The readings on which this sermon is
based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r129.htm
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
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
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
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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