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

s114e12  Sunday 2  15/1/2011

'one spirit with him'  1 Corinthians 6.17

Recently we have taken some time away from shaky Christchurch and as often happens just being in different circumstances means other interesting things happen.

The first of these was a conversation amongst a group of people, one of whom is a geneticist.   She spoke of her PhD thesis which was on Kuskokwim Syndrome in the Yup'ik people in Alaska.   This disease was unknown before Moravian missionaries came there in 1885 and put a stop to extramarital relationships which were accepted especially during extensive hunting trips, and so-called "lamp extinction games" with ritual partner exchanges.   The cessation of these traditions gave rise to inbreeding.    There were positive benefits to the old traditions, despite their not being ‘christian’.   Thanks Dr Geraldine!

The second was watching a motel movie: 'The Notebook' - the 2004 movie by Jessica Cymerman.   (I normally let Mary thrash me (:-) at 'Cribbage'  or 'Cosmic Wimpout' in the evenings rather than watching TV!)   This movie focusses on the enduring first summer love between Allie and Noah, despite family disapproval, social division, forced separation, war and other relationships.   Again a lovely movie with the message that we should follow our hearts and not always the advise of those trying to ‘protect’ us.

And then I come to prepare a sermon with these set readings, the second of which is so frequently thought to be about sexual immorality.

So the first important message is that inspiration happens when we are with others, often outside of our normal routine, and when we have our ears open rather than we having a message for others.

I have pointed out before that scripture has a habit of using pejorative sexual terms to describe idolatry - unfaithfulness to the covenant with God.   But rather more tellingly Jesus was noted for, and killed because of, his association with others, the tax-collectors, prostitutes and sinners.   So to simply suggest that 'fornication' is sexual is to move a long way from where Jesus was.   If Jesus' primary message was about defining when and with whom people can share mutual physical intimacy, Jesus would have been ignored or made high priest, not crucified by them.

And I also note that the phrase 'sinning against the body' may just as well mean 'against the body of the church'.    I have experienced enough parish politics in my life to know how people who make god into their own image can destroy fellowship, and hardly co-incidentally, this is also the background to most of St Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, from which our second lesson is taken.  

The difficulty is that we each have deep-seated insecurities when it comes to intimate relationships.   I have always been a very shy person, and I only started to get over this when I realised that most others were equally shy but hid it successfully behind bluster.   Similarly I suspect much abuse in 'relationships' comes from fear of intimacy.   I suspect it is not true to suggest that the general more permissive norms that prevail today means we have overcome our insecurities.   The divorce rate shows people do want real relationships and do not want to be locked into anything that is abusive.  

For me the real question facing us, the church, is do we continue to be seen by the world primarily as a body regulating when and with whom people share intimacy, or are we seen by the world as a force for acceptance, community and relationship.   The first means that we continue to be a force for division within society and the society is right to reject any force for division as against the public weal, if not essentially demonic.   If Jesus, 'christianity' or Anglicanism is about fostering or continuing divisions within society then, in my not very humble opinion, Jesus, 'christianity', and Anglicanism needs to be rejected out of hand.

And just to repeat.  If someone wants to quote: 'No one comes to the Father but by me' please understand that this really means: 'No one comes to the Father but by our (or my) interpretation of who Jesus is' which really means: 'No one comes to the Father but by me (or us)', which is really rather different.   There must be 5,000,000 persons and groups who claim this, and we wonder why the world is full of divisions!  And of course, it’s all everyone else’s fault!

The church has to get its message clear, and I doubt that adopting an Anglican Covenant will make it any clearer to the ordinary person in the street.   For me the Covenant is a way of sidestepping the issue, which if adopted will continue to allow sections of the church to regard division as an integral and indispensable part of being the church.   Indeed the Covenant is essentially divisive, defining who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’.

If we think that ‘No one comes to the Father but by my interpretation of who Jesus is’ have we not made Jesus into our own image?   And even if we use the name of Jesus, have we not made an idol in our own image and named that idol Jesus?   Is not this as idolatrous as carving a statue or painting an icon and worshipping it?   And if we do this, and insist on others imitating us, might we not be fairly accused of fornication - to use a pejorative term?  

And not to put too fine a point on it, which is likely to do more damage to society - people expressing their intimate devotion to one another, perhaps before marriage or perhaps persons of the same gender; or the church triumphant continuing to be a force for division within society?  

And it is not just power politics in parishes that bedevil us.   Even the most casual outside observer of things Anglican perceives the spirit of rancour that exists within the communion, and we think that people outside don’t see behind our smiling facades!  In this information rich society, our divisions are all too transparent for everyone to see.  The myth that we are seen as ‘a unified global church‘ is just that - a myth.   One of the difficulties bishops face is that they are called to be a focus for unity and they become the meat in the sandwich of the competing factions.   The bishop is expected to support this faction over that faction.     His or her whole role becomes that of a peacemaker of opposing factions as implacably opposed to rapprochement as any on the world stage.    Jesus never tried to get the Pharisees and the Sadducees to agree.   That would have been a waste of energy.   No, Jesus pointed to others and called the orthodox and the devout to be at one with others.

I continue to wonder how a church founded on the command to love one another has spent so much of her time stopping people expressing their love for others until she determines that the people and the time is appropriate?

I began this sermon with St Paul’s words that we are to be: ‘one spirit with him’ - that is with the Lord.   This surely means that we have the same spirit which led Jesus to associate with the irreligious, the unorthodox, the less than devout.   He associated with those whose occupations involved money and sex.   In doing so Jesus was a force for community rather than division, and we are to be: ‘one spirit with him’.   No amount of fancy theological or doctrinal diatribe will allow us to avoid that call to be ‘one spirit with him’ - and to eschew anything and everything that causes others to be marginalised, alienated or condemned.

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