s196e01 Lockleys 21/10/01 Sunday 29
"For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires ..." 2 Timothy 4:3
This seems a particularly appropriate text as I preach to you for the first time here at Lockleys. I guess some of you have heard reports about me already - Adelaide is such a small place - and I expect some of those reports about me are good and some are bad :-) No doubt some here will be asking themselves: "Will this new priest teach the "true faith" as I understand it to be? or will he teach something to suit his own desires?"
Being a member of the clergy is a wonderful occupation, because I am paid to work out just what I believe and what I don't believe, how to express my faith and to try to communicate it to others. But I have no doubt that is what we actually are all on about, and I want to affirm this as I stand up before you this morning. Doing theology, thinking about God and the meaning of life, is something everyone does - though it must be said that some come to different conclusions to what is considered orthodox. I have only to go into a "pub" with my collar on, and I'll bet you 10 to 1 someone, usually the most inebriated person there - will say to me: "Well I believe you don't have to go to Church to go to heaven ..." or words to that effect. This is a profoundly theological statement. One of the wonderful things about Bishop Spong's questioning is not that he questions, but that he allows and honours the fact that people do indeed question and do indeed come to different conclusions to the ancients who had an entirely different world view, as well as coming to conclusions different to himself.
So I want to first say that I hope that while I am with you, that you will take the opportunity to explore what you yourselves believe, and to take what you find valuable in my own meditations on the exploration of my own faith and discard what you find not relevant.
For you will not be "saved" as you come to believe in the same terms as me or in the same terms as the Anglican Church teaches. You are "saved" already - Jesus has already died and risen again for you and for me and for all people - and our real task has always been to get out there in the world and act on it. And I have no doubt that each of you, in your own ways, are already doing this.
So I would be highly surprised to find anyone in this congregation who has not already come to some idea of just what they believe and what they don't believe ... This puts a huge question mark about my task. Am I to try to change your belief, to make sure each and everyone of you believes "sound doctrine"? in the words of my text for today.
Every interaction we have in life, be it with the most eminent theologian or the beggar at our gate has the potential to enrich our lives. It is, of course, our interaction with the beggar at our gate, rather than the eminent theologian, which will most accurately reflect our faith. One of the difficulties with the belief statement of the inebriated person in the pub is that essentially it allows no modification. There is no value placed on interaction with other people, which, ideally, is what we do, here in church, as we study the Bible or look at the work of an artist, as we pray and as we live our lives in the community.
We are given a picture in the words of Jesus which are the gospel for today of two people coming to worship. One thanks God for who he is and how religious he has been able to be and asks for nothing and guess what - he gets everything he desires, or so it seems - nothing! The other asks for mercy, and, guess what - he also receives what he desires.
If we put this beside my text for today: "people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires." Each of the two worshippers gets what they ask for, their own desires. What is the difference between them? The religious leader puts his or her fellow worshipper down, the sinner includes himself or herself in the hope that God is merciful to all. The religious leader expects that God has already accepted his offering - and will not listen to the sinner who is his fellow worshipper or accept his offering.
These words point out the importance of what is written on our hearts. These two worshippers may have been present during a time of formal service, perhaps not. But if they were, the words of the officiant are quite irrelevant. I often say that the words I say, for all the importance we put on the words of the liturgy as Anglicans, are in fact rather secondary. The most important words are those written on your hearts, those you speak to God. In some ways the liturgy is there, relatively fixed so that it doesn't distract you from your conversation with God. And this has been the case for all time. When the liturgy was in Latin, the sanctus bell was rung so that the congregation, quietly praying their own prayers in the pews, completely oblivious to the words of the priest, could look up and cross themselves as the newly consecrated elements were raised into view ... I am not here advocating a return to Latin masses, you will be pleased to know, but commenting that the Church existed for centuries doing this!
