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

s062g14   Sunday 29  19/10/2014

‘the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus’.   Matthew 22.15

As I have prepared sermons over the last weeks it has come to me how, time and again, the gospel has been about the conflict between the devout and the orthodox and Jesus.

This was no new thing.   In chapters 16 and 19 Matthew remembers: ‘The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus they asked ..’  (1)

But over the past weeks Jesus’ response to their antipathy has been constant: We have read of the cursing of the fig tree (2), the question over authority (3), the parable of the two sons (4), the parable of the vineyard (5) and the parable of the wedding banquet (6).   And of course all of Matthew 23 is Jesus’ diatribe against the scribes and the Pharisees.

All this dovetails with my words from last week’s sermon, that ‘the whole purpose of St Paul’s letter to the Romans is to try to find a way out of the conundrum that religion and orthodoxy, christianity no less than others, so easily can become exclusive, closed and abusive.’ (7)   How sad that we have been hoodwinked by ‘christians’ who (supposedly) take the words of the bible so seriously, and this message of Paul has been completely stymied by his supposed crusade against same gender intimacy.   This is not just Paul’s message, but the import of these chapters of Matthew’s gospel.   Yet for some Anglicans it seems as if they believe in one straight, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

The antipathy towards Jesus is really antipathy towards others - the less devout, the less orthodox, the less religious - antipathy so intense that the Cross is the only possible solution.  The kingdom is all about the affirmation and inclusion of others.

And Jesus is relentless in pointing out to the devout and the orthodox how they harm others.  As I listened to the passage from Isaiah 5 read again on October the 5th, the final verse spoke to me: ‘the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!’ (8)   Not crying, but one single cry ..   And I wondered who might be this one who ‘gently weeps’ (9) - perhaps the wife ordered by her minister to go back and submit to her abusive husband - perhaps the divorced person knowing that they cannot ever legitimately receive the holy communion - perhaps the one who only finds comfort in the arms of someone who happens to be of the same gender and knowing that the church would condemn.   The words of the risen Christ to Saul on that road to Damascus ‘why do you persecute me?’ still resounds, still needed because the Lord still hears that solitary cry, one not found in the Book of Common Prayer despite the billions of authorised ones that probably go unheeded.

There is no point in praying to God about it.   Repression, marginalisation, alienation and condemnation still happens in the name of our ‘Christian’ god.   The word of Jesus is to see how our theology is harming others; again and again, we will not be let off the hook, whether we stay safely in our Temples or on our way to our Damascus - we need to hear - because others are harmed.

No wonder Paul describes the orthodox and the devout when he says: ‘For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions.   Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another.   Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error’ (10)  just as Isaiah in his time did likewise. (11)   ‘Make love, not war!’  (12)

Time and again Jesus called the religious to see the hurt and the harm they were doing to others by their lack of humanity towards others, but how do they respond? - by engineering Jesus’ death!

Looking back I see that in 1997 I preached on the parallel passage ‘you ... show deference to no one.’ (13) (14) and the import was that the orthodox and the devout were scandalised that Jesus didn’t defer to them; that in fact he deferred to everyone.   Talk about being relentless :-)

It is interesting that the first question is about the lawfulness of paying taxes to the emperor.   The real question is are they not exempt by virtue of their religious convictions? - and Jesus says: No!   We are to be a part of the world not separate from it.

The gospel accounts should leave us in no doubt that time and again the devout and the orthodox attacked Jesus - in the name of the god of devotion and orthodoxy - and Jesus replies in the name of the God of affirmation and inclusion that their religion is death-dealing and exclusive.   Only they had the motivation to have Jesus killed.

So those of us who count ourselves ‘christians’ who are liberated by the Cross and resurrection - is our devotion and orthodoxy death-dealing and exclusive, or affirming and inclusive of all people?

The paradigm is not about (endless) conversations - it is about being clear what the kingdom is.

We readily recognise when abuse is perpetrated by other religious cultures, such as forced marriages, female genital mutilation and murder masquerading as ‘honour’ killings such as those described in the interview of Lynda Chanwai-Earle and Pollyanne Peña, Shakti Women’s Refuge, Wellington. (15)   We see these as abuses of the worst sort.   Yet a little later I was interested to listen to Kim Hill interviewing Karen Armstrong (16) on Radio NZ on 11/10 (17).   Karen has promoted the widely acclaimed Charter for Compassion, yet as I listened to her I thought again how the greatest cause of poverty, illness and premature death is a church ban on safe and effective contraception.   If her Charter for Compassion actually brings about change here then it will be worth something, but for me the church needs to realise the hurt they are doing to others by their theology.  Lest I be accused of anti-catholic sentiments I am happy to affirm I find myself much more comfortable with the approach of Andrew Hamilton SJ, such as when he writes: ‘Obama has done the churches a favour by stealing their clothing.’  (18)  

The central message of the gospel is that the church needs to realise when they are persecuting the Lord.   We need to ask ourselves - as a church - how have we plotted - and by and large succeeded, in trapping Jesus - into conforming to OUR perceptions of who God is?

1.  Matthew 16.1,19.3
2.  Matthew 21.18
3.  Matthew 21.23
4.  Matthew 21.28f
5.  Matthew 21.33f
6.  Matthew 22.1f
8.  verse 7
10.  Romans 1.26,27
11.  Isaiah 1.10,11,17
13.  Mark 12.14