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s022g05 Lockleys Good Friday 25/3/2005

"if my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over " John 18.36

I was once moved to say that I have sometimes thought that our Synods, when viewed from God's perspective, to be a bit like the Gadarene demoniac. This poor devil was wracked by forces; all trying to gain the upper hand and a danger to himself and to those who chanced to pass by. If we actually believed in Jesus then our fighting would be a thing of the past.

And what do we fight in the church about, if not that Jesus is "ours"? The biblical way, the evangelical way, the catholic way, the Anglican way, the Pentecostal way; each of us wants to claim that Jesus is "ours" in a way denied to others. This is precisely the same as the claim to be "Christian"; in some ways Jesus is "ours"; by definition denied to everyone else.

We keep Jesus to ourselves,;we too would fight lest Jesus be handed over to anyone else, and in doing so our kingdom is of "this world" and not Jesus' kingdom at all.

It is strange that we believe the excuses of those who killed Jesus, just as it is strange that we believe the excuses of those who declined the invitation to the great wedding feast. I mean, it really doesn't take a genius to see that the excuses given: 'I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.' 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.' And, 'I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.' It doesn't take a genius to see they are excuses; excuses to avoid giving the real reason. (Luke 14:18-20). If you don't want to attend a function, you don't say to the host that you don't actually like the other people that the host has invited; you give an excuse. I would! I'm not that silly to actually tell the host the real reason why I didn't want to attend.

So the accusation that the Jewish authorities made to Pilate; that "he claimed to be the Son of God" may or may not be true, but it wasn't necessarily the actual reason they wanted him out of the way. Please note that I am not suggesting that the Bible is here in error. I believe that they gave this excuse, but it is an excuse to hide the real reason. I'm not here saying that Jesus did or did not claim to be God's son, or that I believe he was or he wasn't. I am simply saying that the reason that the authorities handed Jesus over to Pilate was an excuse to avoid the real reason. And, in fact, the account goes to some lengths to indicate that the authorities were reluctant to be upfront about their reasons. We are told that when Pilate first asked them: '"What accusation do you bring against this man?" They answered, "If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you."' (John 18:29,30)

If Jesus' message was actually about his divine status and authority, getting voluntarily crucified on a Cross is surely not the most obvious way to communicate it; even if you knew that you were going to be raised from the dead a couple of days later!

Now some may want to accuse me of wanting to be logical. Some may want to say that the Cross and Resurrection is mystical and spiritual, that it is beyond logic. One does not kill another human being for no discernable reason, and especially not people who were the theologically erudite and educated elite.

Now you may think that I harp on about the same thing week after week. But if we think that Jesus was killed because he claimed to be Son of God, then our Christianity will be based on our acknowledgement of Jesus' divine status; rather than on our seeing that God blesses others. And wouldn't this be a delightful way for that which is opposed to God to try to thwart the message of peace for all.

How frequently in the Bible do we see people wanting to keep God to themselves? Peter wanted to stay on the mountain of transfiguration, building booths to avoid returning to the masses below. Mary Magdalene, after Jesus was raised from the dead, had to be told: "Do not hold me". It is the original sin; that Jesus or God is mine and no one else's.

Has this perception of exclusive rights over God ever contributed to the peace of the world? Rather the opposite, it has contributed to strife over the centuries, and have we not learnt this the central message of the Christian faith?

But what then do we do about the command to be faithful to the one God? The question becomes: "Is God more concerned that we address the deity by the correct name or that we see that God blesses others besides us?" Put another way: "Will God bless us rather than others because we have God's correct name. " No. Each and every devise we use to try to restrict God's blessing to ourselves denies God's very nature.

And this is not peripheral, woolly "liberal" thinking; it is the essence and core of our faith. In the course of a conversation a while back, the horror of being called a "fundamentalist" was contrasted with an equal and opposite horror of being labelled a "liberal", particularly for some people from the United States. But "liberal" is only another variant of the word "liberty" and the most famous and defining American Icon is the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island in New York Harbor. The American Civil War was fought over the issue of slavery or liberty. If "fundamentalist" is opposed to liberty I know on which side I stand, along with a lot of Americans I have met.

This is why I am saying these things today, on Good Friday. We must get the message right, or we will be the cause of continuing suffering for everyone who doesn't see things "our way", rather than the instrument of continual blessing for each and everybody.

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