The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s146e06 Sunday 34 Christ the King 24/11/2006 St Barnabas Orange East
'Grace to you and peace .. from God' Revelation 1.4
These are lovely words yet how infrequently I hear the Church utter them!
In an article, much of which I heartily agree, Alan Matheson laments the 'degree to which the Howard government is funding religious big-business' (Marketplace 8 November 2006 p7 Alan is a retired Churches of Christ minister, who now works for the international program of the ACTU). His article is prompted by the recent announcement of our government to fund chaplains to schools. 'More than $10 billion has gone into church schools and it's increasing.' 'Churches actively participated in the destruction of the Commonwealth Employment Service and were rewarded with job network contracts running into millions of dollars.' 'The Howard government's education loan scheme .. funds the training of the nation's clergy .. Millions have been poured into religion-based aged care services'. Of course this has been done because the Church does this more efficiently, we rely on much volunteer labour, and generally expect far more of our paid employees than industry or the government can. I agreed heartily with Alan's final statement: 'It's .. a further step in the corruption of churches in their struggle to survive'. And yet I wonder?
Alan laments that this means that churches will be silent and not criticise government policies and no doubt that this is true. Perhaps that silence is good. There is some truth in the comment that if some of the vocal political commentators 'representing' the church could do a better job running the country then they ought to get off their backsides and get themselves elected to public office.
Alan postulates that there will be 'no support for Buddhist or Wiccan or rationalist members' at the Reference Group table and again no doubt he is right. Yet I suspect that the government is also quietly whittling away at the dominance of Christian influence as well.
Perhaps the government is finding ways of saying 'grace' and 'peace' to all - that the Churches can't we are too busy trying to survive.
A week or so ago we read the story of the widow and her two small coins that she put into the temple treasury, following the statement about the religious people devouring widows houses what a curious conjunction! Is Jesus practicing precisely the same thing that the scribes he criticises did by commending this woman? I recall the words of Jesus to that rich young man 'go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor'. If Jesus were really clever, he would have said - 'go and sell what you own and give the money to me'! And I wondered if the implication of Jesus' words to the young man (in today's society) is to pay our taxes for this is used for the benefit of all especially the poor and marginalized in our society. Giving to the Church is more likely to end up in some monument or other, perhaps with our name inscribed (invisibly yet indelibly) on one of the bricks.
Many years ago one of my parish treasurers was fond of saying that 10% of the congregation paid for 90% of the parishes budget, and you need have no doubt that he considered himself one of that 10%. He was indeed correct, yet I was not supposed to miss the implication that the other 90% were not 'pulling their weight'.
Jesus commends what people give even when those amounts seem insignificant. He says to one and to all 'grace' and 'peace'. Others give lots and look down on others. They don't say to others 'grace' and 'peace'.
For me, the government is pushing the churches along the ecumenical path and will continue to do so even if we go down that path kicking and screaming. This might not seem much, but it is more than the churches have been able to achieve in however many years the ecumenical movement has been around. If the government succeeds in this, then it has a chance to begin to get the Church to respect people of other faiths and of no faith of getting us to say to others 'grace' and 'peace'.
One has only to look at the situation in Iraq to see the problem of a weak government at the mercy of a religiously polarized populace. Let us not pretend for a moment that the Anglican Church doesn't have divisions as deep as that between the Sunnis and the Shias in Iraq.
In fairness I should note that on page 4 of the same paper it is reported that 'Anglicans, Catholics share in communion service' in the Newcastle region. I suspect that God is pushing us down the ecumenical path albeit kicking and screaming as well.
In that interchange between Pilate and Jesus in the gospel for today, Jesus says to Pilate: 'If my kingdom were of this world, my followers would be fighting ..' What have Jesus' followers done ever since? Fight amongst themselves and fight against those who didn't 'toe the line'!
Clearly Jesus wants the kingdom to be of this world in the sense that people say 'grace' and 'peace' to one another to be of this world in the sense that we are not fighting. So it cannot be a kingdom of this world where one ideology wins out over every other one, where individual's creativity and personalities are suppressed.
The 'grace' and 'peace' that we extend to others is not just out of our own magnanimity, but it is 'from God'. We do not choose to live at peace with others our faith constrains us to do so. Often when I hear others speaking it seems as if their faith constrains them to oppose, challenge and fight against others often as if it were a mark of honour! But the constraint to live at peace with others is of a quite different character to a constraint to oppose, challenge or fight others. The latter is a justification to hurt whereas the former is an invitation to accept and appreciate others with no reflected honour being sought. It is a bit like picking up a piece of litter one doesn't expect royal recognition!
One of my colleagues recently went to hear Richard Rohr OFM speak in Sydney, and they described him as a modern day prophet. Later I heard him interviewed by Stephen Crittenden on Radio National, and no doubt this is so. But he is not a prophet in the sense of being able to predict the future, like those who gaze into crystal balls and predict that the person will meet a tall dark and handsome significant other, they will marry and live happily ever after. No, St Paul defines a prophet in these words: 'Those who prophesy speak to other people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.' (1 Cor 14.3) I think Richard Rohr does precisely this.
But when we say 'grace' and 'peace' to others, when we seek to lift people to their feet, so that we help others restore their primal dignity of all humanity to stand on our own two feet and think for ourselves we too are being a prophet.
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