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SACRIFICE

Being confronted with cancer opens all sorts of thoughts, particularly at this time of the night.

I was thinking of the utter absurdity of things called platelets running around stopping red cells being produced, boring holes through bones and finally killing their “world” and with it themselves.

Inevitably I thought of the Church. No new thoughts. St. Paul wrote a couple of letters to the Corinthians on the subject. A few years later Clement, the bishop of Rome wrote to the same church telling those Corinthians off. Like the two ladies with the baby in the Solomon story, getting what they wanted was almost as important as the life of the church.

The problem is that all this sacrifice business has never been something most want to embrace. True, there have been barmy old hermits, strong women, even a few holy bishops who have given themselves. Fighting is so much more interesting than dying –although it leads to the same thing –particularly if one is right. So we talk about Jesus’ cause and inevitably get it wrong. Or at least we get the means by which Jesus is going to achieve his cause all wrong.

Certainly liberals and conservatives are equally “pie in the sky” about the outcome. Both sides believe that one day everything will be put to rights. There will be no more poverty, abuse, injustice: the earth will be saved and will be good as God intended. Read the Millennium literature. Isn’t that what it is all about? Look at systems theories. They aim for mature parishes in which all is well.

Some think that “kingdom come” arrives when the Church becomes pure and faithful and all the rules are kept, or at least that kingdom will not come until the church stops meddling in all sorts of what seem to be secular fads. I read recently that a bishop abroad said that the wheat must be separated from the tares now. He should be told off for assuming God’s role.

We used to have heroes to help us. Who are now our heroes? Anglicans had monarchs who were supposed to be good. In America Episcopalians had the upper classes, the important people in village and city and country. Starched dresses and collars in the front row decently reciting Mattins.

But who do we have now? Movie stars, sports heroes? Pop psychiatrists and the writers of Find Your Real Self in 5 steps, or is it 10? But what happens if we dig deep and find that we are selfish, self-absorbed, centered on pleasure, on our rights, on what the world owes us? What happens if we find that we are violent or lustful or chronic users; or bitter and resentful?

Jesus taught that getting to kingdom come involved walking into self-surrender and even death. I was thinking about that at one of the General Convention Eucharists. I had a fantasy. I dreamed that the leaders of all factions walked to the altar at the offertory. Each bore on a proper and liturgical cushion a note containing details of the cause for which they fought. They placed these on the altar, turned, and walked out, and we all followed in silence perhaps muttering “And here we offer and present unto thee O Lord, our selves, our souls an bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice unto thee;” that is if we were old enough to remember those wonderful words. Suddenly the hall was empty. The elements lay lonely on the Table. And Jesus wept.

The problem is that in the midst of all this chatter about Baptismal Covenant we have forgotten two things. The first is so obvious. We are baptized into ONE church. So says the Creed. We are thus one, entirely one, inseparably one with fundamentalists and pentecostalists, Eastern Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics, Copts and Armenians, not to speak of Anglicans everywhere. So we can’t separate or be impaired even if like Jonah, we pretend we have escaped. To think we can be alone is pure sectarianism.

Secondly, the Creed trumps the Catechism. Baptism is primarily “for the forgiveness of sins.” It is only when we offer our incompleteness, or dysfunction, our pride and self-satisfaction, only when we die, and behold we live, that we can even begin together to live into Christ’s promises and be faithfully Christ’s Church. I believe that we as a church have to drop all our pretensions and give up, just give up in faith and fear. Then begins the Kingdom in us all.

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