The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s135g15   Sunday 23   6/9/2015

‘Jesus .. did not want anyone to know he was there’.   Mark 7:24

What an amazing statement - Jesus didn’t want anyone to know he was there!   He didn’t mind being there, as long as ‘others’ didn’t find out ..   Yet ‘he could not escape notice’ and a woman, possibly a prostitute, certainly no wilting violet or subservient minion, sprung his cover.   We cannot but conclude that here Jesus was avoiding people.   In contrast to his earlier missionary strategy of going from one place to another, leaving before everyone was healed in an effort to make sure no other town missed out (1), Jesus arrives in entirely heretic territory, places where the orthodox consider the inhabitants less than human - dogs - and he hides.   But again, like the pseudo-orthodox who hunt him out to test him, this stratagem too is unsuccessful and the dogs sniff him out and claim their prize - the crumbs off the master’s table.

Later, Jesus commands the cured deaf person to remain silent.   Healing is as easy as converting the heathen.

Jesus’ mission was not to those of other faiths and none - that is easy - any fool can do that!   Jesus’ mission was to the orthodox and the devout - to forgo their assumed positions of superiority in the eyes of the Almighty - and to be human .. and humane - towards all.   That was the difficult task, as prophet after prophet (2) before him found out, and it was why Jesus was killed.

And so our task is to follow Jesus and our mission is to rid the church of her pretended position of superiority and be incarnated into society.   Recently the Primate of Canada, Archbishop Fred ‘Hiltz spoke passionately about how both Canada and the church have failed God and Indigenous people.   “…Like the people of Israel, we have followed other gods: the gods of imperialism, the notion of the superiority of some races over others, the institutionalizing of racism, the enacting of policies of assimilation grounded in nothing less than a resolve in cultural genocide,” .. “…Dare I say, we provoked the Lord’s anger in the manner in which in the name of colonialism and the spirit of the doctrine of discovery we suppressed Indigenous [people] across Turtle Island and smothered their languages, culture and spirituality.”’   What courageous words! (3)  

These words apply equally to us in the church in Australia and New Zealand.   How much of our culture in parishes and dioceses is based on the hope that others will forgo their personal spirituality and be assimilated into our superior community and fellowship, disturbing it, and us, as little as possible?

I have observed more than once that the country of Australia was stolen from the indigenous people by the Crown ridding themselves of illiterate petty thieves by the decree of good Church of England magistrates piously quoting to them the eighth commandment: ‘Thou shalt not steal’. (4)  It is this sort of corporate idolatry that infects our church as much as any other, and needs a miracle to shift it.   The problem is that we only have a crucified Christ to show us the outcome of corporate spiritual imperialism and the way to avoid it.   ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ (5)

It is indigenous people who will force us back to the gospel of love; it is the LGBTI community who will force the church to rediscover her roots; it is this stroppy woman who reminds us as church that the world demands the church to be incarnational not discriminating.   As God used Nebuchadnezzar to punish the ancient people of Israel (6), so the Almighty uses those outside the church to turn us inside out!

We are witnessing so many tragedies around the world.   The death toll of people attempting to enter Europe is beyond comprehension.   Having met many South Sudanese in Adelaide 20 years ago, I was saddened to read of South Sudan’s descent into tribalism. (7)   Yet how can we in the church criticise, comment, wish or even pray things to be different while we resist being turned inside out ourselves?   Each and every atrocity should demand the church to answer the question: ‘haven’t we been more scrupulous to avoid any ‘trickle-down’ of God’s blessings to others, than the millionaires we love to point the finger at?’ (8)   We might consider those who do not worship like us as dogs, but they deserve to be able to eat the crumbs!   But no, the diligent priest scrupulously consumes the remains of the sacraments, lest the unworthy or uninitiated get their grubby hands on them!

Recently I have been thinking about the Jungian unconscious and how much that which has gone before continues to influence us; and it leads me to think that so often it is the tribal church that sharpens that unconscious, and the commandment proves true: ‘punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me’ (9).  

If we have nothing to contribute to society but another version of tribalism, why would any sane world bother, and how are we likely to avoid the consequences?   I suspect there will be little point praying to God to avoid them!

And let us not treat people as children, the ordinary person in the street is quite able to comprehend these things.  Jesus says: ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.’  (10)   Of course keeping parishioners quiet and compliant is a classic way for the church to avoid being turned inside out!   Indeed it is a form of abuse and the best form of defence is attack, especially when it can be done in the name of some god or other!

Between the time I post this sermon and next Sunday when it is applicable, our local Synod will meet and is being asked to delay again, for another four years of ‘education, discussion and discernment’ before deciding on Motion 30 of our General Synod (11 about human sexuality).   But those attending the education sessions to date have been only allowed to ask questions.   I wonder if our love for the prayer: ‘We do not presume to come to this thy table .. we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs from under thy table’ (12) would change if this Gentile woman was obviously a lesbian, and her ‘daughter’ her lover?   Another four years before she might possibly find any crumbs under our table!

1.  Mark 1:36-38
2.  e.g. Jeremiah 13:9-10
4.  Exodus 20:15
5.  Acts 9:4
6.  Jeremiah 27:6
8.  Isaiah 58:9-10
9.  Exodus 20:5
10.  Matthew 11:25-26