Sermons

Sun, May 07, 2017

Being church

Series:Sermons

The Anglican Bishop of Newcastle--

Greg Thompson--

has resigned in the wake of the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse.

But it's not because he has done anything wrong.

Quite the opposite!

Himself a victim of clerical sexual abuse as a young man...

he has been outspoken in his support of victims...

and in trying to change the culture of secrecy in the church that supported paedophilia.

As a result, he has been subjected to intimidation and bullying.

He has received hundreds of abusive messages, including personal threats.

Screws have been found in the tyres of his staff members' cars.

Complaints have been laid with church authorities, questioning his fitness to be a bishop.

Some have privately tried to discredit him and his story.

He has even had parishioners turn their backs on him as he served communion to them at the cathedral.

Many, it seems, simply wanted to sweep the whole thing under the rug.

But, according to Bishop Thompson, 

"They are undermining the very things that they are supposed to believe in. The church is supposed to be a place of healing and compassion".

 

It almost goes without saying--

but he's absolutely right.

If protecting the church's image is more important than healing and compassion...

then something is fundamentally amiss.

They have, effectively, distorted the fundamentals of the Christian faith...

and completely failed to understand what it means to be "Church".

They have become so caught up in the institution that they call "Church"--

so caught up in its structures and its survival--

that they have actually stopped being "Church".

Martin Luther King jr once suggested that...

"If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority".

If a church's life is not, fundamentally oriented towards healing and compassion;

if it does not speak out against that which is unjust...

or life denying...

or just plain evil...

then, whatever else it is and whatever else it is doing...

it is not longer 'church'.

And yet, in a sense, it also goes deeper than that.

At the most primal level, the function of the Church--

its very raison d'ˆtre--

is to enable a transformative encounter with the living God;

and to foster a sense of the divine mystery.

As such, it is called to be open--

open to change...

open to new ideas...

open to new and radically different ways of understanding and experiencing God...

and God's relationship with humanity and the whole of creation.

It's in light of that, that the Church is called to "worship";

that is, what we call 'worship' is our response to the God whom we have experienced.

And that response-- 

"worship"--

is far more than just what happens in a church building on a Sunday.

It's about who we are. 

It's about how we live.

It's about how our experience of God informs and shapes our everyday lives.

But, even more than that, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said:

"The Church is her true self only when she exists for humanity".

Our response to God--

our worship--

is not simply something individualistic, esoteric, or ephemeral...

it's grounded in the way that we live, practically.

To continue quoting from Bonhoeffer--

if you excuse the non-inclusive language--

the Church... 

"must take her part in the social life of the world, not lording it over men, but helping and serving them. She must tell men, whatever their calling, what it 

means to live in Christ, to exist for others".

Now, I think he's right-- 

but with one major modification. 

The Church's role isn't to tell people what it means to live in Christ...

it isn't to tell people what it means to exist for others...

rather, its role is to show them.

The Church's purpose is to incarnate Christ.

The Church's purpose is to be Christ for this broken and needy world.

And that flows from its experience of God in worship.

 

In a way, I think that's what the author of First Peter is trying to say in our reading this morning:

"You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of 

darkness into his marvellous light".

And...

"Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ".

A variety of different but inter-related images:

chosen race...

royal priesthood...

holy nation...

spiritual house or temple.

On the whole, these are images drawn from the covenantal understanding of Israel--

how a poor, insignificant, vulnerable group of people were chosen by God... 

to be a light to the nations...

to reflect and manifest God's nature.

And perhaps it's most apparent and most pertinent in the priestly image that our author loves.

"You are a royal priesthood...

a holy priesthood".

And yet, he's not referring here to the idea of the "priesthood of all believers"--

an idea so beloved of protestant theology, historically.

Rather, the word in the original Greek is difficult to translate.

It a collective noun.

It refers to a group...

who, together, exercise a priestly function.

In other words, according to the author of First Peter...

the Church's calling is to be a priest...

that is, to manifest...

to reflect...

to embody...

to incarnate...

the very nature of God--

to be a sign, a symbol, a sacrament of God's presence in the world.

 

Being Church, then, does not mean gathering together out of habit or routine.

Being Church doesn't mean coming together to listen to a pipe organ and to sing much-loved hymns--

when the minister picks them.

Being Church doesn't mean being a self-help group or a social club.

Being Church doesn't mean busting a gut to keep old buildings open and in good order.

Being Church doesn't mean striving to keep certain traditions... 

or memories... 

or out-dated principles alive.

Rather, being Church means being the contemporary incarnation of the living, loving God.

Being Church means striving-- 

at all times and in all ways--

to embody what God has done, and is doing, in and through Jesus Christ:

making the broken whole...

forgiving those who are unable to forgive themselves...

welcoming the outcast, the rejected, and the unwelcome...

offering hope to the hopeless...

and bringing new, resurrected life... 

into every experience of death, destruction, and dehumanisation.

That... 

and that only... 

is what it means to be church!

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