The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r022.htm
s022g04 Lockleys Good Friday 9/4/2004
"he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God". John 19.7
I was privileged to attend the public launch of the organisation Affirming Catholicism in the Anglican Church on the evening of the 12th of March. There the former Primate, now retired, the Right Rev'd Keith Rayner was the launcher :-) He gave a wonderful lecture in his usual meticulous and balanced way.
He spoke of going to be Archbishop of Melbourne in 1990 when Victoria was in a severe state of depression. Soon afterwards he had occasion to visit South Africa and the black townships where in the midst of their poverty, their faith was alive and strong. The comparison of affluence and depression in Victoria and poverty and hope in South Africa impressed itself on him immensely. Later in his address he talked about passion and our preparedness to die for the faith. And as I am want to do, I thought about my own preparedness to die for the faith.
I thought, rather wryly, death is a much more constant companion for the people in the townships of South Africa. Premature death is all around them in a way quite different to what most Australians have experienced. It is a mark of our affluence that we can choose to die for something - or not.
One of the difficulties for me is defining what the faith is - for there are some expressions of our faith from which I would want to completely disassociate myself - not die for. There are interpretations of the Bible which condemn certain sections of our society to abstain from all intimacy with those for whom they care. The faith for which I am indeed prepared to die does not include this.
I thought about me actually attending an "Affirming Catholicism" meeting at all, for all that I love the church and she has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, there are parts of the Church from whom I would disassociate myself - not die for. I do believe in the Church - because God uses people like you and like me to get the message of God's love for all of humanity across. Of course God's love is fairly worthless if humanity is still fighting amongst ourselves. God's love for all has to translate into an acceptance of others rather than a competition with all who are different. The Church is but the nucleus of this acceptance - or not. Recently I was surfing the net and came across the web pages of the Kakuma Refugee Camp - under the auspices of the Lutheran World Federation. There are many times when I am proud to be a member of the Church.
And I love the Bible. I recently did an accounting of the readings for the day and the sermons I have archived on the world wide web - over 650 in all. I have received a lifetime of inspiration from the words of scripture. Yet there are parts of the Bible I wish hadn't been written. I can rationalise why they are there, but still I wish they weren't - when people use them to put others down, and when people use them to put themselves down, as irredeemable.
This all leads on to the question of what Jesus was prepared to die for?
Church tradition says loudly and clearly: "O Lamb of God, who takest away the sin of the world, have mercy on us." I confess that while I don't in the least doubt this as a reality, I don't think Jesus spent his lifetime thinking this is what he was going to die for. And anyway we really don't believe it - the Cross of Jesus has only taken away the sins of Anglicans who think like I do :-) It is a sin not to be an Anglican who doesn't think like I do - and God certainly hasn't taken away this sin. If God has taken away the sin of not being an Anglican who thinks like I do, I have no right to expect others to change and become like me - and that can't be the case :-)
I wonder how many people had the same reaction as me to the Collect for Lent 4? The words were: "God of compassion, you are slow to anger, and full of mercy, welcoming sinners who return to you with penitent hearts: receive in your loving embrace all who come home to you ..." Don't we actually mean all Anglicans, all Christians, all people of faith, all who have successful marriages, or all heterosexuals? Those who actually don't really need God's mercy or our mercy? Is God so less accepting of difference than humanity that we have to ask?
So If I return briefly to whether I am prepared to die for Jesus, I might, except that this is often taken as an implicit acceptance of a particular set of doctrines, statement of faith or form of worship, which again may well preclude some people from different cultures.
Some Christians would be shocked to know that I supported the now defunct anti vilification laws on religious grounds proposed by our government. They were defeated largely through the lobbying of Christians who wanted school chaplains to be able to say that the only way to God is through Jesus, and of course that means my interpretation of who Jesus was and the reason he died. The Jesus I worship would certainly condemn religious vilification in his name - not expect it. And is it not vilification to say that someone else's religion is wrong - and that as a consequence they are evil and damned for all of eternity?
In France they have banned all outward forms of religious identification from students in public schools. How sad it is that the faiths we hold, including Christianity as much as any other, is noted for how we are or can be different from someone else? Jesus was all about becoming as we are, even to death.
Actually ordinary people are prepared to die for something which they think is worthwhile for humanity. World War One was called "the war to end all wars" - would that it was so - and those who died were honoured rather than deceived.
People are prepared to do what they can, provided there is likely to be some benefit at the end. So it all depends on the reason. Give people a good enough reason and it is remarkable what ordinary people will do. But try to get people to support something which is not likely to really change anything, or contribute nothing to the peace of the world, then you might as well forget it.
So the reason people don't feel passionately about Christianity is perhaps that we haven't got the message clearly.
And hence my stress on the importance of the reason why Jesus died, the reason why Jesus was killed.
To answer some of these questions, at least for myself. Jesus primary message was corporate not personal. He spoke against a religion which competed with other religions. He said that the most important thing was our love of our neighbour, and he called the Jew to see the Samaritan as his neighbour - so he calls us as Christians to see the Jew, the Muslim, the Hindu, the Buddhist, the person of no faith - as neighbour too. God calls us to see all who are *different* to us as neighbour - worthy of the necessities of life, food, clothing, shelter, and dignity. It is only this that is likely to make a difference in this world - or if we continue on as we are, the world will have no hope but to continue to be wracked by terrorism of one form or another.
My text for today: "he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God" I have no doubt was the excuse that those who had him killed used to justify their actions - I am not suggesting that the Bible errs at all here. Those who killed Jesus may have indeed deluded themselves into thinking this was so. But just because they believed it does not mean to say that this was the real reason for their actions.
We have a choice. Does Jesus want us to acknowledge him as the Son of God and condemn anyone else who doesn't, or does Jesus want us to love our neighbour and be a part of bringing peace to humanity? For me the answer is obviously the latter, but everyone has a choice.
The other question is where the violence originates. In my experience it is the powerful who initiate violence when their power is threatened. The Cross shows us that the elite hate an all inclusive God, hate enough to have the son of God killed.
There are two ways today can be called "good". If nothing else, today is "good" because it shows us in no uncertain terms where each and every form of religious sectarianism, be it named "christian" or anything else - leads. The people who so piously proclaimed their love for God and their devotion to orthodoxy to the exclusion of others murder the Lord Jesus.
The "good" part also means that the oppression of the religiously powerful was and is ever doomed to failure. God continues to love all, and this love for all, will not be defeated by the elite. The resurrection was and is inevitable. The risen Christ can still be found, out and about, amongst ordinary people like you and I, amongst people of faith and people of no faith.
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