Socking the message to them

Trinity 4 sermon by The Very Reverend Roger Dawson,
Bishop of St. Mary’s Anglican Catholic Cathedral, Caracas

Today’s readings, especially the gospel reading, are strangely appropriate for us today in St. Mary’s, at this time in our history in Venezuela. A few years back, we looked remarkably powerful, with big number congregations and foreign English-speaking workers pouring into the country. Now it has all changed, and we look a miserable number when compared to those times. Yet, in the apparent weakness of our present position, we also have a new inner strength that may well lead to a completely new vision and mission here that will result in a totally transformed Anglican Church.

Some of you, I am sure don’t care much what is happening in the world church, and there are others who are deeply concerned. Whether we like it or not, interested or no, we will be affected by what happens on the world scene and my prediction is that in the next twenty or thirty years we will see a new alignment of churches.

If I live that long, I shall follow the movements with interest. It is presumptuous of me to guess the future, but there is a real possibility that the Anglican Communion centered on Canterbury will break up — possibly into three groups.

One section is likely to go towards the Methodists and Evangelicals, perhaps with women accepted in the priesthood, but not homosexuals. Another section, likely to go the way of Anglo Catholics with no women and no homosexuals, and this group may end up being in Communion with Roman Catholics.

The remainder will travel on down the path of extreme liberalism to finish up being dominated by a ‘gay’ minority where anything goes.  As a priest said to me this week, ‘the sad thing is that we shall more than likely lose the middle ground.’ Perhaps churches like ours in Venezuela can hold on to that center ground — we shall see.

What is clear is that we shall go out rather defenseless in worldly terms, not quite knowing where our allies are, but we can have and be armed with the certain knowledge of the love of God as proclaimed in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In any culture in any time in history, Jesus’ statement about going out like lambs amid wolves makes practically no sense, but for us this somewhat stupid sounding remark is strangely potent.

We are vulnerable, as indeed Jesus must have felt, and yet at the same time we are protected, as he was, by the Father. If he can suggest that others follow the same course as he was following, then so can we, and that is precisely what we are doing.

At a moment when everyone else is pulling in and waiting to see what will happen here in Venezuela or what will happen in the Christian Church, we here at St. Mary’s, in the middle of a turbulent sea of economic and cultural disorder, are pushing the boat out into the uncharted waters.

We have set our sights on a new destination, that lies beyond the present horizon by investing in our plant more than the total sum of what was ever invested in the Anglican Church in Venezuela before.

We have, this past week, engaged two priests to start work here in this cathedral church in two weeks time, and I hope we shall add another next Easter. Like Jesus’ seventy missionaries we are telling the people of Caracas that the Kingdom is breaking in, and that the dark enemy of sin and evil is being defeated by the love and power of Christ’s gospel that heralds in the new kingdom of God. That there is an answer to present day confusion and it is to be found in the gospel.

Jesus’ message was urgent, as is ours also, there is no time to lose in telling people of what they are missing, and how this life they have is their one and only chance, and so it is their last chance. Paul, too, knows of urgency and challenges the Galatians to think straight and resist those who offer a softer, safer version of the gospel. The world crucified to me and I to the world, he tells them.

Only when you walk down this road will you find peace, but if you try to be clever and modify the message, as some in the church are trying to do, you will end in disaster. You and I don’t have to look far to see how the message is diluted and the tragedy that follows it.

If we want the new creation we have to go the way of the cross.

You don’t have to take my word for it — work it out for yourself. Ask yourself what are the urgent questions upon which the major questions of our time hang at this moment?

Can you offer a solution to any of them — I mean, do you really know of solutions that work and last and are acceptable to all parties?

I am sure you can come up with blanket solutions. In the Middle East, Israel should get out of Gaza and the occupied zones, and Palestinians should have a recognized country and love their neighbors — right?

But that is not where the people are, and knowing when to be prophetic and when to speak out, and knowing when it is a storm in a teacup, and when you are in a force ten hurricane, is not so easy when you are embroiled in the middle of it.

Take Elisha for instance, he gambled that if the army general Naaman’s leprosy got healed by Israel’s God then he wouldn’t lead a fight against the Israeli people, but he only just managed to win the point.

A lot easier for us, looking back at the results of what happened, than Elisha working it all out in the field. And then what about those who try and turn a situation to their own advantage like Elisha’s servant Gehazi?

We may want to solve the world’s ills, but to do so easily means everyone has to participate by the same rules, and play clean, and this may surprise you … and I don’t want to be a kill-joy … but it is not going to happen.

Sad, I know, but the best bet is still to follow the gospel and to take this message of practical hope and realistic ambitions out into a world that will be almost certainly hostile towards us.

We have however, the comfort of knowing that God is with us in this, when we go out and use our lives as vehicles for Christ’s gospel, and the knowledge that Jesus trod this road before us too, and he won out in the end.

That is why we are doing what we are doing and why, in the long run, God will bless our endeavors.

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