We are a warm, welcoming & inclusive church in the Anglican tradition. A loving community where all people are invited to grow in relationship with God and one another.

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Jeremiah 31:27–34, 2 Timothy 3:10–4:5 & Luke 18:1–14

One verse from today’s readings really stood out for me, and that was this verse from the Second Letter to Timothy: “For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires.” 

The reason why it stood out for me, is that a two-part sermon on the topic of Religion and Spirituality that I gave recently at St Andrew’s discussed how Church doctrine (which is the teaching of the Church) can sometimes be mistaken for religion, with the result that people, especially those we might describe as “unchurched”, don’t believe religion is relevant to their life. Take the most recent example of the issue of same-sex marriage.

The teaching of the church in relation to this issue, can be viewed by the “unchurched” as being out of touch with life in today’s society. And because these people see doctrine as being the same thing as religion, they then believe that religion has no relevance in their life.

But I would argue that religion is much more than Church Doctrine. It is also the relationship that exists between an individual and God, and it is the series of relationships that exist between everyone in a community of faith. These are what I call the “spiritual” aspects of religion.

Now before I move on, I do want to say that another issue which has people questioning  the relevance of religion, be they people with knowledge of the Church or not, is the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse, which I will come back to later. But for now, let me continue with my thoughts on the “spiritual” aspects of religion.

First, let me talk about the personal relationship between individuals and God. Each of us has been called into a relationship with God, and if we have answered His call, then each of us is on a journey to God, what we might define as our spiritual journey. And for each of us, that journey will be different, but the one thing that is common to all our journeys, is God’s grace. As Michael Casey puts it, “the most important happenings on our spiritual journey are not the result of our own actions but are gifts of God, given directly or indirectly, including what may seem, at first, to be accidents, tragedies, or disasters.” 

We are often not aware of God’s presence as events are unfolding in our lives. But often, be they painful and tragic, or good and happy, when we look back on those events with the benefit of wisdom and time, we can see that everything that happens in our life is a gift from God. Those experiences can help us to realise that we aren’t being our true selves. Each of us are called to become the person God intended us to be. That is what our spiritual journey is all about, becoming the person God intended us to be. And as we come closer to being that person, we also come closer to God.

Prayer brings us closer to God. When we pray, we find ourselves in a dialogue with God. Prayer is a two-way communication. In prayer, we bring our petitions to God, asking for His help or direct intervention in some issue or problem that is important to us, but we must also try to discern how God might be responding to our petitions.

Some people find it difficult to pray. One of the reasons for that difficulty is that sometimes people don’t feel worthy enough to come before God in prayer. They feel guilty about past thoughts and actions, and feel too ashamed to ask God for anything. But that’s precisely why we should pray. Saint Augustine famously said, “Because I am human, therefore I am weak. Because I am weak, therefore I pray.” When we acknowledge our weakness, in the same way that Saint Augustine did, we allow ourselves to be dependent on God’s grace.

It is important therefore, that when we come before God in prayer, we should be authentic. And to be authentic in prayer means to be authentic in life. Often in life we might feel that we have to conform to the standards and expectations of others, and this can even include the way we pray.

Sometimes it takes a crisis, or some personal difficulty in our life, before we can be completely honest in our prayer. When the life we know is torn apart by tragedy or trouble, it can be easier for us to see beyond the restrictions we place on ourselves that constrain us in different aspects of our lives. We may also find that in those moments of trouble, when we feel lost, anxious, confused, or rejected, we are actually being called to find Jesus, which we can do through prayer.

Our prayer must reflect the reality of our life. If when we attempt to pray our prayer feels rough and disjointed, it may well be that our life is rough and disjointed. Feeling that way is merely expressing the reality of our lives, and it’s a perfectly appropriate starting point for our prayer. As Michael Casey notes, “Our current situation is meant to be something to which we draw our attention to, before passing it over to God, not something that dominates the whole scheme of our prayer.” 

There is no right or wrong way to pray. And there is no particular right place in which to pray. If you remember what I said earlier about prayer being a dialogue with God, then that dialogue can take place anywhere. It could be in the church, or in a particular room in your house, or in your garden, or walking around the streets or through a park. 

A good way to start praying regularly is using what we call the Daily Offices, which are found in ‘A Prayer Book for Australia’. It contains an easy to follow, structured service of morning and evening prayer for every day of the week. All you need is a copy of the Prayer Book and the suggested Scripture readings for the day, which Lynda and I can show you how to access.

The parable Jesus tells of the persistent widow and the judge in Luke’s Gospel is a reminder that when we find it difficult to pray, it is important to still try. Even if we don’t know exactly what to say, it doesn’t matter, we can always just say the Lord’s Prayer, because God knows what is in our hearts and minds. Jesus told us in chapter six of Matthew’s Gospel, “For your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matt. 6:8b NRSV) Just by making time for God, and being in the presence of God, can be enough. We are changed by the dialogue we have with God.

And we never know when that change in us, and in our relationship with God, might lead to a profound change in the life of another person that we come in contact with. Perhaps a person, who as I mentioned earlier, doesn’t see relevance of religion in their life, but whose life might be positively impacted by the spiritual aspect of religion that our own individual relationship with God brings to bear on our contact and/or interaction with this person.

Now as I said earlier, the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse has been another reason why some people don’t see religion as relevant in their life. There is obviously now an issue of trust for a number of people when they think of religion. The Church, that is all Christian denominations, has a lot of work to do to restore trust. A good deal of that work involves putting in place policies and procedures that seek to prevent such abuse from occurring in the future. The Anglican Diocese of Melbourne has been at the forefront of establishing appropriate policies and procedures, and it was recognised by the Royal Commission for its initiative and proactive approach.

Several of the key strategies that Parish Council have endorsed as part of the St Aidan’s Parish Mission Action Plan for the next three years, involve engaging with young families and children in the local community. In order to do so, we must ensure that we are a parish that is committed to the safety of children. To that end, the Wardens and Parish Council have embraced the Child Safe Policy and Child Safe Code of Conduct that have been developed by the Diocese of Melbourne. A copy of each is available in the narthex this morning for you to read.

There is far too much information in both for me to cover off in the time I would normally allow for a sermon, but there are specific legal requirements that people in the parish who wish to volunteer to be involved with children’s ministry will have to meet: such as having a Working with Children card and a National Police Check. This will be covered off in more detail with people when the time comes to call for volunteers.

I would encourage everyone to familiarise themselves with the Child Safe Policy, and if anybody would like a copy for themselves then please let either the Wardens, Lynda or myself know and we can arrange one for you.

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