Sermon Preached by Reverend Stuart Langshaw on Sunday, 24 December 2023.
Today brings us to the Fourth Sunday in Advent. I am departing from the usual tradition of a series of Advent sermons in favour of a series based on the statement about St Andrew’s Church that is printed in the pew sheet. This also means that we will not be having Advent hymns each Sunday. I hope that this is not too discombobulating for us who are used to the rhythm and rhyme of the traditional Church’s year and its observance.
What a varied lot, a cricket team is. There are players who can bat well – mostly. Players who can bowl well – on the whole. Players whose quick reactions and eye-hand coordination make them excellent slips fielders. Players who seem to be able to throw the ball for a really long way from the boundary to the wicket-keeper. A cricket team is “inclusive” of all types and talents, and they are moulded together to make a perfectly balanced team.
Have you ever thought about the “team” of disciples that Jesus put together? Talk about a disparate group!! There was Matthew who worked for the Roman government as a tax collector, and Simon Zealotes who thought that the only good Roman sympathiser was a dead one. There was Peter who acted and spoke first – he was a blurter and activist – and then afterwards sorted out the mess, and there was Thomas who was a naturally pessimistic thinker who never acted before he spoke. His surname was probably Hanrahan – you know John O’Brien’s poem,“Said Hanrahan.” – “We’ll all be rooned” said Hanrahan. That was Thomas – always look on the dull side of life. Jesus’ team of disciples was inclusive of different political types, personality types. It was “inclusive,” and yet they made a good team together.
The groups of people involved in the Christmas story were certainly “inclusive” – the educated, sophisticated wise men, and the rough and tumble shepherds; the energetic, praising choir of angels who filled the open sky, and the nervous couple who had just brought a baby into the world in a confined stable of all places.
Our statement about the church moves onto its third adjective – we have looked at “Christ-centred”, and we have looked at “sacramental.” Now we look at “inclusive.”
The vision that John the Divine had in the book of Revelation about a great host from every tribe and nation has certainly been fulfilled in the world-wide church. On every continent there are Christians today worshipping God through Christ – some in vast cathedrals, some in bombed-out ruins in Ukraine, some in secret locations in Albania. In their many languages they are getting ready to praise God in Christmas carols and in nativity worship. The church is inclusive of all nations and of all people.
The church is inclusive of people who have many different religious and theological points of view – from rootin’ tootin’ conservative, hell-fire-and-brimstone hot gospellers, to people with very academic and esoteric ideas about the nature of God. It’s made up of people who have a literalist approach to reading the Bible, to those who interpret what the Bible says for the social circumstances of our present day. It’s made up of people who stand on soap boxes in Rundle Mall and preach, to those who live in monasteries and convents in enclosed and silent religious orders. Men and women, boys and girls, married and single, straight and gay, … the Church of God really is very inclusive.
Of course, we all know that the perfect church would be made up of people who all agree with OUR points of view. But that does not make a perfect church. It’s a matter of great personal maturity for us to be able to accept people whose beliefs are not exactly what ours are. A difficulty I have is with people who feel that they have to defend and argue and win their point of view at all costs, and denigrate those who have a different angle on things whether Christian things, or political, or anything else. I read somewhere that the biggest communication problem is that we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply. I also read that the words “listen” and “silent” are spelled using the same letters of the alphabet. Maybe there’s a lesson to be learnt there.
In Christian matters it is perfectly possible to agree to disagree, and still to live in friendship and fellowship together – as the disciples did.
We need to apply all this theory now to our local church … to St Andrew’s. What a complete blessing it is that we have people who belong to our congregation who are so different from each other. We have those who have been coming to St Andrew’s ever since they were pushed in a pram. These are the people who know the history and the traditions and the stories of good times and bad … these are the people who bring stability to our congregation. As an inclusive church we need each and every one.
And then we have the people who have joined us from other Anglican congregations or from Christian churches other than Anglican. These are the people who bring insights about ways of worship that they know from other places, and could be useful here. These are the people who ask questions about how and why we do what we do at St Andrew’s – not to challenge us, but to gain clarification, and perhaps open our eyes to other possibilities. As an inclusive church we need each and every one.
And we have people who come to St Andrew’s with their different gifts and graces – some have gifts of administration and a love of committee processes … some have the gift of hospitality and the ability to speak to newcomers and help them to feel welcome … some have music … some are practical with their hands … some are artistic … some are finance experts … some like to lead … some like to sit … some express their faith in deeds of practical work … others express their faith in quiet meditation … some have the gift of compassionate outreach to those experiencing difficulties. As an inclusive church we need each and every one.
We have Ozzies and those who have recently come to live in Australia … we have the old and the young … we have the jokers and the serious people … as an inclusive church we need each and every one.
I find it helpful to think of the local church as a jacket made up of multi-coloured rhinestones all put randomly together, and as the light shines on the jacket it seems to shimmer and glint and sparkle as each individual rhinestone catches the light. As each of us is caught in the light of God’s love and grace, so our gifts, so our contributions, shimmer and glint and sparkle. (Glenn Campbell’s song. “Rhinestone Cowboy.” “Rhinestone Christian.”!!)
Rhinestones do not get mentioned in the Bible. The metaphor that the Bible uses of an inclusive church is that of the body. Let’s recall what St Paul wrote about the body in 1 Corinthians 12: 12-27. Just as the body is one and has many members, so it is with Christ. The body does not consist of one member, but of many. And do you recall St Paul’s next humorous statement as the various limb have a conversation with each other. ‘If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body” … that doesn’t make it any less a part of the body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you.” If the whole body was an ear, where would the sense of smell be?” We are interdependent, and we each have our part to play. The people who wrote our Prayer Book made sure that we declare week by week – “We are the body of Christ” – putting 1 Cor 12 into our liturgy. (“We are the rhinestone jacket of Christ”!!!)
In our Baptism service, once the person has been baptised with the water, the congregation welcomes that person say this to him or her – “We therefore receive and welcome you as a member of the body of Christ .., ” (APBA P. 79 #19)
The church of God is inclusive – all are welcome, all may come. St Andrew’s Walkerville is inclusive – all are welcome, all may come. All can contribute in their own way – by, say, lighting the Advent candles.
The hymns we have sung today have a lot to say about being inclusive. We sang, “Jesus calls us to each other, vastly different though we are; creed and colour, class and gender neither limit nor debar.” “In Christ there is no east or west, in him no north or south, but one great fellowship of love …” we sang. In just a moment we shall sing, “You call us to belong within one body here …” During Holy Communion we shall sing, “As Christ breaks bread, and bids us share, each proud division ends. The love that made us, makes us one, and strangers now are friends.” And at the end of the service, we ought to change the words of the hymn, but we won’t, so that we would sing, “Christ, be our light! Shine in our hearts. Shine on our rhinestones.”
Is the Church inclusive? Yes it is – for it includes … you. (1501)