The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at: http://web.me.com/frsparky/iWeb/r187.htm

s187g10  Sunday 20   15/8/2010

In the name of God, Life-giver, Pain-bearer and Love-maker.   (Fr Jim Cotter)

‘three against two and two against three’  Luke 12.52

I have been reflecting recently about status and power and how the disciples wanted their following of Jesus to confer these things on them.   Indeed it is an almost universal religious desire.   Often people say that the church shouldn’t get involved in politics, yet the real problem comes when politics uses religion to confer status and power to a particular brand of politics or leader.

So the disciples wanted to call down fire on the Samaritan town who didn’t welcome them (Luke 9.52), they disapproved of people bringing their children to Jesus and even after he was raised they asked him: ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’  (Acts 1.6)

But it was not just the disciples, those around Jesus wanted to control who he might entertain.   The crowd told blind Bartimaeus to be quiet (Mark 10.46), the crowds kept Zacchaeus from seeing Jesus (Luke 19.3), and the ruler of the synagogue wanted to determine when people could come and be healed.   Indeed the incarnation and Jesus’ association with the tax-collectors, prostitutes and sinners, meant that thwarted all such attempts, and it was precisely this that cause those in positions of status and power to have him eliminated.

We recoil at these words of Jesus, that opinions would be divided over his mission.   But the reality is precisely that - that we are called to choose between status and power and to renounce status and power.   This choice will divide members of a household.   It is significant that the divisions are between the generations: ‘father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law’.   These words are indeed a useful and necessary corrective to the fifth of the ten commandments: ‘Honour thy father and thy mother’.   Simply obediently complying with what parents say is not going to lead to healthy adult thinkers and decision makers, just as simply complying with everything the church teaches is not going to lead to healthy adult thinkers and decision makers.

And the parallels with Jesus’ own mission are clear.   If he did everything that those in religious authority expected of him, he would have desisted from associating with tax-collectors, prostitutes and sinners, and they would have appointed him high priest, rather than having him killed.

This tension is constantly before us all.   I suspect Lot’s wife didn’t look back to see the fireworks of the Lord, but looked back in wistfulness.   For all the violence and injustice of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, it is an act of faith to see that there might be a better way.   The allure of status and power is all-pervasive.   As I type these words I am aware of the delectable allure of the power of being right (and others wrong!), when I am called to love and include.   How interesting that Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt, when Jesus tells us that we are ‘salt of the earth’ (Matthew 5.13).   Salt enhances the flavour of other food, but if is used too much it ruins the meal.

Faith is the alternative to violence, injustice, inequality, status, power, challenging others, marginalization, alienation and condemnation; faith is not the justification for violence, injustice, inequality, status, power, challenging others, marginalization, alienation and condemnation of others.

Some years ago I was extremely glad when my nomination to a particular position of authority in the church was ‘unsuccessful’.   A person I know, trust and indeed love commented after that it was good, because had I been successful I would have caused divisions.   And the person was indeed right!   But when I think about this, I realise that it was not ‘me’ that would have caused divisions, but the gospel of inclusion which would have caused those divisions.

And at the moment the Anglican Church is facing a split, and I suspect that most Bishops are, not unnaturally, running scared lest ‘their’ diocese be the first where these divisions materialise, and they become the cause of the inevitable domino effect across the Communion.   But the split is not being caused by anyone, either on the ‘conservative’ or the ‘liberal’ side.   It is the ago old issue of the gospel of inclusion verses the politics of power and influence.   Who would want to be a Bishop in today’s church?

This causes me to realise that ‘the narrow gate’ that Jesus talks about is faith in inclusion rather than power.  ‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it.   For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.   Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.’   (Matthew 7.13-15)   It would seem to me that those who advocate violence, injustice, inequality, status, power, challenging others, marginalization, alienation and condemnation of others might reasonably be described as ‘ravenous wolves’ - not those who preach a gospel of inclusion.

So the issues that face the Anglican Church is not the ordination of women or those in committed same-gender relationships, but the age old issue of the gospel of faith, the repudiation of violence, injustice, inequality, status, power, challenging others, marginalization, alienation and condemnation of others.

Jesus, not unnaturally, wants the ‘conflict’ to be joined.  He wants violence, injustice, inequality, status, power, challenging others, marginalization, alienation and condemnation of others to cease, particularly when such things are done in the name of ‘God’.   Why wouldn’t he?   And why wouldn’t we?

And this points me to the necessity for Jesus to identify himself with God.   He ‘alone’ points to an all inclusive Father, one who is generous to all, even to ‘the ungrateful and the wicked’.  (Luke 6.36)   Does not Jesus command: ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.   For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?   Do not even the tax collectors do the same?   And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?    Do not even the Gentiles do the same?    Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’?  (Matthew 5.44-48)  Do I deserve the pejorative term ‘liberal’ when I only preach what Jesus says and did?

‘Three against two and two against three’ seems to me to be a pretty accurate picture of the Anglican Church at the moment, and causes me to reflect: If this is how Jesus will divide families, surely it should not surprise us if the Church is similarly divided.   And if such divided families are destined to not survive, are we not wasting our time trying to keep the Anglican Church a unified entity?   It is so hard to ‘keep up appearances’ like Hyacinth Bucket strove to do!   Surely God is concerned about the kingdom of God, the kingdom where violence, injustice, inequality, status, power, challenging others, marginalization, alienation and condemnation of others are repudiated not utilised, rather than the continuing existence of the Anglican Church, ‘as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end’!

But there is another aspect of ‘three against two and two against three’ that says that uniformity is essentially impossible.   Catholics do not all agree with the Pope and his pronouncements; Anglicans do not always agree with what the Archbishop of Canterbury says, the bishop of the diocese, or the vicar of the parish.   I have sometimes been surprised to find that parishioners do not share the preacher’s antipathy towards the ordination of women or whatever, and the preacher is entirely oblivious to this fact.   Any attempt to get everyone to agree, even about the most basic of things, is an exercise in futility.   I still recall being scandalised when I was much younger to learn that a parishioner in my home parish, a member of the choir and everything, was actually a British Israelite.   And I note that some life-long bachelors and spinsters haven’t had their rough edges rubbed off :-)

But I guess my point is that when people say that ‘christians’ or Anglicans or even members of the same congregation actually believe the same thing, they are living in ‘La La land’!    God gives us brains to think and people who differ from us, to make us think, to see value in the perception of others, and so to form relationships based on respect for difference rather than blind conformity.  And this seems to me to be good news, not just for me but for all!




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