The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r091.htm
s091e03 Lockleys 28/12/03 Holy Innocents
"God is light and in him there is no darkness at all." 1 John 1.5
We are given, today, in no uncertain terms, the stark contrast between the divine light and human darkness. The completely unnecessary murder of the wrong children in a vain attempt to avert a coup d'etat that was ever only possible years down the track is contrasted with the God of undiminished light. If we learn nothing from today's readings we must surely realise that the hurting of others never achieves the will of God. It can never be the will of God that we hurt others or someone else's children. We might think that this is obvious, yet the world lives in fear of another suicide attack, where in the name of some demon, more people, including women and children, will suffer and die. Allah of the Islamic faith would not demand this if Allah is truly God, as I believe Allah truly is.
So often when we act hastily and through fear, we too will target the wrong people. We only achieve the desires of the wicked if someone else suffers for our or their behaviour - it makes it all the sweeter for them. We need to be careful that those who molest children are the ones who are stopped, not others who were unsure of how to stop them or were unable to challenge them head on. Again and again, I say we need to make sure that the sacrifices we make to God are our own and not really someone else's, or there will be hell to pay.
Herod acted out of fear. How odd that a despotic ruler was afraid of a baby! How many of our fears are about how things might turn out? How many future bridges do we cross mentally before the time? How much mental energy we waste crossing those bridges only to find that so frequently it was completely unnecessary? We were not called to go that way at all.
Herod acted out of fear, so even the ostensibly most powerful and secure individuals hide behind a very thin veneer of bluff. I have said before that it was when I realised that others were every bit as shy as myself - that others had just developed better ways of hiding it - that I began to forget my own shyness.
Herod acted out of fear, and so often when we act out of fear, we hurt others. Of course we will be justified (in our own minds) because we know that we have acted out of fear. We have been "forced" to do it.
Herod acted out of fear, because he, like ourselves, know that we are not pure and spotless. Inevitably, to get where he had got involved stepping on other's toes, and I guess there is no one here who hasn't had to do that either. He, like us, was afraid of God's judgement.
How do we resolve those fears of Herod - and more importantly how do resolve those fears in ourselves, so that we are not a danger to ourselves and others?
I once made the observation that the Church, viewed from God's perspective, must look a bit like that person possessed by the legion of demons, all trying to gain the ascendancy - a terror to himself and to all those around him.
Do we want to continue to live like this? God certainly doesn't want us to live like this, but it is our choice.
The answer to the question of how not to live this way is simply to trust, to trust that God will remain with us, today as well as tomorrow, and the same with everyone else. The answer is to realise that God loves us and will never act to harm us - or anyone else. The answer is to realise that we don't have to change the world or save the Church - we are called simply to love our neighbour. If we are doing useful things, it is certain that God will not abandon either the world or the Church. God has no need to add further punishment on society, for we punish ourselves and one another, much more than God would ever will.
Because God remains with us and with everyone else, there is no need to fear. Because there is no more punishment meted out on individuals other than what we mete out on ourselves as humans, we can simply accept others for whom they are and ourselves for whom we are. Indeed it is as we accept others for who they are that we are most likely going to make this world into a more accepting place.
In the end, life is not a competition. Because it is not a competition, all will get to the finishing line. It is those who think it is a competition, who want there to be winners and losers - and of course they must be one of the winners - who are put out by this graciousness of God. There are those who loudly proclaim themselves "Christians" who even think that some people are disqualified even before they start, just because of who they are. It would be an evil demon indeed who created something destined for eternal damnation, yet created it nevertheless - knowing full well that it would be told forever that it would never measure up, whatever it did.
"God is light and in him there is no darkness at all." is a message of hope for one and for all.
And when we hear the words "God is light" I think of the fact that this means that God is essentially not a decision making being. Light is, it doesn't choose of itself to be somewhere and not somewhere else. It is the same as the other "I am" sayings in the gospel of John. I am the way, the truth and the life. We are meant to tread on "the way" - it doesn't of itself block some travellers and not others. I am the gate, and it is a pretty useless gate which admits some but not others. Jesus never says he is the heavenly bouncer.
God is light and in the words of St John: "this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light." (John 3.19) People judge themselves - they turn away from the light which was the "light of all people" (John 1.4) thinking the light is only for them. They prefer the darkness and the solitude rather than the light and the company.
And as I reflect further on interdenominational and interfaith rivalry I reflect how easy it is for that which is evil to get it's own way - as Christians fight against Christians over what is the truth, and as people of faith fight against people of other faiths over what is the truth. That which is evil sets one group of innocent people against another, and what must be of the greatest delight to that which is evil, all this in the name of "god".
We do not need to be afraid, for ourselves or for others. All we need to do is get on with others as best we might. Again, it is not in the day to day complexities of human relationships that wars are fought over. It is the sins of the fathers, religious divisions that have their effect, generation after generation. For me it brings new meaning to those words of Jesus: "When you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift." (Matthew 5.23-24) It is not primarily a personal thing, but a social thing. If we blithely assume that God only accepts the offerings of Christians, other brothers and sisters of faith may well have something against us. We need to be reconciled to our brothers and sisters of other faiths before we presume to bring our gift to the altar of God. It is the former which God wants, not the later. We might even, in the words of St Paul, give our body to be burned, in an effort to avoid recognising the worth of someone else's gift to God, but God will still accept that other person's offering.
I have often cause to reflect on the first recorded murder in the Bible, was because Cain perceived that his brother Abel's offering was more acceptable to God than his own. I wonder if this perception was real or was it not just a fear, which made it real enough for him.
In one form or another God has heard humanity echo those words of Adam over and over again "I was afraid ... and I hid myself". (Gen 3.10) There is no need to be afraid, there is no need to blame God for the difficulties which befall us. God has put around us a beautiful earth and beautiful people and we are bidden to enjoy one another.
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