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

s166g07 Seventh Sunday of Easter 20th May 2007

'they may all be one' John 17.21

Over years in parish life, one soon realizes that the successful priest / minister / pastor is the one who has the flourishing youth group. Many of my parishes have looked back to the halcyon days of the past, when Sunday Schools were booming, CEBS, GFS and Youth Groups were active, indeed in some of the wealthier parishes there were tennis and netball courts and teams. When young people are involved, parents naturally supported those organizations. However these days in Australia the emphasis on education means that the time young people have for extra-curricula activities is limited and often catered for by schools themselves. So schools have their sporting teams, music groups, and fellowship camps. Even secular youth groups like Scouts and Guides are struggling for numbers. And the schools can do it so much better than community groups. I reflect that both of my sons went to the northern hemisphere before I did, when they each did a school choir tour of Rome and England in their high school years. It was years later in 2002 before I spent time in New York.

How lucky were Paul and Silas to have this slave girl follow them! Here was a person who was obviously gifted and spoke what seemed to be God's word: 'These men are slaves of the Most High God who are proclaiming to you a way of salvation.' How blessed would we be if the members of our youth groups said this of us to their friends! But Paul and Silas were not deceived. They saw that she was being used by others. And we should not be deceived when we see young people used by others.

In her 'Sabbath Blessing' last week Molly Wolf spoke of child soldiers used and abused by adults throughout the world. No doubt these adults believe that they are doing what is necessary for the achievement of their aims by using children. But we are not deceived, we know that they are being used by others. It is not 'of God' at all.

Again this week there was a report on the TV about 'Mickey Mouse' purportedly being used by Palestinian Moslems to spread to children a message of hatred towards others. The report could as easily have been Israeli propaganda as Palestinian, of course. Whatever is true, we are not deceived, this is using children, not loving them.

In Australia some years ago we had the 'children overboard' controversy. Again, whatever the truth or falsehood, children were being used and abused by people pretending to be concerned about them.

Similarly those who abuse children sexually. Sadly this happened all too frequently in church youth groups in the past. No doubt the perpetrators believe that it is love but we are not deceived. We know that it is in fact using the child.

The fact that this slave girl spoke the truth about Paul and Silas did not guarantee that the spirit given her was of God. The clue that it was not of God was that she was under a sense of compulsion no matter how talented she was.

Now we may be one in lots of ways. How easy it would be to love one another if we all worshipped the same? How easy it would be to love one another if we all believed the same things? How easy it would be to love one another if we were all happily married heterosexual persons with 2.2 children? How easy it would be to love one another if we all were one in these ways, but it ain't going to happen!

I want to suggest that the way we are one, is that we are not under a sense of compulsion. God wants us to think rather than be submissive.

Of course this means that inevitably we will think differently from others, but this is not especially a bad thing for it will only mean that we will question our own thinking. It may mean that we modify what we thought in the past, or we might have our previous perceptions reinforced.

No one in this life is here for our own personal benefit. If our youth groups exist really because we hope that they will ensure that our branch of the church will continue for generations to come then we are accepting and loving them really for our own benefit. We are using children, and that will never be 'of God'.

I reflect that it is only now after 25 and more years of study and full time ministry that I am beginning to say what I actually believe, rather than what I have felt constrained by the Church to teach. I have felt constrained. I have not been free. Again I observe that those who suffer religious delusions often feel constrained, they are not free. And if I and they are not free, then we are likely to be spreading constraint rather than freedom, and this is not 'of God'.

Just because young people loudly proclaim 'Jesus is Lord' does not mean that they are doing God's will.

But our modern secular society now recognises delusions when they see them. It is not just me who has begun to realise the importance of freedom. People have used their freedom to leave the Church and get on with other more interesting and useful things to do, rather than wearing white long gowns on Sunday mornings as if this was what Christian ministry entails.

The Archbishop of Melbourne, 'Philip Freier .. at a conference in April .. in answer to a question about "entrenched churchmanship" in the Diocese .. criticised the tendency to use strong negative language when describing others' traditions. "We often fall into the habit of sticking in a 'dreadful' here or an 'awful' there," and such phrases as "Oh! Did you see what they did or didn't do?!"' Embedded in this attitude he criticises is a spirit of compulsion that things have to be done MY way or else they are not kosher!

We recoil at the words of the 2nd of the ten commandments: 'I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me' (Exodus 20.5) and blithely assume that this refers to others and never to us. Yet it is clear from my own feeling of compulsion over many years, a compulsion that is not 'of God' even though it pretended to be so, that the punishment of the iniquity of parents has been visited on generation after generation of children. We are meant to be free and, praise the Lord, many people are beginning to be free, to think for themselves, and to stand on their own two feet as we were made to do in the beginning.

My initial reaction to Molly Wolf's words about child soldiers were to reflect that the numbers of child soldiers available is surely a direct result of the prohibitions parts of the church put on the use of condoms and the contraceptive pill. Here is a spirit of compulsion if ever there was one. I have asked before: can we continue to close our eyes to the poverty, illness and premature death that these doctrines cause? But now we will also have to close our eyes to another result of these doctrines - to the abuse of such children who are used by whoever to cause harm to others as child soldiers?

May we be one, but not at the point of a gun or under the threat of excommunication or eternal damnation. May we all be one and free this sounds much more like God and good news to me!

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