Easter 02

19 April 2009 18:00 Eucharist

It's always been one of the traditional past-times of bored members of the choir to try and read the thirty-nine articles of religion during the sermon (mercifully, we're no longer required on ordination to swear any allegiance to them - I'd never have been comfortable with putting them on a level with the ancient creeds!). But it's quite entertaining, at a time when some of the US breakaway Anglicans are hopping into bed with bits of the Church which still uphold the Articles as having dropped from heaven, to find a passage of Scripture - the Acts reading about the sharing of goods in common - which is so flatly contradicted by the Articles, which explicitly forbids such experiments in common living. Whether the people who framed the 39 Articles were afraid of the monasteries or whether they were staunch upholders of capitalism, I haven't the foggiest, but there you have it in Article 38 "The riches and goods of Christians are not common".
Fear not, I'm not going to tell you off about your bank account in Andorra or whatever. Rather, has it struck you how odd it is that the Christian faith has gone so individualistic? When Viv [wife; Old Testament scholar] many years ago asked someone whether this concentration on getting yourself to heaven wasn't a bit self-obsessed, they got a look of blank incomprehension - and yet when we look at the Church in the New Testament and in the centuries after, we see a Church which is more concentrating about Us than about Me.
Take, for example, the Acts reading. We know that the early attempt at communal living ended in tears - Paul takes a charity collection for the Christians in Jerusalem who are struggling to make ends meet. But what we can't pretend is that we're not looking at a community where the individuals are bound together. They meet together, eat together, practically live together. For them, the Christian faith finds expression in us-ness, not me-ness.
Or again, look at the famous 'Doubting Thomas' story from John. The Apostles can contain in their midst someone who doesn't share their experience and understanding. OK they only have to put up with this for a week, but the Church appears as a body held together by mutual faith, not by the changes and chances of the individual.
But most interesting for me is how the descent of the Spirit in John - which occurs much earlier chronologically than in Luke/ Acts - places the responsibility for Church discipline - the power to remit sin - not on Peter the individual, as in Matthew, but on the whole body of the people gathered in the upper room. The authority to set free is not the personal plaything of one person, but the rightful task of the Body.
It's Low Sunday, no-one wants a long sermon, and I've not recovered yet from E1W's [Every One Welcome - youth group and leaders] outing to the Lakes, so I can't write one! Instead, a simple thought - what sort of Church would it be like if we were free from our obsession with self? When they brought in the new version of the Creed 30 years ago, I recall the ructions about saying 'We believe' at the beginning instead of 'I believe' - the reason given being that 'I know whether I believe it, but I don't know about you' - implying a certain self-righteousness alongside a deep ignorance of Christian teaching and doctrine. What would it be like if we were less concerned about My Place In Heaven and more concerned - as Scripture and Tradition both are - with the saving of the whole of the created universe? What if we were able to abandon that peculiar doctrinal puritanism which makes the faith into a list of statements to tick instead of a life to be lived and a way to be walked which can cope - as once it did - with all sorts and conditions? What if 'Church' meant not 'a place where I go to keep in with God' but 'a place where we go, and I get my corners knocked off, and my weaknesses made up for'?
According to the BBC anyway, about now we celebrate the 800th anniversary of the founding of the Franciscan order, an order based on simplicity and community, where people belong, not to themselves but to one another and to God. Francis - and many others during the much-misrepresented Middle Ages - saw something radical and liberating in belonging to one another, and thus being of service to the world.
We live in a world where the 'mememe' culture may be falling to bits. Is it time to recover, as Archbishop Rowan suggested, something of the common life, of joyful dependence on one another? The authors of the 39 articles might not like it - but maybe they helped get us into the mess in the first place. Perhaps the time has come for us to rediscover belonging to one another, the spirit of Francis, and of Benedict, and of Acts - and of the upper room? Not the End of 'Jesus loves me' - but the beginning of 'Jesus loves us'.

Rev. David Rowett (web page by Adrian Worsfold)