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

s136g15  Sunday 24   13/9/2015

‘who do you say I am?’   Mark 8:27

There have been times in my life when it seems as if I’ve been in synch with the universe.   Some five and a half years ago now I emigrated to New Zealand to be re-married and begin a new existence.   It happened that the house I had begun buying in Australia was able to be sold virtually the day after I put it on the market.   The exercise of moving car, motorcycle and possessions across the ditch proved to be no problem.   I got the feeling that this was a move I was meant to make.   And even after 4658 earthquakes of magnitude 3 and greater since September the 4th 2010 I have had no regrets. (1)  It seems incredible that we have just ‘celebrated’ the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the shakes in Christchurch - how time flies when you’re having fun!

It is humbling to realise the ease with which I (as an Australia) emigrated to New Zealand essentially with no questions asked, compared to the extreme difficulty others experience in finding a place of haven from their war-torn homelands.  The vision of desperate families being able to take only what they can carry (and that to provide essential shelter and warmth for the journey) is gut-wrenching.  

As well I continue to be astonished how every week I find preparing homilies on the set readings for Sunday a week ahead enthuses me, even after 39 years!   I guess some preachers find marginalising women, alienating gay and lesbian persons, and condemning those who do not believe in their own particular terms, enthused; but my enthusiasm is not at the expense of these millions of others!

In our lives we wonder if what we are doing is what God would want.   I recall hearing an evangelical preacher once saying from the pulpit that he occasionally wondered if he was just manipulating others, but he dismissed this as lack of faith ..  and I thought .. God is still trying to get him to hear ..

Scripture shows us some ways God has come to other people.   The classic example is Saul who was confronted by the risen Jesus on that road to Damascus. (2)  Here was this scrupulously devout follower of God being told that in persecuting others he was doing precisely the opposite to what God wanted.   We are left in no doubt that the vision was unmistakeable, the origin of the message was certain, and the divine imperative to demolish his theology of entitlement to the detriment of others was unavoidable.   God has to use drastic measures when people are acting uncharitably in the name of the Almighty.

Similarly God used a series of visions to lead Peter from his theology of entitlement to the detriment of others in Acts.   The story begins straight after Saul’s conversion and meeting the disciples in Jerusalem.  (3)   The focus shifts to Peter’s journeying, and step by step being lead away from Jerusalem to Lydda 38 kms (24 miles) north-west where he heals the paralysed Aeneas, then to Joppa 16 kms (10 miles) on the western coast, where he raises Tabitha from the dead.   Then in chapter 10 we read of the devout Cornelius being told to send to Joppa and bring Peter to Caesarea 55 kms (34 miles) north.   Meantime Peter has the vision of the sheet filled with clean and unclean animals being let down from heaven and being told to kill and eat.   Peter, still the devout Jew, demurs, yet is told not to call things unclean.   Finally he is told to go with the messengers of Cornelius, knocking at the door.   When he gets to Caesarea, he finally twigs to the message that God had been saying all along: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality’ (4) and to confirm this the Holy Spirit comes in an unmistakable way to the Gentiles who heard this.   Again, the message is that God does not condone any spirit of entitlement to the detriment of others.   We need to realise the geography that leads Peter further and further from Jerusalem.  We have no details of Peter’s route, as tradition has it, to Rome, about as far from Jerusalem and pseudo-orthodoxy as one could then travel.

Of course we continue to be surrounded by people who use the name of Jesus to condone their spirit of entitlement to the detriment of others - they loudly proclaim themselves ‘christians’, ‘straight’, ‘white’, ‘educated’, ‘church-goers’.

I wrote last week: ‘Healing is as easy as converting the heathen.   Jesus’ mission was not to those of other faiths and none - that is easy - any fool can do that!   Jesus’ mission was to the orthodox and the devout - to forgo their assumed positions of superiority in the eyes of the Almighty - and to be human .. and humane - towards all.   That was the difficult task, as prophet after prophet (5) before him found out, and it was why Jesus was killed.   And so our task is to follow Jesus and our mission is to rid the church of her pretended position of superiority and be incarnated into society.’  (6)  This is more than difficult, it is truly miraculous!  

So our only reason for proclaiming Jesus as Lord is to say that our incarnation into society is the miracle of the gospel, the egalitarian gospel of inclusion and affirmation.   This is no human construct but what God has desired from the beginning of time.

The pseudo-religious will kill rather than accept this gospel and forgo their doctrine of entitlement - they killed the prophets, they killed Jesus, and they hounded Paul from Jerusalem to Rome because of this egalitarian gospel.   It is these who are the ‘inventors of evil’ denounced in Paul’s first chapter of his letter to the Romans (7); not those who choose to express their intimate affections to someone of the same gender as themselves.

When we offer entitlement to others rather than the egalitarian gospel of the acceptance and inclusion of other people we show ourselves to be ashamed of Jesus; and we will be those of whom he ‘will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’

And the egalitarian gospel has never any need to resort to claiming ‘religious freedom’.   The only reason the church would ever need to claim ‘freedom of religion’ is when the church seeks to discriminate against someone else.   As a Facebook post rightly juxtaposes: ‘I support the Religious Liberty of a Christian clerk to refuse a marriage license to a gay couple’ with the retort: ‘You wouldn’t call it Religious Liberty if it were a Muslim clerk refusing to issue a driving license to your wife.’  (8)

To use our answer to the question: ‘who do you say I am?’  to suggest that our answer allows us, indeed requires us, to marginalise, alienate and condemn anyone else, then something serious has happened to the gospel of love.   So the question: ’Who do you say that I am?’ really asks: ‘who do we say others are?’: are they God’s children no more and no less than ourselves?, or are they sinners in mortal need of repentance lest they be consigned to everlasting damnation in the name of my ‘god’ of ‘love’?

2.  Acts 9:1-5
3.  Acts 9:32
4.  Acts 10:34
5.  e.g. Jeremiah 13:9-10
7.  Romans 1:30
8.  Mrs Betty Bowers, America’s Best Christian.