The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s099g09 Lent 2 8/3/09
'ashamed of me .. this adulterous and sinful generation' Mark 8.38
While I take the words of the Bible, and especially those of Jesus seriously, I suspect that Jesus is not here claiming that each and every person was guilty of adultery. He is, of course, well known to have protected the woman caught by others in the very act of committing adultery when she was brought before him.
I also suspect that Jesus is not here making the statement that each and every person is a sinner in need of redemption, for he so regularly associated with the prostitutes and tax collectors, and was welcomed and accepted by them, that such invective, even on an occasional basis, would have destroyed such friendship.
Jesus is talking to his disciples and would-be followers and making it quite plain that it was his association with others that was going to make the devout ashamed of him and lead him to be rejected by those who loved God with all their hearts and souls and strength they were going to commit adultery by rejecting him. They were going to be turning from the faith of Israel to the worship of an idol, by having him killed. It was those who had him killed who were ashamed that Jesus associated with others. And if we are ashamed of those Jesus would continue to be associated with, this would put us in the very same boat as those who had Jesus killed so long ago.
So returning to the woman caught in the very act of committing adultery, by wanting to inflict on the woman the full penalty for her crime, Jesus charges her accusers with adultery against the living God.
Now some 'christians' talk about the penal substitution of Jesus on the Cross that Jesus on the Cross placated a wrathful God. I simply don't believe in a wrathful God and Jesus placating God. Jesus makes it quite clear here that he is accusing those who knew the law and the prophets 'off by heart' with adultery. He is saying that his message about a forgiving God was and is eternal. He brings nothing new religiously or theologically. God always was like this. And this is where I take Jesus' words seriously. The Cross adds nothing to the forgiveness God wants each and every one of us to exercise, because God always has and always will forgive. It is something that should have been quite plain to those who 'knew' and loved God so much otherwise they would have been guiltless. But no they were sinful adulterers.
The psalmist gives us an example of why it is not especially 'new'. He, or she, says: 'To the wicked God says: 'What right have you to recite my statutes, or take my covenant on your lips? .. You make friends with a thief when you see one, and you keep company with adulterers.' (Psalm 50: 16,18) It was precisely the devout who the psalmist accuses of consorting with thieves and adulterers. Indeed I suspect that the whole history of Old Testament prophecy is primarily directed against the ancient people of God, who had turned the object of the faith of Israel into an exclusive deity nationally, religiously, and / or morally.
Jesus could have easily avoided the Cross, but that would have meant acquiescing to the idol of the wrathful God needing to be placated. If he acquiesced it would have meant that the poor in spirit would continue to have been cursed by the devout and religious as eternally unclean and needing to eternally placate God. The devout committed adultery by worshipping this wrathful 'god' and stole the dignity of everyone else in the process.
The genesis of wrath comes from those who place themselves above it by their religious exercises. The first recorded murder was committed for religious reasons and so the primal sin is religious seeking to separate ourselves from others.
One of the most obvious things about the ancient people of God is that they were a nomadic people they mixed with all people, from Iran and Iraq to Egypt and everyone in between. Essentially they roamed the whole of the then-known world. They were continually coming into contact with other peoples so any effort to separate themselves was an exercise in futility. And the post-resurrection church was immediately dispersed in a similar way. Any attempt by 'christians' to avoid contact with other people is essentially an exercise in futility also.
For we too are to take up our cross - and our cross (and our glory) is our willingness to mix with all other people in the name of the God of the Old Covenant and Jesus in the new.
When one looks at the ecumenical movement, for all it might seem to be attractive and inspired by the Spirit, in the end there is no common creed that will satisfy all. 'My' Anglican Communion is rent by differences in biblical exegesis, sacramental theology and issues of sexuality. To suggest that the Anglican Communion flies under some unifying banner is mythological, so if it can't be done in one small branch of the church catholic it is correspondingly more impossible across the whole of Christendom. The only thing that unites all humanity is our common humanity and this is precisely what Jesus died for, and what he calls us into.
And if it is not what Jesus calls us into, we are left with what we have at the moment - denominations critical of one another, internal divisions within denominations, gulfs between people of different faiths and as a consequence all sorts of terrorism minor and major and then endless recriminations and guess who are the real victims the innocent poor just trying to get on with life. Is this really what Jesus died for? Is this life in all it's fullness? I would be ashamed of Jesus if this were true and so should everyone else!
And a search for a common creed will essentially be another exercise in futility because any creed that delineates who is 'christian' and 'acceptable' from who is 'unchristian' and 'unacceptable' violates the common humanity into which we are called and for which Christ died. He was killed because he associated with others.
Of course the 'poor in spirit' didn't ask Jesus to die for them. For them such a concept, let alone the reality, is so far removed from life as it really is, that it is quite literally unbelievable. And it remains unbelievable to this day, because the church isn't noted for publicly proclaiming that God is concerned with others beside themselves and hence, like Jonah of old, is busy travelling in the very opposite direction by being really known to want everyone to become like us.
I want also to point out that here Jesus is making plain the real reason he was killed. If we were to believe those who had him killed and why on earth should we do that? their excuse was that Jesus committed blasphemy, suggesting that he was in a special and unique relationship with God. (Mt 26.65, Mk 14.64, Lk 22.71, Jn 19.7) Pilate surmised that he was handed over because of jealousy. (Mt 27.18, Mk 15.10) But here Jesus makes it plain that the real reason for his death was because the devout were ashamed of Jesus and his words that he associated with others and did this in the name of God. If it really were the christological claims he made for himself (and I personally suspect that he didn't because it would have got in the way of his real mission to associate with others) they would have been dismissive, aghast, appalled as they indeed pretended to be - but not ashamed.
So if our message as the church is how wonderful Jesus is this can as easily be turned into a way to differentiate ourselves from others. We would be ashamed of Jesus if we thought he associated with people of other faiths as well as our own, people who didn't go to church even if not **our own**, or with the prostitutes and tax-collectors of our day.
I started this sermon with the words: 'I take the words of the Bible, and especially those of Jesus seriously'. I don't believe the words of those who had Jesus killed, even when they are faithfully recorded in the Bible. The eternal question is placed before us and before all: 'Are we ashamed of this Jesus who associated with all, or do we find in who he was and what he did an assurance of God's love for us and for all?' Even if we manage to avoid committing adultery and other sins, our own judgement actually hinges on our answer to this question alone and how we also associate with all others or not. For there certainly is a judgement, particularly for those who call ourselves followers of Jesus and it is entirely how widely we associate with others or not. In another place Jesus made it quite plain: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven." (Matthew 7.21)
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