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

s183g13    Sunday 16  21/7/2013

'Tell her then to help me'  Luke 10.40

Recently I've been amusing myself pondering: If I was God .. and one was: 'If I was God Iíd prefer to not hear quite so many voices.   Iíd prefer people to talk with one another rather than pray that I will magically change the mind of someone else so that they didnít need to converse with the other person.   I prefer people to talk to doctors as well as me!  If I were God I would rejoice at the advent of the internet which facilitates communication across parish, state, country, racial and religious boundaries.'   This would seem to be far more likely to work towards global peace than any amount of prayer.   In Christchurch, the Student Volunteer Army was initiated and mobilised by the social media sites on the internet, providing much comfort and practical shovelling of liquefaction out of properties after the earthquakes in recent years.

It seems a lot of what passes for religion and prayer is really about manipulation, manipulation of the divine to manipulate others to do what we want.   And many people want to manipulate the Vicar / Rector / priest / pastor / minister or whoever to get others in the congregation to support their particular ministry.   A lot of what passes for religion is about not having to say 'Please' and 'Thank You' and 'How can I help you?'   It's about getting the worship leader to tell other people from the pulpit how God requires them / calls them / challenges them to do such and such.

And if this is true then why would anyone join such a group?

And it is interesting that the church of which I am a part is still debating the ordination of women and lay presidency at the Eucharist and I sometimes wonder if the impetus for this is to become a person of influence - able to manipulate others.

Recently I heard a wise bishop talk about good management being characterised by 'please', 'thank you', 'well done' and 'what do you think?'   Should not the church be informing management about good principles rather than management informing the church on how to be gracious?

Manipulation is really second cousin to marginalization, alienation, condemnation, excommunication, incineration - and opposite to incarnation and communion.   Manipulation treats other people as lesser.   Their thoughts, feelings and perceptions of God and reality - are irrelevant.   If they are not useful then they are expendable.

The story surely tells us that there are different ways of serving God.   One obvious way is to sit at the feet of a teacher.   Another is to serve others.   The first focusses on devotion to God, the other on the needs of those around.   We might characterise these as the difference between the mystic and the member of the Salvation Army.  But perhaps even more fundamental, it could be the difference between the person of faith and the charitable secular humanist.  Both are recognised as valid.

Another one of my ponderings was: If I was God .. 'I would actually prefer people who thought for themselves rather than believe the unbelievable and cared for others rather than those who worshipped me only because they thought they had to and believed that I condemned people who donít.   I think Iíd like those people who other people liked - it would save me a lot of snooping.'

And again, it is important to translate this from the personal to the corporate.   It really doesn't matter all that much what I do as an individual, while the church pretends it can manipulate God to her own ends and that the sole purpose of others is to help her retain her position of superiority and entitlement in society - my poor efforts are all for naught.

Indeed the church has long made it her business to tell individuals how to live their lives, what they had to believe, when and with whom they might be intimate.   Again a while back I was talking to a minister of another denomination who is anti-Creed.   And I thought - how would some Anglicans react to this!!!   'Christian' education courses abound which essentially hope to manipulate society into what is acceptable to her.   I find it no wonder that people find it easier just to walk away.

The world has changed and so much for the better.   The church always has been a voluntary society, and the compulsion is to keep it voluntary, to 'proclaim the gospel free of charge' (1)  For me it is God's work that now we have general literacy and free flow of knowledge, and these are powerful things.   And if any were to think this is strange, surely we would agree that the invention of printing and consequently the wider availability of the bible was of God, even when that diminished the sole authority of the church in matters religious.

God's work raises people from illiteracy, servitude and sectarianism and this is something to be welcomed, not derided.   And so we cooperate with God by acknowledging the secular processes that have brought this about and work to extend this to more and more people.   Instead of pleading that God will get others to help us, we are given the work of helping others to be fully the person God has made them.

(1) 1 Corinthians 9.18