The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at: http://web.me.com/frsparky/iWeb/r184.htm

s184g10  Sunday 17  25/7/2010

‘If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children ..’   Luke 11.13

I think that it is interesting that these these stories about prayer both involve children.   The story of the friend who is caught out by the unexpected late night visitor and petitions another friend to help him out.   The initial excuse given is that he is in bed and he might wake up his children.   And the second is about us giving good things to our children.

The opinion that Jesus’ had of his hearers were that they were evil, yet he comments that even evil persons give good things to their children.   And of course this has other resonances in the words of Jesus: So he says: ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?   For even sinners love those who love them.  If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?   For even sinners do the same.   If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you?   Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.   But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.   Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.   Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.’  (Luke 6.32-36).

This is the answer (to, I understand, Terence the Roman comic dramatist who lived from 185 BC - 159 BC and) those who might want to suggest that ‘charity begins at home’ - when they actually mean ‘charity ends at the front door’.   It is interesting that it is a Scottish proverb that continues the quotation with ‘charity begins at home but doesn’t end there’.

If we simply love those of our families, then we are doing nothing more than what the most evil of persons might.   Those who had Jesus killed certainly gave good things to their children.

And when one begins to think about this it is a fairly frequent theme of Jesus.   He challenges the belief structure of the conspicuously devout saying ‘to them, ‘If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?’’   And they could not reply to this.’  (Luke 14.5,6)

We might never attain to perfection (indeed I am not sure I want to) but we escape the charge of evil when we give good things to other people as well as to our own children.   We might never manage a sinless life (indeed I am not sure I want to) but we escape condemnation when we don’t condemn others who do not think like me, worship like me, or whatever, to eternal damnation, like it has been the wont of the church to do for centuries.

Over the past few weeks I have been thinking about concupiscence, the Latin words for the Greek epithumia, which our New Testaments translate as ‘the desire of the flesh’.   And this makes me think that the desire of the flesh might refer to both how I might benefit or how my children might benefit.

And if we again move the consideration of whom ‘children’ might refer to personally to whom ‘children’ might refer to corporately, we see that our ‘christianity’ demands that we give good things to people who are not christians - who don’t belong to our family fellowship - give them things like dignity and respect and space to find their own truth.

Some Anglicans are desperately trying to discern the marks of being an authentic Anglican, to define who are part of our family and who are not, who are our children and who aren’t, so that we can define who we should give good things to (like dignity and respect), and who we are excused from giving good things to - we are no less evil than Jesus charges those who listened to him so long ago.

Time and again, I have observed that when people meet the Almighty in the Bible, their natural reaction is to fall on their faces and the invariable response by the Almighty is to lift people up, to restore their primal dignity to stand on their own two feet and to think for themselves.   This is a good thing that we too can give to others - to recognise their essential humanity, and to allow them to stand on their own two feet, and to think for themselves.   Of course the church has rarely done this for her children either, it is too convenient to have followers suitably subservient!

Indeed the best of gifts given to those who didn’t ask and given freely for all who would accept, is the gift of Jesus incarnate.   The incarnation is the gift of Jesus to us and to all.   But those outside the church could well be forgiven if they assumed that the church has actually believed that the good gift of Jesus was for ‘christians’ alone, most often of a particular sort - their children, those physically descended, but also those who believe like them, worship like them, be intimate only with people who will spend their lives keeping up the appearances of being ‘christian’ ..

Sometimes in the midst of the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ in both ‘normal’ and ‘church’ life, seeking respect and the primal dignity to stand on our own two feet and think for ourselves will be successful.   Sometimes it is despite the teaching found in some parts of the church, sometimes it is despite some words found in the bible as well.   Sometimes respect and dignity for all are more conspicuous in civil society and in other religions; sometimes respect and dignity for all is found in the scriptures of other faiths too.

And reading this passage again, I realised that to just look after our children when the world’s needs are pressing in on us, is to want to remain comfortable and asleep, and for our children to remain comfortable and asleep.   This is positively evil!  

The one in bed, the metaphor for the Almighty, does rise to provide for others, who want not for themselves, but for someone else, beyond their own family, who needs hospitality.

God provides the means for a generous hospitality, not a hospitality rigidly exclusive.   How sad it is that so often denominations and faiths have assumed that precisely the opposite is the case - that God only provides for those who love God in return.   We are told that God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked, so being kind only to the grateful and to the good is the ‘desire of the flesh’ - is concupiscence.   God provides the means for generous hospitality for all and how sad it is that the churches have restricted the eucharist to their children, their spiritual children - a prime example of ‘concupiscence’.

And again, this is why so many so-called ‘christians’ focus on the intimacy of others, because it relieves them of any recognition of sin in themselves, of the concupiscence that they commit, in the very name of the ‘god’ they claim to follow.

In fact, of course, we are called on by others to supply their most basic of needs, the need for acknowledgement, acceptance, reassurance, dignity and freedom to 'live fully and love wastefully, and be all that they can be’ in the words of Bishop John Shelby Spong.   This is what the cross and resurrection are there for us and all people by which we 'show them God and Christ in the process'. (http://www.abc.net.au/compass/intervs/spong2001.htm)   

This giving of dignity and self-determination to others will not cost us a brass razoo.   The only thing it will cost us is our sense of superiority over others.  But how many good ‘christians’ would think this cost way too high?

Our gospel is all about prayer, and when many Christians pray, we often invoke the name of Jesus at the conclusion.   I’m sure that most of us know that we don’t use this as a sort of magic wand or secret password, like ‘Simon says ..’ or ‘Open Sesame!’.   Praying in the name of Jesus is praying without concupiscence.   Our prayer is always for the good of everyone, it is always open to the prayers of others.   It is never paternalistic or condescending for we know that all are equal in the sight of our Lord.   And we pray with confidence, because humility draws us closer to one another, following Jesus who associated with all.


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