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s131e03 10th August 2003 Sunday 19

"talk … so that your words give grace to those who hear…" Eph 4.29

Some time ago, the librarian at the local Lutheran Seminary offered their old photocopier, which they had replaced &endash; free of charge to anyone who could use it. In her e-mail she described it as "old but faithful …" And I immediately thought how could any photocopier from a library in a Lutheran Seminary be anything but faithful :-)! But then I thought, perhaps, in good Lutheran tradition, it didn't depend on good works! :-)

And this immediately set my mind to thinking about the old divide between faith and works and how, even in our day to day language, a faithful photocopier is one which works well, not one which holds intrinsic truths to itself.

And this lead me to ponder what it is to which we are faithful. Some people are faithful to and enthusiastic for the Anglican tradition, or more accurately to one strand of the Anglican tradition, and resist any deviation from that. There is the old joke about the authority in the evangelical churches being the Bible, the authority in the Catholic Church being the Pope, and the authority in the Anglican Church being what the previous Rector decreed :-) !

Within our Anglican tradition there are some people who want to remain faithful to the Book of Common Prayer &endash; with little idea of what that entails. In my living memory I have never witnessed the BCP service of Holy Communion being used in its accurate and entire form, and a good thing too.

Other people want to be faithful to holy Scripture according to the "authorised" King James Version &endash; despite the fact that it was never "authorised" and the principles of scholarship which led to that version have been greatly advanced in the meantime. The authors would be horrified to learn that their work was being used and the principles that inspired their work were being neglected.

Now both of these examples are relatively harmless. I really don't care that some people like the "old" form of words and appreciate the poetry of these books. But it is easy to move from being faithful and enthusiastic - to being intolerant of others and doctrinaire in one's opinions. It is easy to go from being faithful &endash; which is a good thing - to being pig headed - which is less attractive.

I guess we can be faithful to a variety of different causes, and some of those causes will be more worthy and some will be less worthy.

One could be faithful to the anti-Semitic doctrines of the Nazis, the apartheid doctrines of some in South Africa in years past, or the attitudes which made Pauline Hanson popular in Australia not so very long ago. I have no doubt that those who do will not likely be alone, but personally I have my doubts that such faithfulness is to be commended or that it is inspired by God.

As I was reading Archbishop Rowan Williams book "Lost Icons" I read: "The power to decide the human claims of others is, of course, precisely what feminism rightly rebels against - the long and shameful history of educating people to ignore, distort or minimise certain kinds of biological community and the recognitions that are or should be bound up with them. The history of patriarchy - not to mention racism - shows that such a project is not impossible." (page 52)

In this context it is important to realise that the terrorists who committed the atrocities on September the 11th 2001 were people who were being faithful and enthusiastic to what they believed passionately was what was right and was what God wanted them to do.

We must conclude that faithfulness and enthusiasm are not necessarily good. And we must conclude that what we are on about &endash; faith - can so easily and so often is - turned into terrorism.

People may well believe but want to avoid at all costs becoming a terror to others and refrain from public worship or acknowledgement of their faith &endash; lest they unwittingly neglected or hurt others or be associated with the neglect or hurt of others. I suspect that many modern people do not come to Church because they want to remain faithful to the perception that women and those who are gay are not lesser human beings, and are not prepared to be associated with a church where even some other part does not affirm this truth. And I would heartily commend them. If it were a choice for me &endash; episcopacy or intimacy with someone I loved &endash; I would embrace the later and applaud anyone who also did likewise.

The whole emphasis of the words from the letter to the Ephesians is all about the faith that we are taught - implicitly means acting graciously towards others, all others. As soon as that nexus is broken we become a danger to ourselves and a danger to others.

The author of the letter implies that our faith is all about our sensitivity, being kind to one another, tender hearted and forgiving. The author speaks about our faith being about being members of one another &endash; with our neighbours &endash; not just within the fellowship of Christians. He even speaks to thieves. Our faith is all about putting away "all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander (and) malice."

And if we are to imitate God, we are surely imitating God in these things especially. So God is not bitter. God is not full of wrath. God is not angry - towards anyone - except the unforgiving.

These are the sorts of things and this is the sort of God that I am prepared to give of my life for and to be enthusiastic about. These are the sorts of things and this is the sort of God I would commend others to be faithful to, too. In the end, one or two who think similarly might not make much of a difference to the life of this world &endash; yet I have little doubt that if it is these things that we come out clearly as saying &endash; we will be joined by many many others, who also wish for these things for the world.

A while back I happened to read an excellent essay by a lay person, someone who had spent all of his adult years as part of the Church as well as an engineer in a large multinational corporation. It was clear from his words that he found the Church continuing to be suspicious of technology, the market place and globalisation, despite society and the church benefiting from the prosperity these have brought. He is not oblivious to the downside to these things, but for all his faithfulness he still feels alienated from the Church. And I too, for all my years and ministry in the Church feel similarly alienated. This essay and my experience of the Church often leaves me with the suspicion that the church has a habit of magnifying alienation rather than reducing it. <>

My message today is that our faith is about how we get on with others. Getting on with others is not an optional extra or something we can restrict to those who don't differ from ourselves too much. Getting on with others is at the core of our faith &endash; it is at the core of what God would have for us and for all people.

People who are greedy, lawless and full of lust are concerned only for their own well-being and getting what they want for themselves. And it really doesn't matter if we are greedy for "salvation" or for chocolate &endash; we will be seen for the greed, not for the object of our desire. We can passionately desire "eternal life" and in reality be no different either.

I don't have any difficulty postulating a God who is never wrathful. We can be sure that if humanity continues to live like the animals and the survival of the fittest, one part of humanity will continue to bring down the wrath of the other part on itself, with continuing catastrophic effects. Does not history teach us anything? And the Bible bears ample evidence that humanity, particularly of the religious variety, has a habit of piously ascribing omnipotence and responsibility to God, effectively but inappropriately exonerating humanity (and especially themselves) of responsibility for the repercussions of their actions and attitudes.

No, the responsibility to " talk … so that your words give grace to those who hear…" is everyone's job, not just mine as the priest.

What sort of parish are we to be? A parish which builds up those who come or one which gets newcomers to conform?

The clue to all this is patience, forgiving one another. It is no accident that the author finishes his (or her) words with a remembrance of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross. Jesus was killed because he accepted others - so the core of our faith is also how we accept others.



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