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

s194g13  Sunday 27  6/10/2013

'we have done only what we ought to have done!'  Luke 17.10

I reflect that the expression of christianity has become not much different from someone who plays chess, collects stamps (I wonder how long these will continue to exist!) or enjoys golf.   Worship has become an exercise for those who are so inclined, but in reality, for others it has little to attract.   For a Cathedral congregation the quality of the music is a real drawcard but equally enjoyable to a secular concert.   We thoroughly enjoy the 'Court Theatre' (1) here in Christchurch, and the quality of productions as well as the message they convey make them equal to many services of worship I have attended.   Many good christians would be healthier if we (myself in particular :-) went for a daily walk rather than spent half an hour in prayer.

I suspect that many conservative evangelicals fear that liberal interpretations of the bible will lead to a soft 'optional' christianity.   Somehow we have lost that impetus that faith is not optional, that we ought to be faithful and our faith ought to make a difference, not just to us but to others.   Conservative evangelicals I suspect fear that science and secular humanism will make christianity redundant, observed only by quaint but anachronistic grandparents.

As I am keeping well clear of the hospital nursing my conjunctivitis and flicking through the local TV channels to see if there is something worth watching, I see the local 'christian' channel is screening 'Books of the Bible - Hebrews 4' with the byline: '"Something Better" - That's what you'll find as you explore the book of Hebrews chapter by chapter with .. and .., as each chapter invites us into an intimate relationship with God'.   Again I recently heard a sermon with 'motherhood' statements like when things get difficult we always have God with us.   And this made me think of the wonderful occasions we have enjoyed with our grandchildren, as they begin to be familiar with our presence and consent to accept our hand to hold and trust.   This brought home to me that at some stage we need to become adult - to live in society without continual reference to God, and make our own contribution to others.   It is the difference between the Holy Spirit the consoler and comforter and the Holy Spirit the initiator and enabler.   And while I love to be able to have time holding my grandchildren's hand, God does not use threats, bribery or emotional blackmail to prolong the parent - child bond.   God wants adults, people able to love others as well as accept love from others, not to be forever proclaiming that we are children of the divine - (for who isn't?) - for it is only this that will make a difference in society.   God doesn't need his, or her, hand held!   God doesn't need his, or her, inferiority complex assuaged by our worship!

Clearly we need to grow up, and dispense with the water wings of doctrines that keep us afloat and distinctive but axiomatically also keep us from others.

My estimation that the fear that the divine will become redundant is unfounded for everyone I know feels strongly about faith, even those who do not believe.   There are few professionals who do not believe that they are led to practice their chosen occupation.   Teachers feel called to be teachers and nurses feel called to be nurses - it is not just clergy who feel called.   And often this feeling of calling means that society and the church demand more - for less renumeration.   Indeed I have heard it said that some teachers in Australia choose to work in the secular system precisely because they know far more realistic in the demands are made of teachers than in the church system.   This is an indictment on the culture of the church and an active deterrent to faith.

But it is also clear that while there are few who do not believe in something, most feel called to do the job they do, and many undertake humanitarian and community building activities, few feel called to worship.   If at the end of the day we restrict the activity of doing God's will to worship, then few will be able to say: 'we have done only what we ought to have done!'   Many will be able to say they have done what they thought benefitted others and society in general, and will claim (with some considerable justification) that spending an hour a week in worship would give them less time to do the other good things they do.  

But the first trouble is that if one could get away with just spending an hour in worship that would be fine, but so often one soon gets roped into all sorts of other activities, running this stall, that fete, attending another meeting ..   The second trouble is more fundamental, and this is that the creedal church axiomatically excludes people who do not believe, those who do not believe in OUR terms, or do not live up to OUR standards - such as being divorced and remarried, use contraception, being gay or lesbian, really the list becomes endless.   In doing so the church becomes a force for division in society as if this is what God has orchestrated and continues to orchestrate - 'as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.   Amen.'   If this excuse for paying people less and demanding more of them, corporate selfishness, using threats, bribery and emotional blackmail, keeping people like children (seen and not heard) and being a force for continuing division in society is 'the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints' (2) then I, for one, want no part of it.   If this is what we believe God thinks we ought to be doing, then we need psychiatric help desperately!   And we need to change our god, urgently!

Some christians might charge me with being someone who makes christians stumble, but I would contend that excluding those who believe differently, don't live up to our standards, aren't willing to work for less than they would be paid in secular organisations, using threats, bribery and emotional blackmail, keeping people children and being a force for division in society - is going to cause a hell of a lot more people to stumble!

We are to be a force for community and forgiveness.  We read those words of Jesus today: 'If the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, 'I repent,' you must forgive.'    We could reasonably conclude that if God expects this of us, to forgive others even if they sin against us seven times each day, surely God does this too.   And, as so often, we might do this personally, but until the church is seen to forgive difference, forgive secular employment, forgive scientific enquiry, forgive divergent opinions, forgive even calling God by a different name, and therefore being a real force for community by being affirming and inclusive, then the community is right to turn away from the idol that is the object of the church's worship.

(2) Jude 3