The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r158.htm


s158e13  Palm Sunday  24/3/2013

'being born in human likeness'  Phil 2.7

The clear thrust of all of today's readings is not that God is human, but that Jesus is humble with the clear implication and expectation that this is what we should also be.

Isaiah speaks of a God who enables him to 'know how to sustain the weary with a word'.

Paul in his letter to the Philippians speaks about Jesus coming in the form of a slave.

Luke describes Jesus' entry into Jerusalem not with guns but on a donkey.

Yet I continue to be faced with a church that wants to give others unsolicited advice on how to live their lives, and continue to live in their 'holy huddles' expecting people to want to come in and condemning those who don't.

And I begin to wonder about my own place in such a church.   Why should I be affirming and inclusive when the church finds any real consideration of these too difficult?

Why should it be necessary for the Queen to officially sign a charter against discrimination?   I am certainly glad she has, of course. (1)   And the real question is will the Church of England, of which she is the Supreme Governor, actually take any notice when it comes to the ordination of women to the episcopate and marriage equality?

I am grateful (indeed often grateful) to the Melbourne Jesuit magazine "Eureka Street' where recently Luke Williams argues that: 'Religious schools discriminate (against the vulnerable)'.  (2)   It actually doesn't matter whom a 'christian' organisation discriminates against - it is still discrimination and can't be following that Jesus who told the parable of the Good Samaritan.   One commentator, Eugene, 04 Mar 2013 wisely remarked: 'Yet another example, of many one could list at the moment, of where the Church needs to learn tolerance, humility and common sense from the "secular" world.'   Another commentator Michael B Kelly 04 Mar 2013 adds: 'I am surprised that in all the commentary, it has not been noted that these schools are run with government money - these days well over 80% of church schools' funding comes from the public purse.'   Why should government money be used to discriminate between people?   The Church (of course Anglican as much as Catholic) has to be transparent about this - not quoting bible and catechism.   I’m not sure it is helpful to quote the Catechism as Joan Seymour 04 Mar 2013 does: "they must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.  Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided" - if there remains a ‘just’ discrimination which is ‘unavoidable’, perhaps even mandated.

Palm Sunday calls us to be human, for we can best be helpful to others when we are ourselves and not dressed up in our ‘Sunday-best’, nor cassock, surplice, scarf and hood - or alb, amice, girdle, stole and chasuble - or cope and mitre.   I have had occasion to think that some in the church hierarchy want parishioners to be affirming and inclusive so that they can continue to be discriminating as to who they accept and to rule the roost with an ever larger flock.   There is surely some self delusion here!

Perhaps the Church is fated to be ever thus, for in 300 CE odd Constantine hoped to use the Church to unify the empire, while the bishops were content to argue over whether Jesus was homousion with the Father, and discriminating against those who did or did not affirm this.   The message of St Paul’s words in his letter to the Philippians is that Jesus would decry any such title, especially if that justified discrimination between people and division amongst humanity - in his name.

Again, in its recent front page article, AnglicansOnline says what we all know: ‘There's no way to disguise the ugly truth that church participation in the so-called 'mainline denominations' has been decreasing (if slowly) for half a century .. This situation is what it is, and we aren't going to try to change it, although we wish we could.’ (3)   The reality is that the advent of literacy, freedom of expression and the ease of communication mean that modern people now know that they have a choice and if they choose a God, that God must not be discriminatory.   Until the church and churches take this truth to heart, for all the re-arranging of the seats on the Titanic, for all the ‘Fresh Expressions’ and ‘Messy Church’s’ the bulk of humanity will see these things for the window dressing they are – avoidance mechanisms to the change that scripture, tradition and reason – have been subtly yet irresistibly confronting us.

On Wednesday evening 13/3/2013, the New Zealand parliament had their second reading debate on a bill to ensure marriage equality - same gender civil unions have been sanctioned for some time, and, PTL, the bill passed.   One of the reasons I am much happier to live in NZ rather than going back to Australia, even taking into account the two years of seismic activity.   Often NZ has taken the lead in progressive social legislation, including female suffrage.   Much credit is due to the parliamentary committee which held public consultations on the issue, particularly the chair, the Hon. Ruth Dyson.   A couple of days later the local press had this article on same gender couples excited to be planning their weddings (4).   Inevitably some heterosexuals want to proclaim the special sanctity of their relationship and thereby dismiss other's relationships as lesser and inhuman.

On the morning I was typing these words we read the passage from John 10:1,10: ‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. .. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’

The discriminatory church steals people’s primal dignity when they don’t measure up in terms of compliance or belief, they kill that unique soul by condemnation and they destroy community and society by such division.  By contrast Jesus comes to restore people’s dignity, to resurrect the unique soul of each and every person and so recreate community and society by affirming and including all people.   This is life in all it’s fullness – and not just selfishly for me or for all ‘christians’, but for all people.

If this Lent we have become more religious, more devout, more subservient, and hence more critical of those who have not, then I think we’ve got Lent entirely wrong.   Sadly, of course, the forces of sanctified selfishness in the Anglican Church will probably prevent clergy from officiate at same-gender weddings for as long as possible.   Again to use the words of Eugene above, this Lent if we haven't learn tolerance, humility and common sense from the "secular" world' it has been a waste of 40 days.

(1) http://bigpondnews.com/articles/World/2013/03/11/Queen_to_sign_rights_charter_853250.html
(2) http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=35210
(3) http://morgue.anglicansonline.org/130310/
(4)  http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/8427872/Same-sex-couples-plan-their-big-day