s151g97 Somerton Park 21/12/97 Advent 4
Elizabeth said to Mary: "blessed is she who believed" Luke 1:45.
Mary was blessed because she believed, and we are blessed because we believe. Even if we only believe a little, we are blessed. Jesus regular description of his disciples was: "O ye of little faith".
As I have gone through life I have met many people who would actually like to believe, but through the various experiences that life has dealt them, they simply cannot. To proclaim a God of love to someone who has had a daughter raped and killed, for instance, shows inordinate insensitivity. In some ways we are blessed because we believe, because nothing quite as horrendous has happened to us, to shatter our faith.
But God is not the God of the gullible. We are not loved because we believe in the unbelievable; God loves all people. It is when we believe that God loves everyone, that enables us to reach out in love to people rather than reaching out to convert them.
Look at that wonderful song of Mary, which has echoed down through the centuries. In the olden days we called it by it's Latin name - the Magnificat. It proclaims God's love - not for "Christians" or "believers" - but for the lowly ... scattering the proud ... bringing down the powerful ... lifting up the lowly ... filling the hungry ... sending the rich away empty ...
These sentiments of course echo those in the Sermon on the Mount: blessed are the poor ... those who mourn ... the meek ... those who hunger and thirst for righteousness ... the merciful ... the pure in heart ... the peacemakers ...
The coming of the Christ child was not to start a new religion. I have much greater difficulty calling myself a Christian than I do an Anglican. I am an Anglican because I have a personal preference for a form of polity and ritual in which I have been brought up. I expect others will prefer to remain in their particular forms of polity and ritual. I am under no illusions as to the things in the Anglican Church which I dislike, but to change my denomination is only to get some other joys as well as some other sorrows.
But I do have great difficulty calling myself a "Christian" for that is to infer that Jesus came to set up a new pure religion in opposition to the Jewish faith, to Islam and Buddhism and all the other religions. That is to treat Jesus as another Moses, Muhammad or Buddha. The Creed tells us that Jesus is the Son of God, and so Jesus is the God of all people - all who are poor, all those who mourn, all those who are meek, all those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, all who are merciful, all who are pure in heart, all who are peacemakers ... For Christians have no monopoly on these virtues, indeed over the centuries, the name of Jesus has been the cause of as much warfare as peacemaking.
We, as the Church, only show how blind we are, when our main preoccupation is seen to be trying to convert others to the faith we hold.
In a recent interview with the Third Way magazine the Archbishop of Canterbury said: "that as long as the Church of England remains established a future coronation "will inevitably be a Christian service". ... "At the coronation, the Archbishop's task is specifically a priestly one, conferring God's blessing on the new monarch and affirming the bond between a Christian nation and (for the foreseeable future) its Christian sovereign. Quite apart from taking the oath to maintain the Protestant religion, the monarch is anointed with oil, vested with a dalmatic robe and partakes of holy communion." This quote is from the Home Page of the "Church Times" Nov 5th edition under the title: "Ensuring a Christian coronation". Surely the only true Christian coronation is crucifixion - though I hasten to say I am not advocating that for Prince Charles.
Indeed quite the opposite. I have more time for the theology of Prince Charles who wishes to be "defender of faith" rather than "defender of the faith". I think he is rightly calling the Church in England to become the Church of England - of all people in England - not just the baptised, confirmed and communicant faithful ... Jesus didn't die for the baptised, confirmed and communicant faithful ... he died for all who are poor, all those who mourn, all those who are meek, all those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, all who are merciful, all who are pure in heart, all who are peacemakers ... as well as a goodly number of others who aren't poor, those who are rejoicing, those who have positions of power and authority, quite a number who forget about righteousness through a multitude of reasons, those whose hearts who cannot conceive of mercy for all the hurt they have suffered, those who accumulate and appreciate material possessions, those who seek revenge ... After all it is the second group of people who are in most need of knowing God's love ...
Please do not quote to me the words of Jesus (Matt 10.33): "whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven." or Paul (2 Tim 2.12): "if we deny him, he will also deny us", for making Jesus into the founder of a new religion in opposition to others is for me the ultimate betrayal of the Son of God.
The only justification for establishment in England is that the Church is the Church of England - not just the baptised, confirmed and communicant faithful ... And of course I would not be saying these things if I didn't think that we should be aiming to be the Church of Australia, and not just the Church of the baptised, confirmed and communicant faithful ...
In another article in the same edition of the Church Times we are told that the "Church of England fears mugging from new rights law." It continues: " The Church of England is to write to the Government to raise its "urgent" concern at the possible undermining of church legislation when the Human Rights Bill becomes law. ... The Bill (News, 28 November) would make the European Convention on Human Rights directly enforceable by courts in the United Kingdom. ..." As it reads it comes across that the Church wants exemption from having to respect the rights of all people ... It is a pretty pickle the Church has found itself in! And it is not just in England. Here in South Australia, the Church, including our Anglican Church, has saught and gained exemption from compulsory Workcover for its employees. Certainly we do have Sickness and Accident Cover, but why should we be exempt from what is required for all other businesses? Do we care for our employees better?
Another Australian example. At the Provincial Mothers' Union conference at Melrose recently we were told that the State Government was tendering out for social welfare program contracts. There was a justifyable complaint that this effectively meant that the various denominational social welfare agencies became competitors for the social welfare dollar. Yet tendering can also be a highly effective way of getting agencies to work together. It may be that the current financial constraints may be far more effective in getting the denominations working closer together than all the sermons about ecumenism put together. And I think the State Government is being successful, the welfare agencies are working closer together, for which we should be grateful. That the State Government has contributed to the new joint campus of the Adelaide College of Divinity shows that far from being irreligious, they too are quite prepared to support those who are willing to work together.
In our own Diocese the financial constraints are leading the Diocese to consider just two departments. As far as I am concerned, any agency must show that continued support is dependent on being prepared to work together. Staffing cannot be continued to be maintained if that staffing only wants to exist in it's own little corner of the Diocese. I'm afraid that is true for the mission agencies as well.
Blessed are we who believe, for in believing we see ourselves in partnership with others rather than in competition with others.
And this is good news, and we as the Church will and do earn respect if we follow this path - and I want to finish with an example of this. Recently I was reading an account of the travels of a priest who had just returned from Jerusalem, Turkey, Constantinople and Rome - who makes this point. He writes: "We saw some good works done by the Middle Eastern Council of Churches in Gaza, a family clinic, vocational school for boy, training for women and a hospital. In all cases the churches are serving a Muslim clientele and making a wonderful statement about what churches are supposed to be there for, not converting people but helping them. It's clear that there is a huge amount of respect within the Palestinian community for them." (David Clunie, out of Ottowa, Canada). Obviously this happens in many other places and right across denominations, across the faiths and amongst those who have no faith also.
"Blessed are we who believe".
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