s061g08 Sunday 28 12/10/08
'they made light of it' Matthew 22.5
After I had finished the sermon for last week with the words: 'And I thought to myself: Is this what forgiveness is all about? Are we as 'christians' forgiven when we don't do as our Father asks? Is forgiveness withheld from others because they are not 'christians' when they don't do any better than us??? It seems to me that we are in fantasy-land if we believe this.' And (just!) after I had sent of the sermon - I thought that there really isn't much difference between some people's conception of the Church and outlaw motorcycle gangs. In the end both of these groups believe that membership of the group is of paramount importance. The comradeship within a motorcycle gang is legendary probably more than members in any congregation!
There is the old joke about the great wall in heaven with signs posted along it's length saying "Quiet Please'. The newcomer asks the angel what that is all about, and the angel responds, Oh, behind the wall is the .. group, they think there the only one's here!'
Like all good jokes this has an element of truth in it, but also some errors. Of course we all know that there will be more than Anglicans in God's kingdom, but don't expect us to get along with our next door parish, or that 'other' congregation in our church in the here and now. Of course the Anglican Church has got to change to survive as long as it's everyone else who does the changing!
The first misconception that can be applied to this parable of Jesus is that the wedding banquet is all about eternal life, sometime in the future. This is the misconception that the initial invitees had. They had better things to do in this life. They, through their religiosity would get into heaven in due course. But the wedding banquet is **NOW**, in this life. The slaves are sent during the everyday lives of the invitees. The slaves are ignored, mistreated and killed. The invitation is not into the eternal kingdom in the future an invitation to die. If it were an invitation to die, then the invitees would be quite justified in not especially wishing to attend. They had other things to do in this life. They had families and business with which to attend. So the wedding banquet is creation that is around us already.
But the joke is true - for the wedding banquet is not just for a subset of society, like the church. All are invited. So the wedding banquet to which we are all invited, the creation in which we have been placed already, is the creation we are bidden to share with all.
I am often asked in the psychiatric hospital in which I work, about the existence of hell. I usually reply by saying that I don't really worry about either heaven or hell. The most important thing to me is to enjoy as best we can the life that we lead. I wouldn't worship any 'god' who condemned the people I meet who have been so afflicted with mental illness to eternal damnation. Surely some have suffered enough. It would seem to me that the people I meet in hospital are heroic in their living far more heroic than the ordinary 'run of the mill' person like I am.
And part of this is the welfare of all people, not just me. We are made for community, and the joy of communion is that we relate to others different from ourselves. This joy only becomes greater with the extent of our ability to relate to all those people God put around us. We no longer have to convert others to our way of thinking, our way of worship, our way of living. When we are able to see God at work in all others as they are, we can begin to see God at work in ourselves as we are and true enlightenment is ours.
I was astonished to read in the letter to Colossians: 'these regulations .. are of no value in checking self-indulgence.' (2.22,23). I suppose I always thought self-indulgence was all about satisfying our sexual desires. But of course self-indulgence is not at all confined to this. Self-indulgence is closely related to religious denial the theology that my religiosity apart from anyone else will get me into heaven in due course. I will be alright and everyone else can just go to hell. Now I begin to see the reason why those who had Jesus killed did so. They would be alright. At the appropriate time they would go to heaven. Others would not and that was no concern to them. But Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom was now. Heaven, if it exists, will be too late. We must make heaven here and now and we can only do this by accepting others - not condemning others.
And I reflected that religious delusion and denial are perhaps proportional to emphasis on the sinfulness surrounding sexuality. If the primary message of the gospel is about sexual morality that **others** should adhere to (like ourselves) there is a good chance that this is hiding a good deal of religious self-indulgence no matter how much this be denied.
Many years ago I recall hearing the then Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, Archbishop Peter Carnley, preaching that 'tolerance' was not at all 'christian'. After I had got over my initial shock, he went on to say that people don't want to be tolerated we are called to love, not tolerate! How different this is, and how true he was.
So the parable goes on to describe the guest without the wedding garment. Clearly he didn't want to be there. It was not a matter of the clothes he wore. He didn't want to be in the company of all this 'riff-raff'. He would rather be at a funeral especially if he could be there all by himself. And so he gets what he wishes, he is sent outside to be all by himself, where he could weep and gnash his teeth all he liked like he was doing among the assembled guests.
So many are called, but with the call to the wedding banquet is a call to rejoice that we are there with all others. How many will be the few who realise this? I will not speculate. But this banquet seems to have been rent by divisions for centuries, by 'christians' as much as by anyone else. The wedding banquet has always been **now** so it seems that many may have indeed missed out by lives blighted by those who have blithely condemned others to eternal damnation.
I continue to use the word 'blithely' and I guess this reflects my text for today: 'they made light of it.' Such people make light of the fact that others are suffering from their distain, they make light of the fact that they condemn others to eternal damnation after all they deserve it they don't live by the rules the Bible sets out!!! But Jesus tells us that the Father cares even for the sparrow that falls to the ground. (Mt 10.29) And we are called to be perfect, just as the Father is perfect. (Mt 5.48)
God does not consider the situation in our world lightly, and neither should we. We are called to make our society into an equitable place for all. It will never be perfect in the sense that nothing bad will ever happen, but we can at least do what we can to encourage other people rather than marginalizing women and alienating gay people in the name of God.
I finished last week's sermon quoting John Lennon's classic song: 'Imagine'. The photo on my web page is the 'Imagine' plaque in Central Park's 'Strawberry Fields' near the Dakota building where John was shot on 8/12/1980. The picture was taken when I visited New York in September 2002.
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