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

s091g15   Holy Innocents  28/12/2014

‘he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem’  Matthew 2:16

I began this sermon on the morning after the siege in central Sydney and the killing of the 145, mostly children, in northern Pakistan. (1)

We are rightly horrified and grieve as best we can with those who have lost loved ones.   But I first want to say that those armed with weapons killing unarmed children are neither brave nor noble.   Deluded probably but brave - never.   Brave is when one takes on an equal, or someone better armed.   Killing defenceless children is not brave.   Bravery isn’t having the more lethal weapon.

I suspect that this is what God speaks against when it is written: ’When you offer your gifts and make your children pass through the fire, you defile yourselves with all your idols to this day.   And shall I be consulted by you, O house of Israel?   As I live, says the Lord GOD, I will not be consulted by you.’  (2)

A small rant here.   I really hate the word ‘paedophile’, not just because of the difficulty in knowing the way it should be spelt.   When this word is used, what is really meant is a child molester.   To use a Greek word seems to dignify something which is criminal.   Everyone loves children - the root meaning of the Greek word.   Fortunately few molest them.  

Innocent people suffer all the time - sometimes they are young.   And the church perpetrates and perpetuates the suffering of others - like the prohibition on safe and effective contraception which causes the continuing poverty, illness and premature death of millions of innocent people.

Many people were brought up under the tyranny of the dictum: ‘children are to be seen and not heard’ - an abuse made more horrific because the perpetrators didn’t even see the abuse.

I have difficulty with the feast of the Holy Innocents because it is never God’s will that the innocent have to suffer.   We are saddled with a theology of predestination which assumes that everything that occurs, happens because God wills it.   This seems a convenient way of evading responsibility for our corporate neglect.   Indeed it seems to suggest that God plans some humans to suffer.  No!   Suffering is always at the hands of other humans.

The sins of Hophni and Phineas (3), and the parable of the prophet Nathan to David (4) tell us in no uncertain terms that we must ensure the sacrifices we make to God are our own, or there will be hell to pay, whether we be ordained clergy or even the king of Israel.   These instances also highlight the fact that suffering is often inflicted on others by people thinking that they are doing God’s will - ‘christians’ as frequently as others.   Somehow ‘they’ can get away with it.

God really loves children and two of the characteristics of children is that they are not burdened with scriptural or theological knowledge.   Secondly they have nothing to contribute.   They do not have money or prestige to offer.   I am reminded of those words of Jesus: ‘if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless.’ (5)   We need to see that it is the orthodox and the devout who are being condemned here, the people who went to church - and so the question remains - are we as church more focussed on the value our sacrifices are to the kingdom, or being merciful towards others - others who don’t give, who don’t worship, who don’t belief - ‘like us’.   Do we condemn others because they do not support our own personal ministry and mission?   How do we offer hope to this world while we continue to insist on others doing things our way?

God loves children - the multitude of ordinary people irrespective of the fact that they are unversed in scripture and tradition.   Indeed those words of James seem important here: ‘Not many of you should become teachers’ (6) for God commands us to love others - as equals - that they in turn will love others.   The only useful thing we can teach others is that (in the words of the Christmass tweet): ‘we are all loved equally, we all belong to one another.’

2.  Ezekiel 20.31
3.  1 Samuel 2:17
4.  2 Samuel 12:1-10
5.  Matthew 12:7
6.  James 3.1