The readings on which this sermon is
based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/r114.htm
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
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
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
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
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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