What is it with the Bishops in the North West of Britain? Do they really have to go to the United States to find people to inspire their congregations? Are there no home-grown clerics who would do?
First, Gregory of St Asaph imports an American to teach the Welsh how to tell stories (as though the Welsh needed any instruction there) and then, across the Mersey, Paul of Liverpool imports a suffragan Bishop from Virgina, presumably to help him sell same sex marriage. Perhaps it’s the way they say it. When I lived in America people would sometimes stop me in mid-sentence to say, “Gee, I love your accent. Do go on talking,” by which time I had clean forgotten what I wanted to say. That could be the thinking behind these appointments. +Paul perhaps hopes that his congregations will be so busy listening to the way +Susan speaks that they won’t have time to listen to what she says. Not that the bishop is solely relying on Mrs Goff. At the end of May he brought in the big guns in the form of Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans. I’m indebted to tried and true Ancient Briton for that information.
I listened to the sermon preached in Liverpool Cathedral and I didn’t like it! To be more precise I was put off it from the start. Jeffrey John seemed to spit out the words of the Invocation, particularly Son and Spirit, and the way he used a conversation with his then Vicar, when he was a boy, seemed a cynical attempt to get his present day listeners on his side. He took the story of the healing of the Centurion’s servant to assert that the two men were in a gay sexual relationship, that Jesus knew this and was therefore endorsing same sex relationships. And by the end of the sermon he had subtly moved on to same sex marriage, which, he said, will surely happen.
So I went to clear my head by reading Luke, Chapter 7, in six different translations. In verse 2 they variously describe the servant (also a slave) as dear, very dear, valued highly and favourite. Apparently, according to Dr John, Jews of the time, believed all Roman officers to be having gay relationships—it was one way of enabling them to look down on their overlords. Dr John gives us plenty of named examples, with a little joke (why did he sound as if he were sneering?) about what they don’t teach you in Latin lessons.
I can think of all sorts of reasons why this particular servant was very dear or highly valued by the Centurion. He may have been highly intelligent, a skilled administrator, good with figures, or brilliant at managing staff. Perhaps he just had a superb sense of humour and the ability to cheer his master up when life got difficult.
Jeffrey John points out that in all these healing stories Jesus is treating and accepting people who were outcasts; a leper, a Samaritan, a blind man, a deaf man, a cripple and a haemorrhaging woman. (Why wasn’t I surprised that he focused on the woman who’d been menstruating for twelve years?) I’d always assumed that the Centurion represented the hated Roman conquerors; the enemy, the outsider. On the other hand, I’d also always thought that the servant himself didn’t really matter; it was his sickness and his healing that was important. What was crucial was the Centurion’s incredible faith. He had such faith that he didn’t need to meet Jesus, didn’t need to speak to Him, touch Him, or have His hand laid on him. Jesus’ simple word to the messengers would be enough.
Towards the end of his sermon Jeffrey John makes two statements with which it is not difficult to take issue. He tells the congregation that most members of the Church of England want same sex marriage already and he wonders how many will walk out before that happens. I can believe that over 51% of present church goers support same sex marriage, but that figure is probably only possible because those who can’t support it have already left.
Secondly, without any convincing evidence, he tells us Paul would say same sex marriage is just as good and that to disagree with it is “inhumane and utterly unchristian.” Well, that puts me firmly in my place.