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

s064g14   Sunday 31  2/11/2014

‘you are not to be called rabbi’   Matthew 23.8

These words show that the gospel is aimed squarely at the new Church - it is not a diatribe against the ancient faith of Israel.  

I must admit when I read those words by James: ‘My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?   For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please’, while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there’, or, ‘Sit at my feet’, have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?’ (1) I think of how bishops everywhere are processed into worship with the greatest solemnity.   How is this different?

So when the risen Christ commands the apostles to ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you’ (2) we need to reconcile this with the command not to proclaim ourselves teachers.   So for me our teaching must be about the inherent dignity of each and every human being - that all people, regardless of gender, wealth, upbringing or choice of intimate partner - all have one heavenly parent.

This is an essential part of that gathering of the children, ‘as a hen gathers her brood’; the equality and egalitarian nature of the kingdom.   All are protected, all share the warmth of God.

But it is religion, and it can as equally be christianity as any other, that is not willing for God to be this affirming and inclusive.   I recall a conversation with our good friend Michael and his experience of walking the Camino.   One of his lasting remembrances was of a renovated church - the altar at one end, a table with space to seat 20 or 30 in the middle, and mattresses at the other end.   And God was in each part of the building.   This was his picture of what church is to be.  

Who are welcome to share our space under the mother hen?   The poor?   The confused?   The divorced?   The sceptic?  The questioner?   I was sad to read that some prelates complained that the initial document on the recent Vatican synod on the family ‘may give rise to confusion’. (3)

For the warmth under the hen does not all come from the mother - it is also generated by each and every one of the chicks.   And again, this needs to be viewed corporately rather than just personally.   We as Anglicans deprive ourselves of the warmth of others, people of other faiths and none, when we exclude them from our metaphorical source of warmth and security.   When we marginalise, alienate and condemn others we are depriving them of warmth and security, as well as ourselves.

I have been reflecting recently how the command to love God and neighbour which was the gospel last week is set squarely within the framework of Jesus’ parables against the devout and the orthodox and his denunciation of them in Matthew 23, of which today we only read the briefest of snippets and ignore the rest of the chapter altogether.   The rest of the denunciations are never read on Sunday morning!   When our faith is exclusive and judgemental, when we leave others out in the cold, are we not the ones who need to hear the words of denunciation in these chapters of Matthew?   Why are they consistently omitted?   And I repeat, these last chapters of Matthew (4) are all about the cursing of exclusive and judgemental religion!

I want to talk a little more about the warmth we receive from others.   When I see people in the chemotherapy suite talking amongst themselves, I don’t interrupt.   Those who are experiencing the same treatment find strength talking with someone going through the same thing, rather than me who hasn’t.   It doesn’t matter what the faith of the other person is, how they live, whether they are wealthy or poor, gay or straight; just the fact that they are human beings going through a similar situation - is greatly encouraging.   We are not alone.  I recall a priest once saying that he was an introvert and couldn’t cope with synods and escaped to be by himself during breaks.   And this gave me permission to make similar self-disclosure.   For all this time I thought I was the only one!   And there are few who get through life unscathed so we have something to share with others as others have something to share with us.   When we welcome the atheist and the agnostic, we allow ourselves to question, to admit our own niggling doubts, our own frustrations; to ourselves as much as to anyone else. 

I’ve reflected that conversations at the obligatory morning tea after church usually consist of inconsequential banter.   Somehow the ambience is not conducive to real communion; communion with people who are different, people whose very differences and complementarity to ourselves bring the possibility of enrichment.   How often the conversation is about the next fundraiser or meeting and who is going to do what!  

Again I reflect that some parts of the church will do just about anything except be affirming and inclusive.   We will work ourselves into the ground and criticise others when they don’t follow our example: exclusive, critical and condemnatory with ourselves being the rabbi, the teacher, the instructor ..

As a parent I knew I could never teach my own sons to swim or to drive.   If you want to retain a relationship, don’t try to be that person’s teacher!   Even real teachers know that they can’t have their own children in their class.

There are also those ‘evangelists’ for whom using the word ‘challenge’ has been the other way of avoiding affirming and including others.   They challenge others to examine the veracity of their message.   It has often been used so frequently that the contrast to how infrequently they use the word love is startling.   The only time the word ‘challenge’ is used in the bible is: ‘You set a snare for yourself and you were caught, O Babylon, but you did not know it; you were discovered and seized, because you challenged the LORD.’  (5)  It is clear that ‘challenge’ is no neutral word - it denotes conflict and opposition - characteristic of the Westminster system of government - not love.

So the real question is: When will we as Church choose to do as Jesus commands and to be the lover of others who are different?   When will we as the church: ‘make love not war’ as I have (more than once) paraphrased Romans 1.26-27

1.  James 2.1-4
2.  Matthew 28.19-20
4.  chapters 21-23
5.  Jeremiah 50.24