The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s180g07 Sunday 13 1/7/2007
'Lord do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?' Luke 9.54
Two leading disciples, James and John, considered these Samaritans, people who were not supporting them, expendable! Of course we wouldn't do anything like that, would we? Yet one of our ancient formularies, commonly called the Creed of St Athanasius, (rumour has it that it was some of our 'evangelical' Anglican brethren who insisted on it's inclusion in our latest Prayer Book for Australia 1995 p 836), begins: 'Whosoever will be saved: before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled: without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.' We are not just prepared to have those who do not support us killed, we are quite ready to consign everyone who doesn't to eternal damnation a rather more powerful threat.
This is not teaching from the Koran or the Old Testament it is in the latest Anglican prayer book in Australia - included not by illegal immigrants, people of other races or cultures or fanatics / fundamentalists, but included by Anglicans just like you and me. It might make us consider just how willing we are to kneel at the altar rail this morning next to people who might secretly hold the same views!
At the moment in the Anglican Communion there is a great debate about who the Archbishop of Canterbury will invite to the next Lambeth Conference in 2008. I have seen a report that (the 'gay') Bishop Gene Robinson along with two other break-away (anti 'gay') bishops have not been invited. There can be little doubt that the consecration of Bishop Robinson has caused the Anglican Communion to reflect on who we are and what we stand for. Bishop Robinson has changed the Anglican Communion in a way no one else has done. And it causes me to reflect that here is one person who has achieved change in the Anglican Communion simply by being who he is. No Lambeth Conference or Synod motion has ever been as effective! I am reminded of the saying of Mahatma Gandhi: 'You must be the change you wish to see in the world' (1869-1948). So Bishop Robinson doesn't need to go to the Lambeth Conference, he as already changed the Anglican Church in a way that the Lambeth Conference never will. Bishop Robinson has forced us to consider whether Gay and Lesbian people are expendable! It is, of course, my hope and prayer that we will come to see that no one is expendable.
For it doesn't just affect us globally. Each and every congregation, each and every person has to ask it / him / herself the question 'do we exist for ourselves and really everyone else can go to hell!' We have (in the past?) been quite prepared to 'write off' people of other denominations and universally those who weren't Christians and those who hold no faith at all blithely unaware that it was for this view that others did not want to support us. Similarly this un-welcoming Samaritan village hadn't got the message that Jesus did not consider them expendable, and destroying them (as James and John wanted to do) was only going to reinforce the opposite message.
As I read this passage I am struck by how discouraging Jesus is to the disciples and to those who would become his disciples. Jesus seemed to accept the rejection of the Samaritan village far more than offers by individuals to follow him.
He rebukes the disciples for their thoughts of revenge. Then three people seek to follow Jesus but he discourages each of them. Discipleship is not a comfortable occupation intended to bring us some personal benefit like eternal life denied to others - and it takes precedence over family and friends precisely because it extends to everyone else.
But discouragement is not the whole story for this passage is placed between the saying of Jesus about welcoming children and that whoever is not against us is for us, and the mission of the seventy. Jesus is keen for his message of welcome to all to go out, to reach lots of people, but the reaction of people is less interesting to him.
Often we hear statements like religion / Christianity is a personal thing, something between the individual and God. Good protestant Anglicans would say that this is so much the case that any suggestion of a mediator, like a priest, is illegitimate. However we see here three times Jesus discouraging people who want to follow him, yet accepting the rejection of a Samaritan town. Jesus will discourage individuals but will not discourage a group of misguided people.
Jesus acceptance of a corporate rejection and his discouraging of personal offers of allegiance perhaps points us to Jesus being a political person - a person who thinks globally rather than individually. Jesus is less interested in forgiving MY sins or that I follow - he wants a new society where people live in peace.
For me it is only this that makes the kingdom of God worthwhile - more important than one's personal comfort or one's relationship with family and friends. Jesus is on about the kingdom of God - not the personal survival of individuals or groups of individuals.
As I think about this it is a bit like what comes first the cart or the horse? If the 'horse' is our personal forgiveness, then the possibility is that others may not be forgiven personally through a variety of causes that they might be gay or lesbian immediately springs to mind. The issue becomes stopping other people being gay or lesbian (or whatever) a 'big ask' by anyone's estimation. On the other hand if the 'horse' is the acceptance of all, we find that we can rest secure in our own personal forgiveness because we do not deny it to anyone else.
How then do I stay in the Anglican Church that still prints the creed commonly ascribed to St Athanasius, albeit on page 836 of an 850 page book? (It is only followed by an index of prayers and acknowledgement of sources.) The critical thing for me is that word 'catholic' which at its root means 'embracing all'. The faith that saves is the faith that has at its very core an embrace of everyone else. A faith that damns everyone is a faith that considers anyone else expendable.
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