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

s099g12  Second Sunday in Lent  4/3/2012

‘what will it profit them to gain the whole world?’   Mark 8.36

My attention has been drawn to the word ‘gain’.   We are not to gain the world as followers, we are to love the world as disciples of another.   It is the megalomaniacs of this world who want to conquer it, to have others acknowledge their sovereignty, and to be able to exact tribute.   Yet it strikes me that the church corporate has done precisely this; to imitate the colonial aspirations of nations, indeed to aid and abet the spread of western civilisation to the 'uneducated heathen' in Africa, Asia and Australasia.   How many wars have been fought over this or that piece of land that really belonged to the original inhabitants, by their so-called ‘christian’ over-lords - teaching others 'Thou shalt not steal'?    And the conservatism of some Anglicans is a direct result of that colonialism.   Acceptance of difference was never part of the traditional church’s mantra – irrespective of denomination – Anglican included.   Protestations from ‘liberals’ about love and acceptance will fall on deaf ears and there is certainly enough biblical material to enable conservatives to continue to marginalise women, alienate gay persons and condemn anyone other than ‘christians’ of their own persuasion.  For in doing so they are only imitating the orthodox and the devout of Jesus’ day, those who had Jesus killed because he taught differently.

There is little point in pointing the finger at the conservatives - they are only faithfully handing on what the traditional church has taught them.   They have learned their lessons too well - just as St Paul had learned the lessons of his youth too well, took them to their logical conclusion and set out to persecute others.

We are not to profit from our religion, it is others who are to profit.  If we gain the whole world, but everyone fears and hates us, we have surely lost our life.   It is when we (as a church corporate) are known for our indiscriminate inclusion and acceptance of others that the church and the world experiences new life.   While we continue to marginalise, alienate and condemn others we are dealers in death and we ourselves will die.   The measure we mete out will be the measure we receive is not just a dictum for others to observe – it applies to the church corporate too.   We can be the ravenous wolves rather than the shepherd who feeds the sheep.

I point out that Jesus says that he will be ‘rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed’ - not that he would be rejected by Herod and Pilate - they were but bit players in what was a religious conflict in which the secular authorities had no interest.   The modern paranoia many parts of the church have about advancing secularism actually is a smokescreen to avoid the gospel imperative themselves.   The church has always feared the secular; and how can the church love that which it fears?   In complete contrast, Jesus associated with the secular, the tax collectors, the prostitutes and the sinners.   Jesus had no fear of them and loved them.

It is, of course, true that John in his letters does talk about not loving the world: ‘Do not love the world or the things in the world.   The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world -- the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches -- comes not from the Father but from the world.’  1 John 2.16-17    My words from the beginning illustrate precisely this.   The church of the past has loved the colonial pretensions of western civilisation.   Similarly the church has resisted anything which has relativized their authority.   Their persecution of scientists, including Galileo and Darwin, is based on the concept that God is somehow diminished when our human perception of reality has changed.  

So we are surely called to love and respect the creation, and to love and respect all people.   One cannot love Jesus and not love and respect the creation and love and respect all people.

Recently I have been reflecting on reflection, tautology though this be.   And I realise how novel this is in Church history.   We have been brought up to believe and accept - to trust and obey.   However in our love and respect for the creation and all people, we are surely also called to love thought and creativity.   I have spoken before how God lifts people to their feet after they fall prostrate before the Almighty, and that this is both physical and spiritual.   Our primal human dignity is restored, to stand on our own two feet and to think, reason and make decisions for ourselves, not just follow our own primitive instincts for self preservation.   This thinking, reasoning and making decisions for ourselves implies that we are evolving, that we are not just to believe and accept, to be subject to forces and authorities outside of ourselves.   Thought and reasoning cannot be tamed.   Indeed the forces of repression actively discourage independent thought, and this is a form of colonisation, which, as I began, has been adopted by the church for centuries.   The church has measured her success by how many people she has gained, as the church often feels diminished by the number of adherents she has lost in recent years.   But the loss has really been a loss of authority through an increase in the general level of literacy, education and exposure to a multitude of ideas, inviting us to think, reason and make decisions.   Real people have been lifted to their feet by the Almighty; freed from subjugation by religion.

And of course this can happen on a local level as well as on a global level.   Some self-appointed parishioners use the organisation of a church community to fulfil otherwise unrequited desire for political power without the necessity for campaigning for votes.   And not having to face an electorate means that they have no need to actually consider what is best for anyone other than themselves.

This love and respect for the world and for all people, including the diversity of their thoughts and decisions in life means that we embrace evolution.   If we are simply to trust and obey, replicating forever the things of the past, we condemn ourselves to more of the same.   But if we use our brains and consider the feelings of others we can hope for a more humane world to come.   So the difficulty in believing the six day account of creation is not its improbability, but that it implies that we are to be static rather than continuing to evolve.   We are to be merely slaves to the past rather than active participants in creation and procreation.   And I would hasten to add that if the bible really wanted to insist on belief in a six day creation, then it wouldn’t have included the other account which has a different order of creation, irreconcilable with the six day account.

What will it profit the world if every one blindly accepts creation and repudiates evolution?   What will it profit the world if everyone becomes 'christians' of an identical flavour to myself?   It might be easier, but it would sideline the necessity for love.   What will it profit the world if every Anglican diocese subscribes to the Covenant?  

In contrast, what will it profit the world if we tried to live by the commandment to do unto others as we would have them do unto us - especially if they don't believe like us, if they are marginalise and alienated (most often by the orthodox and the devout).   It is my view that it is only this that would profit the world, and therefore it is only that that is worth working for.   And it is in accepting others in all their diversity, that we begin to accept ourselves in our own uniqueness.   So yes, as a byproduct, we too profit, in that we only become who we really are in an accepting and affirming community.   And who on earth would want to continue to live in a discriminatory and critical community?   We have only to look around!

Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"