Pentecost + 11a

Pentecost + 11a A & C 20-8-2017

Gn 45.1-15,

Ps 133,

Rm 11.13-32,

Mt 15.21-28

South Africa has been a very profound experience for Vicky and me. It is a nation still wounded by terrible inequities, and now it struggles with a corrupt leader and a ruling party that most believe has lost its way. Yet in all the people we met, there’s such vibrant energy and such a clear understanding of what is the right way ahead that it’s impossible not to hope. Everybody talks about the mistakes being made. Instead of dealing with the real issues of adequate housing and 40% unemployment the government is renaming streets and cities and national monuments. Everyone knows that these triumphalist symbolic put-downs are exactly what Mandela warned against.

Everyone knows this, and everybody speaks their mind; and that’s where the hope lies. These people know that justice is only achieved when all forms of oppression are ended. They’re anxiously awaiting the end of this president’s term. But as they wait, everyone is clear that they have a right and a duty to speak out; and this they do. The truth will not be silenced. So everywhere we went it seemed people were marching or gathering to sing, dance and renew the message that the truth and reconciliation – the freedom they marched for centuries to win – is never going to be lost on their watch.

So a confronting time, yet an inspirational one; and much needed as we’ve returned to news cycle of the racist, ideological violence in Charlottesville, Barcelona and Finland. We’ve seen often over the past century where this can lead. It always comes with the silencing of the truth beneath a barrage of hate-filled, untruthful slogans. Silence is never an adequate response to this.

The South African people teach us to make sure truth is not silenced: freedom truth and reconciliation must be danced and sung out always and everywhere.

Today we have a set of readings that speak out this same reconciliation message. Joseph chooses reconciliation with his brothers, even though they’d sold him down the river. The Psalmist sings that reconciliation like this is the stuff of eternal life – 4For [in this harmony] the Lord has commanded his blessing: which is life for evermore.

In Romans, Paul brings home the fact that freedom, truth and reconciliation need just as much vigilance within the church as they do in the wider world. He’s writing to the Church in Rome some time after the death of the Emperor Claudius. This emperor had decreed that all Jews must be banished from Rome; he made no distinction between different groups of Jews. So Jewish Christians got exiled as well.

This meant the Roman church, which had been a mixture of Jewish and Gentile converts, suddenly became a Gentile-only body. Suddenly, all the power fell to this group, and the church’s culture shifted away from its Jewish origins. Can you imagine this happening here? Imagine that we share this building with Lutherans.

Suddenly, one day, all Anglicans are banned from the Adelaide Hills. Off we go, and only five years later, when the evil dictator has been replaced, we return in dribs and drabs to our beloved churches. But things have changed. If we want to worship here, now we have to sit down for the hymns (oh, and the hymn book is different) and stand up for the prayers (and there’s no prayer book) and communion is only every few months if you’re properly catechised.

Paul is writing as Jewish Christians are returning to find a church which they barely recognise. It seems from this passage that each group is running down the other in a power-struggle to regain some balance again.

Paul is writing to them as a Jewish Christian who’ll soon be coming to visit them. His message to them here is that whoever we are, we can’t decide who or what pleases God best. All of us ultimately depend on the grace of God. The power struggle over control of the church is ridiculous. At the end of the day, only God’s grace counts. If God loves someone, who are we to exclude them, their lifestyle, or the way they offer their worship to God? Paul often writes to churches trying to settle disputes. Reconciliation is a major theme of his writing.

And the story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman; I’ve preached on this here before, so I’ll only say one thing about it. As far as we know, Matthew’s community was based to the north of the Holy Land. And so they heard this story as one of hope for them and their mission. Ulrich Luz says they heard this story from within their own experiences of illness and discouragement; from their own context of separation from Israel (Syrian Antioch). They heard it speak to them as a faith community amongst Gentiles. This story told them about the power of prayer and faith from the woman’s perspective.

This story also told them Jesus was not confined within the borders of Israel. His power was as present to them and their Gentile neighbours as it had been in distant Galilee. This was a strength in their task of living out and preaching the gospel among their Gentile neighbours.

So while we’re scandalised about how exclusive the children’s food to the dogs metaphor sounds, for Matthew’s community, it’s full of the hope of freedom, truth and reconciliation. We just have to learn to hear it from that different cultural perspective.

Finally, where might the rubber hit the road for us right now?

Our community may soon be subjected to a plebiscite on the question of marriage equality. As a member of the clergy, I am receiving material from both sides which I am apparently meant to pass on to you. Much of it is bigoted and poorly argued. But the Archbishop put out a media release the other day which I find balanced and reconciling. So I share it with you today.

Statement to the Advertiser (17.8.17) 

Within the Anglican Church as with the general community there is a wide range of opinion about whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed in the Marriage Act. Some people are opposed to a change and some are very much in favour. In 2004 the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia welcomed the initiative of the Federal Parliament in clarifying that marriage, at law in Australia, is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.  

Of particular concern in any debate concerning a change in the definition of marriage is that we are not talking only about an idea but we are talking about real people with real lives and this is the case across the spectrum of opinion. We have a responsibility to do all we can to ensure that the views of all are respected and heard and avoid any kind of bullying or coercion as the debate continues. 

If the definition of marriage is changed widespread protections will need to be carefully put in place to protect the right of all Australians to hold and live out religious beliefs including those concerning marriage. This includes faith based organisations as well as individuals.  

My hope is that Adelaide Anglicans whether they are for or against a change in the definition of marriage will participate in the debate in a way which is a blessing to those around them and will ensure Adelaide Anglican churches are a welcoming place for all. 

Geoff Smith

Anglican Archbishop of Adelaide