Sermon on 10 August 2003

There has been a row in my family this week. I was wondering whether you would all like to hear about it this morning…
We have read some wise words this morning about having rows. Whoever wrote these words in the letter we call Ephesians, who wrote them in the name of the apostle Paul, whoever it was, they knew a thing or two about people. There is a rather a lot of good advice here for real people. Real people who care about things that matter, often bicker and disagree and sometimes even fall out.

Let us all speak the truth to our neighbours,
for we are members of one another.
Be angry but do not sin;
do not let the sun go down on your anger
and do not make room for the devil.

I don’t want to go over the argument about gay bishops again – you have probably heard enough about it this week already, and in any case I could not do so very objectively. Like an awful lot of people I have fairly strong views about the question at hand. I can do nothing but welcome the appointment of an honest gay clergy person as a bishop. Those who are carrying on as though there has never been a gay bishop or gay clergy or gay Christians before seem to me to be living in cloud cuckoo land.

I’m quite prepared to talk about that with anyone who wants to talk about it. However, I am not going to say much more about it directly this morning. Rather, I want to speak about some of the stuff that is going on behind the headlines – stuff that you have to understand in order to understand the basic row. I am going to talk about 3 things

1. That this is not about homosexuality.

2. That splitting churches up is not very Anglican

3. That we don’t all have to agree at once any way.

Firstly, this is not a row about homosexuality. That must seem like a strange thing to say, but I am sure it is true. It is a convenient peg to hang a lot of arguments. It is not about Jeffrey John or Gene Robinson – they are people who have suffered much in the last few weeks for doing little more than try to preach the gospel with integrity and passion. They both need our prayers, but the row itself is not about them, it is really about how religious people choose to do the things that they do. It is an argument about what is moral and how we decide what is moral. And there is a tradition of Anglican thinking about morality which I treasure yet which is under threat. Some of you will have heard this before, but it is worth thinking about again at the moment. Anglican thinking is often said to be like a three legged stool – the three legs being scripture, tradition and human reason. And it is supposed to be characteristic of Anglicans, that they sit their moral thinking firmly on that three legged stool. The bible being interpreted through tradition and reason: the experience of Christians through the ages and cool headed thinking about what it all means. Tradition being formed by constant reference to the bible and the best traditions of open minded scholarship. And thinking itself formed by a love of the Word of God and a respect for the ways in which God has been found by Christians through the ages.

Secondly, the talk of setting up new communions and parallel jurisdictions is bad Anglican theology. There was a horrible case reported in the papers this week of twin brothers who fell out about a mars bar and one ended up shooting the other dead. It was a ghastly story – a family row blown up out of all proportions. I think that those who would magnify the row in the church about gay bishops are doing much the same. To divide an international church over such a small and so mysterious a point of doctrine as the nature of the grace of God in human sexuality would be crazy. It just is not that important.

Some things are important. In one way or another, the Gospel is about the love of God coming sweeping down to earth in the person of Jesus Christ, being poured over all of God’s created people that we can be incorporated into the presence of God for ever. That is important. That really does matter.

To be an Anglican is to be someone who by definition can worship with others around the world with whom one disagrees, often very strongly. Indeed, one of my teachers when I was training to be a priest said once that it was the only distinctive thing about Anglicanism – that we could worship with people we disagreed with. Other churches have far less freedom to do so.

And that was my third point. We don’t all have to agree on the same thing at the same time. It is a luxury that other churches don’t all have. We should celebrate it and preach that with joy in a world where people are not all the same anyway.

That does mean that we will disagree and fall out sometimes. But fortunately, we have that three legged stool of Anglican thinking to help us when we do.

Remember the three legs – scripture, tradition and reason when you keep on hearing about the current row over the next few weeks.

The scripture reading has reminded us this morning that it is OK to fall out – it is the way we deal with it that matters.

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger and do not make room for the devil.

Reason, or wisdom or holy common sense suggests that this is not something to split up the church over.

And tradition suggests that God will be known, as God’s people try to come together and be one gloriously diverse community of faith.



  1. Anonymous says

    Re: Sermon on 10 August 2003
    Hi Kelvin – like the blog. Are you going to be posting all your sermons to the blog or just selected o­nes? Lots of people post them in advance – there are a couple of sites that i read every week before writing my sermon, but I have not heard of anyone else posting them for comments after they have been preached. I'm surprised that members of your congregation have not taken the chance to comment o­n this o­ne of yours – it is worthy of comment! Did anyone object to it?


  2. Anonymous says

    Re: Sermon on 10 August 2003
    Simon – thanks for the comment – the first o­ne o­ne to be made. You should try this blogging yourself, you would like it. You always used to keep a journal, I seem to remember. I think that I will probably be posting most sermons. There are just a few occasions in the year when I do something else rather than preach in a straightforward way (eg singing and then commenting o­n the song).  It will be interesting to see whether people do take advantage of the chance to comment. No-one objected to it o­n Sunday, and quite a few made encouraging comments. It feels good to be in a church where I can preach that kind of sermon. I could not do so everywhere, as you yourself know well!

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