Sunday after Asension sermon by The Very Reverend Roger Dawson,
Bishop of St. Mary’s Anglican Catholic Cathedral, Caracas
Jan and I have just had a few days in the United States. The news there is obsessed with Iraq and the Middle East — it is all you hear, Iraq and Palestine, and it’s never ending. There is a constant day by day, blow-by-blow account of everything that is happening in the Middle East. The only relief was a news item that Proctor and Gamble are now producing potato chips (crisps to the Brits) on which are printed trivia questions. At the end of the day will anyone be any the wiser?
Not only is the US Army wondering how it got itself into the mess it appears to be in, but the Episcopal Church in the USA is in complete disarray.
We went to Jackson (Tennessee) and there, the local Episcopal bishop voted against Gay unions but afterwards wrote a letter of apology to homosexual people and said he had made a mistake, and now he is for such unions … the so-called ‘gay marriages’ that are already permissible by law in two states of the USA with another pending legislation. In Jackson, it divided the Episcopal Church into two factions … half the congregation walked out in disgust and have formed a new church in north Jackson in what was a Presbyterian Church that had become too small for their membership.
In an odd sort of way the two issues are related.
Islam and the Muslim culture dominates the Middle East and that has been a problem for the Christian West for a millennium. Christianity generally believes that its culture and morality is a better interpretation of God’s wishes for creation than the pattern proposed by Islam.
The two beliefs of Christianity and Islam and their origins in Judaism have always been in conflict. In the second part the question of homosexuality is also an issue of conflict between Christianity and what we generally call, ‘the world’ … the culture that arises out of a lack of belief in God. This culture defines us humans by something other than the love of God in Christ Jesus.
There are clues as to what we should do in our readings this morning. The first reading from Acts is saying ‘to whom do we owe allegiance when it comes to living our life?’ The gospel is causing trouble in Philippi, the writer is saying, because Paul and Silas were both teaching and representing a way of life in which Roman customs and the compulsory allegiance to the Emperor were not the guiding rules.
You know, when the gospel was first brought to Europe the authorities cried out ‘treason’ because they saw it as a rival when it came to ruling others. Herod is also portrayed in the New Testament as a man who can’t stand the threat of opposition, which is why there is the story of the murder of the children. Rulers throughout history who are threatened by an alternative form of living and doing things put the leaders of their opposition in jail or they banish them to some country abroad or have them killed. The policy and the threat are as old as man. You don’t have to look far to see it happening in our modern world.
Islam, Christianity and Judaism … maybe because they share the same roots … seem to be in a permanent state of conflict. Each one wants to put the others down.
The invasion of Iraq is much more than just getting rid of a nasty dictator. George Bush, if he believed that a war with Iraq was a military operation, was incredibly naive.
Even the people who longed to get rid of Saddam Hussein were offended to be freed by Christians; such is the strength of their belief in Islam.
It is as the gospel says, ‘to whom do we give our allegiance?’
The story of the earthquake must be read on two levels. The obvious one is the physical event when the building collapsed and the doors of the cells no longer confine the prisoners. The other is how the gospel always creates havoc in communities and forces us all to take sides.
Are we for the gospel and the kingdom of God that Christ Jesus brings or are we for some other ruler?
The Revelation reading cuts straight to the point — Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, he is the bright morning star that leads us away from the distractions of the world and a possible allegiance to others who might lead us astray. As Christians we have a ruler, a son of the one God, our rule is to follow him and the reading from John’s gospel gives us the pattern and vision of God’s people caring for each other.
In this vision of unity, we have to face those who would use that idea of love to another end, to make us think that to love others is to permit their every action and thought. In the story of the jailer, they all finish up having a midnight feast together. That is the great symbol of our Christian fellowship that we come together for the great Eucharistic feast. We do it when we are one in heart and mind together, as Paul and Silas and the jailer’s family became one in the love of Christ.
That unity, however is broken if we give our allegiance to another way of life that is contrary to the bible’s teaching and it is for this reason that we don’t knowingly elect thieves as our treasurers or engage pedophiles as children’s teachers. We may love such people in order to assist them to reform themselves through God’s guidance, but it would be foolish to put them in positions of authority and guidance when we know that their lifestyle is flawed.
Thus we sympathize with the congregation in Jackson who left the ECUSA church in order that their principles were not compromised.
Each of us has to face the prospect of disunity if we compromise the love of God as we find it in Christ Jesus and if we choose the gospel over other leaders then we can expect that they may turn against us but we will have risen above self-interest as Jesus has risen above the hates of this sinful world.