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s103g12 Palm Sunday 1/4/2012

'crucify him!'  Mark 15.14

I must confess I have always had difficulty with Palm Sunday.   We begin the service with a re-enactment of the palm procession then the rest of the service is about the trial and crucifixion of Jesus.   And it strikes me that there is nothing about sin in all this.   Jesus doesn't say to the adulating crowds: 'Your sins are forgiven because you acknowledge me as your personal Lord and saviour.'   Nor did he say to those who accused and condemned him: 'Your sins are not forgiven because you have not acknowledged me as God the Son'.   So our sins are not forgiven because we re-enact Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem and so I conclude that the sins of other people who don't attend church are not retained.   So what we do today is not about whether we come to church or not.   Similarly the events we remember today are not about Jesus, for when he is questioned by the orthodox and the devout about his status he ducks the question. 

So, for me, rather than being about sin these events really are about evil, and evil masquerading as religion.   And therefore the events that we remember must, if nothing else, cause us to consider if our religion is actually masking evil.    

So, for me, these events put a mirror up to us, our religion and our exercise of faith.   Is it of God or just masquerading as being so?   For be well assured that it was those who most faithfully followed the dictates of their religion that had Jesus killed.   It was precisely the ones who loved God with all their hearts and minds and strength, epitomised by the Pharisees and those who faithfully observed the Temple rituals embodied in the Sadducees, who had Jesus killed.    Herod and Pilate are mere tools, disinterested unless their own power was threatened.   So for us who call ourselves disciples, these events call us to question the source of our discipleship.   It is NOT whether we are faithful to the tenets of our faith or not, NOT whether we are sinful or not, NOT whether we are successfully making converts or not.   It IS about whether our faith serves to inform us who are not our children and who therefore don’t deserve our attention, or is it affirming of all others.   Is it evil or is it based on love?

St Paul had to face precisely this same question as he travelled on that road to Damascus to persecute those who were different.   Would the real God want him to persecute others as the tenets of his religion seemed to teach?   In this sense he was ‘blameless’; he was just following the tenets of his faith faithfully, and suddenly, like the son of the prodigal Father, he came to his senses and realised what he was doing.

So the message I would take for today is that we need to use our brains to examine our faith, and particularly the effect it may have on others.   God has given us brains to use, so we don't have to wait for blinding lights from heaven to show us what God wants.   We have the words given to us and we are called to use our brains and, using our brains, direct our relationships with others accordingly!

To take simple examples, when I was on the other side of the ditch, some Anglicans I knew railed against PC language - politically correct – as unnecessary.  It was as if God spoke the King's English of 1611, so it was good enough for everyone else!   To this I have to ask, does this attitude help people of other languages and cultures appreciate the breadth of God's acceptance and love for diversity, or does it hinder it?   Again, why should more than 50% of the human population accept language which implies God is entirely and only complete when imagined possessing male genitalia?

We will always be doing what God wants when we eschew division and embrace unfettered communion.   We will always be evil as we maintain and defend the division between the sacred and the secular.   For it was for this reason that the upholders of religious devotion and orthodoxy had Jesus killed.

So I have come to realise why Palm Sunday has always been a puzzlement, wondering why we are re-enacting events in a pantomime in the face of evil masquerading as religion.   Somehow the seriousness of the events disappears and the immediacy of the need to think and chose acceptance of others, is lost.

I suppose that it is the eternal temptation to use whatever religion or faith to justify sacred selfishness and arrogance.   The ancient people of God certainly could point to parts of scripture to justify their invasion of the promised land and the displacement of the original inhabitants.   ‘Christians’ can certainly point to parts of scripture to justify them claiming sole possession of truth.   Yet both of these will continue to poison society and every effort for peace.   There are also many parts of scripture which suggest that God doesn’t want eternal division and rancour.  We have to choose, God calls us to think, God treats us as adults.   I have been grateful to have Molly Wolf resume her weekly epistles.   Her latest one reminded me of the phrase ‘reality check’.  ‘No; doing it the very hard way can be a calling of sorts — look at the prophet Jeremiah, for example.   Generally the prophets seem to have gone out of their way to piss off whatever the establishment was because the establishment pissed them off by failing to do reality checks between what it proclaimed and what it did.’

For those who want to simply do as they are told, without question as obedient children, any sort of atrocity can be perpetrated, like the holocaust.

So the choice is put before us.   Will we choose a god who is concerned to keep us infants, pedantic about every ritual or scriptural intricacy (or non-ritual / non scriptural intricacy), when and with whom we share our intimate affections and who offers us nothing except a continuation of the divisions and antipathies of the past - or one who is concerned that we become adults, able to reason and choose and who wishes this for each and every other person too.   The first god seems to me to be the devil in disguise, promoting evil through spiritual selfishness and arrogance, and not worth worshipping.   The second seems far more likely to be described as a God of love, and is worthy of worship, because all have reason to consider this God worthy of worship.

So the choice remains before us all.   Will we, with the orthodox and the devout, shout ‘crucify’ because Jesus calls us out of our spiritual selfishness and arrogance, out of our holy huddles self-absorbed studying of scripture or ritual, thinking that this is what god would want.   Or do we chose to be born again, incarnated into the real world like Jesus was, a world of equality, mutuality and love that God hopes for all.

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