SERMON PREACHED AT THE
CHURCH OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD, FRED’S PASS (NT)
SUNDAY, August 5th 2012
(ORDINARY SUNDAY 18 / TENTH SUNDAY OF PENTECOST)
Readings: 2 Samuel 11.26 -12.13a
It’s probably safe to tell the story, more than 5000 kilometres from its place of origin, of the clergyman in a far-off parish who decided in a dramatic manner to confess his conspicuous sins in the context of parish liturgy. It was evensong, back in the days before video killed the radio star, television killed the pulpit star, and Facebook killed the lot, placing our inner angst at the centre of the omniverse (though that is a different sermon altogether!). In a dramatic sermon the good archdeacon – and no, I am not creating any precedents or parallels here! – decided it was time metaphorically and spiritually to bare his all, and to go at least some way towards bearing his all sartorially at the same time. And so, having in his sermon dramatically confessed that he was having an affair with a parishioner, he removed his liturgical garments and exited the church with a flourish, never, literally, to return.
It was an ugly moment in the life of the faith community, and one from which it struggled to recover for many years. It was, needless to say, a devastating moment in the life of the archdeacon’s marriage and family, details of which I am not privy to. It was in many ways a human tragedy that, at a whole heap of levels need never have happened. It was a story that gave Anglican Christianity a bad name in a small provincial town – and let’s face it, we, like all the Christian denominations, have had our fair share of moments by which we have given ourselves a bad name. This was at least one of the lesser ones, for all the devastation that was caused by his public pronouncement of fallibility and sin it was far less so than the shenanigans that continue to emerge not only from churches, but from all the caring professions as the sad tales of victims of abuse emerge into the daylight.
The histrionics that accompanied the failed archdeacon’s self-exposing confession were probably both redemptive and destructive, and no doubt intrinsic to his own particular personality type and psychological needs. He left the embrace of the church altogether, and I know nothing of the fate of others trapped in his errors. Society in any case demands retribution, and the complex issues of errant sexuality expose hypocrisies in Church and Society alike. Serial monogamy, which is what affairs often represent, is de rigueur in contemporary society (as reflected in the nonsense sold as magazines), and we might well want to flag a more decent standard. Predation, on the other hand, is forgivable by almost no-one but God, and we must feel the pain when our own offend so deeply against common decency.
Forgivable by almost no-one but God: yet the story of David which we have been following now for some weeks takes us, as Anne reminded us last week, deep into the heart of human failure. David was adulterous, murderous, and a predatory abuser of power. He was neither the first nor the last, yet he remains in Jewish and Christian history one of the great heroes of faith. Psalm 51 may or may not really have been written by David – I see no reason why not, though many scholars doubt it – but the point is that it takes us deep, deep into the heart of human failure. Have I ever failed in my life? Have you? I’m not going to engage in the histrionics of the archdeacon of many years and many decades ago, and nor should you, but the engagement of a journey into the heart of God begins with the recognition of our failure. Am I good enough to be a priest? No. Am I good enough to be a Christian? No. But, as the gospels remind us as they outline the abysmal failings of Peter and the apostles, nor is anyone. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news of and for the not good enough – it is no accident that the Cross, our central symbol, is a symbol of cataclysmic failure (albeit, I would argue, not the failure of Jesus the Christ, but your failure and mine to see and know Jesus as the Christ). It is no accident that Psalm 51 was rapidly associated with the pain and suffering of the Christ on the Cross, who, while we call him sinless, nevertheless entered into the deepest depths of darkness.
Our faith-lives must be lives of integrity. There’s a sense in which that begins when we can enter into the human depths of Psalm 51, and its reflections on the depths of the darkness of King David. It is there we meet the Christ: where we admit our fallibility, moral, social, intellectual, even athletic (as I reminded the people of Kormilda last week), and allow the invasion of Christ into our lives to be a greater, higher, more demanding truth, it is there that the journey into God begins.
As it happens that will never make us flavour of the month. While the broken human must pay society’s dues for crime and sin, nevertheless, we must never forget that the arms of Christ reach even into betrayal, murder and abuse. It is there that David becomes an icon of faith. It is there, in our failings, which are, pray God, less spectacular, that we can again and again reach the Christ who beckons us into the for-evers of God, there that we begin the work that Jesus calls ‘believing in him’. Even without histrionics: just, pray God, with integrity.