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s022e11  Good Friday Mt Pleasant  22/4/2011

‘I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures’.   1 Corinthians 15.3

In the name of God, Life-giver, Pain-bearer and Love-maker.   (Fr Jim Cotter

I have begun to think that the image we, as the Church, portray of God to the world, is someone who has a massive inferiority complex; a divine being who thinks that heaven will cease to exist if there is no-one worshipping.   So God sends his Son to die on the Cross so that at least a few, otherwise nondescript, people will believe that he exists and worship him.   I mean, after all, we proclaim that ‘we are not worthy to gather up the crumbs under your table’ most every time we worship!   And I thought, if I were in God’s shoes, I’d like the New Age people every time, at least they don’t endlessly put themselves down or put down others.

It has come to me with some force in recent times how some ‘christians’ are so critical, judgemental, and demeaning of others.   Because of the earthquake, there are lots of groups and organisations who are looking for premises to rent.   The local ‘Kids First’ has begun using the hall facilities of one of our churches for their daily sessions.   And it has struck me how accepting, non-judgemental and affirming of others this secular organisation is.   They exist to enable each child to become all that they can be.  And it is precisely the same in most secular organisations.

‘Christ died for our sins’, so some ‘christians believe that God forgives us even though we have done nothing whatsoever to merit such love, but only because we believe this.   God loves us - and hates those who similarly haven’t done anything to merit such love, but actually couldn’t care less and get on with life and living.   Most folk I know of, are only too well aware of their shortcomings yet interestingly, most people also say that if they had their time over again, they wouldn’t change anything, even ‘christians’.

And I have to say that if we only love God because God loves us first, then, as Jesus said, how are we better than Gentiles and sinners?   And if God only loves us because we believe God exists and love God in return, how is God better than a Gentile and a sinner?   So the Cross cannot be about granting us forgiveness and so getting us to love God, or Jesus, getting us to believe in God, or Jesus.   And so, we can’t use the cross as the ultimate demonstration of God’s love for humanity, giving others no spiritual option but to believe.   This is spiritual blackmail.

And if God sent Jesus to die a horrible death in order to attract followers, then God has some serious psychological and personality problems and needs therapy urgently.   I have worked in a psychiatric hospital and it is no wonder there are some screwed up individuals when they imitate such a ‘god’ as this!   Let me say that ordinary people find the conception of God sending his son Jesus to die on the Cross to forgive a few select people their sins as utterly macabre and pointless.

And recently I had cause to say that a ‘god’ that made an earthquake happen because the divine wasn’t getting enough attention is no better than a petulant child having a tantrum because he or she wasn’t getting his or her own way.   One doesn’t humour a petulant child, let alone worship a petulant child.

And it makes me wonder, of what earthly or heavenly use is it to God to forgive us our sins anyway?   Why is it so important to God what we only come to heaven recognising how grateful we should be for God’s forgiveness that Jesus was sent to die a horrible death on a Cross?   It seems to me that actually such a ‘god’ is less forgiving than we are.

God gave us brains to use, yet it seems the church teaches that God punishes people who come to different conclusions to us.   God gives us hormones, then it seems some people in the church believe they should punish people who find their hormones take over their (early) life.   God created people of all hues and cultures but it seems the church teaches that God really only likes white people brought up speaking the Queen’s English, with proper table manners and men with short hair.   God created gay and lesbian persons yet, if you were to believe some church people, God then forbids them to show their intimate affections to the person they choose.

It seems that despite the rhetoric God doesn’t love some people as they are, only as they measure up to ‘our’ standards.

One of the well known stories Jesus told was about the servant who was forgiven the enormous debt he owed his lord, who then went out and didn’t forgive his colleague the trifling amount his colleague owed him.   Now if we are ‘christians’ we ‘know’ that we have been forgiven and the cost of that forgiveness.   The story tells us that we need to be equally forgiving of others who don’t measure up to our expectations - not that we go around condemning others who don’t believe like us, worship like us or are intimate when and with people we don’t approve.   The Cross ought to motive us to be forgiving of others, not challenge, marginalise or alienate others.

But, no matter how much you and I might be forgiving personally, in the big picture it is not going to make a skerrick of difference if the church as a corporate entity blithely condemns  everyone who doesn’t conform to their teachings.   If the ‘church’ doesn’t accurately reflect who God is, of what earthly or heavenly use are my or your poor efforts?

Some time ago I had a conversation about sin, and the person was nervous about me ignoring sin.  And this inspired me to say: ‘I guess I would respond that I am far more nervous ignoring evil than sin.   It was evil, evil masquerading as devotion to God that put (and continues to put) Jesus on the Cross .. not sin.   My mind goes to John 16: 2,3  'They will put you out of the synagogues.  Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God.   And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me.'   By focussing on sin (inevitably personal - what we do with our genitalia) the church hides her corporate evil.’

And of course the church does put people out of her fellowship.   It wasn’t all that long ago that a woman who had left her husband for whatever reason was automatically denied communion, in the name of ‘god’.   People who are openly gay or lesbian continue to be excommunicated in the name of ‘god’.  

And as I think about this more it seems to say something about the cross and forgiveness.   The Cross is not about forgiveness of sin but actually shows us the nature of evil which cannot be forgiven.    So Jesus says ‘Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.’   (Matthew 12.32)   Those who would speak against the work of God who embraces all, are essentially evil, and ipso facto cannot be forgiven, because they cannot forgive others for being themselves.

When St Paul talks about the forgiveness of OUR sins, he is actually not being disingenuous; he actually does include himself.  He, of all people, knows about the evil of religious discrimination, for he regularly tells his readers how complicit he was in religious persecution before he met the risen Lord.

‘Christ died for our sins’ means that whatever separates us from God, and whatever separates everyone else from God has been done away with.   In the end it doesn’t matter whether ‘sin’ is a human construct or of divine origin, it has been done away with.  

And this is not a new thing.   Isaiah, long before Jesus was moved to say of the religious of his day (and especially notice how he addresses them): ‘Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom!   Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!   What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.    When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand?   Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me.   New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation -- I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.   Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me,   I am weary of bearing them.   When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.   Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.’  Isaiah 1.10-17

He talks of the religious as the rulers of Sodom and he speaks of defending (not criticising, challenging or demeaning) the orphan and the widow, those who have lost their heavenly parent.

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