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s173g04 Lockleys Sunday 6 15/2/2004

"Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets." Luke 6.22-23

This sounds exceedingly masochistic :-) I have to confess I don't like pain, especially when it is pain inflicted on me. I'm a coward from way back. When the dentist asks me if there's anything I'm allergic to, I always say "pain" :-) I yearn for peace. I am speaking at Maughan Church this afternoon, when our Sudanese friends are particularly praying for those involved in the resumed peace negotiations after Ramadan. I can wholeheartedly agree with this.

At the moment the Anglican Church is going through a difficult period, over the issue of gay persons in positions of authority in the Church. There are dire predictions of calamity and disunity if someone (else) doesn't do something. And surprise, surprise, the Archbishop of Canterbury no less, has become the meat in the sandwich. Wisely, in true Anglican tradition, he has appointed a committee :-)

With the wonders of the internet, various sections of the church have found their voice and pontificated, on one side or the other, about this issue. Bishops and Dioceses, Primates and Provinces have pronounced, threatened, cajoled. I haven't bothered you with the details :-)

The gospel arouses passions. The real gospel arouses passions. Passions such as hate and love. The real gospel arouses actions - people are excluded or included. The gospel cannot be ignored, people are reviled and defamed over it. So if we are ignored, not hated, if we are gently told that we are being quaint and irrelevant, somewhat passé, perhaps it's not the gospel we are proclaiming.

As I say, the Anglican Church is going through one of those spells at this time, and we should rejoice that this is so. For where there is passion, we can be sure that we are touching the fundamentals of our faith, not skirting around the edges.

We see, in the turmoil around the consecration of an openly gay Canon as a Bishop in the Church of God, very strong reactions ensuing. The instigators of this are hated, they are sought to be excluded, they are reviled and defamed.

Jesus was hated, excluded, reviled and defamed, by the religious people, because he included others - he wasn't ignored or thought of as quaint and irrelevant, somewhat passé.

I invite everyone to look and come to some conclusion about just who is angry and what they are angry about. I invite everyone to examine who rejoices at masochism and who rejoices because, despite their pain, others are included.

My experience of life is that people who are angry, remain angry even when they seem to get their own way and there is no real cause for anger any more. My experience of life is that people who rejoice because others are included, despite the protestations, they are prepared to rejoice.

Others might well come to a different conclusion than myself, and all are welcome to do so. But I know where I stand. I do not want to be counted among those who despite everything they do - no one will ever satisfy me. I want to be counted among those who look at what is happening in the world and "rejoice without ceasing, giving thanks to God" even if / when there is some personal pain involved.

Power came out of Jesus with healing for all. I wonder if the real problem with the church being seen as irrelevant and powerless is because it only has grace for those inside - a choice we make, not ordained by God.

Again, may I testify that personally, any personal power I have comes only through my preaching that God is found in people other than Christians or people of faith - as well as in those who are.

"On account of the son of Man" is of course a "nom de plume" - an "AKA" - also known as - for Jesus. But Jesus was killed because he associated with others, so if we suffer because others are included, we can be sure, from my reading of scripture, that we are doing as Jesus would have done.

I can only testify as to where I have found life, not in self justification, but others may be content with self justification.

I can but rejoice at what is happening at the moment. I heartily concur with others when I say that it is not easy. I may find what other people are doing painful. But I look forward confidently, knowing that the world is still in God's care.

Those who predict doom and gloom, the end of the Anglican Church as we know it, I suspect will have only more doom and gloom tomorrow over some other issue.

I recall some studies in Liberation Theology I read many years ago, and the truth that liberation cannot be given, it must be fought over and won. And it is true.

The current debate in the Anglican Church, for all its gentle - person - ly character cannot mask this fundamental divide.

I invite all to "rejoice with me" - and to trust God.

But perhaps my confidence is only because - looking at the course of history - further liberalisation really is inevitable. Am I just "going with the flow", choosing the path of least resistance? Is this the "thin end of the wedge" where I must draw the line? Others may well conclude this! I was reflecting recently - we have a faith based on the incarnation, and the incarnation means that God has blessed the real world and not just a pretend fabrication we might like to erect.

I do not want to be a saint, I am content to be happy. If others count me as "not very religious" I am content to rejoice. I am happy with who I am, and I invite everyone else to be happy with who you are, and to be happy with who others are too.

The ability to rejoice seems to me to be the essence of being "blessed" - but perhaps others want something more.




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