The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s127e06 St Barnabas Orange East Sunday 15 16/7/06
'in Christ' Ephesians 1.3
As I read through this passage, I was suddenly taken by the number of times the words 'in Christ', 'in him' and 'through him' occur.
"Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory." There are in fact 11 occurrences -- in 14 verses.
You may or may not believe me but in fact every one of these occurrences could be omitted without materially affecting the sense. Let me read the passage again, without these words ..
Fundamental to our faith is that we are 'in Christ'. Of course this is not unique to St Paul, this sentiment only replicates the words of Jesus recorded in John "abide in me" as well as many other places.
Why should this be? Well, let me say that it was those who most ostensibly loved God he most, those who were most devout and law abiding, who were so scandalized by Jesus, that they had him killed. It was those who (as we would say) 'went to Church' who hated Jesus. So loving God, going to Church, and being a law abiding person is no guarantee whatsoever that a person is 'in Christ'.
At the moment our Anglican Church is going through the continuing debates about the ordination of women as bishops, the blessing of same gender unions and the ordination of gay and lesbian people. The consecration of Gene Robinson, a person in a stable same gender relationship, as a bishop in the United States; the move to bless same gender unions in Canada and elsewhere, and now the election of a female Bishop to the presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States has precipitated a fault line opening up right across our communion.
Much of the opposition for these things comes from the Church in countries in Northern Africa, Nigeria in particular, who are trying to counter the Muslim influences in their country and any suggestion of moral laxity or capitulation to feminism would erode their standing in their community. I do not have anything against persons of African background. I have been much blessed by my association with Sudanese refugees during my time in Adelaide.
However I would point out that there is a stark choice confronting us as Anglicans. We have a choice to retreat back into what has become oppressively familiar to us all -- religions competing against one another -- women treated as second class citizens -- minorities alienated and oppressed -- all in the name of the faith once delivered to the saints. I, for one, question whether this is really true. Does God actually command us to return to these things? The God I worship wouldn't.
But we do have another choice; and that other choice is to see that people of good will of other faiths and of no particular faith as allies and as instruments of God's purpose in their own particular fields. We have the choice to treat all people of whatever gender as equals. We have the choice to recognize that there is no need for anyone to regulate just who is physically intimate with whom; and that we do need to be much more concerned with those who treat others uncaringly. We have the choice of recognizing that women as well as men have a place in the communication of the faith, for the faith cannot be exclusively expressed in male terms.
We have a choice between more of the same, or of a brave new world.
CS Lewis in the sixth of his 'Chronicles of Narnia' entitled: 'The Silver Chair' has 'Puddleglum' the 'Marsh Wiggle' finally defeat the spell of the witch of the underworld, by saying: 'Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things -- trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well it strikes me as a pretty poor one. .. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia.' (p145)
So I will add my name to the list of those congratulating the Right Rev'd Katharine Jefferts Schori on her election as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and to commend her and the Church in America to 'be strong and let your hearts take courage'. I also do not want to return to the past. With you, I want also to be 'in Christ' who was crucified by the religious and devout for associating with others.
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