The readings on which this sermon is based are found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r130.htm
s130e03 Sunday 18
"speaking the truth in love" Ephesians 4.15
The general consensus of scholastic opinion is that the letter to the Ephesians was written by someone other than St Paul, so this is why I talk about the author, rather than the apostle to whom the letter is traditionally ascribed. The language used is very different from that in Romans, Galatians and Corinthians.
Quite a while back I was reading a response to an Archbishop's address, where a synod participant as well as observer commented that: "I find the phrase 'speaking the truth in love' far from reassuring. On the contrary, it sends a chill down my spine. This is partly because of my experience in (this) Diocese. It appears with some regularity as a prelude to a savage attack, usually on a person. It is such a powerful signal in the synod, for example, that everyone sits up when the phrase occurs, the better to hear what is to come...." (Professor Michael Horsburgh) Why anyone would voluntarily go through such a process or subject themselves to the possibility of such vilification is beyond me :-)
We should remember that all of us are volunteers - even the paid clergy voluntarily take on far more than any are reimbursed at the end of the fortnight. I am happy with the level of stipend, I am not pleading poverty. I will be content, with Pope John the 23rd, to die a poor person. If I have a large estate for my progeny to fight over, when they will in fact earn far more than me, I will have failed to use my money wisely.
We are all volunteers - even though I have a strong sense that I'm "doomed to be a priest forever" to paraphrase a colleague. I am as much a volunteer as everyone else here, because I, as much as anyone else in this congregation voluntarily give my own "freewill" offering - and the parish needs my offering as well as the offerings you are able to make. Everyone is able to say that they are or are not getting what they want out of this fellowship, and if someone isn't getting what they want they should find another fellowship where they do. There are certainly enough Anglican Churches in the nearby vicinity for everyone to be reasonably satisfied. And of course you will know enough of me by now to know that it is not what we do here that is important, but how we relate to others - within and outside this community - which is important.
If we consider ourselves volunteers - able to choose what we do and what we don't do, then we have no option but to extend to everyone else the same courtesy. We cannot force anyone else to give more or do more. We find that our own hackles rise if others try to do this to us, so why should not others be the same?
If I was to make a practice of asking people for things, this would eventually lead to the destruction of my pastoral relationship that I should have with everyone. This is the primary reason I am happy to have anything put in the pew bulletin or parish paper, or for others to make requests at morning tea, but I will not give notices during worship.
If we consider ourselves "called" and less a volunteer - clearly we are called with a ministry unique to us. But this doesn't help, for if God calls us as we are - a unique individual, then we have no option but to acknowledge that others are similarly called to be who they are, and not clones of us, or just to be our minions.
I note that the writer to the letter to the Ephesians speaks of the gifs given to each of us are "to equip the saints". Now I could easily interpret this as that you are here to make my life easy :-) No, the author obviously has a different conception of saints than the pervasive view of saints that most of us have been brought up to have - that saints are "complete" or "perfect". If the saints need to be equipped by others we can conclude that no one is "complete" or "perfect" (even me:-). Every one has a unique gift for others, and we are all made for each other. We are all saints, and even so none of us are complete or perfect, for others have things to contribute to us.
The younger members in this congregation bring to the older ones enthusiasm and joy. The older members of this congregation bring to the younger ones the wisdom of allowing the young ones to enjoy their youth and to make their own mistakes! As I get older and greyer - but certainly not wiser, I am beginning to realise that we all have to make our own mistakes and learn our own lessons in life. I cannot make it any easier for my offspring. Any "wisdom" I can impart is really only relevant to myself and my own life journey. If my sons lived life following my footsteps, the footsteps might indeed be warm, but they will also more than likely - rightfully be bored :-)
I note that the author wants us to be adults. He writes: "We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro ... by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming." So despite the words of Jesus about welcoming the kingdom of God like a little child - we are meant to be adults. We are not meant to be children who are "seen and not heard" - admiring the contribution of those who have gone before us. We are meant to make our contribution and it is amazing how everyone has a contribution to make - even the youngest and poorest amongst us.
People who want things of others, particularly if they want things from others NOW or want what they want rather than what the other person wants to give, will of necessity have to resort to some form of deceit or trickery. When we are content that others be who they are and exercise the ministry to which God has called them, there is no need to resort to such methods. Such an attitude to others will most speedily allow them to become the adults God plans for them and as we are all meant to become.
