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

s137g12   Sunday 25   23/9/2012

'Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me'   Mark 9.37

Jesus talks about his coming death, and the orthodox evangelical might do well to notice that there is nothing here in Jesus' words linking that death to sin and forgiveness.

As I have experienced orthodox evangelists, their message is all about Jesus dying on the Cross for our sins, sins which God can forgive only because Jesus willingly died in our place for them.   Jesus, by his death, placates the angry Father.

There are two difficulties with this portrayal.   It makes God into an eternally angry God and it supposes that humanity is more forgiving than God.

Now the difficulty with picturing God as angry, and Jesus as the compassionate one, is that Jesus himself says: 'he who has seen me has seen the Father'.   (John 14.9)    So either God and Jesus are both angry or they are both compassionate.   I think that there is quite a bit of scriptural evidence that the latter is the case.   So in another place the epistle of Peter tells us: 'In him there is no darkness at all'.  (2 Pet 4.5)   But the other perception that God is less forgiving than humanity is also wrong.   Even the statement that God is less forgiving than the orthodox religious person is quite untrue.   The gospel speaks to me, time and again, of the anger of the orthodox and the devout, anger because Jesus associated with people other than them.   They were angry that Jesus wasn't angry, that Jesus wasn't telling those others to become like them, that he wasn't validating their version of the faith, their devotion, their orthodoxy.   Time and again in the gospels, first the Pharisees come to Jesus with a question, wanting his validation for their theological perceptions, then the Sadducees wanting the same thing and neither got what they wanted.   Please note that I am using scripture in my rebuttal.  

So, far from God having so much difficulty forgiving the sins of ordinary humanity that God sent his son to die a horrible death on the cross, we see that the anger that needed to be dealt with was the anger of the orthodox and the devout.  

Jesus is not just concerned that we welcome him, though in welcoming him we welcome God - a God of compassion.   Jesus immediately says that by welcoming another person one welcomes Jesus.

It is never just my relationship with God or Jesus, it is always about how we welcome others, others who are different, how we ourselves are not angry at others because they are different, how we welcome difference.

Jesus links his death with welcome, because his death was a result of anger at difference.

And when I come to think further about welcoming, I realise of course that the orthodox evangelical doesn't welcome others, say those who are gay or lesbian for instance, and therefore they do not welcome Jesus.   The orthodox evangelical doesn't, indeed can't, welcome anyone who doesn't believe in their own particular terms, and in not welcoming others, they do not welcome Jesus.

And I realise that this is the force of those words 'in my name'.   We might welcome all others into a social situation whoever they are, but God is far more concerned that we welcome all others in God's name, for it is only then that they receive, not just our own encouragement and acceptance, but God's as well, and this is surely what God would want.

When we welcome others who are different to us, we are being baptised into Jesus' death.   When we welcome others who are different to us we are entering, participating and celebrating Holy Communion, for 'where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.' (Mat 18.20)   When we only welcome others who believe like us, worship like us and live like us; we don't actually welcome others, and we remain unforgiven, unbaptised, out of communion.

The church is ever concerned that those in the world stop what they are doing for an hour on Sunday morning at 9am and all come to church, believe in their orthodox doctrines, live an orthodox life, and validate their version of 'christianity'.   Jesus ever wants the church to exit their holy huddle and welcome others and validate the spiritual journeys of others which are inevitably different from ours.

The difficulty is that the church that remains in its holy huddle has become an instrument of personal and corporate neo-colonialism which is essentially no different from the religion of the scribes and pharisees who had Jesus killed so long ago.   The church has simply replaced one form of spiritual neo-colonialism with another and of course claiming divine authority, yet again.   The only way out of this cycle of destruction is to welcome others, others who are actually different from us, welcoming them in the name of God.

If God and religion do not bring people who are different together, then they are demonic, and this is precisely the charge that the ordinary educated person rightly levels at the church of today, with a good deal of justification.   Indeed for all we might claim the death of Jesus and the blood of the lamb in our own personal lives, if there is no welcome in us for those who are different we are deluding ourselves.

Of course the problem with this is that we are left with the conclusion that our faith is ever provisional.   No one person and no one faith expresses God in his or her entirety.   The implications of Galileo, that the earth was not at the centre of the universe but on it's periphery, tells us the same thing, that our perceptions of God and 'christianity' are ever provisional.   There is a universe out there whose existence doesn't depend on the atoning death of Jesus in 33CE or whenever, and we are the losers if we don't lift our sights, and our hearts, to this reality.

Surely God will not be angry if we marvel at the beauty of the universe, the beauty of a snowflake, the joy of intimacy, the list is indeed endless.