The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s009g15 Christmass 2  4/1/2015

‘the Word was God’   John 1.1

If my thesis that the coming of Christ is all about confronting sanctified selfishness is true, then all of those passages about the status of Jesus are concerned to reinforce this message.   So we commend affirmation and inclusion of all people not just because it is a nice idea, not just because it offers the world some hope for a less divided society, not just because we think that we know better than the divine.   No, our belief in the divinity of Christ, however that is perceived, tells us that sanctified selfishness is inimical to the purposes of God.   The word of righteousness, the affirmation and inclusion of all people, is the defining principal from before the beginning of creation.  Indeed it is the reason for creation.

For whatever reason the muse has led me back to the book of the prophet Jonah, and the picture of Jonah in the belly of the whale.  For I picture the church being like Jonah, similarly imprisoned, engulfed by the rising tide of secular humanism.   The church seems to be at the mercy of others being taken where, she does not know, perplexed by the failure of God to allow this to happen.   She has, it seems, been faithful to worship and doctrine, contending for the faith (1) since the year dot.    Like Jonah, the church seems to often have a message of impending doom for those outside, and unsurprisingly has been somewhat reluctant to deliver it.   But again, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is inherently deceptive and the scriptural witness is that the church frequently gets it wrong.   It is so much easier to remain in our holy huddle and let God get on with doing whatever God wants to those outside.  

And the real rub comes when God changes tack and doesn’t destroy the Ninevites.   Jonah is made to look foolish and ineffectual.   It could even be argued that God ends up looking foolish and ineffectual.   God lets an opportunity to really fix at least part of the world slip by.   I actually think that it is quite remarkable that this spoof on religiosity is part of our Bible.   The ancient people of God were unafraid to critique their faith mercilessly - would that some ‘christians’ were similarly openminded.   For me the miraculous thing is not Jonah being swallowed by a whale then regurgitated - unharmed on a beach - but that such a subversive book remains in the canon of scripture.

The church, like Jonah caught fleeing Nineveh, has been caught fleeing incarnation.   We have been content to define ‘righteousness’ as what we do ‘religiously’ and unrighteousness as what others fail to do like us.   We have thus turned righteousness into God-authored selfishness, when it is precisely the opposite.

Recently I read those lovely words from the prophet Isaiah: ‘See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.’  (2)  And again from the prophet Zechariah: ‘Many nations shall join themselves to the Lord on that day, and shall be my people; and I will dwell in your midst.   And you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you.’  (3)   Paul has identical thoughts when he says: ‘Now if their stumbling means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!’ (4)
We are glorified when we turn again to Nineveh, embracing incarnation and rejoicing in secular humanism - for secular humanism is predicated on the concept of a world not divided by any criterion, including, and especially, religion.  If our religion is not predicated on a kingdom not divided by any criterion, like what name we call the divine, or who we choose to share our intimate affections, then the world is right to call us to account.   The world is right to recall us to godly righteousness.   The world is right to demand to be heard, to be affirmed, to be included - especially their call for humanity undivided by any ‘god’, even ours!

Just as the secular humanists are correct, so the sailors demand of Jonah: ‘What is this that you have done!’ - it is no question; they: ‘knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them so’.  (5)  The sailors prove more righteous than Jonah for they pray before they throw him overboard: ‘Do not make us guilty of innocent blood.’  (6)

It has long been recognised that the motif of the ‘messianic secret’ pervades the gospels - Jesus’ reluctance to proclaim himself the Messiah and commanding others to not do so.  It was first noted in 1901 by William Wrede. (7)  Suddenly this becomes comprehensible when we realise that messiah-dom can easily serve to replace one form of sanctified selfishness with another.  The message is God’s righteousness - our affirmation and inclusion of other people - not the status of the messenger.   Yet true Messiah he is precisely because he brings affirmation and inclusion to all through us, and not just to a select few, mostly males, and always straight, through their personal relationship with him.   Jesus was well aware of this so he says: “Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’  But he will say, 'I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’” (8)

Jesus is the Word made flesh only as we perceive that all flesh ‘came into being through him’.   God was always coming to everyone, not just a select few and it was always the select few who denied the reality of that coming, that incarnation. 

And I wonder which word we might pick as the Word ..   Good Catholics might choose ‘transubstantiation’.   Good Lutherans might pick ‘faith not works’.   Good evangelicals would say the Bible.   Good Anglicans might pick: ‘What our last Rector said’.  :-) (9)  For me the Word is ‘acceptance and inclusion’ for this is something which is implicit in the creation of all things, it overcomes the darkness in our lives, it gives power to become who we are - children of God - not suitably subservient slaves.  And ‘acceptance and inclusion’ is born of God, when so often humanity and religions speak about us not measuring up and divisions between people.

1.  Jude :3
2.  Isaiah 55.5
3.  Zechariah 2.11
4.  Romans 11.12
5.  Jonah 1:10
6.  Jonah 1:15
8.  Luke 13:26-27
9.  Sorry I can’t find a reference for this joke!