The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r111.htm

s111g09 Seventh Sunday of Easter 24/5/2009

'the world has hated them' John 17.14

Despite what some in the church may believe, no one particularly hates the church. There are a number of people, the victims of child molesters in the church, who hate the molesters and despise the church for its past inaction to deal effectively with such people. And who would blame them! Most people have been turned off 'christianity' because of inter-religious feuding when 'mixed' marriages took place or where clergy refused to marry couples or baptise children where the persons weren't regularly attending. It is amazing how quickly such events become general knowledge in society. Don't go to such and such a church ­ it is a waste of time. As Hans Küng says: 'Christians themselves are the strongest argument against Christianity. Christians who are not Christian' (On being a Christian p 559). How does one overcome this? Sometimes the task seems overwhelming. And often it seems one is trying to overcome generations of hurts when some others are simply continuing to perpetuate the same hurtful things.

So generally the general run of the mill populace regard the church as an irrelevance rather than waste good emotions on her. If they have had any relationship it has probably been bad ­ why bother any more!

When it comes to matters religious, the place were real emotion is expressed is between faiths and between versions of the faith. And we don't have to look any further than our Anglican Communion - we have a good deal of emotion expressed across the Lambeth / GAFCON divide. This is but the modern incarnation of a progressive / reactionary divide that has existed for ever. Such divisions exist within all faith communities, and it really makes one wonder about the value of faith communities themselves, when so much angst seems to be generated there. Of course across-faith rivalries continue to bedevil our society. And so it comes as no surprise to me that the general run of the mill populace are not really interested in buying into such argumentation. For them it is an irrelevance, a waste of time and precious little to do with God, if God exists. And I have more than a good deal of sympathy for this.

As an aside, each side of the Lambeth / GAFCON debate claims to be the true expression of orthodox Anglicanism as if this were fixed and immutable, yet both sides also want to move from traditional Anglican teaching. I don't think I would be doing a disservice to either side when I say that the GAFCON side fears that the Lambeth side wants to be open to woman and gay persons (inappropriately in their view), but also (from an Australian perspective) wants to down play the sacerdotal ministry and emphasise an evangelical ministry. So 'lay presidency' is touted as the way forward that the Lambeth side would see as inappropriate. Simply staying the same, as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be ­ like it appears some people in the pew want, is actually not an option. The labelling ­ one of another ­ is characteristic of all conflicts and is a smoke screen for the real issues.

So if hatred is a mark of being in the world, then what passes nominally as religious is as likely to be really of the world. I recall a while back that some friends of a patient in hospital immediately said to me when I approached ­ 'Oh, we're not religious' ­ to which I immediately replied, 'well I'm not sure I am either!' For all we might claim to be based on a gospel of love, if that love extends only to those who think like us, believe like us and live life the way we do ­ people who are 'religious' ­ then that love is essentially worthless to anyone and everyone else. We are no different to the Hell's Angels, the Commancheros, the Bandidos or whatever bikie group. If our spirituality is solely based on 'no one comes to the Father but by me' i.e. those who think like me, believe like me and live like me ­ just how many other people are we condemning to eternal damnation in the name of this 'god' of love? And if we are condemning others to eternal damnation or dismissing others as essentially irrelevant, where is this love we profess to offer?

For the people who hated Jesus were not the general 'run of the mill' persons in the street either. The people who hated Jesus were those who had him killed because he challenged orthodoxy as they saw it. This is one of the few times you will see me use the word 'challenge' ­ for in its root meaning ­ challenge is about fighting and conflict. Many articulate 'christians' challenge others rather than love others, and this serves as a smoke screen for their actual lack of charity. The word 'challenge' appears only once in the bible I use and it is **not ** used as a synonym of love. (Jeremiah 50.24) I observe that it is most frequently misused by those who profess to know and use their bible **best**. Indeed it is one of the most frequently used words in some sermons ­ often outnumbering the number of times the word 'love' is mentioned, many times over.

These words in John 17 are Jesus' parting prayer for his disciples. Other than his prayer for those who would believe through the testimony of the disciples, this is the end of the last supper with them. That last meal began with Jesus washing the disciples' feet, and from chapter 13 to 17 the constant theme of these words of Jesus to his disciples were his love for them and for them to love and to have faith. They were not addressed to those outside the community of faith ­ they were directed to them and them alone.

It is almost as if ­ if you must have religion at least love one another! Jesus is speaking to us as a community purportedly of faith. We must love one another! Forget preaching love to those outside, we need to get our own house in order before ever we can say we have something of value for anyone outside. Of course perhaps it will be precisely when we get our own house in order that those outside might dare to venture in.

This causes me to reflect that Jesus didn't preach to those outside the circle of the disciples ­ that they ought to love ­ only to those within the circle of disciples. Yes, Jesus indeed did answer the Pharisee's question about the most important commandment, but I can't think of any other example. Yet how often do we in the church think that if only those outside the church loved like we do? We betray the fact that we see ourselves as 'different' and that others have to come up to our standards ­ and I have to ask - is this in fact loving others? This highlights that the very structures of our faith operates completely contrary to the ideal of love. The structures of our faith presuppose that we are better than others. It is only when we are completely incarnated into the world that we do actually begin to love others.

Following these words the action shifts to Jesus' arrest, trial and crucifixion. This is the outpouring of hatred toward Jesus for challenging their religious perceptions. Hatred enough to have him killed. Again there are enough people with messiah complexes now as then. Jesus wasn't killed because he presumed to call himself a messiah. He was killed because he proclaimed the divinity's care for all people.

This is the ground of our hope, not that Jesus (or any of us) is the messiah, but the faith that divinity is found in us and in all people.

I just wish these words of St Paul were rather more central to the proclamation of our faith than John 3.16 or 14.6 seem to be: 'Who are you to pass judgement on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.' Romans 14.4

Do we place ourselves in the world by dismissing and hating others who do not believe like us, worship like us, live wholesome lives like us, or are we going to be followers of Jesus and show real love by being inclusive of all others?

Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"