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

s042g11  Sunday 9  Amberley  6/3/2011

In the name of God, Life-giver, Pain-bearer and Love-maker.   (Fr Jim Cotter

‘you evildoers’  Matthew 7.23

It is interesting that a number of times Jesus tells his listeners that they are evildoers or that they are evil, as in today’s gospel.   This has a parallel passage in Luke (13.27) where Jesus’ followers are rejected, even though they address him as ‘Lord, Lord’.   So calling ourselves ‘christian’ does not exempt us from being rejected.

And the other significant words are in Matt 7.11 (//Lk 11.13) ‘if you who are evil give good things to your children’.   So evil implies giving things only to those of our family.   Evil is loving only those who love us.   And so Jesus addresses the scribes and Pharisees - you brood of vipers - evil doers - they only loved devout people like themselves.   Indeed, the division between the Sadducees and the Pharisees (as there are divisions between factions in the church today) show us that church people can be particularly picky about who they love and who they despise.

So the church corporate does not escape being charged with evil when it worships Jesus but denies dignity to others, just as the church of Jesus’ day was charged with evil when it worshipped God but denied dignity to others.   As I frequently say, it was precisely those who loved God with all their hearts and minds and souls and strength who had Jesus killed because he associated with others.   Jesus treated tax-collectors, prostitutes and sinners identically to how he treated the devout - and THAT was blasphemy!

Indeed these words are prefaced by Jesus’ warning: ‘Beware of false prophets, who .. inwardly are ravenous wolves’.   Jesus warns not about advancing atheist secularism (like most leaders in the church seem to do these days) but Jesus warns against those religious teachers who deny the dignity of others - who deny the dignity of atheist secularists!   As I have often said, atheists often think about faith much more than most ‘christians’.   Indeed for some ‘christians’ thinking about faith is a contradiction in terms, faith is unthinking acceptance, believing the unbelievable.

I was interested to hear an Anglican priest say of using round unleavened bread manufactured hosts for the holy communion, that they had more difficulty believing the hosts to be bread than the doctrine of transubstantiation :-)

Look at what those (many!) will come and claim: ‘did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’   How easy it is to do great things and to claim divine inspiration and effectively make oneself so much better, so much more spiritual, so much more close to God than others - and Jesus’ reply is: 'I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.'   When our religion is all about OUR power and authority then it is evil.

Evil is when we love only those who love us - and the church has a habit of loving only those who love the church and condemning everyone else to everlasting damnation.   So the second way we distinguish evil is when we act to demonstrate our superiority over others.

I have been reflecting on the Maori concept of Mana, one’s personal authority, recently and how often the church has diminished other people’s Mana.    Colonialism, which is ever allied to the Church of England and her descendants, has made a habit of diminishing the inhabitants of a land they have invaded.   In Australia in 1835 ‘Governor Bourke implemented the doctrine of terra nullius "land belonging to no one" by proclaiming that Indigenous Australians could not sell or assign land, nor could an individual person acquire it, other than through distribution by the Crown.’   Essentially he declared that the indigenous people did not exist.  

And I have been wondering if we in the church mean by ‘evangelism’ removing people’s personal Mana and replacing it with church sanctioned authority - and if this is true why should we be surprised if we have got a proliferation of ‘gate-keepers’ both lay and ordained in churches.   It is like child molesters, usually they themselves have been molested in their early lives.   And as I often comment that when I grew up: ‘children were to be seen and not heard’ - another form of abuse, of diminishing the Mana, of a young person.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said: ‘Being powerful is like being a lady.   If you have to tell people you are, you aren't.’   And if we as the church have to tell others how powerful God is, it is no wonder to me that people who hear us are sceptical.

A real God is not a being who has a gigantic inferiority complex and needs lots of followers to continue to exist, but a god who restores the primal human dignity of all people, to stand on their own two feet (rather than cower before the Almighty) and to think and make decisions for ourselves (rather than making a virtue of compliance).

And continuing after the earthquake had struck on the 22nd of February ..

If we tell others that God caused the earthquake to get people to worship the divine, then the ‘god’ we portray to others is nothing more than a petulant child and no one in their right mind worships a petulant child, and nor do you try to placate a petulant child.

It is curious, after the earthquake in September I preached at the Redcliff Union Church.   They, at the base of the cliff, had suffered some fairly minor damage whereas houses on the top of the cliff had escaped.   Those at the bottom of the cliff had reasoned that an earthquake would affect those on the top of the hill - they would come tumbling down.  In a curious twist, the houses built on the rock, on the top of the cliff, survived, but those at the bottom, built on the sand, didn’t.   In the latest quake all the houses built on the rock at the top of the cliff were damaged because of the sharpness of the tremor and the proximity of the epicentre.   And the houses at the bottom of the cliff were damaged too, both by the quake and from rocks shaken loose and falling.   If we take Jesus’ words to determine where we might build a house, we are not getting the point.   They call us to think, and to think wider than my own personal security, and to realise that the house built on the rock is that which is built on the corporate and global security of all.   It is only when we build a house on the basis of the corporate and global security of all that we will have friends when storms come.  Indeed the storms of need and envy might well be lessened if our house is indeed built on the security of all.    The earthquake has shown us dramatically that the church that lives only to itself is not adequate to survive in the real world.

And I reflect that the church has been good about defining just what is and what is not sinful - mostly of course focussing on what people happen to do with their genitalia.   But Jesus focusses on evil rather than sin.   As I have observed, St Paul is the one who talks about sin, and since he includes himself, sin is all about religious imperialism.   But Jesus goes around indiscriminately and unbidden forgiving people.

But Jesus talks about evil.   And the ancient story in Genesis talks about the tree of the knowledge of ‘good and evil’.   The immediate outcome was the murder of Abel by his brother Cain, who perceived that his brother’s offering to God was more accepted than his own.   Why do we think that the knowledge given by the eating of that apple was necessarily accurate?   Is it not evil to think that our offering to God is more acceptable than our brother’s or sister’s?  But is not this precisely what the church has been doing for centuries?   Do we not kill our brother and sister to make sure it is only our offering that comes to God?

Let us forget about sin and let us concentrate on evil, that evil which says that our chorus of ‘Lord, Lord’ will be more accepted than others.  That evil that suggests that our prophecy, our exorcisms and our good works will give us precedence over others.   Let us see that ‘christian’ imperialism is as evil as anti-Semitism, white supremacy and homophobia.

Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"