The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:
s199e04 Lockleys Sunday 32 7/11/04
"stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught" 2 Thess 2.15
I do not know about you, but for me this quotation poses many more questions than we perceive it to answer. If our sole task in this life is to faithfully preserve the teachings of the Church as they have been handed down to us, without question, the Church would be entirely different from what it is today.
I once listed the changes in the Anglican Church in the Diocese of Adelaide in the episcopate of Archbishop Keith Rayner. When he came to Adelaide, no lay person could read the epistle in Church, there was certainly no remarriages conducted in Churches. We were still using the Book of Common Prayer of 1662, or we pretended we were :-)! The Ordination of Women was not even being discussed. There were, I seem to recall, 15 major developments in those 15 years. I do not want to go back to "the good old days" prior to his episcopate. In fact I wouldn't want to go back to the "good old days" of when he went to Melbourne and Archbishop Ian George came to Adelaide, for many good things have happened since then.
A solution might be to formulate a simple explanation of Christianity, which might be accepted by all. One such recent attempt is the "Alpha" course, which some of you have been part of, here in this parish. The "Alpha" course has been a great blessing to many and the opportunity for fellowship around a common meal is an excellent idea. At least "Alpha" talks about faith and not about money; which is usually the thing for which parishes get together over a meal :-).
However, not is all as it seems. Recently I was sent an article, by Ruth Gledhill, the Religion Correspondent for "THE LONDON TIMES" dated the Sept. 6 2004:
"THE Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has given his blessing to an extraordinary scheme for an African archbishop to consecrate a leading evangelical clergymen as a bishop to work as a missionary in Britain.
"The Most Rev Henry Orombi, Archbishop and Primate of Uganda, is to consecrate the Rev Sandy Millar, former Rector of Holy Trinity Brompton, as a Bishop in Uganda.
"Mr Millar, who helped to pioneer the Alpha course that has revived evangelical Christianity in Britain and worldwide, will serve in Uganda and London, where he will be titled Bishop in Mission."
I do not think that I would be doing a disservice to the Archbishop and Primate of Uganda or the former Rector of Holy Trinity, Brompton, when I comment that it would be for his stand against the Consecration of Women as Bishops and against "liberal" forces in the Anglican Communion around issues in sexuality, that has commended him to be considered for this role, rather than his success in initiating "Alpha". It is interesting to me that "Alpha" never took a stand on these two issues, which are in fact central to the theology of those who began it.
If this is what Christianity is all about, against the Ordination of Women and how people relate intimately one with another, you can count me out!
So what is this faith, once delivered to the saints, to which we must indeed stand firm?
It is interesting to me that as I've looked at the Church and how it has developed over my time within it, the developments have been to bring us more into line with the current thinking in the community. Those who oppose the Ordination of Women have been known to accuse the Church of being influenced by feminism. Before we dismiss this too quickly, we might also note that may been seen positively. It is the world that has a firmer grasp on issues of justice and equity than sometimes exists within the Church. It is the Church that lags behind, and it is our task to keep up.
The Church can sometimes be a bit like King Canute standing on the beach in a vain attempt to stop the tide coming in.
I want to suggest that the simple rule of "loving kindness" in the words of the prophet Micah lie at the core of our faith. Being kind to one another is a good start. We have tasted something of the loving kindness of our Lord, and we therefore seek to be kind to all people, whoever they are.
Actually, the Church responding to the good things that evolve from the society in which we live, is precisely what Jesus did. He too went about accepting people for who they were. It was precisely this that had him crucified. So instead of wondering if we are being too secular, I suspect we are doing precisely what we should be doing.
Indeed if we think about it, do we really want our religion to be removed from our day to day lives, or do we want God's blessing on our acts of ordinary human kindness? Surely we want the latter! The incarnation is our guarantee that this is what God wants too. The resurrection is God's guarantee that this will never be thwarted.
When I was on my pilgrimage, I came to a realization of how blessed it is to give, particularly to those who do not trample those offerings under foot. Look around us, in this parish and in this society. How blessed it is to give! The choice is ours. Each and everyone in the parish and in our society has a contribution to make to our lives. We can let our lives be enriched by the offerings of others or we can trample those offerings underfoot. I don't have to tell you which is the way of life and which is the way of death.
And following on from the themes I have been developing recently, "Alpha" dinners, for all the good things they encompass can also be a way of avoiding real fellowship and communion around God's table.
I want to finally comment that if our faith is about some beliefs about what Jesus said and did, and what happened to him, so long ago, and our intellectual or emotional acceptance (or not) of the truths of those events, I'm not exactly certain that this is at all useful (or detrimental) to anyone, to God or to society at large.
But I do know that it is actually what stirs our passions which is actually much closer to what we actually believe about God. So if we believe that God actually cares if it is a woman who is consecrated as a Bishop rather than a man, or if we think that God arbitrarily prohibits a person from expressing their intimate affections to another person of the same gender, I suspect that this is a totally different God from the one I worship.
We are all given brains, and having been given brains we are invited to use them. Don't look to the Bible as if God is going to give us the answer, there or anywhere else, for this will only keep us compliant children rather than fully mature and thinking adults, something God wants for each and every individual.
Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"