Pilgrimpace's Blog


christ the king
November 25, 2012, 1:31 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I don’t normally post sermons on this blog, but here is the script I preached from this morning at St Gabriel’s, Weoley Castle and then at St Bede’s, Brandwood.  

It’s been a terrible week, hasn’t it?  In amongst all the awful things happening in the world – and at least we can give thanks that there is now a ceasefire in Gaza -we found General Synod, the decision making body of the Church of England, voting against the legislation to allow women bishops.

 

Like most people I have talked to, I was extremely shocked by this.  After all, the vast majority of the Church of England are in favour.  42 of 44 dioceses voted for it; our bishops and archbishops wanted it; a big majority in Synod wanted it – it was blocked by a very tiny number of votes in the House of Laity.

 

At the time, I felt shocked, disbelieving, sorry, angry.  Those feelings haven’t gone away.  Goodness only knows what it must feel to be a female deacon or priest at the moment – and it should be said this isn’t about ambition; rather it is about your vocation and orders, which are accepted by the Church, not being seen the same as those of male clergy.

 

There isn’t time in this sermon to rehearse the arguments for and against women bishops, but I want to briefly make the following points:

 

Firstly, I want to state clearly that it is no problem to be catholic or to be evangelical and to support the ordination of women.  This letter to The Independent last week puts it well:

 

First, because the Bible teaches that “in Christ there is no male or female”, but all people are equal before God. Just as the churches have repented of our historic antisemitism and endorsement of slavery, so we believe that we must now show clearly that we no longer believe women to be inferior to men.

Secondly, Jesus treated women radically equally. He encouraged them as disciples, and chose a woman as the first witness to His resurrection, at a time when women’s testimony was inadmissible in law.

Thirdly, we have promised as clergy to “proclaim the faith afresh in every generation”. We fear that failing to take this step would do the opposite, proclaiming instead that the church is more interested in the past than the future.

 

There are, for me, clear and convincing arguments in the Bible and in tradition for women’s ordination.

 

Churches like this one believe in the doctrine of the Incarnation.  This means that we are interested in the world and it’s people because God loves them so much that he became human and lived as we do.  There’s an old anglo-catholic saying: “I am interested in improving the drains because I believe in Jesus’ Incarnation.

 

Because we are open to the world we believe in the primacy of mission.  This is why we have put so much effort into our Centre which is such an important way of meeting, serving and showing Christ to local people.  Synod’s decision has been extremely unhelpful to us and many similar parishes.  It has brought ridicule upon the Church.  People ‘outside’ are less likely to listen to us.  We also face the prospect of the Church spending its energy in the next years on infighting and being inward looking.  One very positive thing that happened at Synod was agreement to support the Living Wage.  This means people are paid enough to live on.  This is undoubtedly good news, but was lost entirely.  The Government will not be embarrassed in future when the Church criticises it.

 

God, through the Holy Spirit, is active in the world.  One of the tasks of the Church is to be looking out for this, learning from it, working with people of good will.  I don’t think we can argue that this has happened in this case.

 

So, what do we do with all this?

 

Today we celebrate Christ the King.  The Kingdom of God is at the centre of Jesus’ teaching and way of living and the Kingdom of God is right at the centre of Christianity.  It is about things on earth being as they are in heaven; it is about God’s radical inclusion, hospitality, love and service; it is about the reversal of rich and poor.  It is a good time to be bringing all of these feelings into this Church, to each other, to God.  It is a good time to be remembering that God’s Kingdom shows that justice is at the heart of theology and discipleship, and that justice includes gender equality.

 

In our Gospel today we are forcibly reminded of the nature of Christ’s Kingship – that it is revealed in the Cross.  It is a reminder that Cross is at the centre of our life as Christians and as Church. We don’t choose it, but this strange mixture of Cross and Resurrection is what we have if we are being true to God and true to our vocations as Christians.  On Friday, the Church remembered Fr Miguel Pro, who was martyred in Mexico for being a priest in the 1920’s.  There is a remarkable and terrible photograph of him tied up, his arms in a cross, at the moment the firing squad shoot.  The life and energy that martyrs like Pro gave to the Church is clearly shown in Graham Greene’s brilliant novel The Power and the Glory.

 

We may feel as if we are in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  But we should remember that the wilderness is a vital place for the people of God.  It is where we are formed.  And the People of God are led through the wilderness (in a process which may take some time) to freedom in the promised land.

