The readings on which these sermons are based can be found at:
s044e05 Lockleys Sunday 11 12/6/2005
"While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God." Romans 5.10
These words take me back to those words of Jesus in Matthew, which we so often look as an impossible prescription for the Christian life: "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" and fail to see the words that precede them define God's perfection just as much as what God wants from us.
The words are: "If you love those who love you .. if you greet only your brothers and sisters .. what more are you doing than others .. do not even the Gentiles do the same!" Matthew 5.46. We can turn this around to say, "If God loves only those who love god in return, what more is this god than the idols we rightly disavow?" God's love is characterized then not by its intensity for individuals but by the sheer number of individuals it encompasses.
I have often thought that this has been turned into: "God loves only those who love god in the manner to which I am accustomed?"-- by Anglo-Catholics, Evangelicals, Charismatics, whatever, all alike.
So our love, if it is to mirror God's love, also is characterized not by the intensity that we love like-minded individuals, but on how many others we love, even those who do not think like us.
"Love your enemies", we are told and we do well to remember that God does this to begin with, and beginning with we, ourselves.
As a result of some internet conversations recently I was pondering which of the gods of this world are causing the most harm already.
The god of Osama bin Laden is opportunistic but the harm he / she causes to his / her enemies is relatively localized.
The god of George W Bush is at least trying to oppose the localized harm of the first. GWB will be replaced sooner or later, so this god's stance on family issues will likely be modified.
The gods of Archbishops Jensen and Akinola marginalizes more than half the world's population (women) and alienates a further 10th (gay people). Of course this god condemns to eternal damnation everyone who doesn't hold the Christian faith, and indeed the Christian faith as defined by them -- which includes a fair proportion of Anglicans :-)! It seems as if these other Anglicans are definitely enemies who can't by definition have been or ever will be reconciled.
The god of Pope Benedict the 16th would go further and continues to do nothing to relieve the unspeakable suffering and poverty in third world countries through prohibitions on contraception and the use of condoms as an AIDS HIV preventative.
The gods of the New Age people, so often pilloried by the Christians above, at least do not cause anything like the harm to others than the more "orthodox" gods above are doing.
We can oppose the gods of bin Laden and Bush; but we don't even blink an eye at the gods of Jensen and Akinola and Benedict. We consider their teaching normal and acceptable!!! There is not a police force or army in this world that can do anything about them or the harm they cause to people!
One of my colleagues worries that I am making god in my own image and I guess there is no point in arguing. I reflected that this colleague has a very fixed idea of what God is like. For me who sees God / the Risen Christ is all sorts of people other than Christians, my idea of God is inevitably very fluid. It cannot be, by definition, something in "my" image, for my perception of God is always changing as I perceive God elsewhere. To use scripture to postulate a fixed, correct image of God is for me to entirely misconstrue the first and second commandments.
Paul had an ideal of becoming all things to all people, and I find this an empowering and affirming path. The question for me remains, is my empowerment and affirmation at the expense of others' dignity and reality, or does it embrace the dignity and reality of others. If this is the former then I suspect that it is demonic rather than divine, but I could be wrong.
We have all to come to our own conclusions, after studying the bible, prayer, thought and conversation. I have come to my conclusions after much of each of these, but others will have to see how God leads them.
Archbishops Jensen and Akinola and Pope Benedict the 16th base their attitude towards others, not on a personal distaste or as a result of offences caused by these others. Their attitude is based on their faith in God. This leads me to ask: "Does God only love some of his or her enemies? Does God marginalize and alienate and condemn those he or she loves to eternal damnation? If so, it seems an odd sort of love. If God does this to some of his or her divine enemies but reconciles others, what is the criterion for choosing? Does god foreknow who will love him or her in return? But then this god is only loving those who would love god in return, and we cannot be expected to do any more.
Another question is: Does then God not discipline people? Yes, God certainly does discipline those God loves, but most often it will be those who know God loves them; that is, us. A couple of biblical instances immediately spring to mind. God disciplined St Peter into accepting the hospitality of Gentiles in Acts 10, so we will be disciplined into accepting the hospitality of others too. Likewise the Risen Lord had to discipline St Paul on the road to Damascus, on his way to persecute those who didn't think like him, those who didn't believe in his terms. So similarly we will be disciplined into not persecuting others who don't think like us or believe in our terms, either by omission or by commission.
My attention has recently been drawn to the work of James Alison and I have just finished reading his book "Knowing Jesus" and I have sent it along to my Spiritual Director to read. It is a wonderful book and well worthwhile reading, though one needs to pay attention to his train of thought. It does require one to think as well. But he talks about the essence of Christianity as not being against anyone or anything. If our theology is based on being against others, be they things like the ordination of women, or people, like Protestants (he is a catholic theologian), Muslims, Jews; then he really wonders if these people actually know Christ, as Christ really is.
The examples of disciplines that I described earlier -- accepting the hospitality of others and not persecuting others -- are actually joyful things to do. And these things are precisely what Jesus did, and were the cause of the opposition and his ultimate murder. Jesus accepted the hospitality of one and all and Jesus didn't persecute anyone -- there were no "them" verses "us" in his life. So we become his disciples by doing just as Jesus did, accepting the discipline -- accepting the hospitality of others and not living "them" verses "us" type of lives.
For me, it is only this that is likely to bring some sort of peace to this world. If we go on leading "them" verses "us" type of lives how can we expect there to be any lessening of tensions and conflict in this world? No wonder people are sceptical of the religion we expect them to obey and condemn them to eternal damnation if they don't! There is precious little we can expect by even praying to God. It is we who will have to change; change the paradigms of our faith as we recognise that God has reconciled all people already, friend and foe alike.
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