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

s093g14  Advent 2  7/12/2014

‘the good news of .. the Son of God’   Mark 1.1

I have been reflecting recently that the whole of the bible is about God preferring the oppressed and the eternal propensity of self-professed religious people to oppress others - the outsiders, the fringe-dwellers, those not part of their ecclesiastical gang.   So the good news is indeed good news for the oppressed, but implicitly it is bad news for the oppressors.   The Cross is about those who loved the Lord their God with all their hearts and minds and strength (1) having Jesus killed.   The resurrection is all about the eternal purpose of God to prefer the oppressed not being thwarted, then or now.

This good news is not unique to Jesus.  Our gospel snippet speaks of ‘people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem .. going out to’ John the Baptist.   He was in a long line of prophets: Jonah (2), Isaiah (3), Jeremiah (4), Amos (5), and Hosea (6), who in their various ways saw the oppression by their own community of faith towards others and spoke up against it.

I reflect again that the first murder was committed because Cain perceived, rightly or wrongly ‘the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering’ rather than his own. (7)  ‘Rightly or wrongly’ because their parents had eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and that knowledge is inherently flawed. (8)

And Saul on that road to Damascus, came to the realisation that his religion was based on oppressing others.

And I want to point out that the good news was and is plain to ordinary people.  People do not have to be educated, manipulated, or threatened to grasp the message.   When John the Baptist appeared, people flocked to him and the same happened when Jesus arrived on the scene.

And I contrast this to my own journey of faith, entering theological college in 1975 in an attempt to work out what I believed, and now, nearly 40 years later, finally being (sort of) confident of something that multitudes of ordinary people in Palestine so long ago saw immediately.  I’m a slow learner!

Indeed there has been times in my own ministry when my concern was to perpetuate the church.   But then the stark reality has hit, again and again, that a church which is not affirming and inclusive, is not worth perpetuating.   There have been times when I have realised that I wouldn’t invite someone whose friendship I valued to become a member of a congregation of which I was the minister.  The petty politics can become all-consuming, which means that people who don’t take sides because they have a valuable ministry outside of the parish will forever be ‘on the outer’.   Of course this only perpetuates the perception that religion is divisive.

In the Anglican Church there are finally moves to change the ecclesiastical law about the inviolability of the confessional. (9) Why would any parent willingly put their children into the care of others in an organisation which will defend those responsible for the care of their children rather than the children themselves?   It is no wonder that church attendances are declining!

This oppression comes from those who profess to know the will of God so intimately - a knowledge almost invariably associated with a divine preference for themselves and people who think, believe and worship like themselves.   And invariably this is proved wrong!

I spoke recently about the eternal conundrum of a God which is ‘omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient - all powerful, always present, knowing everything.’ (10) and I have recently been reminded of the conundrum of a loving God creating such a cruel universe.   One of my good friends finds difficulty believing in an interventionist God, even to questioning a creator entirely.  In his 'Virtual Church of the Blind Chihuahua' on the internet J. A. H. Futterman has this as his third bylaw: 'Every once in a while, when you assert, "I believe ..." ask yourself just exactly who is it that is believing.   After all, if you don't even know who you are, you should be very cautious in making assertions about who God is.   This exercise may help you refrain from projecting your inner demons onto God when you are witnessing to others.’(11)

Time and again in scripture, God avoids even giving the divine name to humans (12) and this ought to alert us to the reality of God knowing how such wisdom might be used against others - might be, has been, and continues to be - especially by those who quote: ‘no one comes to the Father but by me’! (13)

And divine retribution?   We might piously say with the psalmist:  I have been young and now I am old: but never have I seen the righteous forsaken’.(14)   But in another place the psalmist laments the opposite.

I like the New Zealand Prayer Book version of the psalms and particularly this passage:
‘For the boasting of the wicked roused me to envy:  when I saw how greatly they prosper.
They suffer no pain: their bodies are sound and sleek.
They come to no misfortune as others do:  nor are they afflicted like other people.
So they wear their pride like a necklace:  and cover themselves with violence as with a cloak.
Iniquity comes forth from within them: and folly overflows from their hearts. 
They scoff, they speak maliciously:  indeed they speak of oppression by the Most High.’ (15)

The last verse is echoed by St Paul when he describes his own persecutors as: ‘inventors of evil’.  (16)

The church has to come to grips with a world which has recognised the good news and rejected the manipulation, marginalisation, alienation, and condemnation of the orthodox and the devout.   Such an oppressive god is entirely irrelevant to the world and we are better off without such a god.

Perhaps God is indeed striking down the oppressor by forcing the church to come to grips with the world that has realised that they are far better off living without the oppressive and repressive church.

And finally I need to add that, of course, violence and oppression continue to exist outside the church, but while the same exists within the church, perpetrated in ‘God’s’ name, we have no moral justification criticising others.  The good news is that the possibility of a less violent world exists because God has always wanted it so and bids those who love him to repudiate violence and be affirming and inclusive.

1.  Deuteronomy 6.5
2.  Jonah 4.1
3.  Isaiah 1:10-11
4.  Jeremiah 5.1
5.  Amos 5.21-24
6.  Hosea 4.1-2
7.  Genesis 4.4
8.  Genesis 3.5
11.  © Copyright
12.  Genesis 32.29
13.  John 14.6
14.  Psalm 37.25
15.  Psalm 73:3-8
16.  Romans 1.30