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

s107g09 Easter 4 3/5/2009

'the hired hand .. leaves the sheep' John 10.12

I have recently been pondering the great commandment to 'love one another'. And I thought how the 'church' has placed caveats on our loving. Of course we love other 'christians' but we can consign others to eternal damnation with impunity. Of course just who is, and who is not another kosher 'christian' is a matter of serious dispute, so the number of people we actually have to love is correspondingly diminished. Even within a congregation there are the inevitable ones who want to 'rule the roost' and to whom the concept of **love** seems particularly quaint.

Perhaps we don't do these things, but I still sometimes wonder how the 'church' spends so much of her time and energy putting caveats on just whom we can love, with whom we can express our intimate affections. She certainly wants to prescribe the gender of the other person ­ opposite to that of our selves. Then she often wants to prescribe the religion of the other person ­ the same as us. Of course the 'church' also determines when we can be intimate with another ­ after marriage. Even within marriage the 'church' wants to proscribe the use of any form of birth control. The prohibition on birth control means that outside of marriage, we (and more usually the woman) must suffer the indignity of being found out to have enjoyed herself and made to pay the penalty of bringing up a child whether she likes it or not, whether she has help to do so or not. How this blights a simple act of intimacy! And we call this love!!! And we do all this in the name of 'god' and the 'church'.

The reason anyone is marginalised or alienated is, of course, to assuage our consciences when we do them harm. So the enemy in battle are less than human. The indigenous peoples of this country were once considered 'primitive'. And we did this to justify enforcing our will on them. Women are marginalised in the 'church' and they bear the brunt of the wishes of the male hierarchy. Gay and Lesbian persons are alienated so we can dismiss them as irrelevant ­ their feelings simply do not count! Young people are to be seen and not heard ­ the list of 'kosher' abuses are endless.

All this from an organization that supposedly is founded on the ideal of 'unconditional love'. There is a severe logical disconnect here.

I reflect how mental illness often blights a person's relationship with others. Most often it means that people will isolate themselves from others ­ denying themselves intimacy. Sometimes it can lead to promiscuous behaviour that again sidelines real intimacy. The parallels between mental illness and religiosity are clear.

We are celebrating Easter and the advent of caring for all people. God does not want anyone to live lives where intimacy is blighted by such anxieties. It is that which is opposed to God that delights in proving its power by blighting lives and holding people in subjection. Of course all child molestation is simply another way of blighting people's lives and keeping others in subjection through the abuse of the powerless by the powerful.

The 'church' has often been content to make the rules and leave people to get on with life trying to live up to their expectations. What a blighted life this leads to!

The good shepherd, the risen Christ, has not been raised to life with God apart from humanity, but to be with humanity forever. What a rich life this can be! It promises to be full of intimacy, reassurance, care, and love.

God doesn't, like the 'church' has often been content to do, make the rules and then leaves us to get on with it ­ condemning us when we inevitably fail. The good shepherd is not like the hireling who leaves the sheep when difficulties arise but assures all: 'remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.' (Matthew 28:20).

The presence of the risen Jesus is not sporadic, when we call on God, when we need God, or when we are doing something that we think God will disapprove. The risen Jesus is with us always, blessing us in our goings out and our comings in. (Psalm 121.8) The risen Christ is not with us just when we are in church, when we are reading our bibles or praying our prayers. That is what an hireling would do. The risen Christ is with us always.

The hireling is one who benefits from his, or her, care. God remains with us always, but does not benefit from our worship. It was Satan who tempted Jesus to worship him. God inspires our worship by unconditional care, a care that comes independent of anyone being ready, willing or able to love God in return. Ultimately God wants us to love **others** in return in the same way as we are loved by God, unconditionally, passionately, whoever they are, without distinction.

For each of those examples I began this sermon with, actually serve to distance the 'church' from others. We in the 'church', like the hireling, run away from those who don't confess 'christianity' in **our** terms, we distance ourselves from those who do not live up to our expectations, like when and with whom another might express themselves intimately, or love without reserve. We distance ourselves from the enemy, those of other cultures, women, gay and lesbian persons, even young people with their loud music. So the logical corollary of this is that God does not leave these to themselves ­ God has a special care for them.

As I said, one usually finds a half dozen people in all congregations who regard the minister / priest as their personal chaplain. I was once told: 'You can't please all the people all the time' which actually meant that if I looked after him and his family I wouldn't have any money worries. This was an 'invitation' to adopt his theology that was all about himself and leaving everyone else to look after themselves. The minister was to be his personal hireling! The Lord was **his** shepherd, not anyone else's!

The real church encompasses all those with whom the good shepherd has not abandoned, and that is, of course, all people. And my experience is that when the church does this it will not have money worries.

Hans Küng speaks of the church as a community marked by liberty, equality and fraternity ('On bring a Christian' p481) and I would heartily agree, except that his comments seem restricted to believers within the church. The problem is that by differentiating the 'church' from society the 'church' continues to deny the very liberty, equality and fraternity to others. It is no wonder that society sees the 'church' failing to take its own message seriously and realizes that she has little if anything to offer the world.

The great Easter message is that the risen Christ, the good shepherd, is no hireling and he is not our personal chaplain either. Christ is risen from the dead and continues to be with all those he knows and loves, each and every person ­ and especially those abandoned by others in the name of **their** god.

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