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

s017g14   Palm Sunday  13/4/2014

"You say so.”  Matthew 27.11

Let us be quite clear, the story we read in our gospel for today, words which are so familiar to us all, words which form the central tenet of our faith, have nothing whatsoever to do with sin, yours, mine, or anyone else’s.

The events described are about those who claimed to love the Lord their God with all their hearts, minds and strength (1), banding together to force the civil authority to have Jesus killed.   In Australia we would call this a ‘kangaroo court’.   The orthodox and the devout, the ‘old boys network’, deliberately and ruthlessly used their influence to badger the Roman governor to execute Jesus, in a process we readily recognise bypasses any semblance of due legal process.

A couple of weeks ago, the ‘World Vision’ decided to open their employment vacancies in America to married gays and lesbians.  (2)   Within a couple of days the conservative evangelical lobby pressured the organisation to reverse the decision, threatening to withhold donations to the poor until they did so.   The conservative evangelicals would prefer children starve rather than accept other people.

And for these people this is not a sin.   As one commentator wrote: ‘The bible has many passages instructing people to discriminate.’   These people use the bible and ‘god’ as justification to be discriminatory.   Their hatred and loathing is demanded and therefore justified and excused - where the expressions of intimacy and love between people are not.

This is what is so dangerous about viewing the Cross and Resurrection as all about my personal forgiveness, my personal salvation, my ‘blessed assurance’.  (3)   This conveniently blinds us to the injustices perpetrated by religious people believing they are doing what God wants.   A church which proclaims that the prime purpose for the Cross and Resurrection is to forgive the sins of a coterie of devotees trivialises God and ignores the massive prejudices which blight the lives of millions.

And the other convenient distraction to the message of the Cross is to suggest it is an argument about the status of Jesus.   The church that suggests that the proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God or whatever, is of prime importance, is only serving to delineate who is acceptable and who isn’t.   This is actually the precursor to the injustices perpetrated by religious people believing they are doing what God wants.

The church that has forgotten that the whole of the bible is liberation theology, liberation not for a chosen few, but liberation for all who are oppressed for whatever reason, has abandoned the God of the Bible.   The fact that Jesus associated with tax-collectors, prostitutes and sinners tells us that Jesus came to save ordinary people from religious oppression - precisely the sort of religious oppression wielded by conservative evangelicals.

We recognise the evil of terrorism when it comes in the form of a suicide bomber, but don’t make the connection with ‘scriptural discrimination’ that is so often regarded as ‘normal’.

As soon as anyone is considered ‘beyond the pale’ we allow the possibility that someone will consider their personal prejudice ordained by God, divisions are maintained, and we have lost sight of those with whom Jesus associated.

Jesus doesn’t give an answer to the questions and accusations, precisely because the questions are wrong.   The message is not ‘I am the messiah’ or by extension ‘I will forgive your sins if you believe in me’ but ‘love people who are different’ - for it is this on which the peace of the world depends.   If God really wanted us to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, God could have saved him from the Cross, as the ‘chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders’ desired.   But the thing they needed to see was the injustice and cruelty they were perpetrating.  

And this was precisely the same for St Paul on that road to Damascus.   He saw, he was shown, that in persecuting others, he was crucifying Christ.   This is the message.

The questions were deliberately wrong - they were not asked out of curiosity - they were asked to get Jesus to incriminate himself.   And how many questions are really asked to demonstrate the influence and the status of the one posing the questions?  

If our Lent has been giving up chocolate, alcohol, social media, or taking on extra devotions, it has probably done us some good.   But it doesn’t actually help anyone else.   It doesn’t serve to liberate someone who hasn’t, someone who thinks differently, someone who calls God by a different name, someone who doesn’t worship like us, someone who we think we are called to ‘correct’.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews writes: ‘the priests go continually into the first tent to carry out their ritual duties .. and not without taking the blood that he offers for himself and for the sins committed unintentionally by the people.’   (4)    But the contrived trial and demand for the execution of Jesus was no unintentional sin.   In Matthew we read that they planned to kill Jesus long before the final confrontation, in chapter 12v14.   On occasions throughout my life I have heard statements about the fickleness of the crowds as if the poor and uneducated were really to blame for the death of Jesus.   No, the gospel accounts make it clear that these continued to welcome his message and that the crowd who pressed for his death were crowds of the religious high and mighty.   It is not the first time that this happened.   We read that the king was not able to resist the officials who spoke against the prophet Jeremiah: ‘King Zedekiah said, "Here he is; he is in your hands; for the king is powerless against you.”’  (5)  

And the writer to the letter to the Hebrews continues: ‘If we wilfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgement, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.   Anyone who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy ‘on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’   How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace?   For we know the one who said, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay.’   And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’   It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’  (6)   If we alienate everyone who is not ‘straight’ like us, there will be far more than two or three witnesses to testify against us!

And I need also to make some reference to those words of Jesus on the Cross: ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’  (7)   These are likely to be addressed to the soldiers doing the nailing, doing what they had been ordered to do.   They are hardly likely to be a general absolution for the whole world - excusing and allowing those who would continue to marginalise, alienate, condemn and lynch more people in the name of the God of love.  

1.  Deuteronomy 6.5
4.  Hebrews 9.6-7
5.  Jeremiah 38.5
6.  Hebrews 10.26-31
7.  Luke 23.34