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

s103g15   Palm Sunday  29/3/2015

‘they crucified him’   Mark 15:25

I am very grateful for the article entitled: ‘Rachel Held Evans Defends Leaving Evangelicals For Episcopalians’ - I immediately thought of the transformative power of the annual Palm Sunday procession!   Lots of tongue-in-cheek here :-)

Rachel says: ’If you try to woo us back with skinny jeans and coffee shops, it may actually backfire.   Millennials have finely tuned B.S. meters that can detect when someone’s just trying to sell us something.   We’re not looking for a hipper Christianity.   We’re looking for a truer Christianity.’  (1)  Alleluia!

She continues: ’I felt drawn to the Episcopal Church because it offered some practices I felt were missing in my evangelical experience, like space for silence and reflection, a focus on Christ’s presence at the Communion table as the climax and center of every worship service, opportunities for women in leadership and the inclusion of LGBT people.’  Amen!

Each of these speak of connection, connection with oneself, connection with the divine, and connection with all others rather than marginalising and alienating others.   Again that ancient wisdom: ‘It is not good for anyone to be alone’. (2)

I have often thought that football is a socially acceptable way men can have connection with other men.   Women mostly seem to be able to converse with one another better than men :-)  The surfer surfs because of a connection to nature.   I think back to my fumbling angst-filled attempts as a teenager as I sought a significant connection with another.   The power of music is that it brings connection between musicians, and between musicians and listeners.   Part of the university experience is not just the lectures and tutorials but the extra-curricula interaction between people from different backgrounds and the opportunity for connection.   I enjoy going to a concert and listening to a performance rather than watching it on television.   Physical and sexual intimacy are part of a healthy life.   Really the list of the ways we seek and find mutually satisfying connection is endless and universal.

The Holy Communion, as Rachel Held Evans rightly says is central to catholic spirituality, should be all about communion with one another - except that it is popularly defined by who can’t be a part of it.   Each week I look forward to reading Ron’s cartoon in Church Times.   A recent one had worshippers in the pews looking furtively at the seemingly empty space between the three of them.   The caption read: ‘The Robinsons shared the peace with their customary abandon’. (3)   Lots of laughter :-)

The key words here are ‘mutually satisfying’.   Faith is about mutual satisfaction, both personally and corporately.   In the widest possible sense faith has to include everyone else, otherwise there will always be someone who isn’t satisfied like others; someone who misses out.

So our faith has to be safe, safe for us and safe for others, safe for all others.   Others cannot be bullied, marginalised, alienated, condemned, or killed - these are all on one and the same continuum of unsafe environments.   Jesus being crucified shows us that unsafe religion is not of God.   Anything that leads to the death of someone else is inherently sinful; it is by definition not of God.   As St Paul says: ‘the wages of sin is death’. (4)   Anything that leads to someone else feeling excluded, marginalised, alienated or condemned, whatever the justification, is inherently sinful, and is by definition not of God. 

And just as crucifixion is entirely physical, the way we make someone feel included is necessarily physical - with a hug rather than a fist, with a handshake rather than a sword, with a complement rather than advise, with a place at the table not exclusion.   The power of touch, where both the giver and the receiver feel safe, is immense.   The leper is healed; the joy of sexual intimacy is restored to a continually menstruating woman. (5)  

Touch is the power of incarnation, foundational to our faith.   Safe touch, connection, communion with others, is eternal life.

Of course, the football match, the surfboard, the music, the extra-curricula activities, the liturgy of worship, whatever, these are all vehicles for connection and it is the connection that is the goal, the important thing, not the vehicle that gets us there.   It actually doesn’t matter which vehicle is chosen, and of course one person will choose a different vehicle than others, ways where they feel safe. 

When mutual satisfaction is the goal rather than adherence to the particulars of a liturgy (for example) others will begin to feel safe, others will begin to feel affirmed and included, and others may start to feel inclined to worship a safe God, ‘whose steadfast love endures forever’. (6)

As a chaplain in the hospital my whole ministry is to affirm, include and encourage all who come to enjoy our hospitality, without hesitation, without discrimination and without expectation.   One can only do this when all feel safe and I have to be continually conscious that I do not invade someone’s personal space.   Indeed I hope that my efforts to not invade anyone’s personal space is testament to the dignity in which they are held, the sacredness with which they are viewed.   For it is their perception of a person’s sacredness that makes them truly whole.

2.  Genesis 2:18
4.  Romans 6:23
5.  Matthew 8:3, Mark 5:30
6.  1 Chronicles 16:34