The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s115e06 Epiphany 3 Lockleys 22/1/2006
"the present form of this world is passing away" 1 Cor 7.31
Early in the New Year I watched a program on the Aarons family who were the founders of the Communist Party in Australia. It was a fascinating program and it showed how generation after generation the members of the family clung to the hope that the revolution was just about to happen.
And we can glimpse the same paradigm of faith in a revolution just about to happen, in the words of St Paul in our epistle for today. The appointed time has grown short ... they were to act as though they had no possessions. In fact of course the word that is translated "brothers and sisters" -- adelphoi -- is much better translated "comrades" -- and probably would have been so translated except for the communist connotations that this word has.
I cannot say I have met very many communists, but I do recall one who was quite convinced that the logical outcome of Christianity was communism. And there is a good deal of justification for this. It seems that holding goods in common was a mark of the early Church. But later generations have seen the sense of other ways, and so our 38th Article (of the 39) proclaims "the riches and goods of Christians are not common".
One might look at the attitudes of the Aarons family and the early Church as a bit over-enthusiastic and na´ve; but we need to be careful for "enthusiasm" literally means: "filled with God".
But for me the reason I would be hesitant to criticize is because I see the present form of this world indeed passing away, and good riddance.
Time and again I say how much more accomplished my sons are than I ever was -- and I know that most parents and grandparents think the same of their offspring. I don't want to go back to the good old days when everyone was suitably compliant and people were abused. I do not want to return to the time when children were seen and not heard -- they have too much to offer. I do not want to return to the time when divorce and remarriage were virtually impossible, and women had no option but to remain in abusive relationships. I do not want to go back to the days before the sexual revolution of the 60's, when nothing useful was ever discussed, and people had to struggle along without help, most often thinking that everyone else was obviously happy and it was only themselves who were struggling.
We have much for which to thank God in the freedoms we enjoy, and we ought to be grateful for those Hollywood actors and actresses whose "latest romances" gave us something to talk about -- and people like John Lennon and Germain Greer who were so instrumental in bringing about change.
So too the communications revolution has brought to our attention the tragedies and the subsequent needs of other parts of the world. I sometimes wonder however, if there was a news ban on the conflict in the Middle East, perhaps the combatants might forget about grabbing headlines and get down to negotiating.
But the response across the world to the tsunami, the hurricane and the earthquake last year showed that people are ready to "dig deep" when they know of others in desperate need and their aid will help real people, and not be used by governments to feed soldiers.
I remember when the national newspaper "the Australian" hit Adelaide, my father deciding to not get that, but stick to the local "Advertiser". He reasoned that we didn't need our horizons any broader than South Australia. The only time he demonstrated any interest in federal politics was on "budget night" when he listened to the treasurers' speech on the radio as it was being delivered. And it is easy to be overwhelmed by the events of the world. But now we have the SBS who help us recognize and appreciate the existence of people of other cultures in our midst (Australia as well as globally) and we are the richer for this.
We do not have to travel to experience these riches. I heard on the radio that after September the 11th and the grounding of aircraft across America, the air quality was significantly improved.
Yes, certainly there is a way to go too. You know me well enough by now to know that I lament how some people continue to be marginalized and alienated by the Church and how some parts of the Church's teaching on the use of condoms keeps so many people in third world countries in poverty, sickness and early death. I lament that the Church has fairly quickly expressed it's opposition to the industrial relations reforms proposed by the government when the Church is notorious for demanding of it's employees more than secular employers -- to the detriment of the employee's family life. I heard recently that a prominent person in this diocese made a suggestion to a committee dealing with the conditions of service of clergy that part of the "code of conduct" should be that their partner should be an active member of the parish! Some church employers want to dictate the living arrangements of their employees. Not many people would voluntarily take on a position with the wages and conditions Anglican clergy have. Still we don't go into it for the money! I remember an advertisement for a mission agency employee, some time back. One of the requirements was that the person had to be a person of faith rather than worried about money; and I thought, I bet they are in a bit of a financial pickle. The magisterium of one particular huge part of the Christian Church forbids their clergy to be even married -- so much for any family life for them :-)!
But we have come a long way and we still have a way to go. We cannot go backwards and the only other option is to resist to the death any further change. But of course the Church has little, if any, influence in our society and is unable to mount any real and lasting opposition, and we can thank God for that. The only other thing we can do is to close our eyes to it all and carry on as if everything is still the same as it was.
Or we can embrace the change.
It is interesting as I begin to take stock of my possessions in preparation for a move -- I begin to realize how much I have and how much I need -- and they are considerably different. In some cases I am taking things with me simply so they do not clutter up the life of the person who might follow me here.
I had an interesting conversation via e-mail about the feminine side of God a while back and I suppose the prerogative of women to change their minds is a useful side to the Almighty as well. I guess I have been brought up thinking that God has got it all sorted out and there is no need for God to ever be "in two minds" about something. But, time and again throughout Scripture, we read that God relented, as in our passage from Jonah in our first lesson for today.
If God can change his or her mind, in the light of altered circumstances, then surely we are also allowed to do so as well. We too are allowed to "go with the flow".
Our gospel reading is about the calling of Simon and Andrew, and it is a calling to leave what was familiar and secure, and to venture out into the wider world where they would meet different people, experience different cultures and grow as a result. Jesus would go before them -- they only had to follow.
And sometimes the path might not be to travel to strange and exotic places, but to do the opposite to what might be expected. What a conundrum we are given -- to act "as those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing". If we get nothing from these words, it must surely mean that there is no "right way" to be a Christian. One person will be a Christian in one way, whereas another person will do precisely the opposite to express their faith. One person might grow their hair long, another might have it all cut off.
In that lovely passage about love in 1 Corinthians 13 we are told that "love .. does not insist on it's own way" -- and God, being perfect love must do this perfectly. Therefore if there were one way alone -- God's way of being a Christian -- God would not insist on it anyway!
The present form of this world is passing away -- we can see it happening around us all the time. We can, more and more, be ourselves -- and let other be themselves. Enjoy!
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