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

s022g13   Good Friday   29/3/2013

‘to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover’  John 18.28

Surely - I'm sure that I've never begun a sermon with the word 'surely' before! - surely we are  meant to get the message that the orthodox and the devout had got their priorities all wrong.   Clearly they believed that their ritual purity would absolve them from their culpability in the death of Jesus.  We need to recognise the self-delusion happening here, lest we repeat it.   The delusion, common I suppose to every religion, ‘christianity’ no less than any other, is that the personal relationship the devotee has with the divine will excuse the hurt and harm done by that devotee to another person.   Again, common I suppose to every religion, ‘christianity’ no less than any other, is that the divine demands the punishment and death of another person, thereby absolving those instrumental in the punishment and death of the other of all culpability.   The seeds of terrorism lie in this sort of self-delusion.   How many 'good christians’ believe that the marginalization of women, the alienation of LGBT people and the condemnation of those of other faiths and no faith is what God decrees?   What has happened to ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’?  If 'love your neighbours' applies only to neighbours who happen to be straight Anglicans like us, what would distinguish us from the mass of people of other religions?   Indeed, atheists and agnostics do this better than the devout and the orthodox, who are essentially divisive to society.

It was this realisation that came to Paul on that road to Damascus and he was led to choose a God of compassion over a God of wrath.

I have sometimes been privileged to meet atheists and agnostics in the course of my hospital visiting, and often I have my best conversations with them, because mostly they have thought through faith far more than some ‘christians’.   They are most often content to be compassionate towards others and inclusive.   On the other hand I often find myself anxious as I enter the rooms of those who have designated themselves ‘christian’ or whatever and have requested a chaplain’s visit.   This is much more fraught.   Will I be asked to read a passage from the Bible, and if so which one?   Pray formally or extempore?   I know that I can accommodate most of these requests.   Will they be on good terms with their minister and congregation and want them to know of their illness or will they prefer not to be inundated with visitors until they are stronger?  Will they want the sacrament of ‘holy communion’ and if so will they be happy with the reserved sacrament?   And what will others in multi-bed wards think of being excluded from all this?   Some ‘christians’ think it is an opportunity to witness to their faith to other patients and staff, leaving bibles, prayer tracts, CDs and DVD’s ‘accidentally’ behind.   This doesn't seem to me to be about compassion or inclusion.

I am reminded of another way of interpreting the parable of the Good Samaritan: that the last person the orthodox Jew who fell among thieves would want help from was a heretical Samaritan.   In precisely the same way some ‘christians’ want their doctors to be ‘christians’ rather than accepting help from an infidel.

One of the first things one loses when coming to a hospital is one's privacy.   Of course doctors and nurses realise that the bulk of the population find this confronting and try to be sensitive, yet they have seen it all before.   Health comes when we accept help from the unbeliever, when our personal space is invaded.   Health comes when we are ourselves and we let others be themselves, without having to hide behind a sense of dignity pretending to be a special human being, not like others.   Health comes in ritual defilement.

Health comes through reality, through the sweeping aside of delusion, delusions of entitlement, delusions of grandeur.  And again one can but turn to Paul on that road to Damascus.   The RELIGIOUS delusion was swept aside: 'why do you persecute me?'  Acts 9.4

Health comes in relationship and intimacy .. it would be unusual not to see isolation in someone suffering mental illness.   

Yet the relationship must inherently be one of equals.   We know that child molestation is not a real or healthy relationship; it is based on self-delusion.  

I have also been reflecting that there are some things parents can't teach their children.  Parents can't teach their children to drive, to swim, academic subjects, music.  I still remember my own resentment when my father didn't want to sit in the car while I was learning to drive :-)   With my own sons, I took them in winter to a beach where cars were allowed to give them their first lesson behind the wheel, but then handed over the lessons to a qualified instructor.    Of course this includes family members teaching other family members too.   How many couples find one or the other trying to change their partner and the strain that this brings to a relationship?   Family is meant to be supportive, and this can be strained trying to tutor a loved one.

And I think that this is paralleled in church.   Church is where we are accepted, but there are life skills that have to be acquired outside the church.   If we stay cocooned in our cosy ecclesiastical confines, our self-delusions won't be addressed.   Again our own health is enhanced by contact with others, real people outside our natural and spiritual families.

And the church that cocoons its followers from the outside world inherently limits people growing into full maturity, indeed it exacerbates illness.

Surely, again that word, it is not insignificant that Paul meets the risen Lord and is confronted by the self-delusion inculcated into him by his religious upbringing all his life as he travels AWAY from Jerusalem.

Religion that requires conformity essentially steals the possibility of being all that that person can be, from all people.   Religion that requires conformity kills even the possibility of love, and hence destroys community.

The Deuteronomist encourages us: 'choose life' which implies choosing not to follow a religion of death.  Deuteronomy 30.18

And Jesus speaks to those who thought that they loved God with all their hearts and minds and souls and strength: 'You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father's desires.'   John 8.44

Surely we must see that the Cross was not an unfortunate accident.   If it only takes away my sins and the sins of those who agree with me, it is only selfishness.   The Cross points to the religious delusion of separation and purity.   If we strive to be separate and pure, we are deceiving ourselves, robbing others in the name of the Compassionate One and crucifying Jesus anew.