The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s164g07 Sixth Sunday of Easter 13/5/2007
'peace .. not as the world gives' John 14.27
The sort of peace that the world aspires to is really complete victory over the enemy. In times past the various emperors and superpowers have dreamed of ruling the world. In times past in atlases and globes the countries of the British Empire were that nice shade of pink, and we derived a sense of security and superiority at just how widespread those pink parts were across the earth. We could count on friends near and far to come to our aid if we were threatened. Of course things never quite work out that easily, and it was Australia who came to the aid of Britain in the world wars. I was fascinated and delighted at a recent report that: 'Four Aboriginal brothers from south-western Victoria could hold a unique place in the military history of the British empire. The chief historian at the Imperial War Museum in London says there is no known precedent for the war service record of the Lovett brothers, who served in both world wars. Frederick, Leonard, Edward and Herbert Lovett from Lake Condah saw action in France and Palestine during World War I. All re-enlisted and served in World War II, despite being in their 40s and 50s.' (http://abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200705/s1915096.htm) It should come as a bit of a dent in the pride of the British that indigenous Australians should have played such a significant part in the freedoms the world now enjoys and that we celebrate each Anzac Day.
Of course it was the United States rather than Britain who came to our aid when we were threatened by Japan in World War 2.
I suspect that initially the Vietnam War would have been supported by the church in the United States to counter the advancing atheistic communism overrunning the French catholic South Vietnam. Of course the anti-war movement sprang up out of church circles, not the least out of the Catholic Church in America. Again prior to 9/11 there was a recurrent e-mail distributed among Church folk urging people to put their names on a petition to the United Nations to do something about the plight of women in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. When events lead the coalition forces to move against the Taliban, the anti war forces within the Church were mobilized. Again the newest nation in the United Nations, East Timor largely Catholic, has won its independence from Indonesia, but at what cost? I certainly don't begrudge them their independence, but one sometimes wonders if authoritarian rule keeps the peace? These should alert us to the fact that the Church has never been the sole repository of truth nor necessarily an independent arbitrator in world affairs, and I would not want to claim that for myself either.
But this sort of thinking about victory over others continues to infect the church as much as the world. In the 'debates' over human sexuality in the Anglican Church one could be excused in thinking that it is a fight to the death. Who is right, who is wrong? Who will be saved and who will be damned?
At the moment we are being blessed by reading parts of the book the Revelation to St John, and the vision of a new Jerusalem, an open city for 'its gates will never be shut by day and there will be no night there'. But curiously also 'nothing unclean will enter it'. In the light of the departure of Judas in last week's gospel and Jesus comment that it was his departure that ushered in the kingdom. I take this to mean that those who see uncleanness in others will not want to enter the kingdom.
We are blessed with this vision because it points us to a place beyond the fighting and squabbles of this world. We are blessed because the kingdom is not where we will all finally 'measure up' but the place where all those who want us to 'measure up' will not deign to come. This vision is what God would have us enjoy now, right at this very moment. It is the same vision that Jesus more than promises will be ours but indeed gives the early disciples and us.
I reflect that the multitudes ate of the loaves and fishes and were satisfied. They craved nothing more. Yet the Church is rarely viewed as ever being satisfied, we are not at peace. We are not satisfied with politicians; the various decisions they make can always be criticised if they do not suit us, as if we could do a better job. We are certainly not satisfied with the world, all those heathen who don't come to Church and support us. Indeed we are rarely satisfied with the members of our own churches. Within a parish, there are those who are on the fringe because they lead too busy lives to live up to what the retired members expect of them. Within a diocese, individual congregations see themselves as so distinct as to be indispensable. We carve up the world into 'them' and 'us' in a multitude of ways, and every time we do we insulate ourselves from the peace, the satisfaction that God would give to all. If we as the Church do not show ourselves to be at peace with ourselves then we have no hope of ever communicating any good news to anyone else for we will not have anything tangible to give.
Do we lead joyless lives full of anger and resentment as if this is what God wants? Do we reason that this is our cross to bear the sufferings that we now endure? We are or become argumentative as if we have something we must prove? I fear that this is one of my own personal failings.
Yet the answer is not complex and the model of life is that of our Saviour, who associated with one and all Simon the Pharisee as well as Simon the leper. Jesus was a person at peace in each and every circumstance he found himself. I have been reflecting that it was those not at peace with others who left Jesus and those who finally had him killed.
However, in happy deference to the Rev'd Dr Alan Cadwallader, whose lectures at the recent National Chaplains' Conference in Adelaide I thoroughly enjoyed, he maintains that Jesus himself was drawn out of a narrow perception of a mission to upright Jews, to include others, especially in his encounter at the healing of the Syro-phonecian prostitute's daughter (Matt 15.21-28) and the centurion's male lover (Matt 8.5-13). He points out that the former is between the feeding of the 5000 (Jews: Matt 14.13-21) and the 4000 (Gentiles: Matt 15.32-39).
Jesus welcomes those who have little faith (orthodox or not), the sick, the blind, the lame, those who deny him, men, women, children, people with dubious moral pasts, people with skeletons in their closets, rich and poor alike. Jesus even forgives those who killed him the soldiers obeying their orders. But the people he cannot cope with are those who find fault with others, or as it really is, those who find fault with others can never cope with Jesus. Jesus tackles head on those who put others down in the name of god as in the 23rd chapter of Matthew.
The peace which Jesus gives is to be at peace with all others. The 'peace' that the world gives is entirely illusory for it really is only a never-ending competition characteristic of the animal kingdom - the survival of the fittest and surely as humans we are to aspire to something more than this!
It is a peace which Jesus gives in the sense that we are allowed to be at peace with others in stark contrast to other religions which demand that we oppose others. But it is also a peace that is entirely dependent on our acceptance we have to make it our own. God can't do anything more to make it happen unless we pull our finger out and do something to make it a reality for us personally, for those amongst whom we live and work, and amongst the whole of creation.
Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"