The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r109.htm
s109e03 West Adelaide Sixth Sunday of Easter 25th May 2003
"everyone who loves the parent loves the child .." 1 John 5.1
Sometimes we can gloss over these words as self evident. I suppose I have glossed over these words for the past 25 years of ordained ministry, until I came to prepare this sermon. Of course we love God - everyone loves God. Well perhaps not everyone.
There are of course people who neglect God and forget God in the busyness of modern life. There are people who get on with life and helping other people rather than getting embroiled in a worshipping community - and good on them - the world would be a far poorer place without such people. Church people can't do all this by ourselves.
I often tell the story of the time when my wife joined a "Penguins" group many years ago - "Penguins" is the female counterpart of "Rostrum" - to get some skills in public speaking. She did get a lot from this group, but in the course of time we moved parishes, and they were sad to see Catherine go - they were hoping she would hold the group together. But she had got what she needed from them and went on to use those skills elsewhere.
But this alerted me to the fact that there are people whose ministry is to keep such groups, and the church going, and there are others whose ministry was enabled by such groups and the Church, but that ministry is elsewhere. Both ministries are important. If the ministry of the Church doesn't extend into our human relationships we might as well not bother coming to Church. If we expect others to do as we say because we are "Christians" and therefore "right" - I suspect we haven't got the message.
There are people who don't believe in God, most often because of the hurts and harms they have suffered through their lives. The disciples, personified in the sceptical Thomas, had to see for themselves. He did not trust the word of even his friends and close companions. Should we expect more of others? There are many who have turned away from religion because of the shear bigotry of the past - and who would blame them? Parents who have been turned away when they came to have their children baptised, and couples who have been turned away when they wanted God's blessing on their relationship. If these people haven't "seen" God's blessings because of the hurdles which others have put in their way and over which they have been expected by others to jump, why should such people believe in God, let alone love God? The religious authorities of Jesus' day believed that they loved God and few of us will ever equal their learning or devotion. But nobody hates God. Hate is a very strong word.
Yet the second of the ten commandments envisage people who hate God: "I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me". I simply wouldn't worship a god who punished my children for something I did or failed to do - and I certainly wouldn't commend the worship of such a god to anyone else. Hate is a very active verb. It is far more than ignorance, indifference or despair. Hate is a very active verb, and means something quite different from committing a sin, even a serious sin.
When I was young the most serious sins were "having to get married" and getting divorced. It is a little known fact that, technically, compulsion automatically nullified a marriage. Actually I could understand some people hating God if they were forced into an unhappy relationship or into remaining in an unhappy relationship because God demanded it of them and would punish their children and grandchildren if they disobeyed. I would not worship such a god - even though I am happy to commend fidelity. I am told that the reality is that we tend to marry a person with the same frustrating character traits as a previous partner - so one cannot win :-)
But those who know me will already have seen the flaw in my argument, for it was precisely those who "loved God" that hated Jesus and hated him enough to have him killed. It wasn't the people who were indifferent who wanted Jesus killed - the mythical persons for whom the sign outside the church which said "Is it nothing - all ye who pass by?" is directed. It was the people who worshipped God most scrupulously who had Jesus killed. Indeed the first attempt on Jesus' life was by the very people with whom Jesus had worshipped with his whole life - those who could name the other members of his family. (Luke 4:16-30 // Mark 6:1-5).
The people who so ardently loved God and were so versed in every aspect of the law, prophets, tradition and worship - hated Jesus and all that he represented. So the god they loved was not the Father of God the Son. The god they loved was one who rewarded their devotion and dismissed the offerings of others. It was blasphemy to them for Jesus to suggest that God was anything other than this. (Mt 26.66-68 // Mark 14.64-65) For them God couldn't send a Son who would sit down and eat with tax collectors and sinners. It was not that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, but the fact that this implied that God accepted the offerings of people other than themselves which was so repugnant to them.
In the words of the Reproaches on Good Friday: "O my people, what have I done unto thee, or wherein have I wearied thee? Testify against me. Because I brought thee forth from the land of Egypt, thou preparest a Cross for thy Saviour. Because I led thee through the desert forty years, and fed thee with manna and brought thee into a land exceeding good, thou preparest a Cross for thy Saviour. What more could I have done unto thee that I have not done? I in sooth did plant thee, O my vineyard, with goodly clusters, and thou hast become exceeding bitter unto me: for vinegar mingled with gall thou didst give me when thirsty and hast pierced with a spear the side of thy Saviour." (English Hymnal 737)
It is important to realise that we can, in precisely the same manner, so ardently love Jesus and be so versed in every aspect of what Jesus said and did, believing that Jesus rewards our devotion and dismisses the offerings of others - so that for all we are worshipping "Jesus" we are merely crucifying him anew.
It is easy to love a god who rewards our devotion and dismisses the offerings of others. It is easy, because in the end our god will excuse everything we do, provided we remain faithful to our god, and our god will not accept the offerings or excuse any of the wrongs that others do because seemingly they are worshipping the wrong "god".
The God whom Jesus shows us is different. This God seeks out the offerings of all people and accepts the offerings of all.
And if we find we hate that, then the reality is that we hate both the parent and the child - and that hatred will have its consequences. The consequences will not be that God strikes us with a bolt of lightning, but that we will be hated by those we dismiss in the name of God, and wars will continue. Our children to the third and fourth generation will suffer - and do I really need to produce any evidence for this? The first recorded murder in the Bible was committed because the elder brother perceived that his brothers' offering was more accepted than his own. If our religion is performed in a spirit of competitiveness, are we any different to Cain?
It is easy to love a god who rewards our devotion and dismisses the offerings of others - but, like the religion of the Pharisees, we will be worshipping not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
One of the essential characteristics of the Jewish faith is that it is monotheistic. There is only one God, and this saves us from the spectre of competing gods, such as were in the Greek and Roman pantheon. God is one means that there is a purpose to creation beyond the fickle amusement of the competing gods. There is a single purpose and that purpose is not about worshipping the correct God, but about doing as God says and loving our neighbour. All the statements about the identity of the Son and the Father are not to magnify the status of Jesus, but to proclaim this identity and purpose - to love one another, especially those who are different.
The good news of the resurrection is that the attempt of the religious authorities to silence Jesus - to stop this blasphemous heresy that God accepted the offerings of people other than themselves - failed. Jesus was raised to life and the victory is won, a victory for God indeed, but far more importantly - a victory for us and for others - a victory for humanity.
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