forward that nothing really needs to be added.
Of course the difficulty is deciding which Church ... We can blithely assume its our Anglican Church, but as I have suggested at other times - not all Anglicans think alike. We can think, we're OK here at St Richard's - and I would agree - we do very well. But the reality is that we don't all think the same - even here in this our small congregation.
It is useful to realise that St John doesn't say, whoever is a member of our congregation is saved in the next life and whoever isn't isn't. St John talks about having the Son of God and having life now, or not. The eternal life which St John experiences is something that has already been given. "God gave us eternal life" he writes. It has already happened, it is not future at all.
And we and all people have been given something - Jesus has been killed and raised to life for you and for me and for all. We know that this is true because he was killed in an effort to stop Jesus accepting the offerings of people other than the religious ones, so the resurrection affirms that the offerings of people other than the religious continue to be accepted.
The stern words: "Those who do not believe in God have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son." are not about believing in a particularly exalted status for Jesus, but that the mission of Jesus to accept the offerings of all, was indeed divinely initiated and inspired.
So this divine initiative and inspiration - to accept the offerings of others - is the foundation of the Pentecost event which we look forward to next Sunday. The gift of the Holy Spirit is not a gift to be retained as a personal possession, it is God's continuing initiative and inspiration to us to accept, in God's name, the contribution of others. Indeed if we were to mistakenly think that the gift is for us alone, then we are most assuredly going to be disappointed. And the "us" in the phrase "for us alone" can refer to us personally or some corporate entity - those who think like us, those members of our congregation, those members of our denomination, those members of our Church ... The only difference is a matter of scale, we will still be disappointed.
When our boys grew up, we had the usual things like Game Boys - the sort of miniature challenges of co-ordination. "Ditch-digger" still retains its popularity even for a PhD student I know! I remember saying that learning to play music involves the same challenge to co-ordination, but other people can enjoy the result, as well as the person playing. And God does bless the times when we are able to share the talents that we have been given.
It is in these terms that I would explain the phrase about "having the Son of God". It is not some sort of mystical and solitary communion - but exists whenever anyone shares a talent with others, does something for others or accepts the offering another makes. We have the Son of God when we do as Jesus did. We are not likely to have the Son of God if we do something other than what Jesus did, and even less likely to have the Son of God if we do the opposite of what Jesus did - accepting the offerings of only those who conform to our theology.
There is a world of people out there who need to hear that their contributions are accepted, and it is only us who can do this in the name of God - if it is indeed true that it is us who speak in God's name. It is we who pass on both "human testimony" and "the testimony of God (which) is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son."
And we are offered life. It might seem that we have this already. It is a curious turn of events that we actually have what we worry over - the death and resurrection of Jesus, and that which we think is ours and everyone else's already - life - this is in fact the doubtful quantity.
If this divine initiative and inspiration - to accept the offerings of others - is what God is all about - the sort of life God promises will be ours, is by definition, a corporate reality. If it is a corporate reality we include ourselves along with others. The life is about relationships - equal and mutual relationships - and it is up to us to accept this reality - or not. However if we do not we will serve only to continue the state of the world as it is, but more distressingly we will not be doing what God wants.
I was grateful to be sent recently a copy of our former Primate's paper to a clergy conference - entitled: "The Future of the Anglican Church: Looking to the Twenty - First Century". Here Archbishop Keith Rayner asks: "... how are we to understand Peter Jensen's definition of the truth as "the truth of God's word, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners" ... is it the truth, is it the Gospel? What is it that sinners are saved for? ... The Gospel is not only about saving individuals but about community ... How the gospel is presented makes a difference: is it sin centred or life centred? does it concern only individuals or communities too?" I would argue that forgiveness and salvation have no meaning if only seen as personal and not entirely corporate.
I was celebrating, as a priest is wont to do, the other day at a nursing home. It was the "old service" and I was saying the Agnus Dei before administering the Holy Communion and I fleetingly thought - how often I've said this throughout my life - it is as if we are not meant to believe the words of absolution, we are still meant to bow and scrape, even as we crawl our way to the communion rail. But as I thought this, I heard the words again: "O Lamb of God, who takest away the sin of the world, have mercy on us." What we have to believe is not that God has taken away my sins, but that God has taken away everyone else's sins as well.
And the following day I was celebrating again, again using the old service, and heard the same words again repeated thrice, straight after the administration of the Holy Communion - in the "Gloria in Excelsis" - "O Lamb of God that takest away the sins of the world - receive our prayer." I think that it is no accident that these important affirmations sandwich the reception of the Holy Communion - which is not just for us but for all.
From a personal perspective, let me say how much I have learnt from sharing my sermons on the internet. I am no computer expert really, yet it seems that paths have been made smooth, and what I find is the most amazing thing of all, there seems something new and fresh to say each week. I have found the exercise life - giving, as I am sure God blesses everyone similarly who shares something of themselves and who accepts the contributions of others. It is a sure remedy for grumpiness which must surely be the mark of someone who hasn't perceived the life God wishes for everyone.
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