The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at
s218g04 St Richard of Chichester Lockleys 20th June 2004
'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' Matthew 25.40
Today is our Patronal Festival, and the reason we celebrate today rather than April the 3rd is probably that it is more convenient for us at this time. Any day is a good day for a celebration.
I want to talk today about "our" faith. For all each and every one of us has our own personal and unique faith; it has not come down to us as a package, all wrapped up neatly with "our" name on it. I do not know about you, but my faith is in a constant process of development. I can still recall, though the memory is fading fast, of the time just before we went from the parish of Kapunda to the Parish of Somerton Park; I reckon it was in 1989. I remember thinking how much I had learned in my six and a half years at Kapunda and wondering if there was anything more to learn. Well, let me assure you that there was :-)! I now can't even remember the perception of the growth in faith that prompted this thought!
My faith has grown as I have read, as I have related to other people and as I've reflected on these encounters.
There has been a healthy interchange between the writers of scripture, various commentators I have read, the perceptions of people in the congregation and clergy who I have heard preach. And through it all there is still my unique faith, gently reinforced by some perceptions of others, gently modified by the perceptions of others.
If God wanted us simply to endlessly repeat on street corners to any who would listen: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life", God could have trained parrots to do this. Even easier, Macintosh computers will do this too.
There is something about you and I and the unique but differing faiths we hold that is important in God's plan.
I do not know much about Richard of Chichester. You could probably tell me more about his life than vice versa. But he stands in the same position as us. He was simply a child of God, a member of Christ and an heir of the kingdom of heaven. He no doubt had his own "take" on the faith, no doubt we probably would have agreed with some of his perceptions and disagreed with other perceptions he had. In fact, of course, we have little idea of what his "take" on the faith was, that is the beauty of the saints of long ago. The specific aspects of his teaching being long lost, one can pretend that it is actually identical to what "I" believe.
But if what I say above is true, then that is highly unlikely. I have said before that no two Christians, no two Anglicans and no two snowflakes are identical. If this is so blatantly obvious, why do we pretend it is not so? And why on earth do we try to make it so? If there was a person on this earth who accurately reflected all my perceptions, I might rejoice for a while, but then realise that this would be a person from whom I could learn nothing.
Bishop Davies, whose diocese is, by his own estimation, strongly Anglo-Catholic, told The Sunday Age recently: "I made these comments because I wanted to be some sort of voice for those who are opposed to the ordination of women. My opinions are in accord with the majority of Anglicans worldwide." http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/05/29/1085641761974.html
Now the reality is that many people who would describe themselves as "Anglo-Catholic" are in fact in favour of the ordination of women. There are many evangelicals in the Diocese of Adelaide who consider this diocese strongly Anglo-Catholic and our Synod has come out strongly in favour of the Ordination of Women as Bishops. It is a myth that Anglo-Catholic is synonymous with opposition to the ordination of women. All these church labels mask a great deal of diversity and the myth of some universally held faith. More seriously it means that people are less interested in listening to and learning from one another; and are mainly concerned that their own version of the truth prevails.
When we use labels, for ourselves or for others, labels like Christian, Anglican, Evangelical, Catholic, the faith once delivered to the saints, does this mean that we have nothing more to learn from these others? This is indeed sad. As my father, God rest his soul, used to say, once you stop learning you're dead!
I am grateful for this quote from "Anglicansonline" for Pentecost, which may be more familiar to you than it was to me: "We couldn't help but remember this passage from Gulliver's Travels, published in 1726:
"It is computed, that eleven thousand Persons have, at several times, suffered Death, rather than submit to break their Eggs at the smaller End. Many hundred large Volumes have been published upon this Controversy: But the books of the Big-Endians have been long forbidden, and the whole Party rendered incapable by Law of holding Employments.... For the Words are these: That all true Believers shall break their Eggs at the convenient End: and which is the convenient End, seems, in my humble Opinion, to be left to every Man's Conscience, or at least in the power of the Chief Magistrate to determine. Now the Big-Endian Exiles have found so much Credit in the Emperor of Blefuscu's Court, and so much private Assistance and Encouragement from their Party here at home, that a bloody War has been carried on between the two Empires for six and thirty Moons with various Success....""
The words of my text, the very words of scripture and Jesus himself, tell us that what we do for others, we do for our God. There are many people in this life who do lots for others, and God credits that towards their heavenly account. God looks not for how devoted we can be, but what we can do for our fellow human beings. God is this generous, not looking for any personal gain at all.
On this our patronal festival may we realise that none of us hold the faith in it's entirety. We are all dependent on the faith of the apostles which we read in scripture, the faith of the fathers which we find in writings since then, the faith of our parents and acquaintances. In fact our faith is also dependent on the circumstances that befall us, and our attitude to them. We are dependent on so many people, and likewise others are dependent on us. May we all be faithful in seeing this grace of God in all others.
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