The readings on which this sermon is
based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r134.htm
s134g12 Sunday 22 2/9/2012
‘avarice’ Mark 7.22
It is hardly co-incidental that one of the chief characters in C.S.
Lewis’s ‘The Horse and his Boy’ is the self-centred and self
important ‘Aravis’ and her conversion to a rather more human being.
The question about eating with defiled hands, at its heart, is about
who may eat, and who may not eat, in the kingdom - and specifically
who may not! And it is important to note that Jesus
doesn't answer this question but points out the hypocrisy of the
orthodox and the devout, those who pass judgement on the actions of
others. Jesus is not about determining who may be
admitted and who may not - that is what the opposition to God are
about. Indeed, of course, it is precisely because Jesus did
not support the perceptions of their own superior worthiness and
others' lack of worthiness that led the orthodox and the devout to
have Jesus crucified.
Jesus did not criticise those outside. It was those who
are inside, those who 'honour me with their lips, but their hearts
are far from me', the Pharisees and the scribes, those who were most
conspicuous in their devotion to 'god' who Jesus criticised and who
eventually had Jesus killed.
So often the church criticises those who don’t come to church, those
who (it seems) do not honour God, but who may well honour God in
their own way. If others honour God by reaching out with
justice and equity to all, and rightly reject those who keep God’s
affections selfishly to themselves, it’s not rocket science to work
out just who is more likely to be following Jesus. The whole
of the gospel story is about this difference in perception.
If we criticise those outside, then guess where they will stay?
I note that eating with defiled hands is something easy to
remedy. One can wash before eating. Being
female, being gay or lesbian, being of another race, colour,
culture, or language are less easily remedied. But Jesus
accepts others even when they omit to do things to measure up,
things which are quite possible. Surely he also accepts
others when they in fact are unable to change who they are.
And the religion of these people who honour God with their lips, but
their hearts were far from God, was mainly concerned with others,
whether others measured up to their expectations. Their
religion made ‘god’ into an idol with perceptions remarkably
identical to their own.
So that list of sins are not those which outsiders,
non-church-goers, commit – they are the sins of sanctified
‘Fornication’ and ‘adultery’ are pejorative terms for turning from a
God of acceptance (of which they as the orthodox were fully
cognisant) to a critical demon, ‘theft’ refers to the taking of
someone’s sonship or daughter-ship of the divine,’ murder’ refers to
the death that results from such theft, ‘avarice’ is another term
for sanctified selfishness, ‘wickedness’ tells us what God really
thinks of the devout and the orthodox who do this, ‘deceit’ tells us
that it ever is a human invention, that wrath is not and never was
in God’s plan, ‘licentiousness’ means that the devout have taken the
liberty of criticising others on themselves. So often those
who go to church ‘envy’ those who don’t bother, they ‘slander’
others, are proud and foolish.
These are all the sins of the prophet Jonah, knowing as he did that
‘you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in
steadfast love and ever ready to relent from punishing’ (Jonah 4.2)
so he headed in precisely the opposite direction to where God wanted
him to be. He tells God: ‘O Lord! Is not this what I
said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled
to Tarshish at the beginning'! As if God didn't know this and
needed to be told! To trivialise this message - to
commend those who believe in the whale and condemn those who don’t -
will surely incur the same wrath.
These things defile the orthodox and the devout, for they only see
how others do not measure up. In doing so they defile
Now some may think that I am drawing a long bow from not washing
hands before eating, but it is also clear that Jesus sees this as
just one example of a whole lot of rules and regulations that
exclude others. He takes the argument about hand washing
to the washing of plates and then to declaring all foods
By declaring all foods clean Jesus tells us that everything that
builds up another person is acceptable. The nurse who
cares for the patient, the teacher who imparts knowledge to
students, these are clean. The politician who treats all
people equally, be they gay or straight, rich or poor, influential
or untouchable is feeding others with food that is
clean. To encourage others in their thoughts and
searching, even when they are questioning orthodoxy, is to treat
others as humans rather than untrained parrots, and it is to feed
others food that is clean.
Indeed it is far more important that people do these things than
whether they call God by the correct name or worship in a manner
acceptable to others. For it was precisely because Jesus
treated all people equally that he was killed. And
because we believe in the resurrection we can be certain that Jesus,
and God, continues to treat all people equally, despite what parts
of the church often teach.
Recently I was reading (again) those words of St John, We love
because God first loved us: if anyone who hates another says, 'I
love God,' that person is a liar.’ (1 John 4.19,20) And
we apply this to our personal life, yet fail to see that it more
importantly should affect the corporate life of the
church. If we say we love God yet suggest that others
can’t join in our communion, because they haven’t washed their hands
or been baptised, are we not also liars?
And there is little point in criticising those outside the church
who keep their wealth to themselves, when those outside are only
imitating the avarice of those inside the church! We
occupy no ‘moral high-ground’ at all.
Jesus initiated the feast of the kingdom, in the present, then, 2000
years ago, by his own life and example. The least we can
do is imitate his inauguration, again, in our day and
age. And we do this by renouncing corporate spiritual
avarice and open our corporate table to all people, whoever they
are. For if we insist on any preconditions we turn our
baptism into entry into a holy huddle, our communion into a
demonstration of excommunication, and our baptism and communion are
nothing more than fantasies.
And just as Aravis had no insight on her avarice, so parts of the
church are blissfully unaware of their avarice as well.
The rather drastic measures Aslan had to take to make Aravis a more
humane person might also point to some pretty drastic measures God
might have to take to make parts of the church a more humane
Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"