The readings on which this sermon is
based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r133.htm
s133g12 August 26th 2012 Sunday 21
'You have the words of eternal life' John 6.68
Recently I have been thinking about baptism and holy
communion. And the thought came to me was not that
the act of being baptised or receiving the holy communion that is
the important thing, but the coming.
Crowds flocked to Jesus and what could Jesus do to acknowledge this
coming, coming together with others, coming out of their holy
huddles, coming out of the selfishness of natural and spiritual
families into the real world? He instituted a sign of
forgiveness that resulted from this entry into the world.
Similarly the crowds flocked to Jesus to hear his teaching and what
could he do to acknowledge this coming together with others, coming
out of their holy huddles, coming out of the selfishness of natural
and spiritual families, entry into the real world? He
The incarnation, and the resurrection that guarantees the
continuance of that incarnation, sanctifies becoming truly
human. It labels retreat into holy huddles of sanctified
selfishness as evil. We are re-born into real life, not
swapping one brand of sanctified selfishness for another.
So the person who is fully occupied in real life, treating others as
he or she would want to be treated, whether those others conformed
to their particular religious practice or not - is already baptised,
is already in communion.
Recently I have had a couple of conversations with newcomers to
Christchurch, commenting on how invariably accepting and welcoming
Cantabrians are, yet the people with whom they socialise are also
newcomers to Christchurch. Recently we enjoyed a meal
with people from Europe, South America, NZ, and us from USA and
Australia. There were only five of us! I
have no doubt whatsoever that the same comment would be made in
every small city. In big cities the ratio of newcomers
to 3rd, 4th 5th or 6th generation families is very
different. When I spent a month in New York in 2002, I
recall someone saying to me that those who 'made it' in New York
came from elsewhere. I am a fifth generation South Australian,
and so I guess I know this from the others side. And I recall
people going to remote communities in Australia, appreciating the
local community because they have had to make new relationships
rather than ever relying on family and past friends. And
I reflect that this is a part of my own journey as I have come to
Last night Mary and I thoroughly 'enjoyed' a hard-hitting play at
the Court Theatre 'Man in a Suitcase' by Lynda Chanwai-Earle (1) and
the plaintive cry from someone of Chinese ethnicity in New Zealand
was: 'When will we be accepted as part of society?' It
is a 'must see' production - up with 'To Kill a Mockingbird', and of
course this same plaintive cry is echoed by new-comers in every land
strange to them.
Blessings come as we move out of our family and childhood
relationships and have to relate to those who are around us NOW.
And I suppose, as a member of the clergy, inevitably I have been
somewhat oblivious to this. When I count them up I have
lived (for extended periods) in ten communities in my 40 years since
I have left my family home and entered theological training and
ministry. So I have moved communities every four years
on average. I recall a funeral director once saying of a
particular country town in South Australia - that it took them 15
years to forgive a newcomer for coming to live in 'their' town -
except if they were the bank manager or the minister! I
have come into a ready made community.
One of the ways new arrivals in a place seek to become part of a
community is to join a church congregation. Yet if that
congregation is only concerned with dictating to newcomers how
others have to live up to their expectations to be acceptable, are
those congregations acting any different to the inhabitants of Sodom
and Gomorrah when Lot and his family came into their midst?
And it is easy to point to others, yet if the church is ever
concerned to keep the flock from straying, is it not denying eternal
life to others? If we keep people so busy, reading the
bible, praying, maintaining the church building, caring for fellow
parishioners, being involved in this, that or the other social group
or new initiative – are we not denying them the opportunity to stop,
to think, and to appreciate the insights of others? And
people who are kept busy, seen and not heard, particularly out of
fear, won’t question the institution. It is no wonder
that Lot's wife looked back wistfully as they were fleeing, and that
we breed ‘wannabe’ clergy!
We have just become grandparents for the first time, and I know that
many new grandparents have similar reflections at this stage of
life. As one generation makes way for a younger one, we
cannot keep our children safely to ourselves. We want
the best for them, which inevitably means they need to relate to
others. And the Church is no different. The
church of my youth is vastly different today, just as the Britain of
my youth is vastly different from today. It would have
been inconceivable when I was a young lad to portray Her Majesty the
Queen parachuting into the Olympic Stadium to open the
Games! The church needs to realise that we are to enable
and equip people to live in society, a society that is constantly
changing, not get people to retreat from it. The
questions that society asks today, questions like the equality of
woman, the dignity of GLBT folk, the sacredness of all life
regardless of faith, were not even contemplated in the Reformation,
so why would the reformation answers to long dead issues be
relevant, let alone determinative for an 'eternal life' little
different from 'pie in the sky when you die', which everyone outside
the church thinks everyone inside the church believes and lives for!
When people are marginalised, alienated and condemned, their sin of
being different is never forgiven. Where is the Biblical
justification for condemning people for not believing in 'pie in the
sky when you die', for not believing Mary was a virgin after she
gave birth to Jesus, and who don't believe in a God who prefers the
gullible? Others are starved of acceptance.
If we (as the church) do this in the name of Jesus, where is eternal
life for anyone?
So no matter how frequently we receive the Holy Communion, no matter
how religiously we confess our sins, while we remain in our holy
huddle our sin remains and our communion is fleeting. It
is when our community includes all that our sins are forgiven, it is
by the community that we are fed, in both body and soul and the
words of eternal life given by Jesus come to fruition, not just for
us but for all.
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