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

s109g15   Sixth Sunday of Easter   10/5/2015

‘I chose you .. and I appointed you to go’   John 15:16

When we say morning prayer together, my wife reads the OT lesson from Eugene Peterson’s translation: ‘The Message’ and it is always interesting to see how he brings the sense into a contemporary idiom.   Recently she read from Exodus chapter 20, where he translates those well known words: ‘No using the name of God, your God, in curses or silly banter; God won't put up with the irreverent use of his name.’  (1)   And I recognise that this is the way we think this is the sense of the words - not using God’s name as an expletive, when we proverbially hit our thumb with the hammer rather than the nail.   Of course these days such words are going out of fashion, as others describing sexual intimacy have replaced them.

But this lead me to think that the real offence of the third commandment - of which the more usual translation, not taking the Lord’s name in vain is not much more helpful - is to not use the name of the Lord to marginalise, alienate or condemn others.   The ultimate misuse of the Lord’s name was when God was invoked to have Jesus crucified.

Here I see a parallel between Jesus’ summary of the commandments: love God and neighbour, (2) with acknowledging the oneness of God and not misusing the Lord’s name.

How often does our conception of ‘christianity’ implicitly marginalise, alienate and condemn those who do not describe themselves thus?   This points again to the seemingly eternal propensity of every religion to be used for essentially selfish purposes, christianity no less frequently than any other.   Indeed this points to the vital importance of this third commandment - directed not towards the outsider - but towards those who count themselves as religious.   And the question has to be asked: Would not the world be an infinitely nicer place if religious divisions didn’t exist - if the name of God was not misused to marginalise, alienate and condemn others?

I rejoice to have conversations with some very intelligent people who think about their faith; sometimes these conversations are face to face, sometimes by internet.   Often I reflect that the atheist has thought far more about his or her disbelief than the devout christian has ever thought about his or her belief.   The ability to think, to question and to choose is one of the things we recognise as distinctively human, and so we are quintessentially human when we think rather than when we comply or submit.   One theme has been about why Jesus chose to die, he could have walked away.   The church’s answer: for the sins of the world - conveniently contains the seeds of mostly unrecognised moral manipulation, a method that surely points to a desperately lonely god, not one I would worship.

So Jesus didn’t come and be crucified to forgive my sins and massage my insecurities, but to choose individuals and the church to go and make society free from religious divisions.

There seems to me to be little point praying to God for peace between the various warring parties, when we in the church have deliberately chosen to remain in our holy huddle, rather than going as we have been chosen to do, to rid society of religious divisions.

In this sense John Lennon has done more of the Lord’s work when he sang: ‘Nothing to kill or die for / And no religion too / Imagine all the people / Living life in peace. .. You may say I'm a dreamer / But I'm not the only one / I hope someday you'll join us / And the world will be as one’;  (3) more than Billy Graham and all the converts he made.    But Jesus’ words tell us that this is no dream, but a commandment, and we can’t blame God if the world still suffers through our continuing misuse of the Lord’s name.

Again, those words of St Paul, ‘the wages of sin is death’ (4) - not our death, but the marginalisation, alienation and condemnation the exclusive church inflicts on others in the name of the Lord - is sin.   It was a sin Paul was only too familiar with, for he was the chief persecutor of others before he travelled that road to Damascus.   And after his conversion he was hounded from town after town, from Jerusalem to Rome, by religious people invoking the name of the very same god.

The power of words is immense.   I used the word ‘monopoly’ in last week’s sermon in the context of the exclusive church. (5)   Monopolies are notorious for benefitting those in the monopoly and disregarding the needs of those outside.   (I am sorry, it happens that our internet connection has suddenly become the ‘speed’ of the old dial-up and getting references is painfully slow, hence I can’t give examples.)   But various legislatures have laws protecting society from monopolies, so when will society - and more importantly the church - recognise the evil inherent in their presumed monopolisation of the divine?   If Christianity is just another sect claiming a monopoly on orthodoxy and consequently a monopoly on the grace of God, what makes this claim credible?   Time and again, in both the Old and New Testaments, God is portrayed as caring for the other - ‘the orphans and widows’. (6)   Of course it is convenient for the church to limit these to the natural orphans and widows, and not extend care to those who have lost their heavenly parentage.

It is again convenient for the church to look at the increasingly secular society as backsliders,  obsessed with consumerism, and fail to see that society has seen through the church’s pretensions to a monopoly and know that this never can be ordained by any god worth worshipping.

And the essence of Jesus’ ministry, and in the end why he was killed, was his association with the tax-collectors, prostitutes and sinners. (7).

So I return to my text.   This is no dream, it is what we are chosen and commanded to bring about.

1.  20:7
2.  Matthew 22:37-39
4.  Romans 6:23
6.  Deuteronomy 14:29, James 1:27
7.  Matthew 9:11, 21:31