The readings on which this
sermon is based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r200.htm
s200g13 Sunday 33 17/11/2013
‘not to prepare your defence in advance’ Luke 21.14
This is my own besetting sin! I am a prepared
person. I am naturally an introvert and public
speaking is the last thing I could ever have imagined myself
doing, yet here it is, 36 years after being ordained, and I am
front and centre in a large hospital as well as in worship
many Sundays. I still do not find it easy and I need to
prepare myself. Indeed of course it is this trait that
has enabled me to prepare sermons a week in advance and to
post them on the internet, perhaps helping others with their
preparation. Yet now, I find that when I actually do
preach, I modify my words anyway. Even for me, the
prepared words are not so set in concrete that others are not
heard and spoken. In fact one of the real reasons I
continue to prepare sermons, even when I don’t actually preach
to a ‘real’ congregation is that expressing my faith
allows me to move on and to experience more insight. I
don’t get stuck in a rut.
I have been reflecting that my life oscillates between boredom
and panic. Boredom waiting for the church to slowly
edge towards a more humane institution and panic at the pace
of change in society which I suspect God is driving.
Actually parts of the church are embracing humanity, but
conservatives are vociferous in their protests. It is
wonderful to see the Catholic Church opening itself to the
views of laity. (1)
In Christchurch we have witnessed beautiful churches where
‘not one stone (is) left upon another’ and we ‘hear of wars
and insurrections’ further afield, in Syria and other places.
Just a few days ago there was a full eclipse of the sun
across Africa (2), and we hear the insistent calling of some
religious people to follow their way, the way of the Bible,
interpreted in the GAFCON way.
And I reflect that even after nearly 2000 years where
christianity has been a dominant force, the world seems no
better for it. If we simply regurgitate the faith ‘that
was once for all entrusted to the saints’ (3) then the
empirical evidence is that this hasn’t achieved much at all.
When people want to insist on the infallibility of
scripture and the superiority of faith over scientific
enquiry, where is the evidence that the dark ages were more
humane or godly? I was interested to meet
someone recently who wanted to impress upon me his
appreciation of the services in the Book of Common Prayer of
1662 and the King James Version of the Bible. And
it made me think of the selective morality of that age where
the poor in England were transported to the other side of the
world by good and upright Church of England Magistrates for
petty theft to provide some crumbs for themselves and
their families; transported to steal an ‘uninhabited’
country from more poor people for the Crown :-)
Is not the world a better place for decent sanitation,
widespread literacy, and attempts at democracy? Have we
not benefitted from secular humanism and the proliferation of
different ideas mostly despite the church’s protestations of
heresy, sentences of excommunication and censorship?
What possible evidence is there that the conservative
christianity of the sort that GAFCON espouses has benefitted
society? These very sincere Anglicans oppose the
concept that women don’t need to be subservient to men and
proclaim that the affections of LGBTI people are ‘unnatural’.
There is a good deal of evidence that conservative
christianity has opposed that which has ultimately benefitted
society. These are the spiritual ‘parents and brothers
.. relatives and friends’ who demand obedience to a received
spiritual tradition rather than openness to others and to all.
It is these who will perpetuate war of 'kingdom against
What has benefitted society is love, mutuality, egalitarianism
and openness to the contributions others make. These
are the foundations of democracy, though so frequently
thwarted by the rich and the self-appointed elite.
Surely these are ‘words and .. wisdom that none .. will be
able to withstand or contradict’.
Where is the scriptural evidence that we are called to make
everyone ‘christians’ or Anglicans of my particular flavour?
Surely we are called to follow Christ who embraced
those who were distinguished by their lack of devotion and
orthodoxy? Where is the evidence that it is actually
possible to make everyone ‘christians’ or Anglicans of my
particular flavour? This seems far more of a fantasy
than a hope for a world of affirmation and inclusion!
And why on earth would I bother trying to make everyone
‘christians’ or Anglicans of my particular flavour - for what
a thoroughly boring world would result if I were indeed
successful! I wonder how many ‘christian’ preachers
quote ‘no one comes to the Father but by me’ seemingly
oblivious to the multitude of others who do precisely the same
and the completely different doctrines these others teach?
Who is living in a fantasy world?
Recently my attention has been drawn to the
first encounter Moses had with God in the desert, when he
turned aside to examine the bush that was burning but was not
consumed. Moses’ curiosity - the precursor of all
scientific enquiry - was rewarded with his first encounter
with God. And the spirit of curiosity that burned
within him did not consume him, but ennobled him. And I
contrast this spirit of enquiry, being open to the new and the
resultant encounter with God, with the conservative Christian
who knows it all with no need to be open to
anything unrelated to the death and resurrection of
It reminds me of that story: 'A pastor was giving the
children's message during church. For this part of the
service, he would gather all the children around him and give
a brief lesson before dismissing them for children's church.
On this particular Sunday, he was using squirrels for an
object lesson on industry and preparation. He started
out by saying, "I'm going to describe something, and I want
you to raise your hand when you know what it is." The
children nodded eagerly. "This thing lives in trees
(pause) and eats nuts (pause)..." No hands went up.
"And it is grey (pause) and has a long bushy tail
(pause)..." The children were looking at each other,
but still no hands raised. "And it jumps from branch to
branch (pause) and chatters and flips its tail when it's
excited (pause)…" Finally one little boy tentatively
raised his hand. The pastor breathed a sigh of relief
and called on him. "Well," said the boy, "I *know* the
answer must be Jesus ... but it sure sounds like a squirrel to
We are ‘not to prepare (our) defence in advance’ because our
first task is to listen to the question, otherwise we might be
giving the answer ‘Jesus’ when a squirrel is
correct. Those who would extol extempore preaching
over a prepared text are as likely to find they are delivering
/ hearing the same old sermon over and over again - which is
hardly responsive to new situations.
In a previous life I studied electrical engineering, and I
still value the one thing I remember learning, that finding
the answer was the easy task, the difficult task was to work
out what the real question is. For the conservative
christian the questions of life are all predetermined and
hence the answers are equally as predetermined.
So perhaps it is not my continuing preparation that is being
put into question here, but the attitude that the questions
and answers are all predetermined and others just have to
accept them completely or they will just go to hell.
For I suspect that Jesus was not just speaking of physical
temples being torn down, but metaphorical ones as well.
In the end change is the only constant in life and liturgical
and doctrinal temples will suffer the same fate as stone ones.
(3) Jude 3