Title: ACC: A sermon on the Presbyterian vote Credit: Dr Peter Lineham Features Sunday 1st October 2006 - 12:00pm1159657200 Article: 1435 Rights
A summary of the sermon by Dr Peter Lineham, delivered at the Evening Service of the Auckland Community Church, Sunday 1st October 2006 at 7.30pm. Includes specific reference to the decision of the Presbyterian Assembly regarding gay, lesbian and unmarried people in ministry. Based on a reading from the Book of Esther, Chapter 7, verses 1-6 and 9-10 and Chapter 9, verses 20-22. “Any church historian knows the risk of being entranced with the power and might and significance of the church. There is something rather magnificent about the church as a great institution, with a sense of history, current significance, and the power to direct people's lives. And although for people who are not Catholics the presence can never be as grand as it is for those with a Catholic link, able to look to the pope, in all churches there is something of this sense of ‘hauteur'. “But is it really ever like this? Does the church really matter? Or more important, does it really speak reliably for God and God's purposes? The texts we are looking at tonight tell us a disturbing tale that the church is often far from the representative of God and of his will and purposes. This story – the frank under-side of the story told by the bible – is one that we need to get to grips with. “The heart of it lies in the story of Esther, which gives a dramatic account of a Jewish woman who, through a series of apparent coincidences and lucky breaks, happened to be able to stop a pogrom. It is an alarming thought and a very important theme in the Bible, that God runs his own purposes, and when we try to manage or control them, we very often end up on the wrong side of the divine purposes. “Jesus really insists on this point. For there is a sectarian instinct in us all. We know what we don't like, and we want to control. But the scariest aspect is when we set out to control Jesus. The disciples wanted to regulate who was in and who was out. “As we reflect on what has happened in the Presbyterian Church this week as they have limited the ministry of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in their denomination, you really have to wonder about the power they abrogate to themselves. For Jesus says that blocking the ministry of outsiders is a grave offense. “The outlook of many Western people, including religious people, is becoming more conservative at present. It is easy enough to understand why. In our global society, there is such a variety of outlooks that everyone treats the other as a threat. So we become more cautious; we retreat to old shibboleths, we only listen to people like us. Everyone is worried about their own safety and their own children. So every outsider is treated as a threat just because we live in fear. Everyone is a terrorist unless they are like me. “Factors like this must explain the conservative pressures within not just this church but also the Anglican communion. Within the Presbyterian Church, which has so long nurtured a broad range of traditions, there are some specific factors. The old liberal groupings have given up hanging round the church. They have grown tired of it, and are exploring non-dogmatic types of secular spirituality. So today believers stand out as those who have chosen to be defiant as people of convictions. They may not be as conservative as the old Scottish Covenanters, but they want to preserve the orthodox, and a victory against gay people in the church is symbolically the victory they want to see. “Furthermore there are people who have sought in the church a solution to their ills and the ills of the world, and who do not know how to integrate religious faith with our post-modern world. So the church is both more conservative and more naïve. In the process gay and lesbian people easily become a symbol of the ambiguous world that believers want to flee. “But we, as gays and lesbians, the anomalous people, have to be careful not to become sectarian ourselves. We ourselves can become the oppressed bitter minority. Instead we all have to recognise that God speaks and acts in unlikely ways using surprising ways. So we will not give up on these conservative denominations. We will love them despite their unfairness and injustice. And we will work for an atmosphere when love will overcome bitterness, when with surprise they will acknowledge that the Saviour walks in fellowship with anyone whose heart is open.” Dr Peter Lineham Associate Professor of History Head of School School of Social and Cultural Studies, Albany Campus Massey University, North Shore, Auckland. Auckland Community Church meets every Sunday evening at 7.30 pm for worship, which usually takes the form of a Eucharist. We meet at St Matthew-in-the-City, on the corner of Wellesley and Hobson Streets which has been a welcoming host for 25 years. Dr Peter Lineham - 1st October 2006    
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