The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s045g08 Sunday 12 22/6/08
'who acknowledges me before others' Matthew 10.32
This is one of those passages that can seem to be so exclusive. Only Christians, and even then only those evangelical Christians who stand on street-corners and proclaim the name of the Lord, will be saved. The timid, rest of us, will be denied by Christ before God on the great judgement day. Yet mixed in with this exclusivity are those lovely words: 'You are of more worth than many sparrows'.
Had Jesus come to bring peace to this earth, he certainly didn't achieve what he desired. People have been fighting, before and since, with monotonous regularity. There seems no end to the reasons people will fight. Of course many fight over the name of God and in the name of Christ. But the curious thing is that these fights are characterised by what is mine and what is ours - what is not someone else's. What is the difference between defending one's family, defending one's theology, defending one's friends, defending one's nation? they are all seemingly worthy things to do. Yet fighting only lets the cycle of violence to continue, and sooner or later it will spiral out of control.
At some stage we must recognise that others are as loved by God as ourselves, no matter by which name we call on God, whatever our race, gender or with whom we express our intimate affections.
I have been thinking about that wonderful passage in Isaiah: 'The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion -- to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.' (61.1-3). If we did this rather than defending our theology perhaps there might come some peace to the world. However if we continue to defend our theology against all comers the possibility of peace evaporates. If we as the Church refuse to acknowledge and affirm others, we tacitly condone any terrorism that others commit.
God anointed Jesus to bring good news to others, not to convert them, not to get them to acknowledge how sinful they were, not to change anyone, let alone change the world. And God anoints us similarly, to bring the good news of this acceptance of all to others. God does not anoint us to convert others, not to get others to acknowledge how sinful they are, not to change anyone, let alone change the world. Those who want to do these things want to destroy the soul in hell. Those who are opposed to Jesus and to God 'malign' others.
I don't know about anyone else, but I frequently have malign thoughts going through my head. I often recall the silly things I have done in the past and have bitterly regretted ever since. I worry if I am doing enough for the Lord and I look at other, seemingly more 'successful', people and put myself down. I read a book and marvel at the consistent argument and think how I could never achieve such a feat. Yet ask an author and they will say how their thoughts have developed since writing the book. The fad of blogs has past a bit, but the opportunity to express oneself does allow one to move on. My sermons are all about me moving on, albeit ever so slowly.
And I have to think about those whose voices are far louder than those I experience, often in the name of some god yet similarly destructive to the soul.
God anoints to build us up, and to help us build others up. We all have to deal with those demons that would diminish us.
So if we find our lives at the expense of others, then we indeed do lose what is really good and valuable. If we live our lives for the benefit of others as well as ourselves, we gain what is good and valuable.
This is the sort of God I will joyfully acknowledge, though if we actually have to use the name of the Lord, we have defeated ourselves. We must remember that the name of the Lord is a mystery to everyone. 'I am who I am' is deliberately ambiguous, for even knowing the name of the Lord is likely to put oneself above others. No one can manipulate God especially at the expense of others.
The peace of the world is much more in your hands and in my hands than it is in God's hands. God already has done enough for the peace of the world, and it is up to you and to I to get on with living peacefully. More to the point it is up to the church and people of good will to live peaceably one with another.
These words also cause me to think about the soul, that mysterious essence that inhabits us all. I suppose if I've ever thought about it, I've thought it's a bit like our blood something common to all humans a sort of secret ingredient. Yet the soul is what makes me unique, and so the substance of my soul is essentially different to the substance of everyone else's soul. Of course the substance of my soul is not 'better' than anyone else's or worse. If my soul is affirmed, then my personality, my total being, as I am, is affirmed. So those who destroy the soul, destroy a person's individuality. Those who deny Christ are those who deny the spirit of God in others.
And this illuminates the reason for our existence and the need to love beyond our family. God wants all of humanity to live at peace with one another, not just our families. There is no point in saying to the Lord that we've loved those you put around us when we've killed the Moslems down the street or we've maligned Catholics, Pentecostals, or the minister of our congregation!
At some stage we are called to consider why we have been put on this earth, and if it is just to win a la the survival of the fittest then the prospects for peace are miniscule indeed. We are called to be agents of peace, but it will mean nothing if we never have had to sacrifice anything that is precious to us to lose our life. St Paul goes as far as to say: 'I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.' Romans 9.3.
We acknowledge Christ because it is Christ who affirms us and speaks good news to build up our individuality, totally unconditionally, and if Christ does this for us, Christ does this for all.
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