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

s040g14   Sunday 7   23/2/2014

'do not resist an evildoer’.  Matthew 5.39

We have all been brought up as ‘christians’ to focus on sin and forgiveness, especially forgiveness through the recognition of our need for forgiveness and the atonement wrought by Jesus on the Cross on behalf of people like us, people who recognise their need for forgiveness and their identical belief in the atonement wrought for them by Jesus on the Cross. 

Of course, the rest of humanity are going to hell ..

But Jesus’ definition of evil is all about restricting our love to our natural and spiritual children; forgiving and feeding only those of our own spiritual tribe. (1)  This is a pretty good definition of the church whose central doctrine is about the forgiveness of those who are members and condemnation of those who are not - a church that is not affirming and inclusive - it is evil.

I have been thinking about the creation / evolution debate recently and specifically the question of how many scientists since Darwin have believed or who do believe in the six day account of creation in the first chapter of Genesis?   Darwin published his treatise 'On the Origin of Species’ in 1859, so which of the prominent scientists since then have believed in a six day Creation?  Perhaps to make the question more manageable I wonder how many Nobel prize winners in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, believed or believe in the six day account of Creation?   I suspect none whatsoever.

Clearly the lives of those in developed countries have hugely benefited by the work of scientists, benefits which are envied by those in less-developed countries.   Of course the simplicity of life in less-developed countries has much to teach us, but the relentless march of ‘progress’ is accelerating in a frightening way for those of us in the older generation in the western world.   We so much benefit from advances in physics, chemistry, physiology and medicine.    Our average life expectancy has increased dramatically, a fact which has its economic ramifications.

By contrast, I wonder what contribution to society a belief in a six-day account of creation has had?  What contribution have those who believe in a six day creation made in society?   I suspect none whatsoever!   The same question can be asked of those who continue to believe in a flat earth - what do they contribute to the advancement of humanity other than being a continual source of conspiracy theories?

Indeed, as I think about it I suspect that it is precisely because it has been freed from the doctrinaire constraints imposed by a particular reading of the Bible in the past 150 years that science has been enabled to progress exponentially and consequently society has benefitted enormously.   And it is a particular reading of the bible which is at fault; reading the bible as a rule book presuming it means to stop us doing things - including thinking for ourselves.   Others read the bible as a record of how people explained the universe as they saw it - the precursor of all scientific enquiry.

And Jesus today says: ‘do not resist an evil-doer’ - and in terms of my thoughts above, I see the logic of this.   The evil-doer ultimately is irrelevant.   The church that proclaims the forgiveness of those who are members and condemnation of those who are not - a church which is not affirming and inclusive - in the big picture believing in a god which demands we do not think for ourselves - is never going to be attractive or beneficial to society as a whole.   I believe in a God who welcomes secular humanism that extends benefits to all rather than just to a select coterie.

I worship the God who gives us brains to use and delights in our using them for the benefit of all.   For me the evidence is clear for all to see.

The ubiquitous 'Apple' logo 'is often erroneously referred to as a tribute to Alan Turing, with the bite mark a reference to his method of suicide.’ (2)   Turing was a british 'mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst and computer scientist .. He was highly influential in the development of computer science, giving a formalisation of the concepts of "algorithm" and "computation" with the Turing machine, which can be considered a model of a general purpose computer .. (He) was prosecuted for homosexuality in 1952, when such acts were still criminalised in the UK.   He accepted treatment with female hormones (chemical castration) as an alternative to prison.   Turing died in 1954, 16 days before his 42nd birthday, from cyanide poisoning.   An inquest determined his death a suicide; his mother and some others believed it was accidental.   (55 years later) On 10 September 2009, following an Internet campaign, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British government for "the appalling way he was treated.”   (4 years later again) The Queen gave him a posthumous pardon on 24 December 2013’  (3)

Again, we so depend on the work of this scientist, someone who worked for others.   His work as a cryptanalyst certainly contributed to the Allied success in WW2.   Any ‘christian’ disapprobation is actually pretty irrelevant.   We have so many people to thank for our present existence and prosperity, most of whom do not profess ‘our’ faith.

Our gospel reading for today is all about relationships with those around us.   The perfection that these words commend to us are about loving beyond those from whom we want some personal benefit - adherence to our beliefs and perpetuating our form of worship.   And if the church does not practice affirmation and inclusion when it deals with people of other denominations and none, people of other faiths and none, what good are my personal efforts?   As soon as we try to convert the person who believes differently or not at all, we are seeking some reward - we might pretend the reward is God’s - but God is not hoodwinked.

Perfection is about being universally affirming and inclusive, accepting others without discrimination, without hesitation and without expectation.  Perfection is about being thankful for the benefits we have already received through others who do not share ‘our' faith.

The Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is not about making us feel guilty and remorseful; it is about freeing us to be ourselves and to work for the betterment of humanity and society by being affirming and inclusive of others when they are being themselves.   This is why it is good news.
I often recall those words of Isaiah: 'In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.   Seraphs were in attendance above him; .. one called to another and said:
‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ ..  And I said: ‘Woe is me!   I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’   Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs.   The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’   Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?'   And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’’ (4)   God does not need us to sing: ‘Holy, holy, holy’ - there are seraphs to do this.   If we manage to gain a special vision of God we are told to return to society, to ordinary existence, to incarnation.   God wants people to live in society, affirming and including others, not straining to get to heaven, not getting everyone to join in the song of the seraphs or become fixated on their own personal unworthiness.     That would not be good news, either for individuals or for society in general.  

We live in a society that is performance driven and results oriented - and Jesus said: 'you will know them by their fruits’. (5)    Modern secular society demands the church provide an account of the usefulness of faith, but mostly they see division.   By contrast, when I go to the hospital I see evidence much like Jesus invited the disciples to report to the Baptist: 'Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.’ (6)    We do cataract surgery, replace knees and hips, insert cochlear ear implants, give hope to those condemned to death through heart surgery and radio- and chemotherapy.   And this is done regardless of faith or lack thereof.   There are no lepers - all are treated with respect.   Yes, this does cost and those able to afford health insurance do benefit by being able to access treatment quicker.   Any slowness in the health system is caused by the sheer number of people needing access to specialists and theatres.

I have often thought that the divisions in society that the church causes is because the aim of the church is to keep people members, whereas health for the hospital is discharge back into society.

May we look around us and acknowledge the huge debt we owe to so many others and in so doing may others find themselves saved from having to be, or pretend to be, someone other than the child of God that they already are.   As we acknowledge the dependence our present existence depends on so many people who do not share our’ faith we are invited to rejoice that we do not have to resist anyone.   It is very good news that we do not have to defend God and nor do we have to convert anyone to our own way of belief or worship practices.   Amen.

1. Luke 11.13 
4. Isaiah 6.1-8
5. Matthew 7.16 
6. Matthew 10.4,5