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

s045g13  Sunday 12  22/6/2014

'Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me’   Matthew 10.37

I began the preparation of this sermon on the afternoon of the Feast of Pentecost and my thoughts were about how some ‘christians’ are determined that others must agree with them in their intolerance of LGBTI people in the church.   There is safety in numbers, especially when one is bullying a minority.   In my Pentecost sermon I wrote: ‘I have been reflecting that parts of the church will do just about anything rather than be friends, affirming and inclusive of all!’   As I rode my motorcycle to church that morning I thought how the church will do just about anything rather than entertain the possibility of God at work outside her aegis.   As it happens, I had been told that it would be good to wear something red to the Pentecost service, which I was happy to do.   But this made me think about those who hadn’t got this message, or who came off the street and weren’t wearing red.   How would they feel being the only ones not dressed ‘appropriately’?   Our inoffensive and pretty liturgical whimsy, supposedly inspired by the Holy Spirit actually may work to distinguish those ‘in’ the inner circle and those ‘outside’ our holy huddle.   We clutter our lives with liturgical whimseys, or liturgical straightjackets, as if this is what matters.   No, being affirming and inclusive is what matters.

With the decline in church attendances in western christendom, we have been forced into accepting the need for the ecumenical movement, and we continue to be surprised how little differences there are between denominations but I wonder if we actually allowed people to be themselves, we would find there is actually little difference between humans of many different versions of faith.   I have observed that poorer country dioceses are much more open to ecumenical exploration than wealthy city dioceses, where often the theological qualifications (and hence orthodoxy) of the minister is paramount.  It is most often these wealthy dioceses who have the clout in national Synod debates, so progressive ideas are squashed.

For me, my text tells me two things.   The first is that the commandment to honour one’s parents which Jesus’ words reiterate: ‘Moses said, “Honour your father and your mother”; and, “Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.”  But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, “Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban” (that is, an offering to God) — then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on’ (1) and these words of my text 'Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me’ are essentially irreconcilable.   Either God has an enormous inferiority complex that needs constant and undivided assuaging or something else is going on.   If god has an enormous inferiority complex then that god is not worth worshipping; that god needs therapy urgently!

The only other possibility is that affirming and including all is more important for the peace of the world than simply loving our natural AND SPIRITUAL parents.

For me this highlights again that Jesus was not killed by a fickle uneducated crowd - he was killed quite deliberately by those who believed God had ordained them to be superior over others so that they could bully others - and Jesus denied that superiority.   And so Jesus can be crucified just as easily today and always by religious people even claiming to act in his name - when they assert their superiority over others and bully others.

Our adherence to our spiritual ancestry is always secondary to being friends, being affirming and inclusive of all.   THIS is the mark of our faith, this is doing things in Jesus’ name, even when we seemingly pray to Allah, YHWH, Buddha, Krishna or whoever.

So when Jesus says: ‘whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.   Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it’ - he is not asserting his spiritual qualifications, warning of his wrath for non-compliance and promising his reward for co-operation; but stating that the message of affirmation and inclusion of all is vital for the continuing existence of humanity.  The enemies of affirmation and inclusion will be found in our natural and our spiritual families.

As I have gone through the church - the over-riding raison d’être has always been the continuing presence and influence of the church.   Sometimes it has come across as no different from any multi-national corporation.   Do not these words of Jesus speak directly to this attitude: 'Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me’?   If our love for the church has eclipsed our affirmation and inclusion of those who are not part of it then has not our church ceased to be worthy of her Lord?

Here I should mention the untimely death of the Right Reverend John McIntyre, bishop of Gippsland in Victoria, Australia.   He, in some measure alone among the bishops in Australia, confronted the evangelical conservatism against LGBTI people emanating from the Anglican Church League centred in the Diocese of Sydney.  (2)   Sometimes it seems the church doesn’t know what it stands for, other than its self preservation.   But in doing so, it will not entice a world to give of themselves in the manner to which we are called by the words of Jesus today.

For the hallmarks of today’s community is that we are all literate and generally well aware of the variety of expressions of faith around.   No longer do we live in a monoculture English village centred around the church with the vicar being the sole literate person, everything from policeman to judge.   Everyone spoke the same dialect and went to the same church - or they went to hell.   And modern society is realising that we have been given brains to use, not to leave at the entrance of the church as they enter worship.   Any ‘christian’ exhortation to discipleship must address the intellect.   If we cannot demonstrate that the church is working towards a society with less divisions and thereby more peaceful, then no one will be bothered.   Indeed working towards a society with less divisions axiomatically means that it will be at the expense of her own existence.   If the church which claims the inspiration of the Holy Spirit cannot lead the way, who will?   There are just so many other organisations that do work for the betterment of humanity as a whole as they are able, for people to support.

And if the church cannot demonstrate that she exists for a more peaceful and equitable society, then we reflect a god that is really a demon in disguise, a god who needs therapy urgently.   People are right to flee from a church that worships such a being, for in doing so that we prove ourselves worthy of Jesus.

Mark 7.10-13