7th Sunday after Pentecost

The Very Rev’d Frank Nelson

Genesis 28: 10 – 19a, Psalm 139: 1 – 11, 23 – 24, Romans 8: 12 – 25, Matthew 13: 24 – 30, 36 – 43

It’s not often that I begin a sermon with a verse from Scripture. Some might say that is the only way to begin, but that has not been my practice; which is not to say that I don’t use the Scriptures as my starting point, or that I don’t preach from the Bible. But today it seems entirely appropriate to begin by quoting St Paul’s words from Romans 8. “We know that the whole of creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves…” (Romans 8: 22 – 23a)

In a week when the nation’s spotlight has turned to focus on Domestic Abuse within the Church, and the Anglican Church specifically, these words of Paul about creation groaning seem apposite. Whether or not the radio programme in question is accurate, I want to echo the words of our Archbishop last Thursday. I quote – “there is no excuse for domestic violence of any kind. The teachings of the church do not justify it and the scriptures do not justify it. Domestic violence and abuse are completely opposite to the Christian faith and its practice.” If you have not already read it online, the link was in Friday’s eNews, there are printed copies of Archbishop Geoff Smith’s letter to the Diocese available today. https://adelaideanglicans.com/stories/2017/7/archbishop-geoffs-response-to-abc-report-on-domestic-violence

Nor should we overlook the vows made by bride and bridegroom on their wedding day

In the presence of God I take you to be my wife (husband); to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, as long as we both shall live. This is my solemn vow and promise. APBA pg 661

The fact that a programme focusing on domestic violence is made, and that domestic violence happens in the church, should always be cause for concern and action. The fact that domestic violence has probably always been a part of life in some relationships does not condone, excuse or allow it to continue. The question has been raised as to what the church is doing about it. I draw your attention to the Safer Ministry programme introduced to the Diocese in the wake of the child sexual abuse revelations of a decade and more ago. Anyone who holds a position of authority and power within the Diocese and our Cathedral community – dean and priests, wardens, Cathedral councillors, Eucharistic Assistants and Pastoral visitors, adult servers and sacristans, all adult choristers and Director of Music, leaders of the bell-ringers, Sunday School teachers and others – are required to do, at least, a full day training session called “Ensuring Safer Church Communities” – ESCC. I draw your attention too to the booklet entitled “Faithfulness in Service” – a code of conduct for personal behaviour and the practice of pastoral ministry by both clergy and church workers. There are copies in the Cathedral office if you would like to pick up a copy.

Those who have done ESCC, and there are now many in our Cathedral congregations who have, will remember that time is spent on teasing out the ideal church community, one where the Shalom of God is practised, expected and constantly worked towards. The following quote is used as a definition of Shalom: In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be. The words are those of Cornelius Plantinga in his book “Not the Way it is supposed to be. A Breviary of Sin.”

Universal flourishing, wholeness and delight. These are big bold positive concepts. They are encapsulated in a number of biblical passages. The Garden of Eden in Genesis 2 is one example. That lovely passage from Isaiah 11 is another –

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them. Isaiah 11: 6

When we turn to greet one another at the Peace we could do well to hold in our minds and hearts the idea of Shalom – and genuinely wish universal flourishing, wholeness and delight on the person we are greeting. It might seem a small thing, but each time there is an act of Shalom, each time one child of God reaches out to another, each time a man cherishes his wife, a mother caresses her child, each time a friend or stranger notices the other, something beautiful for God is done. Perhaps, just perhaps, there is a little less groaning in creation.

I am well aware that this focus on Domestic Violence will cause pain to some, many perhaps. Some of you have shared your stories with me. Other people find it too painful to talk about. If we have learned nothing else during this time of enforced ‘exile’ from the Cathedral building it is the importance of community. Over and over again I hear that ‘community’ word mentioned in relation to the Cathedral. Yes, it is a beautiful building. But it is more, isn’t it? It is the community. It is a community which, despite all its short-comings, strives to be a vibrant faith community seeking to be Christ-centred, sacramental, inclusive, thinking and outward-looking. Do we always get it right? Sadly, no! But that should not, and does not, stop us from working towards the flourishing, wholeness and delight of every single individual both in the Cathedral context, and in the wider context of our own domestic relationships, work places and social gathering spaces.

Next week we will be back in the Cathedral building itself. On Friday I was asked by the organ builders to drop the all-important bolt into its place, thus sealing the shipping container before sending it on its way to Durham. It was an emotional moment. The past three weeks have seen considerable disruption to our collective Cathedral lives as first floor coverings went down and scaffolding went up, then the organ pipes began to come down, followed by sound boards, console, pedals, keyboards and all the other paraphernalia. Finally, bubble-wrapped and carefully boxed, all was placed in the container. Tomorrow morning the time consuming task of dismantling the massive scaffolding off which the organ builders have worked begins. While we will get commercial cleaners in during the week, I hope that many of you will turn up on Saturday with dusters and vacuum cleaners and polishing cloths. It will take some time and effort to get all the dust out.

Over these past weeks I have tried to guide us into some questioning. What is it like to be in exile? What can we learn from the experience? What is it like to be a disciple of Jesus? Each week I have offered another verse from Fred Pratt Green’s hymn, “God is here as we his people.” Today I offer the opening words of the last verse, printed in your service books.

Lord of all, of Church and Kingdom, in an age of change and doubt,
keep us faithful to the gospel, help us work your purpose out.

We have experienced considerable change, doubt even, over the past weeks. As the container truck pulled out of the Cathedral car park on Friday I found myself humming an old Sunday School song: “I have decided to follow Jesus … no turning back, no turning back!”

Change and doubt can be opportunity for discovery and learning. In the disruption of the organ being dismantled we have discovered a thing of great beauty – the long-hidden St Cecilia window. While we still can’t see it from inside the Cathedral, when lit it shines out beautifully into the darkness of the night. Perhaps there is a parable there? Sometimes we have to change our perspective before being able to see God’s hand in our lives. The window in question is nearly as old as the Cathedral itself, put in as a memorial to Lady Edith Fergusson who died at the age of just thirty two. Her husband was Governor of South Australia for a few years. During his governorship the telegraph cable from Adelaide to Darwin was put through – and the foundation stone of St Peter’s Cathedral was laid.

During the change and doubt of the Exile the ancient people of Israel rediscovered the Torah, the holy writings, and renewed the Covenant with God. They were challenged, as we are, to remain faithful to the gospel, the good news that God loves us. When the spotlight shines on uncomfortable places – domestic violence, child sexual abuse, the cry of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters for Recognition, the anger and despair of those still on Manus Island and Nauru, and any of the other long list of injustices still all too prevalent in the world – we do well to remember the love of God. Above all, to remember that Jesus Christ died for us and for all the hurting people in the world. He died that we might live. He died that, in and through his death, the grand vision of Shalom – of universal flourishing, wholeness and delight – would not only be the way things ought to be, but the way things are.

 Then the groaning of creation would cease, and there would be something truly beautiful for God.