The readings on which this sermon is
based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r101.htm
s101g12 Lent 4 18/3/2012
'their deeds were evil' John 3.19
John 3.16 is arguably the most quoted passage of scripture, yet when
I hear this, the person doing so seems to be saying ‘God so hated
the world that in desperation he sent Jesus to die to give himself
justification to condemn anyone who doesn’t believe in MY terms to
eternal damnation and I don’t need to concern myself with
them.’ (I use the masculine pronoun for God deliberately if
unwillingly.) This seems quite opposite to the way Jesus
lived his life, mixing with the tax collectors, prostitutes and
sinners and being opposed by the devout and the orthodox.
We hear Jesus talking, not about sin, but about evil and 'evil' can
conjure up in our minds graphic and gruesome scenes such as those in
the film ‘The Exorcist’. But, as I have pointed out
before, Jesus often talks about evil in contexts like this - quite
different from his curing of demon possessed persons typified by the
healing of the demoniac and the demise of the nearby herd of
pigs. For me the classic example is: 'If you then, who
are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much
more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask
him! In everything do to others as you would have them
do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.'
Matthew 7.11-12 So, for me, we do not escape the charge
of being evil when we only give good things to our
children. And this surely applies to the church
corporate as much as it applies to you and I personally.
Indeed, of course, every little effort you and I do to fulfil this
law will be negated a million times over when the church herself
does not observe this law. And the church does regularly
give good things to her children, things like the holy communion -
things that are reserved for her children alone. And in
doing so the church doesn't escape the charge of being
evil. The church continues to deny to others'
forgiveness for being different or blessing of others'
relationships, and in doing so are acting no differently from the
The church often seems more concerned about how others live their
lives, forbidding contraception and condemning millions to live in
poverty, illness and premature death. I wonder how many
clergy would want to live lives like this, so why condemn others to
such an existence?
In my previous sermons I have talked about Jesus opposing those who
rigorously obeyed the law - exemplified by the Pharisees and those
who faithfully observed the ritual - exemplified by the
Sadducees. Today we see that Jesus opposes sectarianism
whatever authority is used - even when that sect claims to be
'catholic'. It was the orthodox and the devout who Jesus
charged with being evil, not the tax collectors, the prostitutes and
the sinners with whom he associated. It was the orthodox
and the devout who were evil, because they were offended that Jesus
associated with people other than themselves.
So, for the church to escape the charge of being evil our generous
giving has to extend to those we don't consider our children, those
who don't believe like us, worship with us, and who are intimate
with people who might offend our theology.
For the conjunction of the sayings about 'doing unto others' with
the word about not just giving only to your children surely implies
that we are to do unto others - especially those who don't hold the
same faith as us, those who don't worship with us, and those who
share their intimate affections with people we might not
traditionally approve. If we do not, we are no less evil
than the Mafia. So if we wouldn't want someone to
question our calling, why would we question the calling of someone
who happens to be female? If we wouldn't want the
sincerity of our affection for our beloved questioned, why would we
question the sincerity of the affection a gay or lesbian person has
for their beloved? If we wouldn't want the devotion we
have to our Lord questioned, why would we question the devotion
someone else has to their Lord, even when they might call that Lord
by a different name, or worship their Lord in a different
manner? We certainly wouldn't want others to suggest our
devotion will condemn us to eternal damnation so why would we
suggest this about others?
The conjunction of the sayings about 'do unto others' with the word
about not just giving only to your children, surely would rule out
all forms of religious terrorism. And surely the world
would be a happier place if this were so. But 'doing
unto others' means that Christians have to take the initiative, not
expect others to change first. And taking the initiative
means a fundamental change in our doctrine. We have to
be, to use modern terminology, transparent. With the
level of literacy, education and communication that the internet
brings, our society will instantly recognise when the church is not
practicing what they preach.
If one listens to what the church seems to be constantly saying, one
might assume that the sinful and evil people were those who don't
come to church, those ignorant of theology, those who don't measure
up. It is precisely these sorts of judgmental attitudes
that Jesus labels 'evil', and I trust Jesus' assessment of evil
rather than the church's.
And the ones who didn't believe were precisely the ones whose
positions of superiority over others was threatened.
So if our belief in any way makes us superior to others, separates
ourselves from others, marginalises, alienates or condemns others,
it is us who have got the faith entirely wrong, it is us who crucify
Jesus anew, it is us who do not believe and it is us who condemn
ourselves rather than anyone else.
We have, in the church, some ways to go before we can escape Jesus'
charge of being evil, for giving only to our children is enshrined
in parts of our scripture, parts of our tradition, and parts of our
culture; as St Paul himself had to learn. Like him, we
have learned our lessons too well.
I started this sermon speaking about how John 3.16 is often used to
justify considering 'christians' of a particular sort as being saved
and others condemned. It is precisely this use that
Jesus describes as evil. There is no point in saying
that this is what scripture says, if we use the name of Jesus to
condemn others surely our own condemnation will be the
greater. We have to believe, not in the Jesus we make in
our own image, but in the real Jesus who loves people other than
baptised, white, straight Anglo-saxon communicants like us.
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