We're all partisan sometimes. It seems to be part of the human condition.
We define ourselves over against someone else, from the playground politics that label someone as in or out because of their trainers or the football team they support, and on into the adult world.
When I came here, the first thing I was told about this community was “Cainscross is NOT Stroud”
We define ourselves: “US” and not “THEM” – politically, socially, even in matters of faith
WE are Anglicans – THEY are non-conformist
WE are liberal – THEY are conservative
and – implicitly – WE are right, THEY are wrong
We seem powerless to prevent this – even though we may know instinctively that it's not the way God would have us be. We are a tribal people and we love to squabble, believing every time that our way of being is right.
And clearly, that's been the experience of the church in Corinth as they split down the middle – into those who supported Paul and those who preferred Apollos. I'm sure both camps were sincerely convinced of their own position – and it's quite helpful for us to realise that the matters which divided them so clearly in those early days of the church have quite been completely forgotten now. As the media resounds with cries of joy or despair in response to the latest decisions at General Synod, the current proclamations from the House of Bishops, it might help to remember that. The struggles which dominate our landscape today will probably, by the grace of God, be as thoroughly lost and forgotten as those which split the Corinthian church.
We have NO idea how Paul's teachings differed from Apollos...and today, it just doesn't matter.
What DOES matter is the point that Paul makes loud and clear – which the Church needs to hear again and again at every stage of her life.
The church is not MY church – or your church –
It doesn't belong to any one faction – New Wine, Inclusive Church, Forward in Faith, Reform – it belongs, and has always and only belonged, to GOD.
None of us, however passionate we are in our beliefs, however committed to sharing them, has the last word or the monopoly on truth...
That truth is God's alone – and his vision is always larger, his love more inclusive.
One plants, another waters - in other words, we all have a part to play - but it is God who gives the growth.
Last week we thought a lot about growth – about the need for us to move on, during the green and growing season, from being infants in Christ to reaching the maturity that we need in order to share our faith with others. This doesn't mean that we have to set aside “simple faith” - but we do need to be honest in dealing with any complexities we may encounter. God gave us minds as well as hearts and souls...and we need to do all we can to ensure that our faith is not just a matter of childish loyalty or unthinking love...
Sometimes fear prevents us from engaging with the hard stuff – so we try to gloss over the questions and challenges that we meet – but to do that means that we're never really honest with ourselves – or with God.
Growing in Christ we can dare to take the challenges head on – to acknowledge that neither life nor faith is a simple matter....We need to explore the issues that divide our church – asking God to help us to open our minds and our hearts. That's what growth is all about....
And if we are rooted deeply in Christ, secure in our own relationship with him, then we can reach out to others – so that the Church too can flourish and grow....for if WE do not take responsibility for sharing our faith, we can't be surprised if the Church that we love shrinks, withers, dies...
So – growth is good – but it can be challenging in itself. Listen to Jesus...constantly pushing the boundaries so that what his hearers assumed were the foundations of faith were expanded, changed
You have heard it said....but I say
Faith is never static...each generation learns from the traditions it received, but interprets those traditions afresh as God speaks into the current age, the current situation. If you doubt me, think of the way the Church once defended slavery – then reflected, listened and changed to become central in the movement to abolish it.
God's underlying truths are eternal – but the way we are to live them out is shaped by our context as surely today as it was for those who listened aghast as Jesus kept moving the goalposts, repeatedly putting love above law, people before rules. Here, the demands are almost overwhelming. We're not just to avoid murder – I can confidently confirm that I've managed that one so far...but we are also to turn away from jealousy, hatred, - all those negative forces that inspire acts of violence or cruelty.
Equally, we're not just to love our nearest and dearest – but also those whom we would quite cheerfully send to the other side of the world on a one-way ticket.
We're to model our faltering human love on God's boundless, all-embracing love...
We're to stop thinking in terms of them and us – and simply open our arms.
It's REALLY hard – all of it....but growing pains are another one of those things we can expect to encounter in our lives and our work as we look towards Lent is to BE growing people, responsive to God's call to live the truth of his love in this generation as we listen to the challenges he offers, to grow in faith, and hope and love.