The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r173.htm
s173g98 Somerton Park 15/2/98 Epiphany 6
"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." Luke 6:20.
Some of you may be aware that the national Anglican weekly newspaper "Church Scene" has gone into liquidation. As a result a couple of other diocesan papers have been sent to all clergy, seeking subscriptions, in an effort, I guess, both to increase their readership (and hence financial security) and to be seen as reflecting the "Anglican Church of Australia". So I read these with interest, as I will miss my "Church Scene" each week. However in one of these I have been sent, I have come to the conclusion it has three overriding editorial policies. They seem to me to be:
a. Evangelical opinions of lay people are inherently right and take far more precedence over what Bishops and Church hierarchy may say.
b. People who condemn gay people are to be particularly applauded.
c. "Evangelical" is correct; "Anglican" is tainted.
Let me list what has led me to these conclusions:
a. In an article on lay presidency on page 1 the opinion of a Rector comes before that of the Archbishop and the Primate. On page 2 a service (which included the "revelations" of Elder Babb) take precedence over the conversations of a former Archbishop and a Rabbi. Page 3 features the difficulties the Archbishop is having in getting his way on the issue of women's ministry. The particular Archbishop's excellent column is relegated to page 4 - which I note calls for "personal and congregational godliness" - not I would think a comfortable topic for lay people and parishes. Back on page 3, the position of a minister in another denomination against the hierarchy of that particular church is reported at length - the particular minister has criticised gay clergy publicly. (So it is not just Anglican, but all hierarchy that is tainted.) Page 7 has an 8 line report of the investing of the Presiding Bishop of ECUSA IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING an 11 line report of the hospitalisation of Robert Schuller, senior pastor of the Crystal Cathedral California. On the same page a headline states: Rebel parish takes stand against Bishop - again over the issue of gay clergy. Page 9 has a regular columnist pontificating on why the Archbishop's conference on women's ministries will fail.
b. The anti homosexual bias comes not just in the reporting of the situation in the other denomination on page 3, but is repeated three times on page 7, "the rebel parish" referred to above, and the references to a referendum in the Presbyterian Church of NZ and the new guidelines in the Anglican Church of Canada. Rather liberal guidelines "... but they do not constitute church law". I do note a balanced review of the film "Wilde" on the last page "which shouldn't be ignored by Christians seeking to understand homosexual orientation".
c. I note a detailed promotion of the Willow Creek Community Church, Promise Keepers and the Evangelical Booklist on page 5. These are news items (complete with contact telephone numbers!) and are therefore not paid advertisements like I suspect courses at an Anglican College and an Anglican Counselling Centre on pages 16, 18 and 19 are.
I note pages and pages of features on successful pastoral and evangelism activities, but I wonder if "Christian" actually means making disciples who are also anti-bishop, anti-homosexual and anti-Anglican?
It seems the words of Jesus "Woe to you who are rich" is replaced by woe to you who are a Bishop. "Woe to you who are full now" is replaced by woe to you who are homosexual. And "woe to you who are laughing now" is replaced by woe to you who are Anglican.
As I noted in my sermon a couple of weeks ago, St Luke tells us a first attempt was made on Jesus' life by his (predominantly lay) friends and neighbours of the synagogue in which Jesus had worshipped all his life. It is too convenient to blame Jesus' death on the hierarchy and the politicians - we wouldn't have done the same!
I am not a pro-gay lobbyist but I wonder if we find here evidence of an "anti-homosexual juggernaut" (p3) amongst some Anglicans, when Jesus had nothing to say about the matter.
And if I can pick out so easily that "Christian" seems to mean "being anti-bishop, anti-homosexual and anti-Anglican" is that not true that others will come to the same conclusion? Where does the "world" see the Church blessing the poor, the hungry, those who weep, those who are hated, excluded, reviled and defamed? Yes certainly I believe the Diocese in question to be doing these things, and probably better than us. But why do they have to be partnered by such doctrinaire opinions proclaimed so publicly and frequently?
And it is no good at "us" pointing the finger at "them". The question we need to ask ourselves is "Is our Christianity perceived by others as a blessing for all or woes to anyone who disagrees with our particular version?"
How much is our own Diocese and parish perceived by the general populace as primarily AGAINST people and things, when Jesus is revered still for sitting down and eating with sinners? In other words Jesus was primarily FOR people - indeed it was for this that Jesus was crucified. How much is our Church perceived by the general populace as primarily upholding standards for people to live up to, when the vast majority of people (church members included) have not in fact managed to live by those standards?
Where does Jesus direct his woes? Being St Luke's gospel it is not at all surprising to find Jesus directing his woes against the rich, the full, the laughing and those who are spoken well of ... We can assume that the society that Jesus and Luke found themselves in was little different from our own, and the rich, the full, the laughing and those spoken well of came to these things so often at the expense of others. Surely it is this that forms the basis of Jesus' woes - not plenty for themselves but plenty at the expense of others.
When we deny others respect - because they do not live up to our expectations - we may indeed be spoken well of by others - but it is still at the expense of some.
I have recently found a particular issue where I have myself held views with ultimately treated others as having to live up to my expectations. It came up as I spoke to my visitors from overseas a week or so ago. Our conversation turned to racial relations in our respective countries. I guess I have always thought it was at least convenient that new Australians be encouraged to learn the English language. I think I've also held the view that it was in some ways disrespectful if new migrants didn't. My visitors said that their country had no official language. Nowhere was it written in a constitution or in any statute that the predominant language was in any way "official". I began to wonder if the same situation applies in Australia. How often we assume English is the official language, and it is up to others to live up to our expectations - to learn our language - to respect our culture - to adopt our religion? ...
So I find the same issue of expecting others to live up to my expectations infects my own outlook - even if only about the language we use. But I think there is also an expectation for me to proclaim the superiority of British culture, and certainly the sole correctness of the Christian faith as set out by the Anglican Church, and woe to those who didn't ...
No. Jesus blessed the poor, the hungry, those who wept, those who were hated, excluded, reviled and defamed; and first and foremost the Son of Man calls us, the Church, to do likewise. It will only be when we do as Jesus did - sit down and eat with sinners - and we are defamed for it, that the blessing that Jesus particularly pronounces will be ours.
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