The readings on which this
sermon is based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r137.htm
'Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me'
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
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
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.