The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s101g09 Lent 4 22/3/09
'those who do not believe are condemned already' John 3.18
Following my thesis that Jesus was killed because the devout were ashamed of those with whom he associated, then the parallels that today's gospel show us that:
not ashamed = belief = association with the world = not condemned = eternal life.
ashamed = unbelief = separateness from the world = condemnation = death.
It is our association with all those around us that proves our real belief that is eternal life. Our separateness from all those others around us proves our unbelief that is death. For in the end our association with others demonstrates our trust that the Lord can and does touch others besides ourselves. Our separateness from others demonstrates our lack of trust in the Lord who (we think) can only touch us.
I want to rephrase C. S. Lewis' trilogy of opinions of Jesus in 'Mere Christianity' (paraphrased) being either mad, bad or God in the following way:
This Lent, as we approach Good Friday, it is the death of Jesus that shows that his ultimate concern was not for himself. He could have easily repudiated his way of life and escaped death if he wanted to 'save is own skin'. Nor was Jesus' ultimate concern for God. God did not benefit in the slightest from Jesus dying on the Cross. There is only one other option, that Jesus concern was for others, and in particular those with whom he associated all his life the tax collectors and prostitutes.
For me the most important thing is not whether Jesus is related in a particular way to God, but that he related always to all those around him, all sorts and conditions of people. It is only **after** this relationship is established that we perceive the true uniqueness of Jesus and are led to the true character of God. One cannot bypass this association, and indeed all attempts to bypass this association lie at the root of all idolatry.
I am at present reading the prophet Jeremiah for the OT lesson at evening prayer, and in particular I was struck with the word of the Lord. "I spoke to King Zedekiah of Judah in the same way: Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people, and live. Why should you and your people die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, as the Lord has spoken .." (Jer 27.12,13) So, long before Jesus, the people of God were bidden to serve the society into which they were placed, not lording it over them. Jesus only repeats this same message - we are bidden to live for others.
Some of the final words of Jesus, prior to his arrest, speak about the king returning at a time when he is least expected. Of course if we knew when the King was to return we would make sure that everything was spick and span. But it is the continuing life-long association with others that God is concerned about. No one is helped if we spend a life marginalizing and alienating others, and at the end of time, realizing that we were supposed to be friends with them. (Matthew 24.45-51 // Mark 13.32-35 // Luke 12.39-46)
In the words of Psalm 95.7 'today' is the day of salvation, for today is always an opportunity to associate with others. Today is always a day to rejoice in the company of others rather than be aloof from others. Indeed it takes a lot more effort to remove ourselves from society than to be a part of it. It requires a good deal of ingenuity to work out how to exist apart from the supports society provides. How could we live without teachers, doctors, traders, city councils, internet service providers!?
The exclusivists are condemned already because by keeping aloof from others those who pretend to be religious condemn the world to continuing and further disintegration into sects, tacitly approving minor and major terrorism. I point out that to condemn others who believe differently from us to eternal damnation is not an insignificant threat it is actually the ultimate form of terrorism. Those who flew those planes into the Twin Towers in New York city killed 2750 people. Those who consign tax collectors, prostitutes and a multitude of other ordinary people to eternal damnation thereby blight the lives of precisely the same number - countless people. These are the real terrorists!
And by being terrorists, such people will find that they will reap what they have sown. Sooner or later they condemn themselves to be the brunt of similar terrorism, and will they then cry 'foul' to God?
The central determining thing that differentiates those who believe and those who don't and those who have eternal life and those who live in death is our continuing association with others. The central determining thing offering peace to the world or continuing divisions within the world is how we as Christians accept others.
There is no point in saying that Buddhists, Jews, Moslems, Hindus, and the multitude of others have to become like us. We are the ones who claim to be led by God. If we claim to be led by God simply to assert that we are right, that we do not have to move, that we are right and everyone else is wrong of what difference are we to anyone else? Does the Holy Spirit exist to shield disciples from change? Surely the Holy Spirit exists to help us to move, and to move towards the acceptance of other people.
Those who associate with others on an equal basis, allowing others to be themselves, are completely open and transparent. They have nothing to hide, for they have nothing to gain from others.
On the other hand, those who condemn others who do not want to become like them - often proclaiming themselves evangelical hide the fact that they are open to others only insofar as those others are prepared to become like them. If they were up front and honest, they know that others would shy away. They have to hide their ultimate aim, for they have something to gain from others and that means that others loose something and it is something important their self-determination. There is a lack of openness and transperancy.
And it is not God who will condemn, it is those who separate themselves from others who condemn themselves to this sort of 'life' which is actually death. God has spoken in Old Testament and New. The choice is ours, God forces no-one. But the rewards for listening are just as plain as the consequences are for those who do not.
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