(An extended commentary on why the "relational consequences" in the Anglican Covenant are NOT the relational consequences of faith, but of contract.)
Sermon for the Second Sunday in Pentecost, June 26, 2011, St. Peter’s Church, Lewes. Preached by Mark Harris.
On Relational Consequences.
May God’s Holy Name be Praised.
We’ve gotten past the lessons of Easter, the Ascension and Trinity Sunday (great sermon on Trinity Sunday by Carlyle Gill). Now we are back in the thick of one of the narratives of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, this time the Gospel of Matthew.
We take up with Matthew 10:40-42, about welcoming the holy one. But as our Tuesday bible study folk can tell you, nothing in scripture is to be read as a tid-bit, a bite, without knowing something of the context. The Gospel this morning us usually understood to be the last few sentences of a section devoted to the Mission of the Twelve, and in particular to a set of instructions for the disciples. This section begins at Chapter 10, vs 5. And ends with what we read today.
The instructions are difficult to hear. Among them are, “Preach, saying the Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near.” “I send you as sheep among wolves.” “Do not suppose that I came to bring peace on the earth. I came to bring not peace, but a sword.” “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life on my account will find it.”
The instructions of Jesus concern what we might call the relational consequences of believing in God, the Father of our Lord Jesus, and in Jesus himself, and holding that relationship as the primary commitment in our lives.
These relational consequences are what grows from the Covenant begun in Abraham and concluded in Jesus: A covenant which both costs us our life, or the willingness to offer it, and gives us new life in grace. It is a positive covenant whose relational consequences are seen in God’s grace towards us.
Relational Consequences – an expression only recently heard in Anglican circles and one I had never heard before. The phrase “relational consequences” is one used in a document called “The Anglican Covenant” being considered as a foundational document for Churches belonging to the Anglican Communion. That document is causing a bit of a row as dioceses and whole churches come out for it or against it. I believe it is a contract, not a covenant.
The Anglican Covenant begins as a series of statements about what it means to be an Anglican, but near its end it begins to describe just how buying on to these statements point to a social contract among Anglican Churches, and how signing the contract has “relational consequences.” The relational consequences of section four are those of a contract for a loan on a house: the fine print tells us just what happens if we default.
For example, if we buy on to the Anglican Covenant, we place a high value on unity of expression on important matters, as well we should given the collect we prayed today. But the Covenant places a higher value on unity then on new expression. If any Church, say The Episcopal Church, does something that other churches don’t think is in accord with the statements agreed on, the church in question can, through relational consequences, be excluded from certain conversations and meetings.
So there they are: “relational consequences.” But the big relational consequence is that if we have the Covenant we take on greater interest in the unity of the Anglican Communion and are less likely to take new initiatives that are different from the past.
While there might be positive “relational consequences” growing from the Anglican Covenant, the negative consequences are the ones that most concern many of us.
We can be sure, for example, that if it had been in force, the Anglican Covenant would have severely slowed the move to ordain women or changes the prayer book. We might not have been as slow as the Roman Catholic Church, which is slow to the point of being moribund. We don’t know if it had been in force that we would be better Anglicans for it, but we do know we would have been very much slower to admit women to holy orders, allowed divorce, considered blessings of gay and lesbian relationships, etc.
There are all sorts of questions about whether or not we ought to buy on to this Covenant / Contract. But for me the basic concern is about this business of “relational consequences,” particularly the ones that sound like “do this or that and we will lose confidence in you and stop talking to you or taking your advice.” The primary “relational consequence” of the Covenant seems to be the guaranteed parental utterance, “your actions disappoint me. You are grounded.” Or, if you are more business oriented, it is like the fine print telling you about default penalties.
The relational consequences of this Gospel passage are quite different from the “your actions disappoint me” sort of consequences. They concern our positive actions, or doing something that is laudable, rather than something that is disappointing, and the consequences are not being grounded, but having new life in God and in Christ Jesus.
Jesus says, “If you welcome me, you welcome the one who sent me.” – the relational consequence of welcoming a “Christ first” person, is that Jesus Christ and God are welcomed as well. Sounds good to me.
If you welcome some one who prophesies in the name of Jesus – who teaches as Jesus commanded – then you welcome Jesus. If you welcome someone who prophesies in the name of Muhammad, then you welcome Muhammad. . I welcome both, I welcome all. Think of the conversations! Sounds good to me
Sounds good to me.
If you give water to one of the followers of Christ, Christ will reward you with (as John suggests) Living Water. Sounds very good to me.
The relational consequences of honoring God in others, is honoring God, and God will be pleased and bless us.
That’s a lot different from the “relational consequences” of the school don, scolding errant children, or the parent grounding the child.
So the biblical relational consequence of giving ourselves over to God and Jesus Christ, is that we are able to honor the presence of Christ and God in one another, and the consequence is that we meet Christ and God in them. Pretty good stuff.
The reading from Genesis, the wonderful and mysterious story of Abraham and Isaac, and the tasty passage from Romans about not letting sin exercise dominion in our mortal bodies, are also about “relational consequences.”
The relational consequence of obedience to the Divine will is finally to know that God is more interested in our love than our obedience. Abraham was obedient to what God told him to do, and Abraham was prepared to do the unthinkable, but in the end God took that obedience and transformed it into the relational consequence of obedience, which is love – mutual and freeing. Isaac goes free, although it would be interesting to get his side of the story sometime.
The relational consequence of having the Jesus of God as our highest passion makes all other passion a product of grace, not power. All this mention of “members” of ones’ body sounds a bit silly and prudish and arcane, but here’s the bet: If sexual activity is reflective of grace, it will not be violent, it will not serve primarily one’s own passions, but will serve the mutual enjoyment and care of one another. Not bad for sex among the righteous. The relational consequences are profound. Love among those who have moved on from the kingdom of death to the kingdom of life is different, because sex serves, as does everything else, the life with God.
Now all these things – knowing that the relationship with God is greater than obedience, but involves mutual love; that even sexual relationships with others in the Kingdom of life involves mutuality; that honoring God’s presence in one another is knowing God in one another – these are relational consequences worth having and striving for.
We are after all talking about life and death here. This is serious stuff. Paul has it “The wages of sin is death, but the free will gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The Torah in Deuteronomy 30:19 reads, “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”
Abraham and Paul and Jesus call down blessings and life, by calling us to give up the powers of death and take on the power of life.
Remember the spiritual? “Give me that old time religion..It was good for Paul and Silas…it’s good enough for me.” The old time religion is one of positive, life giving relational consequences with the Most High God known in Jesus Christ. It’s good for Paul and Silas, its good enough for me … and I bet, for you.