The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:
s063g11  Sunday 30 23/10/2011

You shall love the Lord your God .. with all your mind.  Matthew 22.27

Chapters 21and 22 of Matthew describes Jesus entry into Jerusalem, the cleansing of the Temple, the cursing of the fig tree, the devout and the orthodox questioning Jesus’ authority, then three parables: the two sons, the wicked tenants and the wedding banquet.   Then the devout and the orthodox question Jesus, about paying taxes, about the resurrection, the greatest commandment and Jesus’ rejoinder about who they think the messiah is.   Chapter 23 has Jesus roundly denouncing the devout and the orthodox.

In the midst of this robust debating, Jesus talks about love, love of God and love of neighbour, and the context strikes me how significant this is.

What Jesus is looking for from those who call themselves religious is love and acceptance of others, and what does he get, but theological games and attempted one-upmanship (one up person ship? :-))  And I have to wonder, have things actually changed at all?

People seemed to get upset with Jesus.   There were: the chief priests and elders (21.23), the chief priests and the Pharisees (21.45), the Pharisees and the Herodians (22.15), the Sadducees (22.23), and again the Pharisees (22.34).   None of these would have any problem with the commandment – to love God ‘with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind’.   They were the devout and the orthodox and their ostentatious display of loving God was obvious to everyone.   But they all hated Jesus, enough to have him killed.  So the ‘god’ they worshipped was rather different from the Parent of Jesus.   And they had Jesus killed because their love of ‘god’ demanded it.

So we who love God need to be careful that we are actually worshipping the Parent of Jesus and not the ‘god’ that would have Jesus killed.

And I note that, by and large, the people who were upset by Jesus were not ordained people, those who were the professionally religious.   Certainly the chief priests were, but the others were the religious movers and shakers, ordinary people in the pews who reveled in being ‘gate-keepers’.  And what congregation does not have its ‘gate-keepers’?

In the many parishes I have been in, the most important thing has always been the survival of the parish.   The job of the priest or minister has been to encourage others to join the worshipping community; and had Jesus undertaken this task and attracted suitable people, then he surely would not have earned the displeasure of the gate-keepers in his day, the people listed above.   They would probably have made him high-priest!   But the people listed above were scandalized by the folk with whom Jesus associated.   They did not want to be associated with THOSE people.   The last thing they wanted was for people like them to be accepted on equal terms to themselves.

Recently I was at a mid-week eucharist and the passage from Romans chapter two was read.   And the words of St Paul in verse two struck me: ‘You say, ‘We know that God’s judgement on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.‘   And I realized that these words are directed precisely at those who separate themselves off from others on scriptural grounds.   I have to repeat that since that fatal bite of the apple, we can no longer be sure that our ‘knowledge’ is correct, however such knowledge is superficially consistent with scripture or tradition.  

Every week I thoroughly enjoy reading the lead article on Anglicans Online, an independent portal for all things Anglican and Episcopalian.   Last week they started the lovely article with the words: ‘The fractiousness of the Anglican Communion as we know it is a product of easy electronic communication.’   And the word ‘fractiousness’ hit me as well as the conjunction of the words ‘Communion’ and ‘communication’.   How can communication lead to a breakdown of communion?   Communication surely should lead to increased communion.

I certainly don’t question their perception of fractiousness or the perception that communication has exacerbated that fractiousness.

And it leads me to ponder if electronic communication has lead us to realise that the myth of a monochrome church is precisely that, a myth.   If the most important thing is the survival of the Anglican Communion the question becomes do we as the Anglican Church accept that in the kingdom, others are accepted on equal terms to us.   So the survival of the Anglican Communion is actually fairly immaterial in kingdom terms.

We have all inherited a theology of religious colonialism (if not imperialism) and while I can rejoice in the way I express my Anglicanism, I don’t expect others to express their Anglicanism (or their Christianity) in precisely the same terms as me.   Indeed, if others are accepted on precisely the same terms as myself, the name we call God or the manner of worship we use seems immaterial.

As a hospital chaplain, I know that communication with others, when it is done as equals, increases communion.   It is only when ‘communication’ with others is done in an unequal way that communion is diminished.   For ‘communication’ done in an unequal way is essentially one sided, whereas real communion is essentially mutual and between equals.   And for me this calls into question the propensity of the church to eternally wallow in the sinfulness of her members.   So the fact that the Almighty lifts people to their feet when confronted with God has it’s importance.   God relates to us as equals.

The text I chose was: You shall love the Lord your God .. with all your mind, and I note that the commandment is not: You shall love the Lord your God with your bible or with your tradition.   So often adherence to the bible and tradition means that we are not to think about our faith.   But neither do we have a propositional faith; we are to love God with our heart and soul as well.   Such love cannot be forced, for force is inimical to love.   Adherence to propositions, whether scriptural or traditional, is inimical to love.

And why on earth would gay and lesbian persons who have traditionally been alienated by the church and women who traditionally have been marginalised by the church, love this ‘god’ who inspires such abuse?

Recently I went to a worship service of low-church Anglicans, and there were certainly no gay or lesbian persons present, nor women in a teaching role.   The (female) bishop who presided listened to the sermon rather than preaching.  Interestingly the preacher commended the Puritan ideal of personal holiness.   The sermon was about the primary question for all, which is ‘do we love Jesus?‘ in the context of John 21 and it was clear from other comments that ‘feeding my sheep’ was about making gay persons straight and keeping women in subservient roles.   These folk are very sincere, but I could not help but think it was all so terribly narcissistic.   The preacher spent a good deal of time analysing Peter’s emotional and spiritual state following his triple denial, but I am not sure that he is aware of his own emotional and spiritual state, or especially that he would like it pointed out to him.   And it makes me think that so often religion can feed people’s insecurities rather than relieve them of them.

We are called to love God with all our mind, and surely this means that we are called to examine what our religion does to ourselves as well as others.   If our religion is good news for us but marginalising, alienating and condemning of others - is this reasonable?   Is this any different from Nazism?   If our religion feeds our own insecurities rather than lifting us to our feet (as God consistently does) is this good news?   Are we going to be of any earthly use to anyone else if we continue in this way?

God invites us into life in all its fulness, using our mind, all our senses, and all our emotions, to appreciate the beauty of this world and the beauty in one another.   We appreciate how generations before us have been invited and responded to this.   Their response may well be different to ours.   Similarly future generations will continue to be invited into life in all its fulness and they will see riches denied to us.   None of us need to feel constrained in the slightest, for there is so much to appreciate, from the microscopic to the telescopic, from aeons past to aeons in the future, in personal relationships and corporate action.   None of us need feel constrained for which we can be truly thankful to God, however he, or she, is named and worshipped.

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