Easter 6 (A)
21 May 2017
St Paul’s Anglican Church
This morning we continue our series of sermons on the attributes of a spiritually confident faith community in contemporary Australia.
We began by considering what we mean by “confident”.
Such confidence is not about being arrogant, or cocky. It encourages neither bigotry, nor that quiet smugness that may be our besetting sin as Anglicans. It is more a matter of deep confidence that our spiritual traditions, first as Christians but also as Anglicans, provides us with good reasons to be people of courage and hope.
We then looked at Scripture as an amazing spiritual resource, and deep blessing that is ours when we read in the company of other people, and do so with an attitude of faith and thankfulness. A spiritually confident church will be one that develops the capacity of its members to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the Scriptures, as a source of sacred wisdom for daily life.
Last week we turned our attention to liturgy, that ancient well of common prayer from which we draw the waters of life for ourselves and for our wider community. We began ti think ion our churches and our homes as thin places, where heaven and earth are not far apart.
Today I invite you to turn our attention to the shared life of our church community.
Oasis of Shalom
I like to think of a spiritually confident faith community as an oasis of Shalom, the perfect peace that God intends for all creation.
Such a church is open, inclusive, and welcoming.
People are made welcome, and provided with the space to be themselves. Even, to find themselves.
In the ancient tradition of the desert, a stranger is made welcome and asked no questions for three days. They are not interrogated about their identity or their history. They are simply made welcome and offered a place to stay for a while.
A spiritually confident church does not need to check the theological opinions of those who cross our threshold.
Genuine hospitality is a spiritual virtue that offers deep blessings to both the host and the guest. We can be clear about our own beliefs and values without needing to impose them on those whose paths cross with ours. There will be time enough for dialogue and conversation if the guests choose to stay longer among us.
For everyone in the community—long term members, short term guests, and those seeking a new community—a spiritually confident church offers a place of safety.
Children and vulnerable adults will not be exploited or abused in such a church. Beyond that, such a community is also a safe place to experiment, and even to make mistakes. A person’s worth is not derived from their theological views or their personal achievements. They are of value because they are God’s children.
These communities nurture experiments in holy living, and the web of community life is the safety net into which we fall when we miss the mark—as we all do.
A further hallmark of such a healthy and spiritually confident faith community is the ease with which a former member may leave the community. Unlike a sect, a mature and confident church understands that some people will find it necessary to move on from that community as part of their own personal spiritual development.
Leaving the community, for whatever reason, is not an occasion for pressure or recrimination. The community exists to serve God’s mission of Shalom and human flourishing, and does not seek to extend people’s participation in the community once they have decided they wish to move on. Indeed, their capacity to move on after a period of time with the church may itself be a mark of their new health and maturity.
Living the Lord’s Prayer
If I were to try and express this another way, I would suggest that such a church is a working demonstration of the reign of God among us. Such a community is a place where the Lord’s Prayer is lived, and not just prayed.
We could take each line of the Lord’s Prayer as a key performance indicator of a spiritually confident faith community:
Our Father in heaven …
we are all children of the universe, brothers and sisters of Jesus
Hallowed be your name …
May everything we do, and how we do it, reflect your character and purpose
Your kingdom come,
your will be done, on earth as in heaven …
Our priority is serving the mission of God in the world
Give us today our daily bread …
May we find bread for the journey, and the grace to share it with others on the way
Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us …
Make our generosity to others the measure of your treatment of us
Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil …
Break the power of evil and let us know your Shalom