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

s184g13   Sunday 17  28/7/2013

'If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!'  Luke 11.13

This makes me wonder why Jesus wouldn't describe the church which gives good things to her children, like forgiveness and her sacred food, but withholds good things, like forgiveness and her sacred food to others, as evil!

We have been so imbued with the need to define the church and who is in and who is out - when really these words of Jesus imply that this is of the world, evil, and actually irrelevant to the kingdom.

The kingdom is really when we do the opposite of these things, when we give our good things, like forgiveness and her sacred food, to others - others who don't believe like us, worship like us, and perhaps are intimate with people we find surprising.

If we are on a mission to be just so welcoming and friendly with those who darken our doors, we are on a wild goose chase to think that the whole world will realise this and become straight Anglicans like us and worship with us. 

This is not a criticism of the efforts we go to, to be friendly.   It is something about how the faith is presented - about how others have to become like us - not how accepting of others we are.

I have been thinking that the church has, like many an institution, made a virtue of imitation and compliance, and this has served us well for centuries.   But today with widespread literacy, access to a multitude of spiritualities and an easy ability to express our own thoughts - the church has Buckley's chance of stopping these independent thoughts and expressions.   And why would the church try to stop this rich variety?   Where in the gospel is it stated that people should all be the same?   If we were all the same the need to love others becomes obsolete.   If there were no differences 'love' would be easy.   Of course if there were no differences our relationships wouldn't actually be loving the other.  It would be that we love the reflection of ourselves in the other - and that is not love.

So to try and make others reflect our own perceptions in life is actually to avoid loving the other - and is not what passes for evangelism an attempt to make others reflect our own perceptions in life?

Recently I was reading about William Tyndale, the translator of the bible into English and who was executed for his troubles in 1536.   The Wikipedia article notes that Tyndale translated the Greek "ekklesia", (literally "called out ones") as "congregation" rather than "Church" (1)   This reflects the theology of the Sydney Anglican diocese who only recognise the gathered community.   But of course both the congregation and the church are ever called out of themselves.   To be fully the person I am meant to be, to be fully alive, I need to be rescued from my own narcissism and brought into community.   Our sense of self-esteem is dependent on believing that we are loved and have a contribution to make in society.   The real sadness of unemployment is not the lack of money but the feeling that one has nothing to contribute.   So also for the congregation and the church - to fully be the body she is meant to be, to be fully alive, she needs to be brought out of herself and into community.   Whether it be the congregation or the church -  if it is essentially separate she is hardly likely to be loved by society and has no contribution to make to society.   No wonder both the congregation and the church suffer from a lack of corporate self esteem.

For we need to see that the parable of the importunate friend involves helping not a friend, but a friend of a friend, one who the man in bed probably doesn't even know and perhaps will never meet.   God works not just through us and our coterie, but through us and our friends to others and society as a whole.

Narcissism is 'a normal condition at the infantile level of personality development' (2) but God does not want us to remain infants.   God is not frightened of adults, rationalism, independent thoughts, science, even doubt.   What God is fearful of is the destruction humanity can wreak on other members of humanity.   My suspicion is that what God gets really furious about is people hurting other people in the name of the divine.

One of the wonderful things that has happened in my time in New Zealand is the passing of the marriage equality law enabling gay and lesbian couples to marry.   But of course the church still has those who would demur.   Again we see this as a prime example of only giving good gifts - the blessing of a relationship - to one's children - those who by definition are not in same gender relationships.   And I looked up the saying - 'justice delayed is justice denied' to find that it was something Martin Luther King Jr said. (3)  Perhaps it is more sharply expressed: 'love delayed is love denied'.   Why is it that the state is more accepting and compassionate than some so-called 'christians'.  

I was encouraged to read the Rev'd Angela Tilby comment in Church Times entitled 'Actually, my heart isn't for mission': 'Can the Church show that it has the interests of the whole of society at heart?  The sexuality debate marks a rift in society's good will towards the Church.   It is easy for the Church to think it can recover its credibility simply by barking against welfare cuts.   But the bark has no bite: the Church is still widely, if unfairly, perceived as caring only about its own issues - not just about women and gays, but also about numbers and decline.  (4) If 'mission' means avoiding the 'hard' (?) questions like the equality of the genders when it comes to ordination and marriage equality - when is the church going to stop being evil?   And until it does, why would anyone actually be a part of it, or want to be a part of it, or think that God will punish us if we don't?

I note that these words of Jesus are addressed to everyone: 'So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.'   Everyone - not just straight Anglicans of my particular variety - have their prayers answered.   And the gift of the Holy Spirit is also not restricted to straight Anglicans of my particular variety, but to all who ask.