 

So there is Hope.  Hope in the Resurrection, hope that the Kingdom of God will come, hope that it will be on earth as it is in heaven.  Hope is vital, it is one of the three Theological Virtues.   I can’t find the the quote – it comes from one of the American feminists of the last century – but, “Hope is a piece of work not a state of mind”.  We don’t give up because something has happened that we don’t like or has hurt us.  We carry on.  As Joe Hill said: “Don’t mourn: organize!”.  We keep going with all the Kingdom work we do.  With our Centre, with the homeless shelter, and so on.  And we keep looking after each other.  We will have women bishops, it is just a matter of when.  We don’t give up on the Church, we keep going.

 

History teaches us that times like this happen with the Church depressingly often.  And there are things to love about the CoE, as there are about this Church.  It is important at this time for us to name and appreciate them, to count our blessings, to be thankful.  And we remember that, by Baptism, we are members of God’s Church. It is not a sect or a club, it is not a place where we pick and choose the things that we like.  It is the key place where we work, with God, for the establishment of the Kingdom.

 

The final thing I want to say is something about how we live with and love the people we disagree with.  This has to happen, but it is to happen in a better way than the Church has managed on this.

 

 

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6 Comments so far
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It would take a couple of weeks of walking to discuss this subject with you completely, Andy, but you touch upon the dilemma that many of us face, specifically, how to participate meaningfully in an organized faith community that still embodies elements of exclusivity and discrimination. Ideally, I would like to participate in a faith community. Unfortunately, however, I have never found a church that fully accepts the principle of inclusivity that seems to underpin all of the teachings of Jesus. How can churches proclaim the gospel and exclude anyone? Once you get on the slippery slope of exclusivity, the possibilities for discrimination are infinite.

For those who care about these issues, there are legitimate arguments for staying within organized structures and fighting the good fight for reform. There are also good arguments, I think, for remaining an outsider, especially when the outside position is more conducive to a spiritual life closer to one’s ideals (or the ideals embodied in the life of Jesus). I suppose I will always identify with those outsiders accused of heresy, like Meister Eckhart and Hans Kung. Was not Jesus and outsider and a Jewish heretic? Was not Buddha an outsider and a Hindu heretic?

I see that I am digressing unnecessarily. I will simply close by saying, in the context of the women’s ordination issue, that it is exceedingly difficult for many—I am one—to remain spiritually comfortable with institutions that treat women differently from men, homosexuals different from heterosexuals, blacks different from whites, or so-called “Christians” different from others. Even as I write this, however, I can hear someone say: “You are not here to be spiritually comfortable. You are here to learn the truth and speak the truth to power. You are here to turn your small part of the world.”

Please forgive the epistle. As you can see, your sermon and posting touched something that I think about daily. To withdraw or to engage—that is the question. As Thomas Merton’s books have taught me, its an ongoing battle for those who want to grow in spirit.

Best regards—George

Comment by George

Dear George,

sorry not to reply more quickly – I’ve been away on retreat. Thank you for such an honest comment. I’ve been reading some Dorothy Day while I’ve been away, and I find her accounts of conversion to and love of the institution, despite its rubbish, to be extremely helpful. There’s a link to an article by Jim Forest here about this:

http://salt.claretianpubs.org/issues/DorothyDay/legacy.html

I guess for myself, there is also the great love and loyalty to the Church by those who have most influenced me, including St Francis and St John of the Cross. I understand why this is impossible for others, and I really respect that, but I guess for me it is being here (sometimes by my eyelashes only).

Sorry if this is a ramble – it’s been a long day,

Andy

Comment by pilgrimpace

Thanks for your response, Andy. I trust you know that I did not mean to be critical of you or anyone else in the church. I was only venting frustration over my personal inability to find a home in an organized spiritual community. Ultimately, however, I believe that faith is more important than format, and I take seriously the reminder that we shall know the truth and the truth shall set us free.

Welcome back from your retreat, and best regards.

George

Comment by George

Thanks George – your comment completely taken in the spirit intended!

best wishes

Andy

Comment by pilgrimpace

Wonderful sermon, Andy, and I’m so much in agreement with the spirit of it. Thanks for posting.

Comment by The Solitary Walker

thanks Robert!

Comment by pilgrimpace




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