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

s122g15  Sunday 10  7/6/2015

‘He has Beelzebul.’   Mark 3:22

As I read these words, I am struck again, that this is a religious conflict - which religion is right and which is wrong - which is inspired by God and the Holy Spirit and which is inspired by Satan.

But the issue in question is not about particular doctrines but about openness to others, to ordinary people who had no pretence or aspiration to religion - the crowd.   His natural as well as his spiritual family disowned him - because others were important to him.   He was irreligious!

The religious conflicts that have plagued society for centuries have been about who is right and who is wrong - who is orthodox and who is blasphemous - and if ‘christianity’ is just another in a long procession of claimants to ultimate truth, orthodoxy and salvation, then the ordinary person in the street with a modicum of intelligence will rightly surmise that ‘christianity’ has no more hope of being an agent for reconciliation and harmony than any other - precisely because the premise remains one of distinction from and opposition to others.

It is only when christianity is seen to be open to others, caring for others, being accepting and inclusive, that we can possibly break the cycle of religious discrimination and persecution.   We have no excuse to point the finger at others who commit atrocities, when our chief concern is whether the vicar supports my own perception of the gospel and my personal ministry.   As one member of the clergy once said, ‘it is easier to move chairs than it is to move some Anglicans’!

I sometimes get the feeling that much of christianity has been neutered and reduced to benign fatherhood and motherhood statements, like respecting your elders, not getting pregnant before marriage and how to deepen one’s prayer life.   But Jesus proclaims a prodigal preference for the wayward, the woman caught in adultery, the despised tax-gatherers; and calls the church to do likewise.   Not just individuals but the church corporate: for no matter what useful things we might do personally, if the church corporate condemns those who are different, nothing we do will count for anything.

And this is the eternal message of the Bible.   Isaiah compares the religion of his day to the thugs of Sodom and Gomorrah (1) echoed by Paul in Romans 1.    Jesus talks about wolves ‘in sheep’s clothing’ (2) and ‘hypocrites’. (3)

You and I are invited to consider the practical outcome of our faith.   If the outcome of our faith does nothing to initiate, aid and aim for a society less divided, one from another, then is this inspired by God or Satan?   For me, any religion that condemns others who are as successful as we ourselves are at our devotion and charity, but inspired by a deity with a different name than we use (successful and with the same number of failures as us), any religion that marginalises women, any religion that alienates those who are not straight like us, cannot be inspired by the God I worship, for it is a force for continuing division.   And if it is not inspired by God, then the only other option is that the filibustering is inspired by Satan.   For me, one of the chief arguments for the ordination of women is the continuing abuse that women suffer in various countries.   While any church denies women the full dignity and sacredness of ordination to priesthood and episcopacy that church cannot criticise marital abuse.

It is said that a truism of life is that most perceptions are projections.   This is the import of Jesus’ saying: ‘The eye is the lamp of the body.   So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness.   If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!’  (4)   So when Jesus’ religious opponents perceive that Jesus ‘has Beelzebul' and is ‘unclean’, it is actually testimony to their own possession and ritual impurity.

Jesus points to others when he points out his mother, brothers and sisters.   How often does the church point us to others?   No, we make a virtue of our religion of sitting at Jesus’ feet and exclude others!   Some people talk about Jesus’ preferential regard for the poor, the marginalised and the outcast, and rightly so.   Yet it is wider than this, for Jesus’ regard is ALWAYS for others who need to be made to feel included and affirmed.

Life in all its fulness and community happens when we open ourselves to the risen Christ in others, when we look for the good in others, when we appreciate the contribution that others have to make to our lives, whatever their faith or lack thereof.

And, as I say again and again, while this indeed is a recipe for personal happiness, it is also a recipe for eternal life when the church corporate begins to look for the good in others, when the church appreciates the contribution that others make to her corporate life (not just like good children: being seen and not heard), whatever their faith or lack thereof.

For I finish where I started, this is not a load of personal training advice for individuals, but about the true character of the faith in Jesus, for whose first and most important message was that others were important to him and calls the church to do likewise.

1.  Isaiah 1:10-11
2.  Matthew 7:15
3.  Matthew 23:13ff
4.  Matthew 6:22,23