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

s099g15 Second Sunday in Lent   1/3/2015

‘those who are ashamed of me and of my words’  Mark 8.38

Recently I have been reflecting on those profound words: ‘It is not good that (anyone) should be alone’.  (1)   How much harm is caused by the bullying of an individual by an ‘in group’?   Redheaded, left-handed, studious young people have been ostracised and have had their lives made miserable.      We are very grateful to our good friend Linda who gave us the book: ‘Super Power Baby Project’ .. ‘a photographic art book which features striking photographic portraits of 72 children with chromosomal conditions, taken by award-winning photographer Rachel Callander.’  (2)    What absolutely gorgeous photos of absolutely gorgeous children!   One wonders how these would have fared in times past, and even now in some places?

Bullying is making individuals feel alone and unloved - it is not good - for anyone and indeed for society as a whole.

This bullying is magnified exponentially when a church acting in the name of a god condemns everyone who doesn’t conform.   People who don’t hold the right faith have been condemned to eternal damnation.  Cross denominational marriages have been outlawed.   Ordinary people have been afraid to think for themselves.   Jews have been exterminated.   Gay and Lesbian people alienated.   Instead of an ‘in group’ making the lives of individuals miserable, churches make the lives of whole categories of people miserable!   It is not good - for the other groups alienated, and indeed for society as a whole.

People have been made to feel alone and that vulnerability exploited to gain a convert.   In sophisticated ‘christian’ circles this is sometimes called ‘pre-evangelism’!    The words of condemnation Jesus says immediately spring to mind: ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!   For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.’  (3)

As  a hospital chaplain, I have come to the conclusion that the only thing I really do is to try to make people feel that they are not facing whatever alone.   Whatever their faith or lack thereof, whatever their race, colour, creed, gender, whoever they choose to share their intimate moments - no one deserves to be ostracised.   And a church where this is perpetuated by the church in the name of god deserves to be derided.

All of us can face just about anything, when we face it with someone else.

I well remember patients in the psychiatric hospital about to be discharged, thanking other patients for their help.   Just being able to talk with someone who actually knows what one is going through is very powerful.

Those who are familiar with my theology will not be surprised when I say my heart warms to these words of Pope Francis: “Jesus is not afraid of this kind of scandal .. He does not think of the close-minded who are scandalized even by a work of healing, scandalized before any kind of openness, by any action outside of their mental and spiritual boxes, by any caress or sign of tenderness which does not fit into their usual thinking and their ritual purity.” .. “Truly the Gospel of the marginalized is where our credibility is at stake, where it is found, and where it is revealed.” (and) “Contact is the true language of communication.”  (4)

So the question is to us, are we ashamed of these words of Pope Francis?   Are we ashamed of those Jesus befriended, and continues to befriend?

So it is not good for the church to be alone in the midst of an increasingly secular society.   So God calls us as church into community, into communion, both for the sake of the community, but equally for the sake of the health of the church.   It is here, and only here, that we are where God would have us be.   And it is here, and only here, that the religious would rather kill God than go.   They are ashamed that God loves people other than themselves.

For me, one of the most powerful testaments to the veracity of the faith of both the ancient people of God as well as the church - is the built-in critique of selfish religion.   We have a faith in a god who welcomes the scrutiny of the scientist - as well as the parody of the prophetic cartoonist.   Prophet after prophet condemns selfish religion, calling it adultery (5) and sodomy (6) replicated by Jesus’ words today about ‘this adulterous and sinful generation’.

We rightly recoil at the atrocities of the ISIS killings - but if these just serve to reinforce a sense of the rightness of OUR version of ‘christianity’ and everyone else’s evil delusion, we fail to see the selfishness implicit in our religion and fail to appreciate that it has not done one iota to reach out across the religious divides which is the basis of all bullying.   Similarly if our main aim is proselytising, no matter how surreptitiously labelled ‘charity’, then this too is laced with self-interest and will do nothing to reach across the religious divide.   This seems to me to be something to really be ashamed about, something that really invites repentance.

Indeed if christianity is anything other than a repudiation of every form of selfish religion, then it deserves to be derided.

1.  Genesis 2.18
3.  Matthew 23.15
5.  e.g. Jeremiah 3:1-3, Hosea 1:2
6.  e.g. Isaiah 1:10-11, Romans 1:18-25