The readings on which
this sermon is based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r063.htm
s063g14 Sunday 30 26/10/2014
‘you shall love the Lord your God’ Matthew 22.37
You and I have heard these words innumerable times before - you
perhaps even more than me. Many liturgies preface the
general confession and absolution with these words, so they are
brought before us each and every Sunday; far more frequently than
that other favourite text: ’no one comes to the Father but by
me’. (1) We don’t really need to be reminded of them,
after all we are the ones who come to church, we are the ones who
keep the church, and therefore the space to express our love to God,
But I have a problem, because the hearers of these words - the
devout and the orthodox - would not have argued with them
either. They too loved the Lord - they lived for their
religion probably far exceeding our attempts. Indeed I
suspect that they even tried to love their neighbours as themselves
as readily and as successfully as we.
Church has traditionally been (to quote the 'Rule of Life' on my
confirmation certificate 22/6/1962): 'To be present at Divine
Worship every Lord's Day, and to pray daily. To receive Holy
Communion regularly and frequently. To make humble repentance
and confession of sin. To make devout and regular use of the
Bible. (and) To support the Church and Ministry by gifts and
service.' These are all the hallmarks of devotion
and orthodoxy. I imagine a certificate for a Bar Mitzvah would
replicate these words with few changes.
Yet, for all this, the orthodox and the devout had Jesus killed!
The import of last week’s sermon was a review of the conflict
between the theologically literate and Jesus - spanning two whole
chapters of Matthew leading up to Jesus’ diatribe against them in
Matthew 23, the very words following our gospel reading for today -
Unless we put this in context, we fail to see that our devotion, our
orthodoxy, our theological literacy, essentially no different in
substance, if not in detail, to theirs, might also be crucifying
Jesus anew. And I begin to think that the orthodox and
the devout, christian no less than others, trivialise the
divine. They trivialise the divine by believing that God
is inhibited by non-compliance to a set of rituals, beliefs and
lifestyles defined by our own personal peccadilloes.
So for me there is a missing key to all this, something fundamental
to following Christ, that is independent of, indeed antithetical to,
our own devotion and orthodoxy. And for me this missing
key is incarnation, the blessing of all humanity by the divine; that
all creation and all humanity is imbued with the divine.
We cannot be complete without others. Our definition of
God cannot ever be comprehensive because each and every person has
something more to contribute to our understanding.
So we cannot love God by ourselves. We must have an
appreciation that the divine is found in others and that the divine
purpose is about unity in global diversity.
Loving God and loving neighbour cannot be merely a personal
ethic. If it is not an organisational and global ethic,
it is worse than useless. As Jesus lamented: ‘Jerusalem,
Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are
sent to it!’ (2) Is our ‘christian’ Jerusalem so
complete and self-sufficient, having no need for others who ‘are
sent to it’? We are called to recognise and acknowledge
our own corporate provisionality - this is the essence of the
message of the books of Job and Ecclesiastes. Indeed the
whole of the bible can be viewed as a chronicle of the failure of
any one religion to guarantee anyone a life of unbridled health,
wealth and happiness. Our continuing health, wealth and
happiness is inextricably linked to the health, wealth and happiness
of everyone else.
So any religion, christianity no less than any other, that claims
sole possession of truth, is thereby essentially inimical to the
general well-being of humanity as a whole, and therefore cannot
claim to be divinely inspired.
So the exclusive church - rather than being the vehicle of truth,
sustenance and health - becomes the greatest obstacle to the message
of God’s love for all.
And I begin to wonder who the commandment is referring to when we
are asked to love our neighbour as ourselves. In times
past we might have hoped it was the reasonably unobtrusive
neighbour, but baulked at the invading Visigoths, the communists,
the fascists, or whoever. But today the enemy doesn’t
necessarily bear weapons. In some church circles it
sometimes seems they are the different, the ordinary people who
front our television viewing, leading ordinary sort of lives, people
who actually don’t go to church or profess themselves
‘Christians’. In times past our ‘entertainment’ were the
lives of the saints and the stained glass windows. Today
we have embraced the Gestetner and the Overhead Projector and wonder
why young people look at us strangely. Radio, television
and the internet all tell us that most people are actually little
different from us, that most people are afflicted with the same
insecurities as ourselves. Young people now applaud when
people in the public eye disclose their mental health issues or come
out as something other than straight. So ‘When Lutheran
Pastor and author, Rev. Nadia Bolz-Webber was invited to an
evangelical online conference called The Nines, she noticed that one
of the topics for discussion was the 'issue' of homosexuality ..
(and she) .. decided that instead of talking about LGBT people, that
people attending the conference would benefit from hearing directly
from LGBT Christians. The result is a remarkable video with LGBT
people talking about why they are Christians, why they do not
appreciate being considered an 'issue," and why they are 'the
Church.’’ (3) If others who are different,
are issues, we are seeing them as less than the persons we are.
We are trying to compete with the world which is rather different
from embracing and loving the world. Incarnation defines
how we are to love others and it determines if we are loving a god
made in our own personal image or the God in whose image all - male
and female, rich and poor, european or indigenous, religious or
secular, straight or otherwise - are made.
1. John 3.16
2. Luke 13.34