The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r132.htm
 

s132g12  19/8/2012   Cathedral congregation Christchurch   Sunday 20

'If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.'  Matthew 5.41

I take this as my text because when we read Jesus talking about himself being the 'bread of life', for us as 'christians' and confirmed, communicant and straight Anglicans it just sounds so comfortable.   We cannot understand the reaction of the devout and the orthodox who complained (John 6.41) and disputed amongst themselves (John 6.52).   Even many of his disciples rebelled: ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’  (John 6.60)   For us receiving communion is easy, going the second mile is the unrealistic expectation.   And neither receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion nor our efforts to 'go the second mile' seem especially transformative.  They might be transformative personally, but really not corporately.

I have been asked to talk about signs of hope, and for me one of the greatest signs of hope in recent times was the statement by the President of the United States, Barack Obama on May 9, that after much prayer and reflection he and Michelle had come to the conclusion that they would personally support gay marriage, based on the principle of Jesus, the 'Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated'.  (1)  In doing so he helps to liberate perhaps 10% of the world's population. 

Another example was when the former premier of New South Wales Kristina Keneally launched Acceptance's 40th anniversary recently.   Acceptance was founded by Garry Pye, a homosexual Catholic man who died in 1990.   Kristina mused: 'I wonder what (Garry) would have thought about the Australia we live in today.   I wonder what he would have thought about a former premier of NSW launching Acceptance's 40th anniversary — make that the female, American-born, Catholic former premier of NSW.  I'm not sure which part of that sentence would have surprised him more!'   (2)

The issue of sexuality has been before me for my whole ministry.   I remember my first paper on the subject was written in 1977.   The fact that it will be one of the defining issues in the next American Presidential election campaign shows just how far society has moved.  

On a more local level, it has been a source of considerable wonderment to me how road workers have kept Ferry Road, between Woolston and Ferrymead open during these last two years.   Others will have their own particular stretches.   The work on Fitzgerald Ave, between Bealey and Avonside Drive and for us the Marshlands & QEII drive intersection (they have just planted lancewood trees) is quite amazing.   Keeping water, sewer, roads and electricity systems up and running has been huge.

When I've heard the text about going the extra mile, it's either been expounded as something we do as an act of obedience, or it is an act to make the other see how devoted we are.   Neither seem to me to be 'good news' or transformative, both seem a burden, and the second contradicts those other words of Jesus about giving your alms in secret.   (Matthew 6).   Going the extra mile doesn't sound like a recipe for hope - particularly in Christchurch and the continuing aftershocks.   We just want to be comforted, we don't want to have to do more unpleasant things.   We are at the end of our tether, our 'get up and go' has got up and gone, we just want things to return to what we assumed was 'normal'.

Evelyn, played by the inimitable Dame Judy Dench, in 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel', 'finds her first job, (as a) cultural adviser to a call centre (in India), helping phone operators bond with callers and appear less rude and robotic' because her staying in the dilapidated hotel in Jaipur depended on her paycheck.'  (3) She instructs her Indian call centre operators to stop dominating the conversation with what they're trying to sell, but to enquire about the welfare of the person called, to engage them in conversation, to respond to their cares and concerns, and allow them to ask the caller what they have called about.   The response was a sale.   Going the extra mile was not a trial or hardship but something that created community, so that commerce could commence.   Indeed the whole of the film is a parable of this group of otherwise destitute English pensioners having to 'go the extra mile' in India and the joy that comes to all of them in doing so.   The ones who turn their back on others turn their back on joy. 

The link with Holy Communion was for me the racist Muriel played by Maggie Smith who initially only manages to force down food being grateful to the hotel cleaner who takes her to meet her 'untouchable' family who press on her their food.   The film ends with Muriel behind the front desk welcoming guests!   This 'going the second mile' is transformative and it seems to me it is the sort of transformation for which we are looking.  

It is interesting that in Australia this could seem as if I'm advocating the, now despised, doctrine of 'assimilation' that the invaders expected of the indigenous inhabitants.   'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' turns this around, to make the British invaders having to assimilate into Indian society.   But both the British and the Indians benefit from the encounter, whereas the invaders of Australia considered themselves superior, with nothing to learn from the original inhabitants.   Of course time and again Europeans died because they didn't take the time to examine the ways the inhabitants of the land survived.   Coming to New Zealand it is clear that there is a respect for the Maori culture amongst Pakeha which is lovely to see.  