Some of you find God especially in the music, others in the readings of the lessons, others in the intercessions, others in your own meditations as you are oblivious to what is happening around you, others in the greeting of Peace, others in the absolution, others in the reception of the Holy Communion. There are just so many aspects to our worship and I am pleased that it doesn't all depend on the words I say in the sermon. Let me say that I welcome the opportunity to have the "old service" as well as the "new" - otherwise I too would always be off on my own meditations before God. Not that this matters, but the words of the service are important, especially for the priest who is there to say them :-)
I grew up at Brighton and was a choir boy at St Jude's, a place which was not especially high or low church. The clergy wore vestments, and the choir sang for the 9.30 am Sung Eucharist in the morning as well as Evensong at 5 or 7 pm. I well remember "Nicholson in C" was the setting for the music in the mornings - my brothers sang the descant part. And I came to love the Anglican Chant at Evensong - all of course BCP. After I was confirmed I got involved in scouts and cadets and didn't go to church regularly, until I met a couple of scantily clad female type persons on the beach at Brighton who invited me to the youth group! Scantily clad female type persons have a lot to answer for :-) But I did learn some important things in life while in scouts and cadets, and these "secular" organisations have an important ministry. When I was at University, I worshipped at St Paul's Pulteney St with Fr. John Fleming and I guess it was as a result of his preaching I realised I would have to work out for myself what I believed, as I wasn't at all sure of what he was saying. During my time at St Barnabas' College I mainly returned to St Jude's for worship at the weekend. But I did attend places like St George's Goodwood, where I once served for Benediction. Couldn't get much more "high church" than that!
After I was ordained I was sent to St Mary's South Road as their first assistant curate, and this was in the days of the charismatic renewal and St Mary's was at the centre of that. I wonder if any of you remember Anne White who came out from the United States to speak. This is where I learned to appreciate the charismatic side of the Church. Then I spent a year at St Columba's Hawthorn, again, a middle of the road parish - an organised parish.
My first "charge" was actually Flinders Park and Kidman Park, and those with long enough memories know that Lockleys and Kidman Park were once sister churches under the Rev'd Tom Drought. So it's a bit like coming home. These two centres were merged with Findon and Seaton and we were sent to Crystal Brook for a time of country ministry. It was there that I realised the importance of making sure one wasn't too extreme - In the country you could effectively excommunicate a person if you alienated them. I learned the joys of being "broad Church". We thoroughly enjoyed our short time at Crystal Brook and later our six and a half years at Kapunda, before moving to Somerton Park. Of course Somerton Park and Lockleys are also linked as again my predecessor there was the Rev'd Tom Drought.
Curiously in all my parishes I have never had to introduce a new prayer book, it had already been done by my predecessor.
This little "potted history" shows that I've experienced and come to appreciate a wide range of traditions in the various different strands of our Church. In the whole of my time, it has been one of exploration to see what I believe. In the last six years I have tried to ensure that I always use non-gender specific language as gender specific language alienates some people. This is in line with a direction in the preface of our new A Prayer Book for Australia. I have come to realise that being courteous to all is particularly important in public worship. In a similar vein I long ago omitted the words "meekly kneeling upon your knees" in the Invitation to Confession in the old service - as most of my parishioners haven't been able to kneel, meekly or otherwise :-) But please, I am not "having a go" at people who find themselves at odds with these perceptions, but I can only proclaim the gospel as I perceive it to be. I have been brought up in the modern theologies. I do support the ordination of women and I reflect a theology underpinning that support.
I continue to appreciate others - I have a couple of things I read regularly which serve as my spiritual input - weekly 'Sabbath Blessings" from Molly Wolf, a Canadian Anglican, and "Eureka Street", a Jesuit Publication from Melbourne. In the October 2001 issue there is a review of the poetry of Seamus Heaney by Peter Steel and one of the quotes he includes is from "The Fragment" which ends with the words: "Since when," he asked, / "Are the first line and the last line of any poem / Where the poem begins and ends?" (Eureka Street October 2001 p39) Or, as my own father, God rest his soul, always used to say, when you stop learning you die. The words of a sermon form part of a continuum, a stepping stone, which takes me further on my journey of insight into this wonderful God we worship.
I hope, as I come among you here at Lockleys that your perceptions will enlighten mine, as I hope my perceptions will enlighten yours. It is my hope and prayer that when you come and do me the honour of listening to my words, you receive something of worth. But the sermon is not the whole service, nor it is the totality of who I am - the poem goes on.
My text for today was: "people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires ... " The religious person in the gospel story builds his sense of superiority at the expense of his fellow worshipper. I hope that you will find in me someone who will not only proclaim each of us as children of God, but others as well. The important thing is not right doctrine, but how wide do we proclaim God's mercy extending beyond us. We hope it extends to us, that we get what we desire, but our faith is that it extends to others, that others get what they desire too. So often our human desire is that God is "mine" rather than God is "ours" - indeed, of course, God is the God of the whole universe - God is everyone's.
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