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

s111g12  Seventh Sunday of Easter  20/5/2012

'protect them in your name .. that they may be one'   John 17.11

Recently I attended a baptism, it was the baptism of our first grandchild; Samuel is his name.   It was lovely to be doting grandparents at the parish church of the parents though I felt sorry for the priest - who did a lovely job - with a couple of extra clergy in the congregation :-)   During the service, the priest asked the parents and godparents the usual questions: 'Do you turn to Christ? Do you repent of your sins? and Do you renounce evil?'   And I suppose most people interpret these questions as them wanting to be a part of the church, that they do regret their past mistakes and that they will try to do better in the future.   And such an interpretation is entirely fair, except that it assumes that the church is separate from the world and baptism is the door from the world which is inherently evil into the church which is inherently good.   And much of the words of Jesus in today's gospel would seem to support this interpretation.   So Jesus says: 'I am not asking on behalf of the world', and 'the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world'.    But this is a superficial reading, for Jesus also says 'they are in the world', and 'as you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world'.   So the direction of movement is not away from the world but into the world.

So they are not to gather into a holy huddle, characterised by sanctified selfishness, arrogance and inertia, but sent into the world to rid the world of sanctified selfishness, arrogance and inertia.    If the church is a holy huddle characterised by sanctified selfishness, arrogance and inertia, it will be of no use to anyone, even those inside the holy huddle, for the words Jesus says about the measure ye meet out being the measure you get back surely applies to the institution just as much as it does to the individual within the institution.

I have been reflecting: either we do unto others as we would have them do unto us, or we do unto others as has already been done unto us - and the second seems only a recipe for a continuation of abuse, violence and death.   The first seems to be the only way that the cycle of abuse, both personal and corporate, is likely to be broken.   It is sad, but illuminating to me, that the perpetrators of sexual abuse most often have themselves been abused in the past.   They are doing unto others as has already been done to them.   How fabulous that President Barack Obama has come out to express his personal support for those gay and lesbian persons who wish to take on the responsibilities of marriage, and that he bases his opinion on his faith in the one who says 'do unto others ..'

But the point is that the church has to take the lead.   There is little point in you or I leading a life of personal kindness towards others, when the church remains in its holy huddle concerned only with its own perpetuation.   For the root of corporate perpetuation is no less selfish, arrogant, and resistant to change.   When the church gives good things to her spiritual children alone, she faces the same charge of being as evil as the Mafia.   I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that the opposition to President Barack Obama's statement of his opinion about gay marriage comes, not from the atheists and agnostics, but from the orthodox and the devout, one commentator names conservative evangelicals and the catholic hierarchy, those who are blind to their spiritual selfishness, arrogance and inertia.   There are of course plenty of Anglicans who describe themselves as conservative evangelicals and conservative 'high church'.

And the question I face is why am I living a life of kindness towards others while supporting a church that institutionally cares only for her survival?   Is it any wonder I feel like I am swimming against the tide of institutional blindness and inertia?   And the institution fights for its survival precisely to justify its own inertia.

And it seems to me that Jesus was killed by the orthodox and the devout precisely because he confronted the institutional selfishness, arrogance, blindness and inertia of the church of his day.   To boldly proclaim that Jesus died for our sins – which is code for Jesus died for my sins – and those few others who believe like me, worship like me and are straight like me – is essentially selfish, arrogant, blind and resistant to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

So the ‘name’ of Jesus is the name that confronts selfishness, arrogance, blindness and inertia in the name of a god by whatever name it is called.  So there is no point being one with an organisation which is selfish, arrogant, blind and resistant to the leading of the Holy Spirit, because that unity is essentially limited.   An all-embracing (catholic) unity is inimical to it.

Jesus’ mission was not to change the faith of the ancient people of God and/or to institute a new ‘pure’ church but to confront selfishness, arrogance, blindness and inertia in the name of any god by whatever name it is called, whatever the style of worship, whatever doctrinal intricacies are believed, regardless of who the members share their intimate affections.   Jesus’ mission was to institute a truly catholic church, one which embraces all.   This is the one and the only mark that is essential.

So those baptismal affirmations: 'Do you turn to Christ? Do you repent of your sins? and Do you renounce evil?' mean: Do you turn to the one who accepts all people, do you turn away from personal and corporate selfishness, and do you turn towards life that embraces all and not just our own physical and / or spiritual children?   In essence they all mean the same thing, and in fact one can do these things without reference to the divine or to Jesus, which is actually good news and reflects the broadness of God's love.

Jesus prays: 'protect them in your name .. that they may be one', and the only unity we have is unity in the name of the one who confronts every form of spiritual selfishness, arrogance, blindness and inertia.   It is only when we do this that we can look beyond the intricacies of belief, worship, culture, gender attraction, and ability, and recognise the essential worth and unity of all people.

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