The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s063g08 Sunday 30 26/10/08
'you shall love ..' Matthew 22.39
It is sometimes useful to put some passages into context. We have heard these words so many times before that we become immune to what Jesus means by love. In our lives when we, as 'christians', talk about love, we are apt to think that we love others (who don't come to church) by informing them of how they should come to church (like us) and worship and live like us. 'Speaking the truth in love' it is called.
I say, often enough, that Jesus was crucified for associating with tax collectors and prostitutes, and we may reason that Jesus would have been doing similar things to our own concept of loving others, when he associated with them. Jesus would have been telling those he associated with to go to church, worship and live properly. However he is hardly likely to have attracted the crowds proclaiming this 'well-worn' message, which is identical to the message of those who had him killed. I want to suggest that if Jesus actually had been proclaiming that people should go to church, worship and live properly, those who had him killed would have made him high priest instead!
The difficulty is that right after saying these words Jesus launched into his strident criticism of the scribes and Pharisees contained in Matthew chapter 23. Unfortunately we only read verses 1-12,37-39 - the fairly mild introduction where Jesus commends the scribes and Pharisees teaching but not their actions and ends with the lament over Jerusalem, but misses Jesus directly addressing them repeatedly (in verses 13-36) as hypocrites. So instead of telling the crowds how to change their ways, Jesus tells those who loved God so earnestly and conspicuously how they should change their ways!
There are seven woes in all: They lock people out of the kingdom (13); they make a convert into 'a child of hell' (15); they swear falsely (16); they tithe but neglect justice, mercy and faith (23); they clean the outside of the cup but are full of greed (25); they are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (28); they murder the prophets and would murder the Son (32).
So 'love' certainly does not mean accepting what everyone else does, but Jesus turns it around and it is those who reject others who are the ones that are rebuked and particularly when done in the name of 'God' quite stridently.
So the love of God is all about accepting others who are different. Jesus death on the Cross shows the logical outcome of not accepting others. The killing of Jesus on the Cross was certainly not the first example of religious terrorism and it certainly wasn't the last. If our religion surreptitiously or overtly excludes anyone else we too are terrorists. And terrorists are precisely those who 'know' their religion is right and everyone else is wrong. Terrorists know the difference between good (themselves) and evil (others) how delusional is this? It is these who should be locked up and the key thrown away.
When we are 'right' (and others are wrong) then we will find it is ourselves who are rebuked by Jesus. When we are accepting of others then we will find ourselves loved by Jesus. It is us who have to especially careful that our religion does not exclude others, for it is us who believe that we speak in the name of 'God'.
I often remind myself of some of the bylaws from the "Virtual Church of the Blind Chihuahua" by J A H Futtermann, and in particular the third: "Every once in a while, when you assert, "I believe ..." ask yourself just exactly who is it that is believing. After all, if you don't even know who you are, you should be very cautious in making assertions about who God is. This exercise may help you refrain from projecting your inner demons onto God when you are witnessing to others." If you are witnessing to what God has done in your life, you necessarily imply that others have to follow your path to find salvation, whereas if you witness to the presence of God in the lives of others you are affirming the other person and not magnifying yourself.
I was further reflecting on John 14.6: 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'. How quickly this becomes no one comes to the Father except through my conception of who Jesus was which really means no one comes to the Father except through me me not Jesus! I make myself into the heavenly gatekeeper and usurp Jesus! This seems to me to be quite the opposite of the love of others.
I have begun reading the book by Dr Benjamin Edwards, recently launched, called 'Wasps, Tykes and Ecumaniacs Aspects of Australian Sectarianism 1945 1981'. I confess I hadn't heard the terms 'Wasps' and 'Tykes' until I came to New South Wales. 'Wasps' are White Anglosaxon Protestants and 'Tykes' are Roman Catholics. While there was certainly sectarianism from whence I came, it was more focussed in South Australia on the Dissenters and the Church of England's pretensions to be an established church in the Australian colonies. Dr Edwards lists example after example of the sectarian divide and the remarkably similar methods each side used to denigrate the other in the name of 'God'. How easy it is to hope that time will sweep all this under the carpet, yet it continues to this day in perhaps less vehement, but as effective form, as people 'know' that they will not be accepted in church.
I have chuckled over and saddened by the video clip on the internet rejected by religion. www.metacafe.com/watch/99068/rejected_by_religion/
When I came to do hospital visiting nearly three years ago, I was confronted with the need to provide a service at the psychiatric hospital where it is entirely inappropriate to have a service focussing on sin and a liturgy that is exclusive of anyone else. It is a sop to have any form of service without offering the communion. It was not difficult to modify the liturgy of the sick in 'A Prayer Book for Australia' which made it so different from what Anglicans might immediately recognise in Sunday morning worship that it could pass for ecumenical. However I decided I needed some form of the creed which didn't put a mountain of unbelievable paradoxes for people to pretend they comprehended enough to affirm (as if Jesus ever did this) and focused on what Jesus did command us to do. This is what resulted:
'We believe in God, who as Lord of all creation, loves us, as well as those who do not live like us, those who do not believe like us, those who do not worship like us and those we do not love;
'We believe in Jesus, who was crucified because he loved others; and rose again because this love that God has for all could not be extinguished;
'and we believe in the Holy Spirit, who inspires and enables us to love others as Christ has loved us. Amen.'
Let me say what a joy it is to offer the sacrament to one and to all and to be freed of the constraints of obedience to 'the Book of Common Prayer and none other except as shall be allowed by lawful authority ..' :-) For Jesus commanded us ( not others): 'you shall love ..' not get others to become Anglicans.
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