The readings on which this sermon is based are found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r128.htm
s128e03 Lockleys Sunday 16 20th July 2003
"He has abolished the law ... so that he might create in himself one new humanity É" Ephesians 2:16
Often as I've gone through the Church it has often seemed that humanists and people of faith have been contrasted. Humanists have done their work without reference to any being beyond ourselves, and people of faith have resented this seeming self sufficiency. For "us" God is of prime importance and humanity only secondary. After all the first of the 10 commandments is all about God being one and jealous, and the first of the great commandments Jesus gave us is about loving God with our whole being. What have we to do with humanism?
Except that the author to the letter to the Ephesians believes that the whole purpose of God is to create a new humanity.
So I am content to be called a humanist, for I believe Jesus was the greatest humanist who ever lived. I am content to be called a liberal, because I believe Jesus was the greatest liberal who ever lived. I am content, not because I want to be a humanist or a liberal, but because following Jesus means being what he was. We cannot be the branches of the true vine if we are doing something other than what Jesus did.
I recall one person commented about me when I was in theological college that I was too scared of becoming "pious". I have only now realised that this really betrays this other person's piety refused to recognise the piety in me.
It is a truism that humanity is divided. Indeed the whole of science is about endlessly dividing and categorising everything that is around us. A place for everything and everything in its place. And we can assume that because we have managed to find a place for everything and we think everything is in its proper place, that we understand our surroundings. Yet, as I get older, the shear complexity of life begins to overwhelm me. I find I, like St Paul, do not understand myself, let alone any other human being. I am not knocking science &endash; one has only to stand alongside those who have undergone operations to realise the miracles that doctors and surgeons perform.
The inescapable and unalterable reality is that diversity is everywhere. We can do nothing about the diversity that surrounds us &endash; so it is fairly pointless to try. But just as the cosmos with all its diversity is a unity and bodies with all their diverse components and organs are unities, so humanity while diverse need not be divided. Indeed the new humanity must be something about unity and diversity coexisting. In fact if it isn't, and this is not what God is on about, I wouldn't be bothered believing in God, worshipping God, or commending the belief and worship of God to anyone else.
This week at the top of my sermon page I have put a photo, not as I usually do, of some church activity, but a picture of the salt pans north of Adelaide. You, my real, rather than my "virtual", congregation will know the picture without me having to describe it - for any trip north of Adelaide one cannot but pass these without noticing them. It is where lots of salt is refined. A pretty barren place. Even our salt lakes in the far north are more interesting for there there are at least some flora and fauna to be seen. There are no such impurities at the salt pans at Dry Creek. Even my photo focusses not on the salt, but on the machine harvesting it. A machine is far more interesting! Who would want to live in such a place? Indeed who could actually live there? Any real person would find the surroundings entirely alienating. This is not what God wants for the whole of humanity surely!
Salt, used properly, is used sparingly, a little bit here and a little bit there, to bring out the uniqueness of the food it enhances. If too much is put in one place, all one tastes is salt, and the food is ruined. So Christians are not meant to make everyone like themselves but to bring out the uniqueness and value of the society in which they are placed. The new humanity is not meant to be all salt, as barren as Dry Creek.
Recently there have been rumours of the Anglican Communion splitting apart, and by the time I actually get to preach this, it may well have happened. We need to be clear what the issues are. The issue is that some members of our communion are upset because some other members who have admitted who they really are have been appointed Bishops. The ones who are upset didn't mind these other people being in the communion as long as they could pretend that they didn't, but by being appointed as Bishops that could no longer be the case. The fundamental break of communion has not happened recently, it is a continuing break of fellowship with other - real people - the sort that Jesus mixed with, the sort that accepted Jesus because Jesus accepted them. The religious authorities of Jesus day disapproved of Jesus mixing with these others, just as some religious authorities today disapprove of fellowship with these others.
And this sort of thinking demands of people that they refuse to accept themselves as they really are - on the premiss that god could not accept themselves as they really are. Of course precisely - the opposite is the truth. God accepts us as we are, so we can accept ourselves and others as we really are.
Now anyone is welcome to believe in a god who differentiates between people in an arbitrary way. People are unable to do much about the colour of their skin, their gender or lots of other things. People are however able to choose to trust God or not. It may be reasonable to differentiate between people who do and do not trust God - but even then we have no idea of the life experiences of someone who doesn't profess belief. However it is clear that these people who disapprove of others are disapproving of these others on grounds that these others can hardly do anything about. These others do what they can - they do trust God. Those who disapprove of fellowship with these others actually trust in a god who differentiates between people in matters which no one can alter. It does not matter what these others do, for all they trust God, in the eyes of the disapprovers, they can never be accepted. That is not the sort of god I believe in.
Of course I will be accused of idealism, trying to commend an unattainable utopia. It might be argued that people can't change. Well, it seems to me that while it may be indeed unlikely that humanity will ever live together peacefully, this is at least somewhat more possible than everyone thinking the same, worshipping the same, indeed being the same! And while my vision of a new humanity is unlikely to be achieved in the short term or even the long term, at least the present hostility cannot be continued in the name of God, as so frequently happens now.
It is far more possible (if not especially more likely) that some religious people will change their minds, than for the others they disapprove of to change their gender or sexual orientation.
My text today is about a new humanity God is creating. It is clearly somewhat a development from what has gone before, so if diversity is something that is not diminishing, diversity is something we are going to have to accommodate within this new humanity.
Recently the Archbishop of Sydney has been lecturing in England and he is reported to be "scathing about the church's professed commitment to "unity in diversity". "Unity in diversity is a slogan, recently invented - it has little to do with the churches, really" he said". (http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/printpage/,5942,6674591,00.html) If there can be no diversity in the unity in the Anglican Church, it is far less likely that there will ever be a unity within humanity in general. Of course, even if humanists were to propose such a unity, it would not be unreasonable to assume that the Archbishop of Sydney would campaign against it!
If we in the Church have not the charity to admit of diversity within our unity, what have we to offer our fellow men and women?
The choice is before us all, to use our brains and realise that a new humanity based on unity in diversity might be worth working for, or to return to the old religion of fear, where it seems compliance is rewarded. For me that is no choice at all. In fact, of course, "choice" is something that the old religion of fear and compliance doesn't even admit to.
My text for today talks about Jesus creating a new humanity, so this is something which is already happening, and we can either welcome it or fight against it. The people who seem to be anxiously fighting against these modern trends are conservative Anglicans! I am simply not interested in being in an Anglican Church which has the right doctrine and members who are suitably compliant. I welcome a new humanity where people are encouraged to think for themselves and where compassion and tolerance are hallmarks, for this is of Jesus.
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