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

s164g13   Sixth Sunday of Easter   5/5/2013  Ellesmere

'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