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s181e04 Lockleys Sunday 14 4th July 2004

"All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbour's work, will become a cause of pride. For all must carry their own loads. --- May I never boast of anything except the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ". Gal 6.4,14

It is interesting to me that at the conclusion of St Paul's letter to the Galatians where humans are justified not by works of the law but by faith, St Paul is under no illusions that this does not mean we do nothing. Even within these ten verses, St Paul shows that he's not completely consistent either, doing things which are the cause of pride does not easily fit with not boasting about anything except the Cross of Christ.

I began this sermon on the Friday afternoon, 11th of June, the day when our Archbishop decided to resign over the church's handling of allegations of Child Sexual abuse for the sake of the Church. The Advertiser that morning had reports from a number of clergy as to whether he should stay or he should go. I am sure that each and every one of us has thought about the dilemma that faced him. Some of us have strong thoughts one way or the other. It is worthwhile me mentioning that within this congregation there have been a wide diversity of opinions expressed to me. If people wanted me to say what the views of the congregation here at Lockleys was, I couldn't.

We in the Anglican Church rejoice to be episcopally and synodically governed. We are not just episcopally governed. The Archbishop has no more autocratic authority over the Diocese than I have over a congregation. If the Archbishop has failed, then it is because the Synod has similarly failed. In my time in the church the house of clergy has steadfastly opposed any diminution of their "security of tenure". We as clergy haven't given the Archbishop clear authority to dismiss clergy for any reason. If the Archbishop accepts the blame, then that is only one half of this equation. Even when it comes to lay workers there are strong unfair dismissal laws to protect employees.

There are few clergy who haven't come across strident opposition in a parish at one time or another. Indeed there is an argument that if there is no opposition then there is a good chance the gospel is not being proclaimed. There have been a number of times when I have thought that my role as a priest is to be a mouthpiece for various people within a congregation :-). When it comes to the faith, everyone is an expert, and no one wants to think that someone else might point out a hole in one's theology. The fact that clergy have had three or four years of theological education means that it is inevitable that they see holes in the theology that lay people have, and they will not make themselves popular if they point them out. Every time you have thought that a member of the clergy is not espousing precisely your theology, realise that this is inevitable. Rejoice that he or she might have something to teach you. If lay people do not acknowledge the position clergy hold, then clergy will not be able to respond to child molesters either.

There is no perfect system. Recently I heard that a local public hospital had started a mental health consumers group, to help the hospital respond to the needs of clients better. The old days when the hospital knew best has gone. It is interesting to ponder if CentreLink or the Prison System was operated like this :-) Chaos may well ensue! Being episcopally and synodically governed means accepting some degree of chaos, in the hope that in the chaos, God can have a part to play also.

I do not want to join in the list of those who thought that the Archbishop should or should not have resigned, but I do want to say that any fault lies not just with him, to the house of clergy or the house of laity, but right across the board. We all have a part to play in the systemic failure that allowed people to get away with continuing to molest children, myself as much as anyone else. Insisting on the "presumption of innocence" when we are caught out, may mean that someone who is a victim of abuse may not initially be believed. As I spoke of last week, we need to ask serious questions about the faith we espouse. Our insistence on the sacredness of parental authority and respect for elders has meant that victims of abuse have often been put in untenable situations. The old dictum: that children should be seen and not heard has long since past, for which we can all be truly thankful.

Again and again I see much relevance in the actions of God throughout the Bible, where God lifts all people to their feet. Nurture is of the essence of God.

The Church is the ecclesial community. We are "called out". Sometimes this has been taken to mean that we are called out of the world into a holy huddle of like minded individuals; separating ourselves from the evils of the society in which we are placed. This is the thinking particularly espoused stridently in some sections of the Diocese of Sydney, but it is by no means limited to there.

For me, the Church is indeed called out, but called out of itself into the world in which we live, to seek and to find the risen Jesus in all sorts of people beyond our fellowship. For me it was precisely this action of Jesus that was so resented by those who had separated themselves off from society and were scandalized that Jesus did otherwise. Scandalized enough to have him killed.

Every time we say that we want others to know we are Christians by how we come to Church, rather than by our love for others, we are doing precisely the same as the opposition to Jesus.

It is Christ to enables us to put aside all religious, gender, racial and other issues and called out to be useful to others where we can, for that is all we are called out and empowered to do. We are certainly not called out and empowered to criticise or denigrate people who disagree with us.

So our boasting in the Cross of Christ means that everything we do for others has been enabled by Jesus, simply because it is Jesus alone who calls us to look beyond our worship to those around us. We are fundamentally called out towards other people.

It is tempting to look to the bishop or the Synod as external authorities to give us a particular direction. Being episcopally and synodically governed means that there is likely to be more than one particular direction offered us. This may well mean that going in one particular direction is not what God wants. God may be calling us to deal with diversity, creatively and not destructively.

To invoke an external authority perhaps means we are not sure of our own ground. It so often means that someone else is put down. I begin to think is it any wonder that even God does not want to be used as an external authority, if others are put down?

I have begun listening to the BBC World Service on ABC News Radio and recently I heard the Global Business report. The interview was with the renowned economist Jagdish Bhagwat who has written a new book "In Defence of Globalisation" where he says that globalisation is "the most powerful force for social good in the world today".

I have often thought that the fact that we are a multicultural country with trading links to many other countries is an active deterrent from other people making war against us. It is those who are isolated from others who others may feel they can attack with impunity. There are many people from countries who were our former "enemies" living in Australia; from Germany, Japan and Vietnam. What a blessing this is! No longer do they want to attack us.

If the Cross of Christ leads us to be open to the contribution of others rather than putting others down; it if means being prepared to accept some chaos and diversity, because precisely in this acceptance of diversity God's will is being done; if this leads to some greater fulfilment of global harmony, then I am happy to boast in the Cross of Christ. I suspect that sometimes the church has worked against these things and against the Cross of Christ, but God will not allow even the church to thwart the divine purposes forever! :-). Indeed if the church had all the correct answers we would have no reason to look and see the actions of God beyond ourselves; which is precisely what God would have us do.

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