The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s130e06 Sunday 18 Orange East 6/8/06
'people's trickery' Ephesians 4.14
I am interested that this phrase is used so closely to the rather more familiar text: 'speaking the truth in love' -- which is often interpreted as telling someone off -- for their own good - of course.
We do not need to use trickery. Trickery is only necessary when the person involved really knows that the other person is actually going to get something less than they bargained for. 'Let the buyer beware!' is the age-old adage.
We do not need to use trickery, because our aim is not to get someone to become like us or to support our organization. One of the lovely things about being a hospital chaplain is that I can be there for all people without expectation that anyone will feel obligated in any way. I really resonate with the sentiment of St Paul: 'What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge. 1 Corinthians 9.18 Sometimes however people don't want charity, and I have always accepted an offering for a funeral, but again, this is only so that the bereaved may not feel obligated.
I could well imagine that those who manage to inspire suicide bombers use trickery as part of their methods.
But the real question is: does God use trickery? Perhaps this question is not quite so straight-forwardly answered as might be thought. The psalmist says of the Lord: 'With the pure you are pure: but with the crooked you show yourself perverse.' Psalm 18.28 And it is interesting to me to put this beside one of the statements of St Paul: 'I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.' 1 Corinthians 9.22
It seems to me that this says something about the nature of God and how God lets us determine our own fates. God doesn't force us into submission, for submission is not what God is about. God is about us loving one another -- and the dreadful consequences of us not loving one another -- which surely God would have us spared -- are played out -- time and again -- in the Middle East and elsewhere.
But this is as true on the personal level as it is on the corporate level. 'What goes around comes around' is a phrase I have heard used recently.
And I have had occasion to think how some people who are depressed or angry blame others for their depression or their anger -- and by blaming others will never perceive any escape from what ails them. Such people are frequently very loud in their complaints, and one wonders if the volume only serves to exacerbate their distress, for it certainly isn't likely to elicit much sympathy from those around them.
But my words are not a recipe for an untroubled life, where no misfortune or illness ever occurs. They are simply the ingredients that make peace with ourselves and peace with others at least possible. If we decide to remain depressed or angry blaming others, then there is simply no possibility to have peace within ourselves nor are we likely to contribute to the peace of the world. We will condemn ourselves and others to simply more of the same.
God, if God exists, does not fundamentally change. We as humans may perceive God changing, but it is oft repeated in the Bible: "O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever". God did not change when Jesus came to humanity, Jesus only shows us more clearly what God has been like for all of eternity. The God of the Jew is no different to the God of Islam, is no different to the God of the Hindu, is no different to the God of the Buddhist, is equally no different to the God of the Christian. We all might perceive our God somewhat differently, but the fundamental steadfast love of the Lord, even if differently expressed, is common to all.
People's trickery makes this steadfast love of God conditional on the following of a particular doctrine or the membership of a particular denomination. And fundamental to this thinking is that God's love is restricted to a particular elite -- however that elite is defined. If God is truly the God of the whole universe, such trickery is completely unnecessary.
I was interested to read in the book 'Theologies of the Body Humanist and Christian' by Benedict Ashley O.P. this statement: 'These ferocious, fanatical wars (of the 16th and 17th centuries) of Christian against Christian made the claims of Christianity as a religion of faith and love appear incredible and called forth the new religion of humanism, just as at an earlier time the Trinitarian and Christological quarrels of the patristic Church had called forth Islam' (p60). The insistence of the Islamic religion that Allah is one and that makes submission to Allah a primary response should be seen in the light of this history. When we as Christians dutifully recite the Creed each Sunday -- I suspect that most of us are blissfully unaware -- as I was -- that the fighting over this led to the alienation of many people, and is still contributing to the factions and infighting that continue to this day. There is a proper submission to God, in that we can never hold God to ourselves at the expense of others. Perhaps this is a call to start to review what we say and do. Perhaps we have been tricked into not seeing the continuing damage we are doing as we try to faithfully uphold the Christian faith -- once delivered to the saints and handed down to us -- unadulterated and pure???
I have often thought that lay people want their clergy person really to be a successful spruiker (My spell check doesn't like this and I can't find it on dictionary.com :-) -- you know, those people in shopping malls with the microphones, encouraging people to come into this or that shop to at least have a look at the wares on sale. 'Come right in folks!' is what they cry. If we need to use trickery or such methods to get people to become Christians, I wonder if we actually believe in the God we profess. The people who do venture though the doors of the Church will get less than they bargained for -- they will not get whole hearted and unconditional acceptance -- precisely because we don't believe we have these ourselves. We presume Christianity is an elitist organization -- like so much of the world's religions around us are ever so subtly similarly elitist.
God does not need to use trickery, for God's message is about whole hearted and unconditional acceptance for all people, whatever their colour, race, creed, gender, or with whom they express their intimate affections. God's message can't therefore be imposed but only commended. God wants us to use our brains, and if we use our brains then it isn't rocket science that if we try to be at peace with our neighbours then peace is perhaps not inevitable but at least possible.
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