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

s145g15  Sunday 33  15/11/2015

‘all will be thrown down’  Mark 13:2

Two weeks ago, on All Saints Day, it was reported that Guenter Schabowski, the senior East German official whose cryptic announcement that the communist country was opening its fortified border precipitated the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, died .. in a Berlin nursing home.   He was 86.  (1)   We do not regret everything that is thrown down.  O felix culpa! (2)   I can still remember that day 26 years ago - I was going to a social function in Eudunda, a predominantly German Lutheran community in country South Australia.

Tim Stanley, commenting on the conclusions of the recent Synod of the Family in the Catholic Church in the ‘Telegraph’ on Oct 24th, wrote:  ‘Catholic teaching is so beautifully coherent, clear and logical that its conclusions are inescapable.   It compels even the vainest bishop, or politician, to humble themselves before it.’   And this is no different to the most devout evangelical and their attachment to biblical infallibility and the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement - they too are so beautifully coherent, clear and logical that their conclusions are inescapable.  They compel all to humble themselves before them.    But Tim also comments: ‘The Church remains wedded to its orthodoxy because it has nowhere else to go.’ (3)   I think of the annulment lawyers, clergy and bishops and all the time and energy they expend in decreeing past marriages illusory.   If all this were deemed irrelevant what would these people do?

I have little doubt that the sight of the Temple in the time of Jesus was truly a thing of magnificence.  In a small provincial outpost, in a relatively poor country, noted for her learning rather than her architecture, the Temple would have stood out as a pinnacle of achievement.   Perhaps the pyramids of Egypt and the public buildings in Athens and Rome would have been more impressive, but few ordinary people would have ever had any opportunity to travel such distances.   And the effect of architecture cannot be dismissed.   I know how recent it has been that I have been able to enter St Peter’s Cathedral in Adelaide, where I first received the Holy Communion (prior to Confirmation :-), ordained deacon and priest, and attended innumerable services - without feeling intimidated.

These presuppose that God wants humanity to humble themselves before the divine majesty, to be intimidated.   But I am reminded of the response the prophet Isaiah has before God: ‘Woe is me!   I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’    Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs.   The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’   Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’   And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’  (4)   God has no interest in intimidating one and all, having them endlessly wallowing in their sinfulness; God wants us amongst humanity, including and accepting ourselves and others.

God wants each and every one of us to be human amongst others.   We are not here to make others feel humble or intimidated - we are here to love, to accept and include others in our humanity without hesitation, without discrimination and without expectation.   There is nothing else.   Everything else will be thrown down!

Recently I have replaced my Macbook Air.   My 2011 edition was getting to the end of its battery life and it was not all that much more than double the cost to upgrade to the newer model rather than have a new battery installed.   And some will lament that this is a waste, but in some ways it is the cost we pay to advance technology.   If we don’t buy new models we condemn ourselves and others to outdated machinery.   Who would really want to return to the days of Gestetner-ing the pew sheets!

And again, as Mary visited the oncologist a while back (and got a very good report) we chatted about the new models of treatment on the horizon and how exciting and promising they seem to be.   Again the old ways of treatment will be superseded and our participation in them enables newer and more effective treatments to be developed.   We benefit from the experience of earlier generations and we hope future generations will benefit from what our experience teaches the experts.   It is called ‘collaboration’.

In the course of another conversation someone said that ISIS want humanity to return to the 8th century - but no - that’s not going to happen.   Likewise we are not going to return to primitive biblical ‘christianity’ believing in creation rather than evolution, reformation purity, the Tridentine Mass in all its beauty, or to the halcyon days of the 1950’s when churches were supposedly full of straight, baptised, confirmed, communicant, tithing Christians of my variety!   Why would we?   We will simply be irrelevant to a world who are fleeing the implicit divisiveness in exponential numbers.   And good on them!   For the church full of straight, baptised, confirmed, communicant, tithing Christians of my variety excludes a multitude of others; essentially all those who think differently to me - and my experience of the church is that rarely there are even two people in a real congregation who actually agree on everything.

Archbishop Eliud Wabukala .. Primate of Kenya, ‘has warned’: ’The time for talking is over and hard decisions must now be made about the future of the Anglican Communion’.   ‘In his latest pastoral letter, (as) the head of .. Gafcon, said: "There is now a shared realisation that the time for dialogue is over and there must be a decision that will settle the future direction of the Communion and free us from being dragged down by controversy and confusion.”   Speaking about the recent Global South Primates in Cairo when the GAFCON Primates decided to accept the Archbishop (of Canterbury’s) invitation next January, he added: "Noting the unique nature of this proposed meeting, we are agreed to go and I am confident that in doing so we will not compromise the biblical principles for which we stand.”’ (5)

I would agree, the time for decision is upon the Anglican Church; for ever and always, God demands people to make a decision.   The books of Joshua and Judges chronicle the fact that every generation was faced with a decision - each was reckoned to last 40 years.  (6)  And it is a biblical decision - to be a part of society or to rail against it - to live in a fantasy world that continuing divisiveness will lead to a better more peaceful world - or to live in an equally fantasy world, hoping that our incarnation into society as individuals and as church might lead to a more peaceful world.   I know what my fantasy is :-)

It is not to say that the things of the past were not true, were not beautiful.   They were true for their time and they had beauty which sometimes eludes modern haste.   Our task is to find what is true for our time and to strive for a beauty which touches all souls - not just some.   Implicitly if this is done in isolation it will exclude some.   Certainly truth cannot be imposed by those whose only aim is to return to some mythical Eden reserved for the elect.

As I often say to visitors to the Transitional Cathedral on Friday mornings, Christchurch will be a beautiful city again, for we like beauty.   It will be beautiful in a different way, and it won’t be high-rise like most other cities.   We have a unique opportunity to lead the world in urban design, building a city in an age where even department stores are turning to the internet for sales.   This promises to change the whole dynamic of retailing.   It poses questions like: What function does a modern city serve, and therefore what will it look like?   And how, in this age where change happens exponentially, can we build a city where change is anticipated rather than shunned?

At the end of the 1979 film ‘Being There’ starring Peter Sellers as "Chauncey Gardiner”: ‘Oblivious of (the fact that people are discussing him being the next candidate for President of the USA, he) wanders through Rand's wintry estate. He straightens out a pine sapling and then walks off across the surface of a small lake. He pauses, dips his umbrella into the deep water under his feet as if testing its depth, turns, and then continues to walk on the water as the President quotes Rand: "Life is a state of mind.” (7)

We are called to be there in the world - it is called incarnation - not to be intimidated, or to intimidate others - but to be there for others, to be there for future generations, to be there to make our little contribution.

4.  Isaiah 6:5-8
6.  Joshua 5:6, Judges 3:11, 5:31, 8:28, 13:1