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

s138g15  Sunday 26  27/9/2015

‘whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ’  Mark 9:41

I notice that Jesus condemns hypocrites in the New Testament 17 times but never once mentions same gender intimacy!   People can spot hypocrisy a mile off, and the last thing a hypocrite can expect is that someone gives them even a glass of water.   On the other hand people perceive genuineness, sincerity and friendliness equally quickly, regardless of the gender of the person with whom they might be holding hands, and often want to respond in kind.

On the corporate level, if we as church put stumbling blocks in front of others who don’t share our faith in precisely our terms, can we expect others to give us even the time of day?

I note with some sadness that the Archbishop of Canterbury ‘Justin Welby has summoned all the 38 leaders of the national churches of the Anglican communion to a meeting in Canterbury next January, where he will propose that the communion be reorganised as a group of churches that are all linked to Canterbury but no longer necessarily to each other .. Asked whether this represented, if not a divorce, a legal separation, a Lambeth source said: “It’s more like sleeping in separate bedrooms.”’  (1)   The ‘faith’ has become, again, a source of division between people.   Why will any thinking human being bother!

Interestingly recently I was privileged to hear a fascinating exposition of the similarities and differences between Māori and Christian spiritualities, by a very learned lay person with much mana.   One of his striking points (amongst many) was an emphasis in Māori spirituality on orthopraxis in comparison to the emphasis in Christianity on orthodoxy.   And it seems to me we as Christians could learn the value of orthopraxis - forgiving difference and loving.

Of course people support churches who marginalise women, alienate gay and lesbian persons and condemn anyone who doesn’t believe in their terms.   They give their cup of water because they have to - they fear marginalisation, alienation and condemnation.   Lot’s wife didn’t want to flee; she didn’t want to look weak. (2)  But if we only offer the world a divinely ordained excuse for bullying others - would we really want this sort of kingdom of God?   Would we really worship a ‘god’ such as this?  No, like Lot we ought to flee, and not look back.

The true test of our faith is whether it inspires others to contribute, not because they have to, not because they fear not to, not because they think that by doing so they will gain some advantage over others but because they perceive the divine inclusion and acceptance of the other in us.   And again, in a world filled with good meaning people, all yearning to find inclusion and acceptance, if they do not find this in our Anglican Communion, then there is something wrong with our faith.   Clearly it is not at all obvious, otherwise our churches would be rather less empty, rather less grey-headed, certainly less argumentative.

I, like many modern people, have an enormous admiration for Pope Francis.   Clearly he is a person who is seeking the kingdom.   Does this amazing man look at the Anglican Communion (for instance) and see an exemplar of inclusivity and acceptance?   No, I suspect that he sees an organisation remarkably similar to the one he heads.   Of course this narrative could as easily be reversed with Archbishop Welby as the central character.   Clearly the central gospel message of inclusion and acceptance has been lost in the mire of competing orthodoxies.

The veracity of our faith is measured by how others respond because they see in our faith something of the inclusivity and acceptance of all in the divine, because we offer the world something other than continuing division and disputation.   Time and again the gospels testify to the crowds who flocked to Jesus, 50 times by my count, again many times more than references to same gender intimacy.

Jesus didn’t seem concerned to be the founder of an organisation, if this organisation was just another in a long line of clubs de fide excluding others.   All these crowds who followed after Jesus, the ones he fed and cured, were not allowed to make him King, but rather dismissed to go back to their own homes and communities.  

I am grateful to Canon Giles Fraser who writes: ‘Tim Berners-Lee’s great invention allowed the world’s Christian churches to see how disparate their theologies were.   But the web’s model of connectivity could also help heal the rifts.’ (3)   Tim BL’s invention was html - the acronym for hypertext markup language (4) - that fascinating facility whereby text on your computer is an underlined string of letters and characters, and when one presses on it, it takes you to another page entirely.   The ease of me referencing, I realise as I type, things other than the biblical text, means that the authority of the bible is essentially and irrevocably relativised.   Instead we are forced to listen to what others are saying and thinking - surely an essential ingredient of what the Bible calls love.

Of course this subverts all authority: scripture, tradition, hierarchy and organisation; yet where have these taken us as humanity, except into the morass of division and disputation we currently ‘enjoy’?

And for me it is the particular gift of the Anglican ethos which has always been, at her best, a partnership between church and society, rather than an alternative to society, which will give her the privilege of being at the forefront of this emerging new world.   It is where society gives the church the cup of water to drink, and the church responds in kind.  

And the future is scary, for it means doing without external authority but it is full of promise, for it is based on love and mutual respect.   Of course there will be opponents, for the jungian unconscious that authorities use to peddle fear, are powerful.

And finally a word to those who judge the words of scripture especially important, and dismiss the importance of technology, words of Isaiah: ‘Woe to you who strive with your Maker, earthen vessels with the potter!   Does the clay say to the one who fashions it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?   Woe to anyone who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’ or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labour?’  Thus says the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Will you question me about my children, or command me concerning the work of my hands?’

2.  Genesis 19:26
5.  Isaiah 45:9-11