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

s046e14  Sunday 13  29/6/2014

‘The wages of sin is death.’    Romans 6:23

One of the difficulties of this passage is that it seems all terribly personal.   The theology of Deuteronomy was that all the disasters that befell the ancient people of God were caused by their apostasy. (1)   Some clergy have gone around telling people who are not well that their sickness is caused by some sin or other of which they need to repent.   In reality people who are not well are usually much better off visiting a doctor or other medical specialist and if necessary taking some prescribed medication.   If the medication are antibiotics they need to take the whole course and not stop half-way through.

Of course when sin is thought of as so personal, it so frequently focusses on intimacy between people.   There are few people who have not lost their virginity in, on mature reflection, embarrassing circumstances.   One has only to think of the way unmarried mothers used to be treated in times past.   It was the most dreaded sin possible.   Young unmarried mothers were ostracised, often by parents and good church people.   Do we not think that that ostracism in times past and the continuing honour killings of women who want to marry someone disapproved of by their families are not more serious sins than the ‘inappropriate’ love of those ostracised and killed?   To quote Wikipedia: ‘Although honour killings are often associated with the Asian continent, especially the Middle East and South Asia, they occur all over the world.   In 2000, the United Nations estimated that 5,000 women were victims of honor killings each year.   According to BBC, “Women's advocacy groups, however, suspect that more than 20,000 women are killed worldwide each year.”   Murder is not the only form of honour crime, other crimes such as acid attacks, abduction, mutilations, beatings occur; in 2010 the UK police recorded at least 2,823 such crimes.’  (2)   How many millions of women and children have lived blighted lives because of the disapprobation of the church?  

Here we get a real idea of what St Paul means.   The wages of sin is not the death of the person who sins but the person who is sinned against.   So it replicates the experience of Paul, as he was off on that road to Damascus to persecute those who didn’t believe in the correct terms.   The risen Lord meets him and confronts him with the realisation that it was the Lord he was persecuting.  Others were being harmed by his sin.

And so, if others are harmed, diminished, marginalised, alienated or condemned by our theology, then OUR theology is sinful.  

Let no one be deceived, Paul had every biblical quotation under the sun at his disposal to justify his persecution, just as some ‘christians’ have numerous biblical quotations at their disposal to justify their alienation and condemnation of LGBTI persons, persons of other faiths and none.   I guess I could find rather more passages in the bible condemning unchaste women than those concerned with LGBTI persons. (3)   Why are there none condemning unchaste men?

In today’s gospel reading we are commended to welcoming, and if we are welcoming others will respond, and because of their welcoming, they will be rewarded, rewarded by friendship.   The essence of our faith is welcoming, affirmation and inclusion, whatever the name of God used.

It is interesting that the fashion chain ‘Cotton On’ have just had to withdraw products with the slogan: ‘You can’t sit with us’ because it is (rightly) seen as promoting bullying (4) yet our own ‘holy communion’ is really known for defining those who can’t sit in on the celebration, who isn’t included.   Our ‘holy communion’ is really the church saying: ‘you can’t sit with us’ to all and sundry.   This is as much bullying as the ‘Cotton On’ products.  This is where I see the truth of the saying: ‘Why do you see the speck in your neighbour's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?’  (5)   We, as the church, ought to know what bullying is all about and see it in ourselves and remedy it.  But we are content to only see it in others and condemn them.

St Paul’s letter to the Romans is all about the relationship of Paul’s previous orthodox and righteous faith and the new Christian faith.   On that road to Damascus the Lord showed him that his religion defined by the letter of the law was hurting others - was death-dealing    So Paul wrestles with law and grace, with the relationship of the children of Abraham and the adoption of others, with the continuing opposition of his former fellow-religionists who hounded him from Jerusalem to Rome, (6) and his desire for them to see the harm they were doing.   St Paul wrestles with how religion can be misused by good orthodox people believing they are doing what God wants harming other people - and of course the killing of Jesus was the prime example.   He himself was complicit in the martyrdom of Stephen - he knew his own sin only too well!  (7)

So to use St Paul’s words in Romans 1 as if they condemn LGBTI people is to fail to see that in reality they condemn those religious people - those ‘inventors of evil’ - those who alienate others.  (8)  

One of the oft repeated phrases is that Australia / New Zealand used to be a ‘christian’ country, and this phrase gives me the horrors.   It is often followed up by something like: ‘Young children are not taught christian values anymore’!   Well for my money some of the characteristics of being a ‘christian’ country and having ‘christian’ values we, as a society are a damn sight better off without.   I repeat: How many millions of women and children have lived blighted lives because of the disapprobation of the ‘christian’ church?   And do we hear the church acknowledging this?   Apologising for it?   Repenting of it?

It is interesting that our gospel puts things the other way around to what we might expect.   Others who welcome Christ in the marginalised, the alienated, the condemned, in the other, welcome God!

Until the church (as a whole) has got her message right: that the point of the bible, the gospel and God is not to affirm the historical accuracy of the genesis account of creation and the evils of science, until the church turns away from condemning intimacy she doesn’t sanction and embraces acceptance and welcome of all, until the church repudiates ‘children (of all ages) are to be seen and not heard’ then neither God or the church deserve our trust.   It doesn’t deserve our trust because someone may continue to be bullied in the name of ‘god’.   Until the church can answer these crucial issues, society is entirely justified questioning religious education in state schools.  (9)   Why should society trust the church with their children when the church can’t come to a common mind about these vital questions?  

In the end it doesn’t matter what name we use for God, what liturgy is used, how ‘welcoming’ a congregation is, or the location of a building - these are distractions to the gospel and the question is how long will we as church (as a whole) continue to avoid the gospel and crucify Christ anew in those on the margins of faith and practice?   The world is waiting for our answer!

1  eg Deuteronomy 31.29
3  Deuteronomy 22.20-22, Matthew 1.19
5  Matthew 7.3
7  Acts 8.1, 22.20
8  Romans 1.30