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

s102g15  Fifth Sunday in Lent  22/3/2015

‘save me from this hour ..’   John 12:27

I sometimes reflect that the whole of the bible gives us the message that religion is no bulwark against poverty, illness and premature death.   Neither the ancient faith of Israel, the christian faith, nor any other is capable of delivering to anyone a life of unbridled happiness.   No one gets through life unscathed, in one way or another.   Jesus didn’t get through life unscathed so how can we expect to do so?

In the dark recesses of my memory, when I was young, nothing could happen quickly enough.   One had to wait for parents to get themselves organised.   Save me from this eternity of preparation, let’s just get on with it!   Nowadays the days and months and years flash by with ever increasing rapidity.   Where does the time go?   Stop the world, I want to get off!

Jesus was clearly an ordinary human being, no different from you or me.   He did not relish the prospect of pain, but these words show he finds meaning in it.

Jesus chose to remain in that hour, in that situation, on that course.   He chose to remain in the world that God so loved.   I, I guess as much as everyone else, often wish I was elsewhere.   There are mornings when I lament having to go to work yet again ..   But I know that I would be lost if I didn’t have that job to go to.   I enjoy the people; it is a privilege to be invited into the lives of others, even if ever so briefly.   I observe that men in particular are often anxious to get back to work when they are in hospital.   The male of the species are less familiar with the clinical setting - generally women have babies so they are more experienced with hospitals.   This anxiety points to the fact that there is much meaning, affirmation, and spirituality in our day to day occupations, even though perhaps not many could articulate why - least of all me!   I have said before that in countries where there is the dole, the pain of unemployment is not so much the lack of money but that lack of direction, purpose and affirmation in life.   At least the employer values our presence to pay us a wage at the end of the week!   It makes me wonder how little this sort of affirmation happens elsewhere in life.   One of the first topics in conversation is often ‘what do you do?’  

Jesus chose to remain in the world and accept the consequences.   Neither God nor religion are there to provide an easy escape from the world.   ‘I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord GOD.’  (1)   We are put on this earth to live and love, and if there was no pain one would wonder if the love was real.   If there is a heaven, do we think that we will be alone there?   How much fun would that be if it were true?

Paul writes: ‘others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition’ (2)   If our religion is about separation from others, either on a personal or a corporate level; if we want something denied to others; this is by definition selfish.   Selfishness is the opposite of righteousness.   The only way to escape the charge of selfishness is to be affirming and inclusive of all; to accept humanity and society rather than flee from it.

HOWEVER .. this is not to say that individuals should continue to accept being the victim of physical, mental, emotional or spiritual abuse.    It is NOT appropriate for a (usually male) ministers counselling (usually female) people to return to an abusive ‘marriage’ ,. because this is what the Bible requires of suitably submissive women. (3)   At some stage abusers have to acknowledge their selfishness, just as conservative ‘christians’ have to acknowledge their corporate selfishness.   How can the less-than-affirming and less-than-inclusive church realistically pontificate against domestic violence, when they fail to acknowledge the selfishness which is foundational to their ‘biblical’ faith.   Indeed one wonders whether psychologically the distain evangelicals have for honest reflection on the effect their doctrines have on other ‘real’ people defines selfishness.   Is not this what Jesus speaks against when he says to the religious: ‘If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?’ (4)   As I have stated before the organisation which does most to perpetuate the poverty, illness and premature death of millions is the church which forbids the use of reliable contraception.   Is not this physical, mental, emotional and spiritual abuse all wrapped up in one?   When will they seriously reflect on the effect this doctrine has on other ‘real’ people?

Time and again Jesus’ parables speak about the wide diversity of people included in the marriage feast of the lamb. (5)   John too reflects this when he recalls Jesus saying: ’when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’   This is the basis of our affirmation and inclusion of others for it was precisely this that spurred the religious to have him killed.

1.  Ezekiel 18:32
2.  Ephesians 7.17
4.  Luke 14:5
5.  e.g.Luke 14:21-23