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s129g12   Sunday 17   29/7/2012   North New Brighton

'they were about to come and take him by force to make him king'   John 6.15

When Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II celebrated the diamond anniversary of her accession to the throne recently, my mind went back to the National Anthem of my youth, last century, across the ditch: "God save our gracious Queen".   One of the hallmarks of our Queen is how gracious she invariably is.   I wish I could say the same for some monarchists!   But I suppose that precisely the same sentiments could be said of Jesus.   How gracious Jesus is, yet I wish I could say the same for some 'christians'.

In the Old Testament, the people come to Samuel to demand a king against the prophet's wishes.   When he protested they said: "No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles."   (1 Samuel 8.19-20)   So often we want a king, as well as a God, to 'fight our battles' against our enemies.   Probably the most familiar reference to this is the 23rd Psalm, which pictures the chosen people having the ultimate retribution on their enemies, where the psalm confidently addresses the Lord: 'You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies' (verse 5).   It is the ultimate retribution to have enemies having to look on as God serves us at table while they are excluded!   It doesn't sound terribly gracious to me!

The reason traditional judges' attire included a wig was to make sure that the judge was anonymous and could give an impartial judgment without fear.   So also the essence of the king is to be gracious to all, irrespective of status in life, without fear.   Every person in the Queen's realm is equal in the sight of the monarch.   So extrapolating this to God, all people are God's beloved daughters and sons and are treated equally.   There is no-one excluded except those who deliberately exclude themselves.   Rich and poor, saint and sinner, male and female, gay and straight, are all included.   And incidentally, if we as the descendants of the 'Church of England' expect to enjoy special status as the established church, we must recognise the legitimacy of the State just as much as we expect the State to recognise the legitimacy of the church.   So the Church has as much an obligation to recognise civil marriages performed by the State (irrespective of the gender of the parties) as the State has an obligation to recognise the marriages performed in churches.
Jesus deliberately renounces any effort to make him into someone who will fight against others we perceive to be our enemies or God's enemies.   Jesus is invariably gracious, just as God is invariably gracious.   It was those who thought that Jesus should associate with them alone, those who thought that the graciousness of God extended to them, to the exclusion of others, who had Jesus crucified.  

God does not have enemies - it is those who think that God should have enemies - their enemies - who make themselves into God's enemies.   All enmity stems from humanity - 'in (God) there is no darkness at all'.   (2 Peter 4.5)

And often we want our minister to take 'our' side against those who think differently to ourselves within the congregation.   Some members of the congregation expect the minister to use the pulpit to get others to support their ministry rather than approach others personally.   This is a recipe for abuse.   I still recall, last century across the ditch, the time when a new bishop came to a diocese.   Some 'high church' people of my acquaintance were so pleased that he wore vestments, some 'evangelicals' were impressed that he was very biblical, some 'charismatics' thought he was open to the Spirit.   Of course, the bishop was himself, yet he was only acceptable when he supported their various theological positions!   If that is true, then what does this say about our congregations?   Do we only accept newcomers into our midst if they support our particular theological position?   Do we only accept a new minister as he or she supports our particular ministry over the ministry of others?   This is, of course, hardly a recipe for a harmonious parish!

Many years ago I reflected that everyone in the Anglican Church knows that the church must change to survive and everyone agrees that this is necessary.  The other thing that everyone agrees about is that it is someone else who has to do the changing!   And how much change actually occurs?   Precious little!

The push to make Jesus king comes as a result of the feeding of the multitude and is followed by Jesus coming to the disciples during the storm on the lake.

The feeding of the multitude is a sign of the indiscriminate feeding of all people, in contrast to the church’s ‘holy communion’ which is perceived by those outside as an unholy excommunication of themselves.   They are forbidden to participate; they are condemned to look on in jealousy, like the enemies in Psalm 23.

And we might be afraid of the storms of protest, chaos and powerlessness that such indiscriminate blessing might initiate.   But it is precisely in this sort of storm that Jesus will come to us.   Jesus will come to us when we are doing what Jesus would want, including others, and Jesus will come to us when we need help to do as he would want.   Why would Jesus come to us when we aren't doing anything to feed others; when we are excluding, challenging, marginalising, alienating or condemning others?

Presently many conservative evangelicals are haranguing parts of the Anglican Communion for their openness to LGBTQIH folk.   The volume of their protestations is not of God, it is a sign of their hatred, and hatred is not of God.   In my sermon last week I contrasted the haranguing of the Westboro Baptist Church protests with the ministry of Jesus, where the crowds rushed about, gathering all their loved ones to bring them to the healing touch of Jesus.   Today I want to contrast the indiscriminate inclusion of everyone in the crowds to be recipients of Jesus' feeding of the multitude and the barriers that the church puts around to keep the holy communion from 'ordinary' people.   These are barriers inspired by fear and enmity, things which are very human, but are not of divine origin.   God can hardly be afraid of anything he or she has created.   Creation is not an enemy of the divine, but the very expression of the divine.    So we as the church corporate have no need to be afraid of creation or of anything in it.   We have no need to fear people thinking for themselves, worshipping God using a different name, being intimate with people of whom we might not approve, even those who do not believe.   For the divine loves people, not just straight, caucasian, male, christians like me.

In recent sermons I have been talking about salvation being about being saved from sanctified selfishness.   If we try to make Jesus king to justify our own selfishness, because Jesus will be victorious over others, then we are doing precisely the same that has been attempted throughout the centuries, beginning with those crowds whom Jesus fed.

Jesus renounces all attempts to make him rule over anyone, for Jesus' task is not to rule but to inspire and to enable us to love.   Neither Jesus nor God need compliant servants, God knows we need people who will get on with one another, not use the divine name to justify not getting on with whoever. 

And who wants a God to rule over us anyway?   It's others we want God to rule over, and if they don't accept the divine sovereignty (and our special place in it) then God can do away with them!

God  knows how hard it is to make creatures made to think, all think the same, all believe the same,  all live in the same manner, God knows that this would be a fool's errand!   And the God I worship is no fool!   Why on earth would we think God wants us as the church to rule over all of humanity?

I have recently been reflecting that people want community above everything else.  For many of us with a bit of education and house-training, life in society is not too fraught.   But for those without a stable home life, those where unemployment is a multigenerational reality, those who are in one of the many varieties of minorities that society has artificially delineated, those struggling with their gender and sexuality, find community not at all hospitable and often the church not at all gracious.

Jesus continues to renounce all attempts to make him rule over people for Jesus is primarily about community, and of course this is most pointedly a word to the church, those who believe in Jesus and call on the name of the Lord.   The temptation is ever to try to lord it over others, indeed were it only a temptation!   I have no doubt whatsoever that were the church to actually be seen to be more gracious and less lordly, there would be a good deal more people inspired and enabled to love others, community would be enriched and people would have something to praise God about.

Recently I read those words again, so familiar to every minister of the sacraments: 'I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes’  (Luke 22.18) and I thought: Oops!  I wonder if this means that for all we might believe in the real presence in the 'Holy Communion', if it's really unholy excommunication, can we really expect Jesus to be there with us?

May we be as invariably gracious towards all as Jesus is, for it is only in this way we are saved from sacred selfishness, both our own and perhaps eventually that of others.  Amen.

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