The author of the letter speaks about God being the "Father of all" who is "above all and through all and in all" - and so the "unity of the Spirit" includes everyone, whether they realise it or not. Even the obscure references to ascending and descending are for the same purpose "that he might fill all things".
I again mention that the particular Archbishop to which the above response was directed is "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)
Even though these words in our epistle reading for today may not be the writing of St Paul, I think that they are sufficiently important not to be brushed aside in any cavalier way. "Speaking the truth in love" has to be done at the same time as acting "with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love ..." You cannot quote one part of the words and neglect the rest. It is clear that this Archbishop's first priority is moral and doctrinal purity as a prerequisite to fellowship. Unity is only on his terms, and I don't think I would be misrepresenting him when I say that I strongly suspect that this wouldn't include me :-)
Sometimes I too groan inwardly at the length of the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary - and I confess that many years ago I made a deliberate choice to use longer rather than shorter ones where the choice was given. I am very grateful for the efforts the readers here go to read clearly what are often very long and sometimes rather indigestible passages. Yet there are times when I am grateful to have these long readings. It would be easy to have just the passage about "speaking the truth in love" without the surrounding words about unity, patience and forbearance.
And this begs the question about which is most important? Does "speaking the truth in love" work contrary to patience and forbearance, or does patience and forbearance inform our "speaking the truth in love"? As I read these 16 verses of the letter to the Ephesians, they seem to me much more about patience and forbearance than about giving us permission to tell someone else off, demeaning someone else, questioning their faith, or challenging them to bigger and better things.
And it is an added bonus that the longer readings mean that parishioners get to know more of the Bible than the old one year cycle of readings provided. We are all less easily swayed if others bring up some obscure text.
The particular Archbishop is a strident opponent of the ordination of women, and I wonder whether his opposition is based on a premise that ministry is about telling people what to do rather than encouraging others to become the real person they are. I'm sure that women can do the later just as effectively as men, and St Paul would heartily approve.
As I look back over my words that I have written, I have to ask myself are the words I have used an expression of what is true. I think that they are, but certainly others will express truth differently from me. I hope I have not savagely attacked the Archbishop in question! I hope that they are written in love.
It is interesting that when we had the local Lenten studies on the writings of Bishop Spong I realised that some of this bishop's stridency is the result of the strident absolutist faith he had ben brought up with and to which he was reacting. The measure you mete out will be the measure you get back :-)
I was reflecting recently on the passage "If you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless." which is based on a quotation from Hosea 6.6 - I reflected how infuriating this would have been to Jesus' opposition. Their whole life was bound up in regulating how and how much others should sacrifice. Jesus said that it was more important for them to be merciful towards those they looked down on. Even said quietly, this word of truth in love provoked anger enough to have him killed.
I was recently reading a critique of the Archbishop of Canterbury by the Rev'd Simon Vibert. He criticises the Archbishop saying that he "does not seem to believe that God speaks in clear propositions and, apparently, is unable to communicate clearly to His people". <http://www.fows.org/html/two_archbishops.html> I actually think that Jesus did communicate clearly to the religious people of his day and his message (then as now) was not at all well received. The Rev'd Simon Vibert states: "God reveals himself in order to make relationship with us". I would want to say rather that God reveals to us the truth that the most important thing is our relationship with others. God has no need of followers - we do God no favours by coming to Church. It is humanity in general who needs to get on with one another, and we might as well get on and do it.
And the passage about mercy, not sacrifice also spoke to me about how it is easy to fill one's life with things to complain about. To be against things. Sometimes those things are good and useful things. People diet and exercise to avoid looking overweight. All people should be careful about intimacy. People should give more to the Church :-) Sacrifices have to be made, by ourselves and / or by others to make this a better society. The world is full of people exercising their religion by challenging themselves and others to make such sacrifices.
Jesus' word about mercy, speaks about us being FOR something, for others, including ourselves. Speaking the truth in love is about being kind towards ourselves as well as towards others. Living a life arguing against things is likely to lead to disappointment and despair. Living a life of being for ourselves and for others is likely to somewhat more pleasurable.
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