The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s155g10 Lent 3 7/3/2010
'gather your children together ..' Luke 13.34
I have often thought that sheep were not the most intelligent of creatures not much different to fowls. I cannot imagine a sheep or a fowl reciting the Nicene Creed, let alone understanding it. I cannot imagine sheep or fowls even testifying that Jesus being the son of God, or their own personal saviour.
So, for me, there is something very strange about salvation dependent on intellectual assent to doctrines or religious experiences. There is something strange about one fowl being different from another fowl. There is also something strange about one fowl being 'included' when another is 'excluded' there are only others that haven't realised that they are included. And 'children', 'sheep' and the 'brood' all seem particularly gender unspecific. There seems to be no qualification as to whom the various children, sheep or chickens are attracted to emotionally. 'Children', 'sheep' and the 'brood' are all welcomed simply because they are.
The words: 'it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem' again puts the focus of Jesus' real opposition coming from the religious. Jesus dismisses the threat from Herod, from the secular authority, real or imagined, as insignificant. Indeed the fact that the threat was delivered by the Pharisees suggests that it could in fact have been fabricated, to try to get rid of Jesus quietly.
Again we see that Jesus real beef was with the exclusive attitude of those who thought they loved God so much.
It was and is impossible that the secular authorities would bother themselves with religious matters. Jesus was killed by the religious authorities who wanted to continue their exclusivity. It is the exclusive attitude of the religious who condemned others to eternal damnation; and this murderous intent is demonstrated only too clearly in their determination to have Jesus killed. One has only to recall the words of the Lord to Saul on his murderous mission to arrest those who didn't share his exclusive ideals: 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'
So in marginalizing women and alienating gay persons, the 'church' persecutes Jesus.
At the moment I am reading the conflict between the prophets Jeremiah and Hananiah for the morning office (Jeremiah 28). It is fascinating to me to compare the two messages from the Lord. Hananiah's essential message was to 'trust the Lord', Babylon would fade into non-existence and the chosen people would be restored to their land and former eminence. Jeremiah opposes this. His message is still 'trust the Lord' but he called them to serve the Babylonians and predicted those who didn't would perish they and the prophets who encouraged them to resist the Babylonians. Those who loved God so much that they had Jesus killed also, had the same message as Hananiah 'trust the Lord', Jesus' message was also 'trust the Lord' but also be incarnated into the world.
Reading this conflict puts a whole new slant on our Lord's injunction, to 'love your enemies'. (Matt 5.44) It is simply NOT ENOUGH to say 'trust the Lord'. Nor, I should add is it necessarily less self serving to follow Jeremiah rather than Hananiah. Both appeal to a future relief from the straits in which they find themselves. But the way to that peace was diametrically different.
So the message for the Church (and please note that this is a message to the Church, not to the society at large) is to love and serve the society at large. The message for the Church (not society at large) is to 'love your enemies'. We are called to love not just the 'movers and shakers' in society but the tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners. The message for the church is to not marginalise and alienate others, like women or gay and lesbian persons, like people who call God by a different name, worship God in a different way or not seem to worship God at all.
The trouble is that the church is wont to think that they love God and model God's love by not causing trouble. This is simply NOT ENOUGH. For implicit in this is an expectation that society will be a better place if everyone became like us. This means that everyone else has got to change, while we remain stationary. Let me say with some confidence, that we do not need the gift of the Holy Spirit to remain stationary. If we intend to not change then there is no reason to read the Bible, come to church to worship God or to claim the Spirit's inspiration. For if we don't intend to move, the god we read about, the god we worship, the god we believe inspires us is our own fabrication.
We need the Holy Spirit to move us to serve the Babylonians; we need the gift of the Holy Spirit to 'love our enemies', we need the Holy Spirit to follow Jesus and be incarnated into the real world. We don't love our enemies by making sure that everyone around us agrees with us and dismissing everyone else to eternal damnation!
One of the lovely things about being Anglican is that we belong to a 'Communion'. Our church is based on fellowship. (One of the things I like about being Australian is that we belong to a 'commonwealth' at least in principle if not in practice). We are the ones who are gathered and there is no one else who is excluded. In the present (and I suppose that the same question faces the churches of the new covenant as it faced the people of the old covenant) the question is the same, whether to be a gathering and inclusive church, or a murderous and exclusive church. Do we offer death like Hananiah or life like Jeremiah to those gathered? Are we to follow Jesus and be incarnated into the society or are we to set ourselves apart from that society amongst whom Jesus lived and loved?
And so the issues of the ordination of women to the episcopate and the inclusion of gay and lesbian persons is not the Anglican Church being innovative, it is the Anglican Church responding to the imperative of God through Jeremiah as well as the imperative of God through Jesus.
And the conflict within the Anglican Church is to be expected, for the message is ever to God's chosen to love others. Just as Jeremiah wrestled with Hananiah over the interpretation of the word of God, so Jesus wrestled with the separatists of his day, and we wrestle with those who would proclaim a pure church. And it is all about a God who would 'gather .. children together ..'
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