Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Inclusive Nature of the Church (Easter 4, Year C)

Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:22-30

Today Acts and Revelation both give us an example of the inclusive nature of the church.

Revelation talks about “a great multitude . . . from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages”

It is a great picture of the all-inclusive church. I love the picture C. S. Lewis gives us right at the end of The Last Battle. The mythical land of Narnia has ceased to be, the children are climbing the mountain to Aslan’s own country. Suddenly they are aware that people are streaming up the mountain from all sides. Different people, surprising people, even those they had thought of as enemies. It is a great picture. All finding their own way to God, all on different journeys yet all reaching the summit!

We could discuss the idea of all nations, all peoples, all tribes, all languages (a reversal of Babel) in much more detail. However, I want to move on to one specific example of inclusivity that we find in our Acts passage.

The author of Acts writes “There was a disciple”.

What a simple phrase, yet so full of meaning. A disciple . . . one who has dedicated their life to following Jesus. This disciple was a woman!

I believe one of the tasks of Feminist Theology is to bring to our collective consciousness stories of women which have, in the past, often been read over quickly and dismissed. I don’t believe that we should isolate such texts from the body of scripture but allow them to take their place within the whole. As Ann Thurston says, ‘my concern is to discover what energy there might be in these texts for the transformation of the Christian community today.’

I believe this is one such text. We need to consider it carefully and ask ourselves why is it placed where it is and what energy does it contain for us today. Therefore context is important.

This story is set within the middle of a series of chapters that contain a number of very significant stories. Key stories in the history of the church. They are stories that everyone who is a little familiar with the bible would be able to find easily. If I asked, I know you would all find them quickly. Yet, if I had asked, where is the text about the rising of Tabitha, I suspect most of us would struggle to remember where it is.

In this section of Acts we have Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch, we have the conversion of Saul, we have Aeneas and Tabitha raised from the dead, we have Peter’s great vision and Cornelius.

Then Peter began to speak and said, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality”

I encourage you to read the chapters preceding this statement and see what sort of people were included. You may be surprised!

However, I want to go back to Tabitha

It is clear from the text that this disciple was with others. Men and women who loved and respected her. Disciples who loved her enough to tend her in death. Men who cared enough to go and seek help and hope for her healing. In these few sentences we see a picture of the inclusive nature of the church. Women and men together, a woman’s life important and significant.

In this culture women were property, romantic love as we know it was not part of the picture, usefulness and childbearing (Or even we should say son-bearing) were important. Woman could easily be replaced. This story tells us that in the church the women were important, each was unique and irreplaceable. Tabitha was a special, needed person in the life of the church.

I hope that when Peter uttered that great statement, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality” that he was also remembering Tabitha (a woman) as one of those who is fully included.

I hope that we too can say with honesty that we truly understand that God shows no partiality. That when we reach out to those around us it is regardless of their gender, their sexuality, their race, their colour, their age, etc.

The gospel passage today tells us that ‘my sheep hear my voice’. Our lives and actions are God’s voice on earth today. I hope that in the Lindisfarne community we will all reflect the inclusive nature of the church. All are welcome, there are no exceptions!

+ Ab. Jane