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

s141g15   Sunday 29   18/10/15

‘they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.’  Mark 10:32

Jesus was walking ahead of them, it was and ever is thus.

One of my pet hates is the old collect for Good Friday from the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 which says: ‘O MERCIFUL God, who hast made all men, and hatest nothing that thou hast made, nor wouldest the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live; Have mercy upon all Jews, Turks, Infidels, and Hereticks, and take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of thy Word; and so fetch them home, blessed Lord, to thy flock, that they may be saved among the remnant of the true Israelites, and be made one fold under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.’  (1)   This seems to suggest that we are more merciful than God and the task of good christians is to encourage God to be more merciful!   This is blasphemous in the extreme!

I recall many years ago, after I came to a new parish, one of the parishioners quietly taking me aside privately and saying words to the effect: ‘You look after me and my family and you won’t have to worry about your stipend.’

And the crowds that followed Jesus must have also wondered, why was Jesus going elsewhere?   He could stay where he was and they would support him.   There was enough of them to fulfil his day to day needs.   They were amazed that Jesus didn’t see how good he had it already.   And they were afraid, afraid that he might leave them and go elsewhere.

They were amazed, I guess also because he was going to Jerusalem.   If he was going to the Turks, Infidels, Hereticks and Gay and Lesbian persons, that would be at least understandable.   The world would indeed be a better place (in their estimation) if these folk were converted and became like them.   What was the point of going to Jerusalem, the centre of true devotion and orthodoxy?   Jesus made it clear to the twelve that he expected no good outcome when he arrived; no doubt they were even more amazed and afraid.   They too were going to lose Jesus.

I suppose we might be OK with sincere and peace-loving Turks, Infidels, Hereticks and Gay and Lesbian persons who do not participate in Pride Marches or want to be married, but anyone who might disturb our christo-centric universe requires conversion to our version of self-serving egotistical religion.   Jesus was marching to the centre of religion purportedly devoted to the one true God - precisely to disturb their self-centred universe.

The Jesus we follow is always going elsewhere, and if we are not frightened and amazed, we have either domesticated and entombed Jesus, or we are glad to join in the movement for the inclusion and acceptance of all.   The ones who need the ‘ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of thy Word’ taken away - are those who have, for all their scriptural and theological learning, domesticated and entombed Jesus.

I type this as I am sitting in the Transitional Cathedral doing my priests-on-duty duty, a quiet lull in the meeting and greeting of folk from near and far on Friday mornings.   All around me today are the roadies, setting up for the Avalanche City concert tonight. (2)  It is amazing that the space can be transformed into a concert venue holding 750 as well as being a worship space for the little midday service in an hour or so as well as Sunday worship in a couple of days.   The people who actually work here have master’s degrees in chair arranging! :-)   We can look at the concert organisers as providing the wherewithal for the continuing financial security of the Cathedral or as allowing people to express their faith in our sacred space.   Interestingly they are mostly wearing black!   Sadly we can provide a venue for others to express what is important to them, but we don’t provide a venue for lay Anglicans to express what is important to them, unless it is taken from our authorised book, our song sheet.  

The Collect for Good Friday reflects a theology that says that the kingdom will come when OUR churches are full, ‘one fold under one shepherd’ and all our worries are over.   Everyone will agree with my version of the truth, the minister’s stipend will be assured, the building will be maintained ‘as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end’.   I may well be charged with idealism, but this is real fantasy-land stuff!   If the earthquakes of the last five years have taught us anything, it is certainly that even stone buildings do not last forever.   It is one of those classic examples of Murphy’s law that had the Cathedral in the Square been built in wood rather than stone as was originally intended, it probably would still be standing.   But someone obviously stated with a considerable amount of authority: ‘real’ cathedrals are built of stone.  (3)

We are called to follow Jesus, and this involves movement, and movement on the church’s part.   If the church’s vision is to return to the halcyon days of the 1950’s there is no wonder that people are deserting it in droves - they are just following Jesus, who is already leading us elsewhere.   I am old enough to remember clergy lamenting the decline in attendance at Evensong because of the advent of television!   I sometimes wonder if the volume of modern music is a reaction to the widespread dictum: ‘children are to be seen and not heard’ - abuse made all the worse because of it’s general acceptance.

I am reminded of the story of the prophet Jonah, sitting dejectedly because Nineveh escaped destruction, like we think the ‘Turks, Infidels, Hereticks and Gay and Lesbian persons all deserve.

I guess there are many clergy who have had at one time or another one of their most religious parishioners thank them profusely for their sermon which has led the preacher to think - Well they obviously didn’t get that message - I’ll have to try harder next time!

It’s a bit like karma - as Sharon Salzburg says: ’If you are talking about someone else's karma you are doing it wrong.’  (4)

And finally that old Collect for Good Friday suggests that the parlous state of the world and the church is God’s fault!   God sent Jesus to get those who used religion to remain where they were to move and to love, not to replace one excuse for inertia for another!