Monday, July 14, 2008

Sermon Fr John Beer at St James

The sermon by Father John Beer, one of the honorary associate clergy at my church. Remember this is a church in the Diocese of Sydney under Archbishop Peter Jensen
Worth the 2 hour train trip each way.

(Members of the Order of the British Empire Association present at 11am.)
READINGS: Genesis 24: 34-38, 42-49, 58-67.
Psalm 45: 10-17
Romans: 7:14-25
St. Matthew:
It is our pleasure welcome to St. James’ this morning members of the Order of the British Empire Association. And in doing so it is interesting to observe that during the 19th century the Christian religion and the Anglican expression of it spread all over the world as part of the great missionary endeavour of the Empire. It was a religion that was comprehensive and tolerant and which was planted in Australia under difficult circumstances, as Richard Johnson, the chaplain appointed to accompany the First Fleet attempted to plant the seeds of true religion among an unwilling and motley group of convicts and settlers.
The first and only Anglican Bishop of Australia, William Grant Broughton, was enthroned here in this church of St. James’.

What an extraordinary and ironic reversal we are witnessing to-day as the African bishops and others from the Third World are attempting to impose their particular brand of Anglicanism back in England and elsewhere - an Anglicanism that is both Biblically literalist and intolerant!
And what another ironic contrast - as our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters are saddling up in the paddock at Randwick Racecourse for a big evangelistic and eucharistic rally, our Anglican leaders from around the world are gathering at Lambeth in an atmosphere of conflict and dissension!
Last week a substantial group of Anglican bishops clergy and and lay people from various parts of the world met in Jerusalem for a conference. It was designed primarily to bring about a change in the structure of the Anglican Communion. Ever since 1867 the Archbishop of Canterbury has summoned bishops from the various provinces around the world to meet at Lambeth Palace to share fellowship and exchange ideas and issue statements on questions relating to the faith in the contemporary world. This conference has no coercive power. We don’t have in the Anglican Church an infallible pope or, for that matter, an infallible Bible, although some believe we have the latter.
Having been excluded from entry into Jordan where the conference was to be held originally, the conference moved across the border to Jerusalem, much to the annoyance of the Bishop in Jerusalem. Our own archbishop and his assistant bishops were present at this conference. According to a newspaper report they were engaged in what Dr. Jensen called ‘a battle for ideas between the liberal wing who want to export their ideas to the rest of us and the Biblical Anglicans’.
This may be so, but even though controversy in the Anglican Church, has been at times as fierce and inhuman as other kinds and filled with bigotry, partisanship and bitterness, we ought to remember that it as also produced a fellowship in which, for the most part, different traditions in doctrine,worship and life have lived together and enriched each other.

The problem we have to solve is a difficult but not insurmountable one As the Archbishop of Canterbury said last week, ‘it is not enough to dismiss the existing structures of the Anglican Communion. If they aren’t working effectively. The challenge is to renew them rather than to improvise short term solutions which will only continue to create more problems. The group of bishops and others who have been meeting in Jerusalem have been joined by large number so African bishops and others from Third World countries, unlike affluent Australia or America, who are living with incredible ethnic strife, widespread disease and crushing poverty. The fact that they are being harnessed to advance the power and influence of people living in the richest suburbs of the United States is surely an obscenity. As the ABC Religion Report on Wednesday commented the funds for this conference undermining
Lambeth have been bankrolled by five American foundations and by a group of American multimillionaires with some very wacky ideas. They have poured millions of dollars into a movement to undermine the Anglican Communion and to try to mould it into their particular Anglican mindset.

This crisis has arisen all because the Anglicans in the Diocese of New Hampshire in the United States elected as their bishop Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, now divorced and living happily ever after with his male partner. Much has been said and written in the media on this matter and will continue to be with the medias insatiable appetite for sensation and scandal.
Before putting it aside I should mention that Bishop Robinson actually attended a Eucharist here in St. James’ last year!

The sad fact is that the GAFCON conference in Jerusalem, while claiming to be about Biblical truth is really about power - endeavouring to set up an alternative Anglican power structure that will exclude those who refuse to toe the line. As Bishop Tom Wright of Durham has said, what we need is some kind of agreed process by which to handle problems so that the church can get on with being the church in all its glorious diversity in unity.

St Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians was written to a church with more than its fair share of troubles, conflicts and problems. In our reading this morning from the Letter to the Romans St. Paul anguishes over his own conflicting actions: ‘For I do not know what I want’, he says, ‘but I do the very thing I hate. ‘ The evil I do not want is what I do’.
To counter this St. Paul summons his readers to a unity in Christ by that allfulfilling virtue called love. It was into this world that that Jesus brought the simple and liberating message that God is love - that he loves and values all people, not merely collectively but one by one regarding the smallest child as of infinite worth. And the truth is that God will not love us if and when we become good - he accepts us and loves us now and as we are. He draws us into his cleansing and life-giving fellowship. Week by week and day by day He welcomes us to his table to feed us with the bread of life.

Variety and comprehensiveness have always been part and parcel of the Christian religion and of Anglicanism in particular since the days of the English Reformation. Diversity and variety will invariably create tension. Those who believe they are the sole guardians of Biblical truth will always demonise those from whom they differ and try to impose their way of believing and doing upon others. What we have to determine now is how are we todecide what forms of diversity are acceptable? We need some agreed process by which to handle such problems. As we the Christian community gather around God’s altar here this morning, let’s leave all this to the learned bishops at Lambeth over their cups of tea (or something stronger). In the meantime let us get on with the job of being the church in all its glorious and appropriate diversity.

There’s no point fighting over again the battles of the Reformation in an age when as the Herald Editorial noted on Tuesday the church is ‘Faced with steadily falling attendances’.
St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians makes it clear that conflict and disunity have been a feature of church and certainly of Anglican life for centuries as the church has become entangled with politics and culture. Yet Jesus who came to make all things new, eschewed worldly power as he hung on the Cross.
The Church from the very beginning has seen itself as having the responsibility to hold up a mirror to power and speak the truth to the powers that be. By its very nature the Body of Christ has to be involved in the life of the nation and that must include the nation’s political, social, economic and cultural life. For centuries it was only the church that ministered to the destitute, maintained hospitals and infirmaries and schools. And it has always supported the powerless. The Church of God says ‘Jesus is Lord of the world and the powers that be must be accountable. And if those secular powers collude with the powers of destructiveness and dehumanisation they must be called to account.
As St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians: For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the
heavenly places.

Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit the Christian church has recovered from more than one cataclysm and will also triumph over another. We are called to-day in these turbulent times to recover the essential quality of the Christian faith - to make all things new - we are to labour not for the meat that perishes but for that which endures to eternal life. Jesus did not present us with a creed but a life to live and proclaim - it was by the quality of his own life that Jesus drew his followers into a way of life by which they were liberated, forgiven and set free from self-regard.

Our task is to demonstrate the the relevance of Christ to the ideas and actions of our time, to expand our understanding of what faith in Him involves. This is no easy or simple task but it does mean that if it is our joy and duty to live eternally by believing on Him whom God has sent’.
If anyone be in Christ he is a new creation. The Gospel is all about change. What impressed those who heard Jesus was that he was different. Those who heard him said: He speaks as one having authority and not as the Scribes. They were struck by the gracious words that proceeded out of his mouth. ‘I have come that you may have life and have it in abundance’, says Jesus.

We come forward this morning to receive the Bread of Life and then go out to be the church and serve God in the world, remembering that He calls us to follow him. We do this by what we ARE rather than by what we say.
It is much easier for us to be judgmental and to cast stones towards someone we dislike or disagree with than to look to the faults in ourselves and try to bring about change. Conversion is essential but it is no magic bullet - like John Bunyan’s Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, it sets us out on a hard road towards the heavenly city and there are many obstacles. We are to continue the journey, remembering that we do not make it in our own strength.


Davis said...

Thanks for this. He speaks very clearly to the need for all of us to faithfully listen to one another.

June Butler said...

Wow! Father Beer is a man after my own heart. How wonderful and courageous of him to give this sermon right there in Sydney. Thanks for posting it, Brian. It's heartening to us all when brave folks speak out.

Alcibiades said...

Great sermon; thanks for posting this. What makes it even more impressive is that it's undeniably "biblical" in that no Moore College student/graduate could legitimately dismiss it as not being "based on Scripture" - and yet it's a timely call to end the nonsense and division of GAFCON.
Really great stuff!

Brian R said...

Yes Alci. I have been surprised and pleased that since moving to St James, I do not think I have heard a sermon that has not been based on at least one of the 3 readings for the day, sometimes all three have been interwoven.