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s126e03 Lockleys 6/7/2003 Sunday 14

"I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities for the sake of Christ " 2 Corinthians 12.10

I rather regret St Paul having written these words, for they can be used as an excuse for some to criticise the clergy - thinking &endash; well it's all part of their calling :-). We wouldn't want the clergy to be disappointed!

I was talking to one of my colleagues a while back. He and his wife had sold their home and given up a senior position in the workplace for him to go to theological college and to eventually be ordained. He would be lucky if he is earning half the wages he would have if he stayed in his old job. I am not sure if he and his wife have been able to buy another home in which to retire, but I hope they have. I went through college as a single person, and I've never had to give up anything like this. I am always very wary of criticising clergy - and especially when lay people do it.

I was interested to see the new (Anglican) Dean of Sydney, the Very Rev'd Philip Jensen, being interviewed on "Insight" a while back (SBS 12/6/03 http://www.sbs.com.au/insight/ under the title "The New Reformation"). He seems to see himself as a prophet who will therefore necessarily be ridiculed by his co-religionists. But in the same interview he said that he considers "relativism ...amongst other things ... stupid. I don't really like being stupid. I kind of fight against it all the time, really." It seems odd that a person of such undoubted devotion to the Lord recognises ridicule when he perceives it as coming his way, but does not recognise it when he dishes it out. If he welcomes ridicule from others as a mark of his own prophetic status, I wonder he is not wary lest he inadvertently but similarly ordains other (opposing) prophets.

I was interested in his use of the word "co-religionists" &endash; and I'm sure he uses it deliberately &endash; but I am entirely unsure of why he does. But it did highlight for me again the propensity of religious people to fight, and the reality is that "ordinary" people have got better things to do (and rightfully so). Many of the things we who have faith fight about simply don't interest the ordinary run of the mill person in the street. It is salutary for us to realise that many ordinary people often manage to love their neighbour rather more effectively than "Christians". It is salutary for us to realise that so often it is "Christians" who continue to label others as "sinners" &endash; us for whom differences in colour, differences in gender, differences in sexual orientation, differences in styles of worship - traditionally have been so frequently important. These things are entirely immaterial for the bulk of people who meet and mix with all sorts of people in their work place. In Church we simply rarely come in contact with people different to us, and sadly so.

It is no wonder to me that many people "worship God" without ever darkening the doors of a Church, Mosque, Synagogue or Temple - because they have perceived the truth that worshipping God and arguing with others about how it should be done are entirely incompatible. When "Christians" talk about the necessity to come to Church to worship - they naturally think that this involves becoming involved in the fighting, and not unreasonably demur.

One of the Dean of Sydney's "hobby horses" is the "biblical" subordination of women, and how they should also be content (in the words of St Paul) with their "weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities " He sees these things as being divinely ordained and therefore unalterable. I am pleased I am not married to him :-)!

I was meditating on the passage from Matthew 5 about adultery and I suddenly realised that we have so often considered adultery something that women did or caused. Because Eve tempted Adam with the apple, all temptation originates in the female of the species. But when I read Matthew 5 it is all about men committing adultery &endash; "everyone who looks at a women with lust" - presumably this is most often likely to refer to a male type person. "Anyone who divorces his wife (or) marries a divorced woman " It is all about men committing adultery or tempting women to "stray".

And because it is all "women's" fault &endash; she has to put up with whatever her husband dishes out &endash; to be content &endash; with her hardships. I know of clergy who have counselled women to return to their abusive husband on the strength of such a passage as this! I have been told of women who have been abandoned by their husbands for someone else, left to bring up the children by themselves and then - just to add insult to injury - being refused the sacrament of Holy Communion by a male priest supposedly in the name of God - or being refused permission to remarry in Church. And because they are doing it out of "obedience" they will be doing it for Christ and will be thereby blessed. And, in the meantime, children have been molested and abused by adult males and nothing can be proved.

We do well to make sure that the sacrifices we make are our own and not in fact someone else's. We will not get into heaven because we have conned someone else who can't afford it to give $10 a week more to the Church when we could afford to give $10 more ourselves, but don't.

And when we decide to make our own sacrifices to God, it then becomes imperative that we are clear precisely which God it is to whom we are sacrificing.

So I would not be interested in the slightest making a sacrifice to the god of the Very Rev'd Philip Jensen, because I have no interest in continuing the subordination of women, and I wouldn't commend sacrificing to such a god to anyone else.

For me I need to know what is the logical outcome "at the sharp end" for any theology. No matter how biblical, orthodox, or religious a teaching might sound - at the end of the day - if it puts down others - no matter who those others are - I will not be interested.

For everyone's sacrifices &endash; well - the ones that are important anyway - in the end are our own. There are things for which I am prepared to make sacrifices, just as there are things for which St Paul was prepared to make sacrifices, and there are things for which I have no doubt you are prepared to make sacrifices. And we all make these sacrifices without being asked.

By and large, parents do not have to be asked to make certain sacrifices for their children. If there is something important that they need - then parents will move heaven and earth to provide it. Indeed, by and large, people don't have to be asked twice if they see something that they can contribute which will make a difference to someone else. Australians are however very annoyed if someone else benefits from their charity rather than the intended recipient - so recently the Red Cross was stringently questioned about who benefited from the money given to the relief of those affected by the Bali bombing. Much of our charity to third world countries would be multiplied greatly if we knew our charity was not actually mostly benefiting the governments at war with someone else - relieving them of the necessity of caring for rather than killing other people.

God invites us to make our contribution, God does not demand anything of us, or of anyone. This is the God I worship and the God to whom I am prepared to give of my life. Of course this God will be opposed by those who want to demand that others to be like them, that others give more, and that others continue to acknowledge their religious superiority. Such people will be offended that God doesn't demand, and so they can't demand anything of others in God's name.

St Paul is content with making the sacrifices he has for what he considers important - just as the woman who put the two small pennies into the Temple treasury was most likely also content. Similarly I am content with the very small sacrifices I have been able to offer God. Neither St Paul, the anonymous woman or me demand anything of anyone else, for each gives in proportion to what they have perceived as the grace of God in their lives and their ability to respond.

But this is not the cue to ask anyone to give more. No one has to prove anything to me or to God. God knows how much each of us has perceived the grace of Christ and God knows how we have responded and accepts our response. What we are called not to do is to quantify the offerings others make, or how they make it, or even question the name they use for the God to whom they sacrifice. There is but one God, who accepts your sacrifices and my sacrifices and everyone else's sacrifices.

Like St Paul, let us be content that such sacrifices that we have made have been accepted, and let us recognise and be content that the sacrifices that others have made are equally accepted.

 

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