The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r140.htm

A podcast interview with me is #52 on Shrink Rap Radio at: http://www.shrinkrapradio.com/shows.htm

s140e06 Sunday 28 15/10/06

'we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses ..' Hebrews 4.15

Well, yes except, of course, if our particular weakness is for riches!!!

Actually it is a bit more than that. Jesus is entirely unimpressed with flattery. He rejects any suggestion that he is good. So Jesus is completely unimpressed with our worship, where it is simply flattery of the divine, designed to curry favour so that we can get our own way. Even if our way is entirely spiritual, like that of the rich young man whose desire was for eternal life, Jesus remains unimpressed.

Jesus is unimpressed with keeping the commandments. Any commandments I have managed not to break are more likely attributable to my timidity, lack of necessity and opportunity, rather than any merit on my part.

I am not sure that I readily associate the sympathy of our great high priest with someone who wields a sword able to divide soul from spirit, joints from marrow, and able to judge thoughts and intentions, from whom no one is able to hide. Just the other day I met a patient in hospital quickly walking towards the 'day room' when the venepuncturist was looking for him in his bedroom of course in precisely the opposite direction :-)! I wonder if he was successful in escaping her intentions?

One of the scriptural quotations I have great difficulty with is 'justification by faith'. I think I know what St Paul means by this, but the difficulty I have is that modern 'religious' people interpret this as if their uncharitable attitudes are justified because they have faith. They believe that they will escape 'scot free' for whatever they do to others (or what they neglect to do for others) simply because they are 'christians'. I have no doubt that if anyone else committed the same uncharitable acts, especially if they themselves were the butt of that lack of charity, they would be happy to condemn those perpetrators to burn in hell!

Let me say that this is precisely the attitude Paul held as he travelled that road to Damascus, prior to the Lord intervening! He was on his way to deal uncharitably with some other people solely on the basis that they believed something rather different from what he believed. His uncharitableness was going to be justified by his 'correct' faith. So there can be no doubt that the justification by faith that St Paul commends means something quite different to this.

The present strife in Iraq, between the Shia and the Sunni extremists shows people of good will that neither of these respective ideas of Islam are something that people feel motivated to align themselves with. These extremists believe that their uncharitableness is justified by their faith.

The fighting between Jewish and Moslem extremists in the Middle East shows people of good will that neither of these respective ideas of Judaism or Islam are something that people feel motivated to align themselves with. These extremists believe that their uncharitableness is justified by their faith.

The fighting between Catholic and Protestants extremists in Northern Ireland shows people of good will that neither of these respective ideas of Christianity are something that people feel motivated to align themselves with. Thank God that the efforts for peace there seem to be bearing fruit. These extremists believed that their uncharitableness was justified by their faith.

The infighting between Anglicans (and of course others) throughout the world over the issues of the ordination of women and recognition of the relationships gay and lesbian people have, shows people of good will that the Anglican Church has got to get it's own house in order in terms of what it believes before people will feel motivated to align themselves with us.

It needs to be said that the uncharitable attitudes of some Anglicans toward those who do ordain women and accept gay and lesbian relationships is an example where extremist Anglicans believe that their uncharitableness is justified by their faith.

Anglicans continue to be uncharitable towards other Anglicans who are not high church, evangelical, charismatic or whatever like themselves. This infighting between Anglicans shows people of good will that none of these respective ideas of Christianity or Anglicanism are something that people feel motivated to align themselves with. These extremists believe that their uncharitableness is justified by their faith.

And finally it was those who were so ostentatious in their love for God who acted uncharitably towards Jesus they had him killed. They too believed that they were justified by their faith.

Let me repeat that this is precisely the attitude Paul held as he travelled that road to Damascus, prior to the Lord intervening! He was on his way to deal uncharitably with some other people solely on the basis that they believed something rather different from what he believed. His uncharitableness was going to be justified by his 'correct' faith. Let me emphasise that there can be no doubt that the justification by faith that St Paul commends means something quite different to this.

The risen Lord appears to Paul and asks him why he is persecuting him the Lord.

The risen Lord is found in the other, the person who is different, the person who does not espouse orthodoxy. It is not too much to suggest that by asking Paul this question, the Lord tells us that it is precisely the other, the person who is different, the person who does not espouse orthodoxy who is justified by faith for their faith is in a God whose love is 'broader than the measures of our mind'. (Frederick William Faber TIS 136)

I want to say that there is nothing mysterious about all this. It does not take an Einstein to work out that God does not want us to hurt any other person whatever their faith, gender, lifestyle, colour, language, race or whatever. In fact it requires a goodly amount of deception to suggest otherwise.

If we take the Lord's words to Paul on that road to Damascus seriously, that he is persecuting the Lord when he is persecuting others, then it follows that the Lord is someone who creates difference and who blesses difference so much so that any persecution of the different is a persecution of the Lord.

This is the point of conversion for St Paul, and it deserves to be a foundation statement of our faith as well. It deserves to be the foundation statement of our faith far more that our belief in a particular doctrine about the inspiration of scripture, male headship, gay and lesbian rights, or a whole lot of others things over which people fight.

It is in our acceptance of others, all others, that we find justification. We are justified by this God who loves all people. It is salutary to 'christians' and 'anglicans' to realise that people of good will, even if they do not go to Church, Mosque, Synagogue or Temple are justified by their acceptance of others.

Again, this is not some wishy-washy liberal dismissal of the words of scripture it is taking scripture very, very seriously, and applying it to those for whom it was always intended those who are called to bear the name of Christ to the world. It is taking St Paul very, very seriously. We have to get it right or we will simply be contributing to the ongoing disputation around the world, and doing that in the name of some god rather different to the one I worship.

Until we get this right and are seen plainly that this is what we believe, I can't really be fussed whether people come to our Church or not, and we have no mandate to imply that people should come to us rather than go somewhere else.

I seemed to have travelled a long way from my text: 'we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses ..' and yet perhaps not so far. If our weakness means that we don't act uncharitably towards those who are different - then our high priest will not just sympathise with us, but will rejoice with us in our weakness.

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