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

s181g10  Sunday 14  4/7/2010

‘many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it’.  Luke 10.24.

Many people, including me, instinctively react against imperialism.  The effects of colonialism linger in many minds - colonialism and the ‘natural’ subordination of others, for me, go hand in hand.   The indigenous peoples of many lands were considered inferior in much the same way as women are still sometimes considered inferior, even within some parts of the church.   And the Anglican Church, with it’s roots in the established church in England, has been seen as complicit in colonialism and the subordination of others.  In the book ‘For All The Saints’ (ed Ken Booth p157) it is said of the Rev’d Samuel Marsden: ‘He accepted appointment as a magistrate, perhaps unwisely, for it allied him firmly with the governor and other officials against the mainly Irish (catholic) convicts, and damaged his reputation as a chaplain to all in the (fledgling) colony (of New South Wales)’.  Other authors are probably more accurate in their assessment.  He was reputedly the least merciful of the magistrates.   The Wikipedia articles states that he became notorious, known as the "flogging parson".    And as I think about this, I realise the importance of my staying in the church, for parts of ‘my’ church particularly, still need to change.

It is clear that the gospel is something that ‘ordinary’ people look forward to - it is good news - even for Irish catholics :-).   It is surely not just Anglicans or ‘christians’ who pray for peace.   No doubt a good many atheists and agnostics would pray for peace if they thought it would do any good, but instead they work for peace, because they know that even the little they may achieve might help.   A good many atheists reason that religion has exacerbated many a conflict and rightly dismiss any religion as suspect.   Indeed the fact that Jesus says that many prophets desired ‘to see what you see’ implies that even prophets recognise that traditional religion is as likely to be the cause of conflict as to work against it.   And atheists and agnostics are right in their ‘beliefs’ if they see only the destructive side of religion - they see with the same eyes as the prophet and recognise that religion which promotes division is worse than useless, it is demonic.   And if the church cannot tell the difference between the divine and the demonic - of what use is the church?   And if ‘god’ allows the demonic to masquerade in divine attire, then we would be better off without such a ‘god’.

This said, a monarch worth his or her salt earnestly desires peace amongst their subjects, rather than fawning deference.   It is megalomaniacs like the Hitlers and Stalins in this world who want to rule over all.  

Today I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to the Most Rev’d Katharine Jefferts Schori, who is visiting Christchurch as a guest of the Maori Diocese.   It has been an opportunity for me personally for the first time to visit a Maori Marae as well.   Being the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States, she is a controversial figure.   Not surprisingly a number of conservative clergy would object to her even coming to New Zealand and no doubt would get more upset if she was to speak in the Pakeha diocese (the Anglo-celtic one).   And this causes me to think with whom these conservatives deign to have communion.   Their ‘love’ extends only to those who believe like them - who read their bibles ‘properly’.   Other people have to earn their way into such ‘christian’s’ affections.   Some people certainly would have to change their beliefs, others certainly would have to relinquish the person with whom they are intimately connected and Bishop Katharine would have to change her gender to be recognised as a ‘real’ bishop - if they actually believed in bishops anyway - which I rather doubt!   Whatever happened to justification by faith and not by works?   I thought that was what these conservative ‘evangelicals’ believed?  In the church-person-ship in the church where I grew up the subordination of women was a particular mark of the ‘high’ Anglo-catholic church, and I have found it disconcerting to realise that the ‘high’ churches here in Christchurch are definitely not into subordination of others.   Disconcerted, yet pleased, of course.

For me it doesn’t matter if the ‘church’ uses scripture, tradition or personal inspiration to challenge, marginalise or alienate others, it is still resisting following Jesus and being incarnated into society.   It doesn’t matter if the ‘church’ uses scripture, tradition or personal inspiration to challenge, marginalise or alienate others, it is still not loving others as they have been loved, not loving others as they would be loved, not loving others as Jesus commanded those who would follow him to do.

As I read the beginning of the gospel again, and thinking about Bishop Katharine’s visit, I thought how apt!   The Lord has sent her out, like a lamb into the midst of wolves.   She will be welcomed by the Canterbury University and to the Christchurch Women’s House (representatives of ‘normal’ ‘civil’ society - like the kings mentioned by Jesus) rather than parts of the Anglican Church (presumably representing ‘the way, the truth and the life’).   It was lovely to experience Sung Evensong tonight at St Michael and All Angels Church where Bishop Katharine was the preacher.   She will probably carry a purse, bag and wear some form of sandals, and if some had their way, she would leave her mitre home rather than wear or carry it! :-)   Talk about wolves - devouring any dignity a person has!   Her message will be the same as those disciples of old, whether we welcome her and her message or not: ‘Stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery’  (Galatians 5.1).

One of the interesting perspectives I have had recently is about coveting.   We have been reading Joshua for the morning office.   Mostly I have thought that this is coveting another person’s goods, but it’s use in Deuteronomy (7.25), Joshua (6.18 and 7.21) and Isaiah (52.17) has it refer to coveting things that are devoted to God.   I guess the opposite of coveting is Jesus in Philippians (2.6,7) who ‘though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave’, or the desire of Paul, when he says: ‘What then is my reward?   Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.’ (1 Corinthians 9.18).   As I looked in the New Testament I see 34 uses of the word epithumias (including Romans 7.9 ‘you shall not covet’) and I suspect that this should also alert us to the fact that this is a dominant NT theme, and I wonder if the real meaning usually is evaded by assuming that it is primarily sexual (‘concupiscence’ in the Vulgate) - things that others commit - rather than spiritual - that the church doesn’t even realise it is committing.  (cf Romans 13. 9,14)   I am reminded of the sin of the sons of Eli, Hophni and Phineas, who considered the offerings to God of ordinary people to be theirs.   And thinking about this, it seems to have something to say about the relationship with the ancient people of God and the nations amongst whom they lived.   God did not allow the dignity of others to be compromised.   Others were equally God’s; they didn’t belong to the people of God to be abused at will. 

So neither do we, as individuals, or as churches, proclaim our dignity as children of God, to the exclusion of the dignity of others as children of the devil.   To do this is to act as a wolf, devouring another’s dignity.   The opposite of this is to associate with others, and so to affirm the dignity of others, like Jesus did, and because he did, was crucified.

My text for today affirms that Jesus recognised that natural sincerity and compassion can be found both inside the church (the prophet) and in civil society (the king).   Jesus thereby points us to similarly acknowledge sincerity and compassion exists in the society much wider than the ‘church’.   Sadly sometimes it is found in society rather than the church still.   Indeed, since sincerity and compassion are the essence of God’s will, Jesus words point us to a church for whom sincerity and compassion are the marks rather than worship of Jesus, belief in inerrancy of scripture or theological gobbledegook.  

So, it seems to me that subordination of others is precisely the opposite of incarnation with others.   This is both personal and corporate.   We do not consider ourselves better than others and we do not consider the ‘church’ as better than society in general, and surely ‘many prophets and kings’ STILL desire to see this but sadly do ‘not see it’.

Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"