The readings on which this
sermon is based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r164.htm
s164g13 Sixth Sunday of Easter
'the word .. is from the Father' John 14.24
and that word is? .. peace.
Many years ago I read the 1969 novel, 'The Godfather' by Mario
Puzo, a fictional exposé of the activities of the Mafia in
America. And over the years I have thought of the
many parallels that there are between the Church and the
Mafia. Both are hierarchical organisations
benefiting those who are part of that society and condemning or
killing those who are outside. Both are based on
strong family ties - the Mafia is sometimes termed 'the
family'. We don't have to think back all that far to
remember how intermarriage across christian denominations was
frowned on and how couples who did so were ostracised, sometimes
by both their birth families. Both
traditionally have been staunchly patriarchal societies and
Wikipedia notes that 'homosexuality is reportedly incompatible
with the American Mafia code of conduct.' (1)
No thinking person would ever suggest that joining a Mafia mob
is a recipe for world peace, so why on earth would we claim this
for the church, when in practical terms it operates identically?
As I said in my sermon last week, as I have gone through the
church I have observed that some evangelists use the word
'challenge' far more frequently than the word
'love'. I suspect they do this because it seems a
morally neutral word. People climb mountains for the
challenge. But the only time the word 'challenge' is
used in my bible is in Jeremiah: 'You set a snare for yourself
and you were caught, O Babylon, but you did not know it; you
were discovered and seized, because you challenged the
Lord'. (2) Clearly this is in the context of
conflict and testing God. Basing one's proclamation of the
gospel around the word 'challenge' seems to me to be another one
of what can be a multitude of ways of avoiding affirming and
including the other.
A classic way of avoiding affirming and including the other is
to suggest that the bible forbids us to. So it is
asserted that St Paul condemns homosexuality, so the loving
thing to do is to threaten them with eternal damnation unless
they become like us. As I noted above, the Mafia
even do this. We are on far more certain scriptural
grounds if we take the words of Jesus: ‘the measure you give
will be the measure you get’, (3) and ‘in everything do to
others as you would have them do to you' (4) as more central to
the gospel, whether those others be straight Anglo-saxon
Anglicans or one of the infinite varieties of humanity God has
put around us to bless us.
In our first reading today we hear of Paul being forbidden to
continue preaching in his native Asia but called to cross the
rubicon into what was for him the entirely foreign Europe, and
finding that the first converts were a gathering of pagan
women. We have only to recall the reaction of the
Samaritan woman at the well in John (5) to realise the extent
that here Paul was again having his boundaries stretched - not
just ethnically - but also across the traditional boundaries of
faith and gender.
The process of evangelisation is not that we take a special
message to those who have never sought for or heard of God, but
the ever widening circle of people we find whose hearts are
already in the right place.
Peace comes, not as we hide behind our 6 foot high fences
minding our own business, for those denied affirmation and
inclusion will soon crowd around us, and they are indiscriminate
when it comes to those against whom they lash out.
It is only as we seek to affirm and include others, all others,
that the prospects for peace are enhanced and again this is far
more important on a corporate level than it is on a personal
level. Just as we as individuals cannot hide behind
our 6’ high fences, nor can the church hide behind the walls of
church, synagogue, mosque, cathedral or temple. No
matter how pretty the stained glass windows, no matter how fine
the music, no matter how fervent the prayer, no matter how
faithfully we interpret the bible - while we don’t affirm and
include others, while we continue to treat women as second-class
citizens, possessions owned by men; while we alienate those who
express their intimate affections with people of whom we don’t
approve, and while we condemn those who believe in god in
different terms to ourselves, we, as a church, exacerbate
violence rather than work for peace.
And, strangely enough, I worship a God who is more concerned
that the world learns to live as one, not a demon more concerned
with correct doctrine and worship.
We are now at the sixth Sunday of Easter and we know that we
will soon be hearing about the Ascension and the gift of the
Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Ascension surely tells
us that God is not just ours as straight Anglo-saxon Anglicans,
but God is everyone's. And the gift of the Holy
Spirit is given not to others that they might understand the
language of the church, but to the church that we might learn
the languages of those around us. We learn the
languages of those around us by listening to them and immersing
ourselves in their culture.
God calls us not to get everyone to become 'christians' or
anglicans or straight - like us - for a being like this is a
hard taskmaster and a demon. God gave Paul no option
but to leave the country of his birth and reach out to
others. Likewise God gives us no option but to reach
out beyond our natural and spiritual families to affirm and
include others, not because God benefits when we do this, but
because by doing so we begin to lessen the isolation, fear and
inferiority complexes that are the cause of unrest.
It is interesting that in high school one of my subjects was
French and I am not sure how I managed to keep getting put into
French classes - it certainly wasn't my grades.
Perhaps it was because I was male :-) But I really
didn't learn much French. If I wanted to do that I
would have needed to have spent a time in France, immersing
myself in the culture.
In my short time in New Zealand, I have been impressed how the
pakeha have immersed themselves into the Maori culture - in
comparison to the europeans in Australia who are completely
divorced from the indigenous culture. There is some
rapport here where there is little or none in Australia.
And the same thing is true for the LGBTI community.
In NZ we have listened to our LGBTI brothers and sisters - even
to the extent of legislating for marriage equality.
This immersing in the culture of the other, and as a consequence
this learning the language of the other is a precondition for,
and the nucleus of, peace.
In our 'christian' language we talk about the seed which has to
be planted and die before it germinates to produce new
life. Our immersion in the culture of the other is
the planting in the ground and our dying; and our christian
faith is that it is precisely this that predicates and enables
germination to take place and new life to begin.
'The word .. is from the Father' and that word is peace - but
peace is something that we need to work towards rather than hide
from or expect God to bring about. So peace will
only come about when we get up off our knees and get planted
into society, when we divest ourselves of our church language
and begin to appreciate the riches others in society have to
make to our, sometimes tired, existences.
(2) Jeremiah 50.24
(3) Matthew 7.2
(4) Matthew 7.12
(5) John 4.9