A few weeks ago, Sylvia led us to pray for the forthcoming Lambeth Conference and she prayed beautifully for unity and against division. After the service a few of you commented on this prayer, and the conference. One of you asked if there was a risk of a split in the Anglican communion. I think I replied slightly more confidently than I felt, when I reassured you ‘I’m sure it will be fine’. On Friday, during parish office hours, Bethan greeted a woman who came to ask if there really is a schism in the Australian Anglican Church and she replied as optimistically as possible. But, the truth is, this has been a sad week for the Anglican Church. It is a sad week for the Christian Church and I can’t not speak about it.
We prayed for unity – we often pray for unity – but it is sadly true that, this week, the news is of disunity. You may not have heard about the church in the news this week, so let me first read excerpts from the statement from the Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia – The most Reverend Geoffrey Smith.
He writes, ‘I note the formal launch this week of a company named the Diocese of the Southern Cross. This company, while established by some members of the Anglican Church of Australia…has no formal or informal relationship or connection with the Anglican Church of Australia. As such it will operate independently…as, effectively, a new denomination…’
In short, and for want of a better word, there has been something of a split.
This ‘split’ is largely concerned with the hot topics that we embrace and celebrate here, and recognise God’s love for – the ordination of women, those who are divorced, our friends and selves who are LGBTQIA+ – the people and situations and relationships that add colour and life and light and texture. The people and situations and relationships that some people seek to find scripture to condemn.
So, can I first say, without any doubt, this church is safe and welcoming and loving and kind AND FAITHFULLY SEEKS TO FOLLOW JESUS. And no exclusion has – nor will have – any place here. Ever.
It is not holy and it is not right and it leads to the damage of others and that is not part of our call as baptised people who are trying to follow Jesus.
The second thing is, there will always be people with whom we don’t agree.
Primate Geoffrey Smith goes on to say, ‘It is always easier to gather with those we agree with. But in a tragically divided world God’s call, and therefore the church’s role, includes showing how to live together with difference. Not merely showing tolerance but receiving the other as a gift from God.’
That is an enormous challenge. Especially when it hurts people we love. Especially when it hurts us. I would like to call out the divide as disgusting, but I will not, because the people on “the other side” – if there ever is one – are also my brothers and my sisters, my colleagues – and they demand and deserve the same level of grace that we helplessly rely upon every single day. God’s church is bruised and battered, but She is not broken.
And that brings me to this morning’s gospel reading.
Jesus was teaching in the synagogue and there appeared a woman who had been crippled for 18 years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.
And all I can think is ‘isn’t that woman a great image of the Bride of Christ’?
Isn’t that crippled, broken, bent over, woman just exactly like the Bride of Christ right now? Is she the Church?!
And when Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘woman you are set free’ and immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.
The thing is, throughout history, the Church has tried to ‘do what is right’. She has tried to be ‘faithful to scripture’. And time and time again she has hurt and damaged and alienated others. Time and again she has chosen doctrine over love, and law over grace. And here we are again, bent double, unable to look up, unable to see God’s glory, broken and hurting a little bit more. Breaking and hurting others, over and over again.
And there are leaders now, just exactly like those synagogue leaders in this passage, who are condemning and criticising; ‘there are six days on which work should be done’ – because that is what the scriptures had said. They were being faithful to scripture too. And to them Jesus said, ‘you hypocrites’…and his opponents were put to shame.
The difficulty is, friends, I believe what I believe because I think it’s right.
I really dare to believe that God did call this divorced woman to be a priest in God’s church. I genuinely do believe that every child is made in God’s own image – regardless of anything; gender, race, upbringing, religion, sexual identity, and orientation. I do. I strongly believe that we do, here at St Pauls. AND I think it is faithful to scripture.
But it is hard to argue ‘across the divide’ because our ‘opponents’ – to quote this gospel passage – believe they are right too. And, as our own Archbishop Kay, and Archbishop Justin wrote this week, ‘everyone reads, studies and receives the same bible with utmost seriousness [and] to suggest otherwise of others is simply untrue’ (which means that a simple ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’ debate is not going to bring the solutions we seek).
As ever, all we can do is turn to Christ. What does he do in the face of brokenness and pain? What does he do whenever he finds exclusion and isolation? What does he do when he meets the crippled woman? He brings freedom, healing and wholeness.
So, as the crippled woman was set free from her afflictions, simply by meeting the Christ, we must do all we can to be the Christ in this debate, in this time and this day so that the bent over but beautiful woman that is the Bride of Christ might also be set free and then may we all rejoice at the wonderful things God is doing and may God’s name be glorified. Amen.
The older I get, the less I know with argument, and the more I know I need grace.