The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r164.htm
s164e04 Henley Beach 6th Sunday of Easter 16/5/04
“the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations” Rev 22.2
What a lovely phrase this is!
I guess that you are little different from the rest of the Anglican Communion – or at least those parts of the Anglican Communion in “western” countries – where Anglicanism seemly is in the decline. We struggle to keep ourselves afloat as worshippers get older, as young parents are distracted by the daily struggle of existence and young people explore the endless possibilities that modern life offers. In many ways we have lost a sense of purpose, or our purpose is restricted to keeping this worshipping centre open. The concept that we as Anglicans or Christians have a part to play in the “healing of the nations” is beyond our comprehension and certainly our ability.
God’s concern is that the nations are healed – not converted to Christianity.
And I wonder if we are not trivialising God, by suggesting that the Almighty is vitally concerned that the Anglican Parish of Henley Beach (or Lockleys for that matter) continues to exist, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
The modern ecological movement has much support from young people, because they perceive that they can make a difference to the world. If our faith does not encompass the betterment of society, is it worth bothering about? The link between the continued existence of the Anglican Church and the betterment of society is tenuous indeed J!
Parts of our Anglican Church continue to discriminate against people who do not think like them, worship like them, or are intimate with people with whom they do not approve. Such attitudes are not likely to bring about the healing of the nations.
I guess you are no different to we at Lockleys. We have a regular time for anointing and the laying on of hands, for personal healing, twice a month. But again, while I am sure God is concerned about our own trials and tribulations, if we fail to see that Christianity is about the health of all creation, and not just your and my personal concerns, we are failing to see the wideness of God’s mercy and love.
When we come to Church, when we come for healing, we come because we “know” that we are going to be accepted, not interrogated. I recall my mother used to like a particular doctor, because he prescribed the pills she thought she needed and didn’t expect her to do a little exercise. We do well to realise that if this is the sort of treatment we expect, we have to act similarly towards others. It is only when we build up a good deal of trust that we might venture to offer some advise to someone else, but even then we do well at the very least, to wait to be asked for our advise. Standing on street corners and ranting and raving about the evils of modern society will be entirely counter-productive.
God cares about all the nations, not that they might all worship in the same manner, have similar customs or traditions to us. It is actually rather presumptuous to suggest otherwise. How often does our gospel proclamation make it clear that we actually exist for the health and well being of others as well as ourselves? Perhaps we are too busy suggesting things that others might do – and mostly it is about supporting us. When do we begin to see the good that others might be doing?
We “know” that healing comes with unconditional love, yet so often our “unconditional love” is made dependent on repentance, espousal of a specific expression of faith, an esoteric conversion experience, or adherence to a particular moral code. And we do this in the name of our god? Is it any wonder that the nations are yet to be healed and that terrorism continues to exist?
And I am pointing to a fundamental logical chasm in our theology – I am not pointing the finger at the Anglican Church here or anywhere else - as if someone is to blame.
Actually, of course, we believe God loves only those who repent, those who espouse our faith, those who have had an identical conversion experience to ourselves and adhere to a particular moral code. This is hardly unconditional love! And if God actually loves us on conditions, we are able to put conditions on our own love.
But I would also suggest that the answer is not in some new fangled religion. The person who spoke the parable of the Good Samaritan tells us the same message, that theological, cultural, gender or any other differences count for naught when people are in need. And for those who have heard me preach before, you will not be surprised when I add that it was this conception of God that had Jesus killed, not that Jesus claimed to be someone special in God’s eyes.
If you want to be in a place where the Anglican Church is growing, by all accounts, in leaps and bounds, then you are welcome to go to Nigeria, where this is indeed happening. But I have little doubt that the growth in the church in Nigeria is because of the presence of a politically resurgent Islam. I am not sure that the Anglican Church in Nigeria is any more effective at being a force for the healing of the nations than we are. And let me pose the question, who really would swap living in Australia for living in Nigeria? I certainly wouldn’t! And more particularly if I was female or gay!
I do not want to suggest that we here at Henley Beach have to take up this new challenge to become the healers of the nations. It is enough that we “do our duty in that state of life to which it shall please God to call us” in those lovely words from our catechism. But I do want to suggest that we can look at the world and our society and see that the world is becoming a more egalitarian place. We are beginning to see that there are no more Moslem terrorists than there are Anglican ones J! There are good, kind Buddhists, Jews, Moslems, atheists and Christians – all of whom would heartily concur with the parable of the Good Samaritan and wonder what the fuss is all about. I should like to take away the fear that the world will come to an end if the Anglican Church is no more.
I was reflecting recently that I have lived just over 50 years now. For countless years before that I didn’t exist. I don’t recall them as being painful at all. There will come a time when I will, for all intents and purposes, cease to exist again, and I will only be returning to that which was before. It will not be painful. The creation managed to survive without me for years and years, and I suppose the creation will continue to survive without the parish of Henley Beach or Lockleys for some years to come.
And perhaps if we look at this world with love rather than fear, we might encourage some others to do so also.
I finish today with some wise words of a retired Anglican priest in Western Australia. Writing to the “Market-Place” the national Anglican newspaper he said: “Behind most sinfulness is damage. This requires more healing than forgiveness. For significant hope and meaning, I need loving, healing and forgiving; and often in that order.” (the Rev’d Murray Brown “Market Place” 8th April 2004 p 5). If we are bidden to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, I have no doubt that this is a good place to start.
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