The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s022g09 Good Friday 10/4/2009
'why do you strike me?' John 18.23
One often hears the 'christian' message expounded in terms of Jesus on the cross 'paying the penalty of our sin'. For instance the fourth verse of the hymn 'There is a green hill far away' is: 'There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin' but some words of Hans Küng seemed appropriate here. He reasons that in this view: 'essentially Jesus came simply to die. The concrete proclamation, conduct, suffering and the new life of the historical Jesus have no constitutive part of this theory. What we are offered instead is a deadly "illusory performance between Father and Son" ..' (p423) We are simply impotent bystanders acknowledging the real purpose or perhaps rather more likely left floundering.
So the important thing for me is to link the death of Jesus on the Cross to how we live our lives in the here and now; how we take on board everything that Jesus said. For the Cross and resurrection is not something that Jesus perceived as his alone. We too are to hate our life, to lose our life for Jesus' sake. The Cross and resurrection is not an event long past but a model for us to follow, here and today.
But this Cross is not to take on voluntary martyrdom for God it is to live for other people. It is to put our lives on the line for the alien.
Just at the moment in New South Wales we are witnessing an upsurge in 'bikie violence'. Some weeks ago in an unprecedented way a person was bashed to death, not in some dark alley, but in of all places, an arrivals lounge in Sydney airport. It is reported that this is but one incidence of a war simmering for some time between gangs. But before we get too het up about this violence, we would do well to recognise that for years the churches and denominations have been waging a subtle war with one another.
In another forum I hear that governments want to talk to Christians as a group. They won't talk with this one and then that one. It might be pragmatic on the part of governments, but in fact this forces us to get together and a good thing too. If we cannot act together as colleagues then whatever our denomination we will essentially be turning a blind eye to the divisions that exist, act only to further cement those divisions, or indeed cause them to become worse. Why should governments foster these things? It will do society no good whatsoever, and for all we might quote scripture, tradition or leading of the spirit, it is hardly likely to be God's will.
It has become a matter of faith to keep oneself aloof from other people people who express their faith in Jesus differently, people who express their faith in a divine differently, and of course those who have given up with all the rancour and got on with living in society and helping others when they can.
And of course if we think about it, if Jesus was paying the penalty for our sin, just who was he paying? If God was angry at how humanity turned out, we might think it was God who was paid. But of what use is God paying back him or her self? And if it were the devil who was paid, the devil was victorious not angry - and the payment was a slight of hand. But actually if we look at who is really angry, it is not the devil or God, but humanity or that part of humanity who were angry because the God that Jesus proclaimed was not **theirs** alone. Jesus paid the penalty for proclaiming the truth that God loved others, incurring the wrath of those whose theology marginalized and alienated others. This is why the temple priest struck Jesus because Jesus didn't recognise the authority of the high priest, whose theology marginalised and alienated others.
If the message of the Cross were primarily how we and all people are reconciled to God, this implies that we are reconciled to all other people. We cannot be reconciled to God without being reconciled to others, because God is reconciled to all. It is not me and God it is always me and God with everyone else whom God loves and that is all people. Indeed there is a good deal of evidence in the gospel accounts that the real purpose of the Cross is to reconcile all people to one another and not to establish or re-establish a relationship between individuals to God at all.
I was thinking about Paul, for it is to him that those who treasure their private conversion look. It is strange. If God had any sense, God would have sent Paul back to argue with the Pharisees with whom he trained. I mean there was really no one else who was theologically capable of taking on the scribes and Pharisees amongst the fledgling apostles. But no, God sent Paul to others to the gentiles. This led me to think about the church of today. We could spend an awful amount of time and energy debating in church circles the propriety of the ordination of women or the full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons. God is not interested, we are to get on and do it! To reach out, like Paul had to do, to those whom we previously marginalised and alienated, with acceptance and love.
As I reflect on my own experience of the Church, the general thrust of matters has been either to make the liturgy and beliefs of the church effective in people's lives in order to engender more adherence to the Church or alternatively to continue to sail on along as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. The juggernaut of the Church must sail on regardless and the object of the exercise is to restore the vessel to its former glory, so that it can continue on. Both of these betray the fact that what church people really want is for others to come and admire **their** church, support it, but not change it. Essentially the church is always someone else's, it is never something that belongs to anyone other than the existing member's.
I recall a funeral director once commenting to me about the people of a particular country town it doesn't really matter which one. He said that it took the residents 15 years for the residents to forgive someone else coming to live among them unless you were the bank manager or the minister! Are we as 'christians' really any different, except we marginalize and alienate others in the name of 'god'.
I was interested to listen to an interview with an Asian cook who spoke of Australian's acceptance of other cuisines as a subtle form of colonialism. We see the influx of different styles of cooking as being there for our occasional enjoyment. But, when push comes to shove, 'other' cuisines are not really kosher. So in the church we might have some other form of worship like children's church on the fifth Sunday of the month service, for our amusement, but it is never 'real' church like ours. This is really a, less than subtle, form of colonialism. We are still in charge. Others exist for our amusement. Similarly we might have an occasional ecumenical service, but we couldn't offer others the sacrament of Holy Communion!
The lovely old Good Friday hymn 'There is a green hill' speaks of the cross as 'saving us all', 'it was for us he hung and suffered', 'that we might be forgiven', 'to make us good', 'that we might go .. to heaven', 'he only could unlock the gate' and 'we must love him too' - which might well be all we have to do to be good and 'try his works to do'. It is all about loving God amongst others, and nothing about loving anyone who happens to be different. Others are struck down as insignificant, immaterial, inconsequential, their dire fate none of our concern.
Why do we regard others as subservient, less than children of God? And if we do, do we not strike Jesus, albeit metaphorically but quite as effectively as that temple police-person so long ago?
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