The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s053g08 Sunday 20 17/8/08
'blind guides' Matthew 15.14
We have here another instance of the continuing theme throughout Matthew of the gospel imperative of taking the initiative to speak against the Pharisees. Right at the beginning of the gospel we hear of John the Baptist addressing the scribes and Pharisees as 'you brood of vipers' (Mat 3.7) and Jesus public ministry finishes with the woes against them in Matthew 23 where Jesus describes them using the very same words. (Mat 23.33) There can be little doubt that he was crucified because of these words.
And this is not necessarily just a New Testament theme. I can well imagine Psalm 82 on the lips of Jesus:
"God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgement:
'How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked?
Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.'
They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
they walk around in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
I say, 'You are gods,
children of the Most High, all of you;
nevertheless, you shall die like mortals,
and fall like any prince.'"
Those who are blind claim that they have the truth particularly about who is saved and who isn't. I said a week or so ago about the correspondent who wrote to me quoting 'no one comes to the Father but by me', that this person had a very clear and fixed perception of who Jesus saved and who he didn't. Those who opposed Jesus similarly had a very clear and fixed idea of who God saved and who God (had already?) damned. Their perception of God certainly didn't include others. There is a saying: 'there's no fool like an old fool'. So religious insights are not necessarily true even if they come with all the evidence of mature years, scripture and tradition. The eating of that apple was to make one wise, to know the difference between good and evil knowing who is acceptable and who isn't. But such knowledge while given, is not necessarily true or life-giving. It is not something that God actually wants us to have.
So it is quite plain that we can use our 'christian' knowledge to distance ourselves from others, just as easily as those who opposed Jesus.
This particular form of blindness is no accident of birth or the result of inadvertent injury. This particular form of blindness is wilful and deliberate; it is the deliberate decision to keep God to oneself and similarly like-minded individuals, and to pretend that God has nothing to do with anyone else. Of course this is idolatry, where the image of god is made in the likeness of the worshipper. It may indeed not be an idol of paint on a canvas or sculpture of wood or stone, but the mental image is identical none the less.
We need to distinguish between Jesus' forgiveness of those who crucified him the Roman soldiers 'for they know not what they do' and those who had him crucified the scribes and the Pharisees thoroughly lambasted prior to his arrest.
An idol made in the image of the maker is essentially dumb, because being made in the image of the maker it cannot 'speak' to the person of anything beyond that person's own experience. It is only with another person that conversation that broadens one's horizons can come.
And what I describe on a personal level also holds true for a congregation, for a diocese, a church, a faith. Fundamentally our God leads us to an appreciation of all people and all forms of worship or else it is not the God of the universe we are worshipping.
As we actually experience other people our horizons are broadened. If we oppose others, at the very least our horizons become limited, but the logical extreme is that others become expendable, and the seeds of terrorism, in the name of whatever god 'christian' or whatever - are sown. We don't have to speculate on what the world would be like in the second scenario, the evidence is all around us. And it is all done in the name of some god or other!
Of course we are to see God in us, but just as surely we are to see God in others as well, and not just those who live like us, believe like us or worship like us.
Those lovely words of St Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 'now we see in a mirror dimly, then we shall see face to face' - assure us that we all will find God in us but this is also just as true for everyone else. Love believes all things, so God believes in us, plural! And surely God believes we can live in peace one with another, and will do everything possible to bring this about rather than be the instigator and coach on the sidelines for all disputes.
And the path we are to take is not some esoteric spiritual journey, but is there for all to see. It is around us in our daily lives, in the people God has put around us. This is the reason that the blindness is necessarily deliberate, because it is so obvious to anyone who cares to look that it takes a deliberate act of will to avoid the path.
So knowing the difference between good and evil is not life giving, it is accepting others that is life giving, both personally and corporately. It is life giving to us as well as to the others.
Ever since I began going to church there has been this constant lament that the church is declining, it is aging, it is going stale. The remedy is easy, but it involves the cost of letting go precious things related to how we perceive God and allowing the perceptions others have of God space to have expression.
In most congregations the form of worship and small group activities are so set in stone that nothing is accepted other than admiring what is already happening. Our very worship and activities become the idol which prevent new life coming to us.
I confess I sometimes wonder if my preaching has become too argumentative, but my first words suggest that Jesus was not always 'gentle .. meek and mild'. I genuinely admire those preachers who can seem to bring words of peace and comfort to the congregation each week those who can pour oil on troubled waters rather than petrol on the flames like me! But what is the point of trying to placate bullies and terrorists? One of our chief saints was initially a bully and a terrorist in the name of his god ready to proclaim how right he was and how wrong and expendable others were, until he met the Lord on that road to Damascus. More seriously - do I point out the faults in others to avoid seeing and dealing with my own personal sins? That will be for someone else to determine, but I can take some small comfort that St Paul was moved to say: ' I do not even judge myself.' (1 Cor 4.3.)
If we but see those God has put around us, rejoicing with those who rejoice, mourning with the bereaved, at least we cannot be accused of blindness. (Mat 11.17) May we be enriched by our communion with others who are different from us in a way not possible if our communion is only with people much the same as ourselves. And perhaps if I say this argumentatively, others more skilled can put it more gently.
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