The readings on which this
sermon is based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r184.htm
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
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
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.