The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:
s193e04 Sunday 26 26/9/2004
"ready to share" 1 Timothy 6.18
I have been lead often recently to ponder the question: "Did Jesus come to provide us with useful amorphisms to lead our lives charitably with those around us, or was he saying something about the essential nature of God and of our faith?"
When I hear Christians talking about sharing their faith, I immediately have visions of Christians telling others about God and their own personal experiences of the Risen Christ. This is something that we have been commended to do, again and again. The litany for Ash Wednesday laments our failure to commend the faith that is in us.
Few of us feel at all competent to do this. I'm not at all surprised; indeed I'm quite a bit delighted.
If we share what is truly important for us, we surely are bidden to share our place in the kingdom with others. And I think that this again means more than a nodding acceptance that there will be others there, of course. I mean sharing with others who do not believe in the same terms as we do, a place. We share with Jews, Moslems, Hindus, and Buddhists that their worship of God is as likely to be as sincere as our own. We share with people who do not worship God at all but seek to serve their fellow human beings, a profound respect for this spirituality as well.
Does God bid us share what is unimportant to the divine: "our" possessions; but refuses to part with anything that pertains to the Godhead. Are all the fancy titles we ascribe to God so sacred that they only are attached to our form of worship? I suspect not. Is our god so true and so holy that no one else except those who follow our example can really grasp these realities?
God sent Jesus to die on the Cross; that is how much God's truth and holiness means to God! Jesus was killed by those who sincerely believed that the Son of God could not and would not associate with people other than themselves. How much different is this from us thinking that god couldn't possibly associate with people other than Anglicans, other than Christians, other than people with faith?
If our readiness to share actually only means that God expects us to be prepared to accept others when they think, worship and live like us; I suspect that this limits the number of people with whom God expects us to share down to a big fat zero! That is about how many people there are who think, worship and act like me! So this preparedness to share is about recognising that others have as much a right to their own perceptions as we have of ours. This is sharing our faith, and it means not having all the right or orthodox answers.
One of the things I am enjoying recently is Taize. The Rev'd Joan Claring-Bould spoke recently about her visiting a couple of bereaved parents in the Womens' and Children's Hospital. She knew the parents and the depths that their grief must be. She admitted to being scared to visit them, yet when she did she found that the faith of each of the parents was an inspiration to her. She gave nothing to the encounter, except an ear to appreciate the faith that they, the bereaved parents, expressed to one scared chaplain. I would hasten to add, I would be as scared as she was!
I would concur in my own experience. When I'm feeling down, I make some time to visit someone. Inevitably I come back refreshed.
"God .. richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment". These are lovely words. Again I am caused to reflect on the sometimes seeming paranoia of the Church about enjoying ourselves. For some the Christian life is always Lent and is forever without chocolate.
And it is interesting that those rather more well known words: "fight the good fight" are contained in the same reading as the words: "there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment".
I was reflecting on the diocese and how the parishes all exist to bring people in to worship and the recitation of the orthodox creed; lamenting that there are so many good people out there who do not worship and express their faith like us. Many of them work in Anglicare and Church Schools, but that is the sum total of their commitment. I am led to wonder if our corporate life would not be transformed if instead of trying to get others to accept our version of the faith, we begin to listen and appreciate what others' expression of the faith is.
One of the things that Archbishops have been doing for quite a while is meet candidates for confirmation prior to the service and ask them to express their faith. Inevitably it results either in silence or in a rendition of orthodoxy. I again want to say that I am only now after many years of study and full time ministry becoming clear what I myself believe. In some ways I have had to divest myself of the orthodox expressions of faith before I have been freed to explore what my own faith means to me. And even now, I continue to learn.
Orthodoxy, instead of facilitating growth can just as easily hinder it, particularly when the threat of eternal damnation is there for those who believe differently.
As we begin to realise what actually is important to us and what is not, we will, I have no doubt, find that others around us share very similar beliefs. Much of what we perceive as differences between the Christian denominations is complete misconception, and I suspect that when we do examine our faith, it will actually be not much differently expressed to some well-meaning humanists.
Time and again, Jesus was criticised for mixing with ordinary people and it ultimately had him killed. Jesus challenged the religious to mix with and accept others, and the Church is continually called out of herself to do likewise and be ready to share this wonderful and merciful God with all others.
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