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

s070g14  The Presentation of Christ in the Temple  2/2/2014

'a pair of turtle doves’  Luke 2.24

Because I initially trained as an engineer, I am not at all familiar with flora and fauna so I took the opportunity to look up turtle doves in Wikipedia, (1) where I found: 'Perhaps because of Biblical references (especially the well-known verse from the Song of Songs), its mournful voice, and the fact that it forms strong pair bonds, Turtle Doves have become emblems of devoted love.’   The reference in the Song of Songs is: 'The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtle-dove is heard in our land.’  (2)      And it made me think of that famous book by Harper Lee: ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.   Miss Maudie explains to Scout: “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but . . . sing their hearts out for us.   That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” (3).

In New Zealand, every morning just before 7am Radio New Zealand plays a recording of one of the many beautiful native bird calls prior to the news bulletin. (4)   So we here are particularly familiar and appreciative of the songbirds around us.

Why do we hold to a religion that makes us believe that we are so unworthy that two innocent creatures must die to appease this ‘god'?   And of course I am talking about ‘christianity’ as much as the ancient faith of Israel, for we (as much as any others) have fostered a religion that makes us eternally apologise to God for being who we are and what we are made.  If God wanted us perfect, or all the same, it was in his or her power to arrange this a long time ago.

Why is it that we are so insecure that our fears have to be assuaged through the suffering of someone else?   It ranges from the two turtle doves at Jesus’ presentation, to those whose ground of faith is that Jesus died on the Cross for them personally!   Is our faith all about God being here primarily to assuage our own sense of inferiority, and if so is this at the expense of someone else’s dignity?   If we do not see the selfishness implicit in this we will fail to see why the vast majority of western christendom is leaving the church in droves.   Is our covenant with God: We will not question but believe despite all evidence to the contrary - provided that we don’t ever have to face our insecurities or examine our consciences?

And it is precisely the fact that Pope Francis is chipping away at this that he is being hailed by many people, non-Catholics as well as Catholics, and non-Christians too.

I suspect that it is because turtle-doves are thought to be lesser creatures that their lives are not important, and of course their ‘love’ is not sanctified by marriage so their feelings become irrelevant!   We do not have to look very far to see that the concept of the unimportance of other 'lesser creatures’ has dominated the theology of the church - read women and gay people.   Recently I read gs 1932: the Report from the House of Bishops to the General Synod of the Church of England, which says: 'Bishops have a particular responsibility to gather God's people and build up the Body of Christ.   We have each promised at our consecration to promote peace and reconciliation in the Church and to seek to unite its members in a holy fellowship of truth and love.’    It’s pretty hard to promote peace and reconciliation when one of the parties believes that the female of the species is less worthy - their self-esteem not worth worrying about. (5)   Where has the church expressed her horror of the gang-rapes of females in India?   We are too busy appeasing those who oppose the ordination of women as bishops.   Are gay and lesbian persons so much lesser creatures that their love is unimportant?

Will God cease to exist if no one believes?   Does God want us to leave our intellect at the church door as we enter worship?

One of the oft repeated injunctions in the first covenant was to not make idols - for the essence of an idol is to obtain power, power over the Almighty and hence power over others.   The psalmist rightly says: 'Those who make (idols) and all who trust them shall become like them’ (6) and we make ‘god' in our own personal image.   But God made humanity in the divine image: male and female, poor and rich, people of colour as well as ‘white’, enquiring and unquestioning, gay as well as straight.   Oft the ‘christian’ idol is male, rich, white, gullible, straight and the rest will go to hell.     There are, of course, far more references to the making and following of idols in the bible than there are references to monotheism.

The protestant insistence that people have their own access to the Almighty without the need for an intermediary rightly encapsulates their horror of any individual having control over another person’s spiritual life.   (A brief internet searching suggests that this is common to Judaism, Islam and the Bahá'í faiths too.)  The activities of the sons of Eli, Hophni and Phineas, who regarded the offerings of the common people with contempt (7) is one of the few times personal sins are mentioned in the Bible in such detail.   It is significant that Jesus notices and magnifies the importance of the widow’s offering - an offering made not to himself, but to the Temple.  (8)

The only way we escape a charge of idolatry is when our theology includes others, when we do not place ourselves and our theology in the way of other people’s immediate access to God.   Jesus warned against putting stumbling blocks in front of others (9) as well as St Paul (10).    Each and every person is loved.   The Cross is about the devout and the orthodox’s denial of this central truth.   The resurrection is God’s guarantee that the attempt to contain the divine in any particular version of orthodoxy is for ever doomed.  

Let me repeat: the only way we escape a charge of idolatry is when affirmation and inclusion of others is the centre of our theology; the intricacies of our worship are pretty baubles.  The fate of two love birds is infinitely more important!

(2) Song 2.12
(5) the .pdf file can be accessed at:
(6) Psalm 135.18
(7) 1 Samuel 2.17
(8) Mark 12.43
(9) Matthew 18.6,7 // Mark 9.42 // Luke 17.1 
(10) Rom 9.32, 14.13 1 Cor 8.9