For me, the injunction to 'go the second mile' is the invitation to full incarnation.   We are not to flirt with life, but to be fully involved with life as it really is.   But, as I often say, it is easy to do this personally, but real transformation, the transformation of society, will come when the church as an organization does this.   The church is wont to expect of her followers a life of personal 'sacrifice', sometimes I think to avoid the same 'sacrifice' being expected of her.   So the church has to turn our service of Unholy Excommunication into what it is really meant to be, a service of Holy Communion, with all people.

For me the advent of the Internet has been as revolutionary as the invention of printing must have been so long ago.   Printing was a necessary precursor to the Reformation, a thing that we are glad happened, though sad for the loss of life.   So the Internet has shown us that the real issues of life - like equality for women and gay and lesbian persons - face all people of goodwill whatever denomination, faith, and no-faith.

One of the great promises of 'christianity' is salvation, and I wonder what we are saved from and what we are saved for?   Of course last century's theology would have answered these questions with teachings such as we are saved from sin and saved for heaven.   How very personal this is; indeed how selfish it is!   And I am beginning to wonder if the message of Jesus is that we are saved from sanctified selfishness, arrogance, blindness and inertia in the name of God, Jesus or any other name.   If we are saved from selfishness then we are saved for others and for society, and this seems to me to be closer to the way Jesus led his life.   Sanctified selfishness, arrogance, blindness and inertia only promises a continuation of the endless divisions.   Selflessness, humility, awareness and movement promises something better.  

So I see many signs of hope, both outside the church and within.   Often those outside the church have learned their lessons well and are out and about working for a better society, and are scornful of the church which so often only filibusters and is obstructive.    Of course there are those outside the church who are only concerned with their own well being, yet have they not learned selfishness from the church's example?   And there are many good people in the church who strive not only to do unto others, but seek to make the church do likewise.   In many ways the greatest sign of hope is that it doesn't depend on me, it is a global movement.   Just as the invention of printing led to people reading and thinking for themselves, and so throwing off the strictures of orthodoxy, so the internet and the free flow of ideas will only enhance this same process.   The forces of conservatism are fighting a losing battle because the genie can't be stuffed back into the bottle.

So what does this mean for Christchurch as we begin to emerge from our bunkers, look around and start to take stock?   If there is anything we have learned in the last two years it has been the value of community.   We have rejoiced to meet our neighbours, perhaps for the first time, and to know that others are there for us as we have tried to be there for them.   We have been brought into community - a community where we would have still been behind our 6' high fences had it not been for the quakes.

Quite some years ago in Australia I had the privilege of caring for some refugee Anglican priests and their families.   One day I realized (because I was told) that a five year old was expected to be attending school.   Oops!   So off to kindergarten for the younger one and to school for the 5 year old.   Well, when we got to the first kindergarten, the 5 year old began exploring all the toys and activities available.   It was like all his christmasses had come at once.   He would look at one thing, then something else from across the room would catch his eye, and he would drop what he was doing and investigate the other.   It was thoroughly heart-warming.   It made me realize my (and our) affluence which we just assume everyone else enjoys.   For me it made me question what we have assumed as 'normal' - that no child lives without toys, that no person lives life 'on the edge' like we have been in the last 2 years, that women accepted their subordination happily, that gay and lesbian persons lived happy lives despite their alienation from open society, that Altar boys and choir girls were never molested by church workers!   For me it is a sign of hope, perhaps not for me personally being a (relatively) affluent, white, Anglo-Celtic straight male Anglican priest, but for society that I and we realize that the prohibitions on contraception by some parts of the church mean that millions of children continue to live lives of poverty, illness and premature death; that 'living on the edge' is what the majority of ordinary people consider normal, that women are demanding equality despite centuries of church doctrine, that gay and lesbian persons regularly participate in 'Gay Pride' marches, and that the incidents of child molestation within society and not just the church are being brought to light.   It is a sign of hope that we and others in society realize these things and are beginning to do something about it.

I cannot give you a sign of 'good news' for the church if by that we mean seeking to return to the past ‘normality’; for the church of Jesus' day had him crucified for suggesting that they look beyond their own perpetuation.   Perhaps this is something to be endlessly repeated until the kingdom comes - until the church stops fighting against being fully incarnated into society.


(1)   http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-57431122-503544/obama-backs-same-sex-marriage/ 

(2)  http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=31786

(3)   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Best_Exotic_Marigold_Hotel 



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