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

s137g15  Sunday 25  20/9/2015

‘What were you arguing about on the way?’  Mark 9:33

Which leads me to ask: ‘What are we arguing about on our way?   Who is the more faithful to the true primitive faith - à la the King James Version of the Bible devotees?   To the true reformation faith - à la the doctrine of the Moore College mafia?  To the true puritan faith - à la the Jensen jihadists?   To the traditional Catholic faith -  à la those ‘Pristinely dressed in the black robes and scarlet sash of the princes of the Roman Catholic Church” (1)   I recall that Jesus never bothered to exhort the Pharisees to love the Sadducees or vice versa.   That would have been an exercise in futility if ever there was one!  To paraphrase my words from last week - it requires a genuine miracle for any religious person to relinquish their theology of correctness and consequential entitlement.  Arguing about who is correct and greatest, is a convenient subterfuge for real spirituality, for real charity, for real incarnation into the world.

I recall in theological college, last century over the ditch, amongst the students we had high church Anglicans, the evangelicals and the charismatics, all suggesting that there’s was the right way, all vying for pre-eminence.   I was there trying to find out what I believed - I’m a slow learner :-)

Again, I recall a new bishop being elected, and the various parties in the church each claiming (with some obvious glee) that he was one of theirs.   No, actually he was himself.

Jesus ‘took a little child and put it among them .. and said to them .. whoever welcomes one such child .. welcomes me.’   The contrast cannot be greater.   The child has no theology, no doctrine, no faith, no contribution to make.  The child is the ultimate other, the one from whom no one can derive any status.   This is a young child, not the teenager, the quantity of whom is a sure sign of the successful church.

And the child is not the future of the church ..   Jesus words: ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!   For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.’  (2)   If the only future we can offer the church and the world is a continuation of the present divisions and disputation, why would anyone bother?   If our ‘love’ for children is actually that they will ensure the perpetuation of our ministry as a memorial to ourselves, do we not see the self-interest in this?

The only hope we have is in radically accepting the other, the one regardless of faith or doubt, not to regurgitate our faith, but that radical acceptance of others becomes the hallmark of the church and ultimately society at large.   We cannot criticise the world and her divisions while the world perceives the church as divided and argumentative.   We cannot criticise capitalism and trickle-down economics when there are certainly no crumbs under our table even for dogs.   Indeed of course the world is calling the church to move and to be more accepting; this is what the general popularity of Pope Francis is telling us.  

Like Pope John 23rd who called Vatican 2 saying: ‘We expect the Council to let some fresh air in here’ (3) so Pope Francis is calling the church to be open to the world.   The kingdom of God will come as the church is incarnated into the world, not when everyone becomes a ‘christian’ like me.   Both are, of course, pretty vain hopes, but we believe that the Holy Spirit empowers the church, so we have less justification to remain immutable.   Why would we commend a faith to someone whose friendship we value when it will just paralyse them?

Indeed, of course, the arguments and disputation are a convenient excuse for moving.   As the old saying goes, we all believe that the church has to change - which actually means we believe that everyone else has to change.   While we have this attitude I suspect our prayers are in vain.

I am, for unrelated reasons, again looking at Paul being hounded out of synagogue after synagogue, town after town, from Jerusalem to Rome.   And I realise that Paul’s primary message was to those of the Jewish faith, to forgo their theology of correctness and consequential entitlement.    His first stop in every place was always the synagogue.   The gentile converts were not his primary targets, they were God’s gift to confirm the message.

Why do we value those people we count as friends?   I suspect that we value those people who listen to us, those with whom we are on equal terms.   Translating this to the corporate level, we create a more friendly society when we relate as church to others of different faiths and none as equals.   We do God’s work being incarnated into society - not distinct from it - by listening, rather than proclaiming our truth and arguing about whatever.   Indeed our truth is incarnation and listening - it is precisely this that makes us unique - tautology though this might seem.

I need to acknowledge my gratitude to someone who said to me recently how the strife and warmongering in this world emanate from those countries still controlled by patriarchal hierarchies.   Modern western culture is beginning to accommodate an appreciation of the feminine in us all.   I must admit, bells started ringing when he said this.   No wonder that patriarchal evangelicals hate gay and lesbian persons, for they point to their repression of the feminine in their psyche.

I note that Jesus treated women preferentially and was noted for his association with prostitutes.   Perhaps here he is pointing us to value the feminine in our psyches, and the truth behind the need for intimacy rather than point-scoring, and prostitutes are the high priests of intimacy.   I suspect that the majority of the ministry of prostitutes is listening rather than physical intimacy.   I was once told that women’s councillors were their hairdressers, and I have no doubt that this is true.

And let me put the blame quite squarely, not with individuals, or with congregations; but with clergy and bishops.   Clergy and bishops want the parishes and dioceses to be successful.   The last thing they want is schism, and the best way to avoid schism is to close our ears and close our eyes to dissent.

And again circumstances, not particularly worth recounting, bring to me the realisation that the more frequently the name of Jesus is invoked, the less likelihood of movement is possible.   It seems as if ‘Jesus’ is a recipe for paralysis!   It is indiscriminate incarnation, the expertise of the prostitute, that shows us the way forward!

It seems I am being lead again to see how fundamental those first two chapters of Paul’s letter to the Romans are.  He writes: ‘When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves.   They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them’.  (4)  So the words: ‘For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions.   Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another.   Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error’ (5) are not directed towards those who are outside, who express their intimate affections with someone of the same gender, but squarely towards those inside who have replaced the law of love with a theology of entitlement.

2.  Matthew 23:15
3.  ‘I will be called John’  Lawrence Elliott p289
4.  Romans 2:14-15
5.  Romans 1:26-27