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s134o03 Sunday 22 31st August 2003

"neither ... forget the things your eyes have seen" Deut 4.7

It is often forgotten that the law given to Moses on Mount Sinai came after God had rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. When I say "it is often forgotten" I do not mean literally. How often do you hear people imply that someone else shouldn't have done this or that bad thing? How often do you read in the "Letters to the Editor" comments assuming that everyone has the ability to do the right thing all the time? In voicing these conclusions we assume that God blessed the compliant Israelites by freeing them from slavery, and so will wait until others are compliant before blessing them. No - it's the other way around. First, God rescues the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, and then on the journey to the promised land God gives them some directions as to how to live life.

Even St Paul has little difficulty knowing what he ought to do, but even after a lifetime of religious observance and encounter with the risen Lord, knows he has much less the ability to do it. Why do we so easily assume that others should not have the same difficulty as St Paul? Indeed why do we berate ourselves when we manage to fail to live up to our own expectations? I should know. I fail frequently enough myself :-)

The keeping of the law, or at least the attempt to keep the law is a response of thanksgiving to God having brought the tribes up out of slavery. We too try to do as Jesus wants because we know that Jesus was killed for associating with others and we have perceived that we are one of the others with whom Jesus was killed for associating.

So our willingness and ability to do the right thing is dependent on our perception of the love of Christ. If others do not know the love of Christ, then they cannot be expected to be willing or able to do the right thing. Indeed if we were to take the Article 13 (of the 39) seriously "Of works before justification", it is assumed that good things done by people other than Christians are of the nature of sin.

The giving of the law after the tribes of Israel were rescued from slavery, was not to replace one slavery with another - a slavery imposed by God rather than human rulers. The later condition is no better than the former. We are to "give heed to the statutes".

And the Israelites were to learn from their time in slavery, that they were not to oppress the visitor in their land. They were not to be freed from oppression so that they in turn could oppress others.

If we don't remember, we forget, and if we forget that we are included in the others that Jesus was killed for associating with, we will try to earn that love and expect others to earn our love also, just as the religious authorities tried to get everyone to earn their way into the kingdom.

Last week I spoke about being strong - you do remember don't you? :-) We are bidden to remember, lest we forget, and allow others to rule over us, to treat us as less than the children of God that we already are.

Those who go around, asking one and all "Are you sure you are being saved?" are trying to plant seeds of doubt in people's minds as if God has got set people to be included and set people excluded. Seeds of doubt and fear!

The clear witness of the gospel is that those who killed Jesus were those who didn't want to be associated with the sort of people Jesus mixed with. They separated themselves from others when Jesus did precisely the opposite. So the question "Are you sure you are being saved?" is answered by replying that it is us who accept the kingdom and all those others there - or not.

The concept of slavery is instructive as we look at the words of Jesus to the Pharisees. Their religion was based on fear that God determined entry into the kingdom based on what people ate and the rituals that they performed before eating - amongst a hell of a lot of other things. Jesus said that God is not like this at all. It is us who choose to be with God and with others.

It was those who were supposedly so morally and ritually pure who committed adultery by worshipping one other than the God of grace, it was they who stole other people's dignity, it was they who like Cain made their offerings in a spirit of competitiveness and so murdered their brother, it was they who were greedy by keeping God's blessings to themselves and so could well be described as wicked, it was they who deceived themselves and others. It was they who assumed that there was one rule for the rich and one for the poor and so were licentious. Thinking that God's grace had to be won they were envious of those "higher on the ladder" than they, it was the morally and ritually pure who slandered others who disagreed with them and pride and folly follow suit. These are all religious sins based on the false conception that God favours one over the other and that God wants us to be subservient. The one sin I have missed out in this list of Jesus is fornication, and I will leave it to you to decide if Jesus for once is talking about how and when young people relate intimately towards one another, or whether this too is to be interpreted about religion.

You may have no doubt about my own view. It is such a travesty of the gospel that in the minds of so many people "being Christian" is almost exclusively associated with young people avoiding intimacy. I know how much the fear of this has influenced my own life. I am called to remember that I am called to be strong not to be compliant and so is everyone else.

It is a travesty of the gospel that young people can live lives of fear, and "adults" can molest children thinking that forgiveness will be automatic.

And when we come to the Holy Communion, we are bidden to do this in remembrance of Jesus - and surely Jesus does not mean that we are to look back wistfully to some golden era past. We are to remember why Jesus was killed - for associating with everyone - so we and all people are included and we and all people are made strong. And in coming to communion we re-member Jesus - Jesus becomes present - as we and all others are welcomed as God's children.

We are called not to forget and make our communion and fellowship limited to a select few - for this would be to deny who Jesus was and why he was killed.

As I was reading back through my text the words: "If others do not know the love of Christ, then they cannot be expected to be willing or able to do the right thing." And I thought how true this is. If you think Jesus is God's bouncer, keeping the undesirables out of God's kingdom, then naturally your theology will never be about welcoming the sinner. I mean - you can always tell the undesirables for they will always be inappropriately dressed !?! And of course you can't trust those who ride motor cycles * :-) But if you know the love of Christ for one and for all, then naturally you will be able to reach out in acceptance of the other. You will be both willing and able to do what Jesus did - though you may well be opposed by others.

There are, of course, people who know the love of Christ for all who don't come to Church and they do good works which are acceptable to God. On the other hand there are those who come to Church yet do not know the love of Christ for all sinners. Not being welcoming of others - their acts of piety inevitably are based on separation from others and of the nature of sin.

Again, Archbishop Rowan Williams: "You are required or desired to satisfy the demands mediated by religious law; that is what you are for, and all you are for ... this (is a) distortion ... of much of the Jewish / Christian / Muslim cluster of languages. (where) God is gracious, gratuitous ..." (Lost Icons p199) and "It is only something outside ... that makes possible the festal abrogation of rivalry, the social miracle." (p 198)

What a felicitous phrase: the "festal abrogation of rivalry" is - it is what we are bidden not to forget. As we come in thanksgiving to the table of the Lord with everyone else, this is what we are doing. We are celebrating with others - all others - the fact that the Cross of Jesus has taken away the sin of the world and so there is no need whatsoever for rivalry.

* I enjoy riding my Honda VTR 250 around the parish :-)



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