The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s135e06 Sunday 23 10/9/2006
'do you .. really believe?' James 2.1
St James here talks about making distinctions between people and it seems that most of his emphasis is on making much of the rich who come to Church to the detriment of the poor. This shows in no uncertain terms that our love, if it is really based on what we will gain from someone else, is not love at all. It is a charade. But of course we can gain from others other things apart from money. We can attempt to gain support.
After 29 years in full time parish ministry, time and again I have had cause to think that some parishioners were friendly towards me as the Rector in the hope that I would support them rather than someone else in the parish. I can recall vividly one treasurer once saying to me: 'Well, you can't please all the people all the time!' but what he was really saying to me was: 'You support me and my family and we'll see that you are paid!'
The desire to prevail over others, even others within a congregation, leads St James to ask: 'do you .. really believe?'
In this present climate of dispute within the Anglican Communion, one wonders as one hears claims and counter claims: 'do you .. really believe?'
Of course God wants me to favour those who won't consecrate women as Bishops - or vice versa. Of course God wants me to favour those who oppose the lifestyle of gay and lesbian people or vice versa.
The letter of James is often thought to oppose St Paul's doctrine of justification by faith alone, but here we see that belief for James is vitally important but it must be faith that is able to be perceived. Faith for James is not some ephemeral quality, exclusive to some elite, and denied to others, the uninitiated. Faith is something that includes others, something that embraces others, something that is evident by its actions, its outcomes.
It is some time since I made the comment that the description of the Church as 'Catholic' is vitally important for 'Catholic' means to 'embrace all'. So the sentence in the Creed: 'the one holy catholic and apostolic church' translates into the people set apart by God and sent out in a united mission to embrace others.
But rather than being perceived as a body who embraces others, the church is more often perceived as a body which seeks to regulate when and with whom young people relate to others in an intimate way.
The classic text is 1 Corinthians 6:7-20 which is presumably all about how young people should avoid premature intimacy with others, but it is worth quoting in full: 'to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? ... you yourselves wrong and defraud -- and believers at that. Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers -- none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. "All things are lawful for me," but not all things are beneficial. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be dominated by anything. "Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food," and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, "The two shall be one flesh." But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.'
For me fornication is all about pretending to love another person but really only for what we can gain from that other person.
I have rather more time for young people who acknowledge and regret that their attempts to love that have failed than I have for older people who dismiss others in the name of love, oblivious to the hurt they cause, thinking that they have acted in the name of their god and therefore justified. These later ones are the far more dangerous. They are the ones who cause troubles in a congregation.
I have to ask: 'Is the use of this word 'fornication' only about how young people struggle to deal with their intimate affections one with another all the while when church members pretend their love for others is not entirely self seeking keeping the Church afloat, or their version of the tradition afloat?' 'What is the more damaging and self deceptive?' What would St Paul really be interested in?
And this leads me to ask: 'are not our efforts to regulate other's intimate affections actually an excuse to allow us to not love others who are different from us?' Regulating other people's intimate affections makes us sound so Christian!
We do well to remember where Paul himself came from a person dedicated to the persecution of all those who didn't follow his version of the truth as he was taught. He was a person who was only interested in others for what they could contribute to his own version of the truth. Anyone else deserved to be punished. And what did the Lord ask him at his conversion? 'Why are you persecuting me?'
When we persecute others who are different, we are persecuting the Lord be it the Jew, the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Moslem, the gay or lesbian person, the whatever. I wonder how many atheists and agnostics there are in this world because they have been surreptitiously or blatantly ostracised by the church? I cannot count how many times I have heard people in churches criticise 'the world' (i.e. those people who don't come to Church) as being driven by consumerism and making gods of material things when I see many people in ordinary society quietly making their contribution through their work or volunteer organization and minding their own business as St Paul himself commends: 'do their own work quietly and to earn their own living' not being 'mere busybodies' (2 Thess 3.12,11) Many people in churches are as much driven by consumerism and material things all linked to the preservation of the tradition which happens to feed them.
So do we really believe that our Lord is guiding us and those who live like us and those who believe like us or do we believe that our Lord is guiding others as well? Is the Lord just 'ours' or is the Lord others as well? And if it is just us and people like us, then I suspect that we are not actually believing in the one who was crucified for associating with others.
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