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

s162g13  Fourth Sunday of Easter  21/4/2013  Halswell

'you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep'  John 10.26

Belief is not belief in Jesus as the Messiah but belief in incarnation - in belonging.  The devout and the orthodox ever want Jesus to assert his special status.   Jesus ever points them to the community of tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners who he affirms and includes.   The devout and the orthodox do not believe because they refuse to believe in that sort of community.   The only community that they want to belong to and believe in is one where they have privileged places, befitting their literacy and social standing - and where others are excluded and criticised.   The orthodox and the devout want Jesus to play their game and by their own rules.   When he refused they had him killed.

So belief is a moral quality intimately connected to the affirming and inclusive company one keeps, not about a philosophical assertion about the existence of a divine, the correct name for the divine, or the correct mode of worship of the said divine.

And when I come to think about it, believing in the existence of a god is vacuous.   Why on earth would I believe in a god who rewards people for believing that he or she exists?   A god such as this has a giant inferiority complex and needs therapy urgently.   An all-powerful god with an inferiority complex is a dangerous creature.   The consequences for the healthily sceptic would be horrific if this were true.   Such a god would not be dissimilar to some of those people who perpetrate mass killings.   I am sure that most, if not all mass killers, have huge inferiority complexes.

So if as individuals we lament our lack of faith, the remedy is community.   And this applies equally on the corporate level as it does on a personal level.   It is as the church is incarnated into society that her faith is strengthened.   The faith of the church that withdraws from society withers and dies.   I have heard it said that newly formed charismatic fellowships begin being affirming and inclusive, but over time more repressive doctrines become normative as they turn more puritan.

Speaking as a life-long Anglican, one of the difficulties we have as a church is the centuries of a presumption of superiority and privilege associated with our 'Church of England' heritage.   As an Australian I have reflected before that my country of birth was invaded by the poor sent half-way around the world by good Church of England magistrates, sentenced for theft to provide for themselves and their families, quoting 'thou shalt not steal' - to steal a country from the indigenous people for the Crown!   I do not have any difficulty with the Queen; she is invariably gracious.   Sadly some monarchists do not follow her example.   But then it's a bit like Jesus who is invariably gracious and it is sad that some of his followers don't follow his example!   It is interesting that with the earthquake damage to both the Roman Catholic basilica and the Anglican cathedral in Christchurch, the fact that the RC's were relegated to the then back-blocks of Barbadoes St but the Anglicans had their cathedral in the centre of the city has been raised.   A very similar situation happened in my home city of Adelaide, but there the Church of England bishop did not get his way.   The Catholics, Lutherans and non-Conformists forced his cathedral to be built in North Adelaide.   Cricket enthusiasts see it as a picturesque backdrop when matches are televised from the Adelaide Oval.

Sadly we hear almost daily of transgressions of Catholic priests against children, but the evils of Anglican presumed privilege and superiority are far more widely pervasive, less recognised, and destructive.   And we are reaping the reward of our presumption of privilege and superiority as secular humanism sees through the pretence, instinctively knowing that the God of the universe has no truck with this and leave our holy huddles in droves.

People who are different to us are God's gift for our own faith.   Faith never comes without being embodied in someone else, again far more importantly corporately than personally.   Disembodied faith is the stuff of idolatry, fable and in the end manipulation.

We read the passage from Deuteronomy 4 recently and these words jumped out at me: 'Since you saw no form when the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire, take care and watch yourselves closely'.  Deut 4.15   We are, like the ancient people of God, forced to recognise that we don't have the correct picture or the correct name for God, conferring on us a privilege or superiority over others.

Of course to turn this around and say that we as 'christians' are going to be saved and others are going to be condemned is just to use a different name to justify our manipulation of others and our attempts at manipulation of society in general.

And it is axiomatic that our faith is strengthened when we are incarnated into society in general, not into a holy huddle of like-minded believers, for the propensity for manipulation of others in an ever bigger holy huddle of like-minded believers becomes correspondingly greater.

In post-earthquake Christchurch we have rejoiced to find a renewed level of community as we have faced trauma together.   We have been forced into community, and in doing so our faith has been enriched.   Many of us no longer are content with the superficiality of life pre-quakes.   We have recognised the delusion that a 'normality' that has no trauma is.   For so many years life in Christchurch has gone along relatively undisturbed - it couldn't happen here!   Well, our turn has come, bringing with it incredible hardships for some while frankly some others have benefitted greatly.   But we have been brought into life as many other people experience it daily - one trauma after another - and like them we are tired of becoming more resilient.   I often say to those undergoing chemo- and radio-therapy, we tick off the treatments as we tick off the aftershocks - that's another one we don't have to worry about :-)   Actually we have just had a 69 hour period when there haven't been any aftershocks, and even then they have been tiny, so the series seems to be decaying in both intensity and frequency - touch wood ;-)

So someone could conceivably not believe in God yet believe that every human being is sacred and treat them as such and God would bless this belief.   For we can be sure that God will not bless a belief in Jesus as the son of God while the believer manipulates and abuses others.

Jesus talks about 'my sheep'  and those who do not belong to them.   No one is excluded except those who exclude themselves, wanting to not associate with the company God keeps - the tax-collectors, prostitutes and sinners.   It is real christian freedom and joy to be able to be inclusive and affirming of all.