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

s139g15  Sunday 27  4/10/2015

‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’   Mark 10:2

 .. is a rather different question to: ’Is a woman expected to put up with a lifetime of abuse from her partner?’   For a priest to counsel an abused wife to remain in a relationship is entirely inappropriate.   We must be certain that the sacrifices we make to God are our own and not someone else’s, or else there will be hell to pay; witness King David and his faithful servant Uriah. (1)   Similarly it is entirely inappropriate for any church to forbid the use of safe and effective contraception, condemning millions (of others) to live lives of poverty, illness and premature death, without raising a finger to assist in the upbringing of the resultant children.

In the fictional novel ‘The Godfather’ by Mario Puzo, the wife of Michael Corleone turns to Catholicism, but knows there are some questions she can never ask her husband.   She knows how ruthless and murderous he has become. (2)  In our own Anglican Church how do we cope with a partner church who, as a matter of faith, marginalises women, alienates gay and lesbian persons and condemns others who don’t believe in precisely their terms?

It is salutary to recall how close to the bone this is to myself.   I have spent most of my whole life blissfully unaware of the existence of indigenous people, gay and lesbian persons, and family violence.   Of course all these existed, but they were never talked about, like child molestation.  

‘Kaurna culture and language was almost completely destroyed within a few decades of the European settlement of South Australia in 1836’  (3)  (My own forebears came to Adelaide in 1847.)    I had enough trouble dealing with my own shyness that I was actually primarily concerned with dealing with the church’s obsession with regulating intimacy between persons of different genders to worry about those of the same gender (though that followed soon after).   I recall one of my sons attending a ‘christian’ wedding of one of his friends, where, during the ceremony, much was made of the fact that the couple were still virgins!   TMI !!!   Whose needs are being met? - certainly not the couple themselves!   When I was young, middle aged women were twittering over reports in the weekly magazines of the serial marriages of Hollywood actresses.   What a debt we owe these reviled stars who have brought to society an appreciation of the need for marriages to be mutually sustainable and the right of women to have their voices heard?   They have done more to empower many ordinary women than the church and all her pronouncements!

A survey in Australia in 2005 found: ‘Just under half a million Australian women reported that they had experienced physical or sexual violence or sexual assault in the past 12 months (a half a million in 10, and) .. 64% of women who experienced physical assault and 81.1% of women who experienced sexual assault still did not report it to police.’  (4)

Fortunately I was brought up a ‘broad church’ Anglican but my attention was recently brought to the fact that the Athanasian Creed is still printed in the latest ‘A Prayer Book of Australia’ (5) stating that those who do not believe the Catholic Faith ‘without doubt .. shall perish everlastingly’. (6)  Dean of Sydney Phillip Jensen wrote in 2008: ‘We are Anglicans because we profess the Anglican beliefs of the Book of Common Prayer and the 39 Articles of Religion.  These include the great creeds of the ancient worldwide church (the Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds).’  (7)   The fact that I can still reference the webpage means that this is still their faith.  I am glad to be an Anglican of a rather different variety :-)

The church I was brought up in was essentially myopic, judgemental and self-satisfied.  And I reflect that the vision of the church seems to be to return to the halcyon days of the 1950’s !!!   Surely Jesus confronted a church not especially more myopic, judgemental or self-satisfied than what I considered ‘normal’.   He caused that church to see herself in a mirror, essentially no different to the one in which I was brought up, and that church responded by having him killed.  We refuse to look into that mirror singing: ‘Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me’ and quoting John 3:16 and 14:6 to others.

Our myopia extends to not seeing the hurt that other members of the Anglican Communion inflict on others, to not seeing the wonders of the discoveries of science, to not seeing truth anywhere other than in the bible or ‘Jesus’, to anything other than the personal salvation of straight, baptised, confirmed communicant, tithing Anglicans like me.   Why should ‘our’ christian god reward our personal narcissism and selfishness rather than anyone else’s?

The God I worship is not myopic, judgemental or egomaniacal!  The word egomaniacal reminded me of the apocryphal story about the anonymous narcissist on a first date saying: “That’s enough of me talking about myself - let’s hear you talk about me!” :-)  (8)   But then I thought, that’s what church is often all about, listening to God talking about all the wonderful deeds of the past, and then inviting us to agree how wonderful God is .. oops! 

The medieval carrot of the Beatific Vision is described at the end of the chiropractor’s hymn by Fred­er­ick W. Fa­ber: ’Father of Jesus, love’s Reward! / What rapture it will be / Prostrate before Thy throne to lie, / And gaze, and gaze on Thee!’  (9)  Does this eternal adoration serve to appease an otherwise judgemental and narcissistic deity?   An eternally cricked neck is a small price to pay :-)

The God I worship sees way beyond the divinity; beyond me, my worship, my congregation, my diocese, my denomination, my faith: to others.   The God I worship looks with love and acceptance and inclusion way beyond the theological boundaries erected by the pious.  The God I worship is never satisfied until all know that they are included in this embrace.  The God I worship is ever dissatisfied when the divine name is used to thwart, obfuscate or delay this acceptance and inclusion.

And I suspect that it is precisely this quality of seeing beyond our own concerns that we are bidden to emulate when Jesus says: ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’  (10)

1.  2 Samuel 11:15
5.  1995 p487
10.  Matthew 5:48