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

s145g12   Sunday 33  18/11/2012

‘Many will come in my name and say: 'I am he'.’   Mark 13.6

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.   (Matthew 10.28)

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 themselves.

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 deity?

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 nonsense.

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.