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

s111g15  Seventh Sunday of Easter  17/5/2015

‘so that they may be one, as we are one’   John 17:11

The prayer is that we be one with others, not that everyone else will become straight, baptised, confirmed, communicant, tithing Anglicans of my particular flavour!   The prayer that we be one is not that others will repent and become like me, a paragon of christianity, but that I as a disciple become one with others.   The prayer is an invitation to incarnation, following Jesus, not a challenge to those outside to pick up their socks, acknowledge their wretchedness and realise that MY way is their only salvation.

Indeed seen in these terms ‘the world’ is defined by that which insists on their own way, that which bullies or manipulates others into being someone other than who they are.   I have sometimes reflected that in some ‘christian’ circles, the word: ‘challenge’ has by and large usurped the word ‘love’.   The only use of the word ‘challenge’ in the translation of the bible I use (the New Revised Standard Version) is: ‘You set a snare for yourself and you were caught, O Babylon, but you did not know it; you were discovered and seized, because you challenged the LORD.’ (1)    It is clear that this is not the morally neutral use of the word, such as the challenge to climb a mountain.   It is quite definitely adversarial, the antithesis of love.

This gospel reading is Jesus parting prayer; no longer is the Lord going to be present to lead, guide and arbitrate, these things are now up to us.   It is we who have to move, the Spirit leads us to other people.

It is, again, another expression of that early perception: ‘It is not good that anyone should be alone’.  (2)   We are invited, impelled, commanded into relationship, and if this is true on a personal level, it is surely as true on a corporate level.    It is not good that the Anglican Church is alone.   It is not good that christianity is alone.

And I point to the level of angst and downright hostility some parts of the church have to this sort of openness.   The exclusion of gay and lesbian persons is but a symbol of their desire to have as little relationship with others and with the world as possible.   Any relationship with others has to be on their own (church) terms, no quarter will be given.   As we attended a lovely retreat last weekend, we sat across from a poster with a turtle and the caption: ‘Watch the turtle. He only moves forward by sticking his neck out.’  (3)   And I thought that this is true of the church.   We have got to poke our noses out of our holy huddles to even be the church.

One of the specific tasks of the bishop is to be a focus of the unity of the church, but if this is interpreted as it’s the bishop’s job to get everyone else to become straight, baptised, confirmed, communicant, tithing Anglicans of my particular flavour, that is indeed a fool’s errand and a wild goose chase!   Jesus never bothered to try to reconcile the Pharisees and the Sadducees.   If the Church does not have the desire for incarnation into the world as her central raison d’être, every effort to reconcile competing theologies is ever doomed to failure.   It seems that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent comment that we have to acknowledge that people don’t share the same theology as stating the bleeding obvious, but clearly it is not obvious to some! (4)

Again I was recently listening to a radio program ‘The Why Factor’ on jargon and convoluted language. (5)  What is intended as an exercise in communication - like agreeing to the terms of use of software is actually alienating and excluding.   And I thought of parts of the church’s use of jargon to similarly define any conversation is her terms, in some deluded imitation of love.

But following on from my reflections on the medical profession being the paradigm of collaborative creativity, I have been thinking about modern music.   Today, young people, having for so long been relegated to obscurity and told they should be seen and not heard, have found their place and their voice.   I wonder if popular magazines have an age limit for celebrities?   I vividly recall one Friday morning when I was doing my ‘priest-on-duty’ duty at the Transitional Cathedral and a group of American Christian teenagers came to visit.   They were on the trip of a lifetime, and naturally high-spirited.   One of the elderly volunteers reminded them in no uncertain terms that they were in church where everyone is quiet.   They immediately left.

And it is not just all narcissistic, we are concerned about those in Vanuatu and Nepal.   We agonise over the plight of the Syrians.   We mourn those drowned in the Mediterranean and lobby for those in Australian detention centres.   We fear climate change and what the cancer of humanity is doing to the ecology.  The voice that young people have found has brought to society an egalitarian spirit.   We are all human, and all deserve an equal opportunity to food, shelter, dignity and access to services.  

This seems to me to be a direct result of that spirit within parts of the church who have privileged the poor and the outcast and turned away from all elitism and privilege.   This promises a healthy oneness for all.  

I discover that it was Otto von Bismarck who first said: ‘Politics is the art of the possible’. (6)   I suspect that the ideal of converting each and every person to become straight, baptised, confirmed, communicant, tithing Anglicans of my particular flavour is rather less possible than achieving a society which turns away from all elitism and privilege, promising a healthy oneness for all.   And this if for no other reason that there are actually many more prepared to embrace the later and work for it.   Amen.

1.  Jeremiah 50:24
2.  Genesis 2:18
3.  Louis V. Gerstner, Jr.