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

s166g16  Seventh Sunday of Easter / Sunday after the Ascension  8/5/2016

‘they may all be one’  John 17:21

One of the curses of being a bishop is that their task is to promote unity in the church: “to be a focus of unity for the diocese.” as the New Zealand Prayer Book says. (1)  How on earth can one person keep a diocese full of learned, articulate but disparate clergy agreeing with one another?   This is a ‘wild goose chase’ and a ‘fool’s errand’ if ever there was one.   In a church where parishioners are to be seen and not heard, it is tempting for clergy and a bishop to have his or her voice rule over everyone else’s like a Pope, lest he or she loose all personal conviction.   But clergy have fought hard to find their voice and will not be silenced by episcopal decree.  Similarly young people in the western world have been taught to stand up and to have their say.   The volume of modern music and the pervasiveness of the internet testify to their determination to not loose their voice again.

The Facebook page of the post-Barthians quips: ‘The Third Law of Theology - For every theologian there is an equal and opposite theologian’. (2)

I was heartened to see these words on the Diocese of Wellington’s website: ‘Fostering a good relationship with central government is important.’  (3)

I confess to be tired of conferences in the church.   Everyone seems to want another forum of people to listen to their take on ancient verities, rather than listen to the world.  

And this makes me wonder if this is really the sort of existence the divine wants?   It seems the church is riven with division and while it is so, what do we actually have to offer the world?   Why would anyone in their right mind (now that we actually have a choice in the matter) choose to join us?

I ended last week’s sermon with the words: ‘The law of the jungle - the survival of the fittest - are real.  The truth of the Genesis story is not about how long it took God to create the universe (for there are two time frames written there not one) but the special dignity of all humanity, to stand before the Almighty and to think, to reason and to choose - a message completely lost to those who insist on creation rather than evolution.  It is this desire that perhaps a few others might live a life less fraught is that which makes us distinctly human too, a little more like the divine.   And being able to have choices and the freedom to choose between them is surely linked to a life somewhat less fraught.’  (4)

The reality is that choice is fundamental to being human, not compliance,   Choice is fundamental to love - compliance is inimical to love.

Fundamental to Christianity is the command to love, which implies giving people choices and giving people the right to choose.

So any religion, christianity as much as any other, which denies people the right to choose cannot claim to be based on love.   Any religion, christianity as much as any other, which values compliance over creativity cannot pretend to be interested in individuals in all their uniqueness, or to be based on unconditional love.   Any religion, christianity as much as any other, which does not embrace free communication, divergent opinions, modern scholarship and scientific enquiry, is locked into a past and deserves to be relegated to the dustbin of history.

I have been reflecting that the narrower one sets the doors of entry into the ‘church’ the harder the fewer and fewer remaining devotees have to work to keep the show on the road.   This is essentially terminal, except that often it is older pensioners who have, for the first time in their lives, the wherewithal of time and energy to devote to the church.   The elderly in the western world are often facing their own mortality for the first time, and considerations of what may or may not lie beyond this life, loom large.

We, in the western world, actually are blessed being able to choose - between a return to a religion of compliance and fear, which will have continuing, but limited success in attracting and keeping devotees - or an ageing liberal religion knowing that she does not want to peddle fear but unsure of how to extricate herself from her terminal condition.

I suggest that there is a third way, and that is the way that Pentecost shows us, but this is for next Sunday’s sermon.

1.  p919