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

s029g14   Sixth Sunday of Easter  25/5/2014

If you love me, you will keep my commandments ..  John 14.15

And the commandment is not to hate those who are different!

The ‘world’ of which Jesus speaks are those who hate those who are different.   They cannot receive the Spirit of truth, because the world that marginalises, alienates and condemns those who are different cannot see beyond that hatred.   And the church who marginalises, alienates and condemns those who are different are also of the world, even though they might loudly praise Jesus.   So neither can that sort of church receive the Spirit of truth, the sort that claims to be the sole repository of the divine.   The God I worship actually would far rather us get along with people who don't believe like us, worship like us and live like us - not condemning them and consigning them to eternal damnation.   God doesn't need our worship!   And particularly God doesn’t want our worship when others suffer as a result of our neglect or distain.

Recently I have been reflecting that those ordained - certainly in my Anglican tradition - but probably in many others - are ordained deacons, priests and bishops ‘in the church of God’ - not into the Anglican Church or whatever.  (1)  The unity we seek is not just within the Anglican Church, not just within the christian faith, but within society as a whole, the entire world into which Jesus was incarnate, symbolised by the ordinary poor peasant family into which he was born.   Likewise at our baptism, we weren’t made members of the Anglican Communion - we were made ‘members of Christ, children of God and heirs of the kingdom of heaven’ (2) - in communion with all those amongst whom Jesus associated.   Jesus never commanded the Pharisees to agree theologically with the Sadducees or vice versa!   That would be an exercise in futility if ever there was one.   And even if they did manage to come to a compromise, what earthly good would it do for anyone else?

So we are concerned with the welfare of those children abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria, those who are Muslim as well as those who are Christian.   We are concerned with the welfare of gay and lesbian persons in Uganda, facing imprisonment for their affections.   We are concerned for the welfare of those of the island nations of the South Pacific threatened by rising sea levels, whether they be part of the Commonwealth or whatever.   We are concerned for others - this is the hallmark of our faith.

We aren't concerned to proclaim the veracity of our doctrinal statements, for these can become just another way of defining those who are different, and therefore less deserving of our love.

Recently I was asked if I did not miss in-depth relationships working in a hospital?   I suspect that the sub-text of this question is about having ‘christian’ associates.   As with all questions it is an opportunity to learn.   It is true that I have a lot of seemingly superficial relationships with patients and staff, people whose faith or lack thereof is entirely immaterial to me.   But each and every one knows this - they know that they do not have to measure up to my expectations - though of course this sort of trust takes a long time to establish.   People know that first and foremost I am a friend, and that I will not force my affections or my faith on anyone.   People, I hope, feel comfortable with me.   And I reflect that so often religion destroys this trust and comfort.   And where is love when trust and comfort are absent?

I answered the question with the reflection of what is more sacred, the birthing suite and the operating theatre, where new life begins to so many people, each and every day - or the sanctuary of a church?   Who brings these new births about - the surgeon and the midwife surely - not the priest, minister or even the chaplain!

My text today tells us that claiming to love Jesus is actually not enough, we have commandments to keep as well, and therefore the ‘command’ to love Jesus and consider and proclaim him ‘the way, the truth and the life’ (3) is insufficient.   Similarly proclaiming the unique and indispensable necessity of believing in the penal substitution theory of atonement is insufficient.   Recently someone complained: ‘The (Anglican) church is becoming just a quasi civil rights group.’   For me the problem with this statement is why haven’t we been recognised as a real civil rights organisation?   If we aren’t, who else is being helped?   We become like those six rich brothers who each and every day passed by poor Lazarus lying at their gate, oblivious to his plight, suggesting Lazarus really needed to repent of his sins!  (4)   We have to do as Jesus did, associate with others, those ordinarily accounted as irreligious - the tax-collectors, prostitutes and sinners. (5)   Others have to feel they can trust us, they are comfortable with us being around.   The six rich brothers were united in their distain for others.  

How many young people grow up with absent parents?   Sometimes it takes a good uncle, aunt or grandparent to be emotionally present to children.   The pressures on parents are very great and the physical distance a member of the extended family has can bring perspective into an otherwise fraught situation.   How many lives are blighted by emotional distance?   How many people resort to alcohol or drugs to assuage the pain of aloneness, how much mental illness results - and all some parts of the church can suggest is repentance and faith!   What a poor substitute these are for emotional presence?   It is reported that ‘LGBT teens and young adults have one of the highest rates of suicide attempts’.  (6)  Do we, as a church, care enough about these young people to examine our own prejudices, prejudices we dignify and justify with impeccable logic, or claim that it is just too hard?   Do we as a church cling to our creeds and doctrines as a way of avoiding affirming and including others?   Just who needs to repent?  (7)

Jesus says: ‘On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you’ - this is no magical or mystical pipe-dream.   When we are emotionally present to those around us we will truly live, whether they be Anglican or atheist, gay or straight - so these others can live too.   We will find that we are doing what Jesus did, we will be in Jesus, Jesus in us and all with divine approval.

I was taken by one of those ‘Facebook’ shares recently, quoting Barbara Smith: ‘For those of you who are tired of hearing about racism, imagine how tired we are constantly experiencing it.’ (8)   If people are tired of the pro-gay lobby, perhaps they might reflect on how tired some gay people feel, constantly being the butt of discrimination.

Call me liberal, wishy-washy, new age, whatever, but don’t pretend to me that a church for which internal unity is more important than being concerned for others, be they Anglican or atheist, gay or straight, is anything other than uncaring, selfish, idolatrous, un-Biblical and un-Christian.   For me, the ‘god’ they worship bears no resemblance to the God of the Bible!

3 John 14.6
4 Luke 16.19f
5 Matthew 21.31