readings on which the sermon
below is based can be found at: http://web.me.com/frsparky/iWeb/r192.htm
s192g10 Sunday 25 19/9/10 St John’s Hororata
In the name of God, Life-giver, Pain-bearer and Love-maker.
(Fr Jim Cotter http://www.cottercairns.co.uk/)
‘make friends for yourselves’ Luke 16.9
What a fascinating gospel this is! And it is particularly
appropriate for an occasion when I’m asked to preach about chaplaincy
and following the earthquake.
Not at all unnaturally, each of us feel fairly shattered, fairly
fragile, after the initial earthquake and all the aftershocks of the
last fortnight. When such awesome things happen, it can
bring us together as a community. When it is suggested that
we take the opportunity to make friends for yourselves, it gives us
divine permission to do what comes naturally; to seek support one from
another, and to offer support one to another.
And this is an unqualified support. It doesn’t matter who
the other person is, what they believe (or not), who they worship (or
not), whatever their gender, with whom they choose to express their
intimate affections (or not). We are simply bidden to make
friends with those around us, for we are all in the same boat.
So often, of course, the ‘church’ has traditionally been known for who
it doesn’t befriend. It has been characterised by
ostentatiously distancing itself from others, others who don’t come up
to the mark in terms of belief, lifestyle, devotion, gender, race, or
sexuality. Our service of ‘Holy Communion’ is actually more
aptly titled ‘Unholy Excommunication’ for so many in the ordinary
community outside the church ‘know’ that they really wouldn’t be
welcomed here. They ‘know’ only too well because of bad
experiences in the past. One of the chief characteristics
of the ‘church’ is that it knows just how much other people have to do
to be acceptable, how much they owe God - and how little it appreciates
how much IT owes God.
For all we now might be ‘welcoming’, I have often pondered how does one
undo the disastrous experiences of the past, where people have ventured
into church only to be criticised? In my experience of the
Anglican Church in Australia, many want people only to come and admire
the contributions made by the present and past parishioners, and never
to alter anything, lest it eclipse what is. The earthquake
has surely shattered all this.
And it is here that I see the importance of our strange story.
For the dishonest steward discounts, not the debts owed to himself, but
the debts owed to the master.
So often in the ‘church’, as I have experienced it, people in the
church have magnified the debts they perceive others owe
God. As I often relate, when I was in theological college
last century, in Australia, the high-church Anglicans thought that the
charismatics and the evangelicals would never be acceptable to God; the
evangelicals thought that the high-church and charismatics would never
be acceptable to God, and likewise the charismatics thought the the
evangelicals and the high-church would never be acceptable to God.
And it is interesting to me that it is precisely our theological
expertise that enables us to know just how much OTHERS owe God, when as
managers we are commended when we discount, if not entirely remit, the
debts we perceive others owe God.
As we process the experiences of this past fortnight, some people in
the church have had a rude awakening that we are no different from
anyone else. We have all been bidden to descend from our
theological, biblical and moral stratospheres and mix with ordinary
people; to get our hands dirty and be useful to others and society in
general. And I suggest that this is precisely what ‘incarnation’
I said a couple of weeks ago: ‘We are called to be born again – into
society – not out of it. We are to be incarnated into the
world, fully as Jesus was – not into a holy huddle. We are to
repent, to rejoice that others are found, that others are included –
not challenged, marginalised and alienated. A theology,
whether it be biblical or traditional that removes us from the masses
of people with whom Jesus associated has gone seriously
awry. I suggest that Jesus was killed precisely because he
was social not theological.’
We are bidden to make friends and one of the characteristics of friends
is that they are equal. True friendships exist between
In chaplaincy, as in all social acceptance, we accept others for who
they are - not expecting anything in return. We don’t ‘do’
chaplaincy to put ‘bums on pews’, we do it simply to make friends, to
say that everyone is equal in the sight of God.
In my time as a chaplain, I have often had cause to say that it is in a
hospital where I find God most plainly at work, rather than in a
church. Many people regard having to go to hospital as a
personal failure - that they can’t cope with whatever without help, or
with God’s help. Many ‘good christians’ pray that they
might not have to go to hospital, when it is precisely in hospital
where God acts. And some ‘christians’ want to go to a
doctor who is a professing ‘christian’ - as if God can’t and doesn’t
work through Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists and agnostics.
May the church we have known and loved not be resuscitated in her old
form, but resurrected and transformed as we make real friends with
others and allow others to make their mark and their own contribution
to our worship and our sacred spaces.
For true enlightenment comes as we accept others for who they are, and
accept ourselves for who we are. In those lovely words
Jesus says: ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy
burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you,
and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will
find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my
burden is light.’ Matthew 11.28-30. Jesus’ yoke is that we
become friends with others. We do not have to convert the
world; that would be an impossible task for anyone. Indeed
the kingdom comes when we stop trying :-) And it is good
news, not just to us, but to others as well, that we don’t have to
convert the world into little replicas of ourselves, which sounds like
idolatry to me.
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