The readings on which this
sermon is based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r145.htm
s145g12 Sunday 33
‘Many will come in my name and say: 'I am he'.’ Mark
We are followers of Jesus, not to make Jesus feel good, but to make
others feel good. Jesus warns us to be wary particularly
of those people who proclaim that they come in Jesus’
name! We don’t have to worry about unbelievers, the rise
of secular humanism, the discoveries of science and technology - let
alone wars, earthquakes and famines. Those we do have to
worry about are those purporting to be religious, those who, if we
give them credence ‘can destroy both soul and body in hell’, those
who claim to speak and act in the name of Jesus and God.
And I think of the conservative ‘christian’ for whom the promises of
God are restricted to themselves and those who believe, live and
worship like them, while the rest can, and will, go to eternal
damnation – should we give these people credence? Should
we give credence to those who believe God only loves straight,
Pakeha (not Maori) Anglicans?
For what on earth would be the point of proclaiming 'to all the
nations' that God only loves straight Pakeha Anglicans?
What 'good news' is this for the nations? Wouldn't this
be just (as the saying goes) rubbing their nose in the dirt?
When Peter, James, John and Andrew (representative of the foundation
members of the early church) come and speak to Jesus privately about
the timing of these events, the presumption is that the possession
of such knowledge would give them a status and a superiority over
others. Knowledge is power and they want it all to
So Jesus immediately counters, not with an answer to give them this
knowledge and power over others, but a warning to avoid such
people. Jesus speaks, I suggest not just to Peter,
James, John and Andrew, but to all, when he issues his
caution. There is no secret knowledge granted to some
and withheld to another. Why else would Jesus' words be
recorded in the Bible?
So we need to be wary of 'apostolic successions' lest we are led
astray thinking that there is some mystical aether that a select few
possess, and hopefully, by association, a little bit rubs off on
us. Our gospel tells us that it was the first and chief
apostles that wanted things kept to themselves and their select
coterie. If this is what gets passed on down the
centuries, I for one, want nothing of it.
But recently I have been thinking about 'my' Anglican church which
prides itself on being episcopally and synodically
governed. The difficulty is that our definition of the
'church' is so restricted that the bishop's role has evolved into
keeping the various factions of the church together - inevitably a
thankless and hopeless task if ever there was one. I
suppose that it is a forlorn hope that Anglicans won't be insisting
Bishop Welby see the 'church' membership as confined to those like
them, lest he, as the new Archbishop of Canterbury see the church in
broader terms and his role as somewhat wider as a consequence.
And our cherished synodical government, what point is this if we
only hear opinions not too far removed from our own?
I guess I was not the only one thoroughly impressed by the
acceptance speech that President Barack Obama gave on the night of
his re-election. He spoke about the importance of
democracy and voting, reminding us that there are many people in
this world who would dearly love to be able to vote and to feel that
their vote counted.
Do we in the church even recognise that there are millions who our
rules and regulations dis-enfranchise and thereby whose spirituality
is implicitly condemned? We condemn them to oblivion all
the while criticising them for not coming to church and being like
us! Are not we acting as if we have some mystical power that
‘can destroy both soul and body in hell' if anyone was stupid enough
to give us credence?
Why would we think that God wants to bless us and our little holy
huddle while cheerfully condemning others? What sort of
universe would this imply?
Do we not think that people of good will, who do unto others as they
would have others do to them, would want their vote counted in a
synod? Do we not think that people of good will, who do
unto others as they would have others do to them, see the unabashed
selfishness of church people for what it is? And why
should people of good will, who do unto others as they would have
others do to them, consider for an instant following this arbitrary
If our church is anything less than the sum total of humanity
already then it is the church that has to wake up, not
society. It is the church that needs to recognise and
confront her own selfishness. It is the church that is
failing to live up to her own precepts, the one true God is maligned
and others have been given brains to rightly reject such arrogant
What a divine irony it is that Jesus tells the first apostles-to-be,
that the coming of the kingdom is not in God's hands at all, but
will come when they have proclaimed the kingdom to all
nations. It will come as they stop their navel-gazing
and power-grabbing and look to the interests of others and the world
at large. It will come as the church stops its eternal
navel gazing and power-grabbing and looks to the interests of others
and society at large.
Of course this will be opposed by the navel-gazers and the
power-grabbers, both the individual navel-gazers and power-grabbers
as well as the corporate ones, but God has ordained a society of
justice, equality and fraternity, and it is humanity that is
diminished by the individual and corporate navel-gazers and
power-grabbers, not God.
It strikes me that the opposite of going around and proclaiming 'I
am he' is to go around proclaiming: 'You are you'. Our
mission is to recognise others, their reality, their right to exist
and the validity of their own unique perceptions and choices - for
surely this is what we wish others would do to us. Some
young people cut themselves because the pain they inflict is easier
to bear than their feelings of sadness, self-loathing, emptiness,
and guilt. It proves that they are, despite being faced
with a church which often seems busy just proclaiming that they are
it, rather than that others exist too.
And we shouldn't get too critical of Republican isolationism in the
USA, when it accurately reflects the isolationism of the
church. So what we believe and do is modelled, for
better or for worse by others more powerful than the church, for the
betterment, or not, of society.