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

s143g12    Sunday 31  4/11/2012

'you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.  Mark 12.30

This commandment is the sort of fallback, default position of 'christians'.   For all our failures, we believe, worship and love God.   We are different from others.   Our love for God means that God will forgive our sins whereas God will not forgive others their sins.   Wrong!   The prayer our Lord taught us says that we will be forgiven as we forgive others.   It could be reasonably asserted that the secular humanist who didn't believe in God but forgave those around him or her is forgiven his or her sins, even their unbelief!   Oops!   Is this the sort of God we love - or not?

The essence of our faith is forgiveness, but so often this is conceived as we personally forgiving others their offending us, when of course they ask for forgiveness - certainly not before asking.   The more radical forgiveness is the corporate forgiveness - that we as a church forgive others for believing differently from ourselves, seventy times seven .. times!

It is actually rather harder to love this sort of God, who not just commends forgiveness - a nice demand for his or her followers, but who doesn't reward those who do, and forgives those who don't!

We are indeed justified by faith, but justified to do what?   Are we justified in condemning others who believe differently to us to eternal punishment?   Are we justified in condemning others who believe differently to us to a summary death?   The tragedy of terrorism is that the perpetrator actually has never met their victim, and it is one of the joys of the communications revolution that people are getting to know others, getting to hear different expressions of love.  

Surely the justification that God provides is justification to love others who are difficult to love, those who are not clones of ourselves, to accept people who think for themselves, and to be open to other ideas.  We are justified in accepting others, without hesitation, without discrimination and without expectation.

Recently we have returned from an amazing trip to New England via San Francisco.   The warmth of the welcome we received was amazing.   We went to worship unannounced in churches where Mary had previously served, and the looks of surprise and delight to reconnect with her was truly heartwarming.   And it made me think, of course it was, for Mary has made a difference in many people's lives.   And we crave this sort of fellowship.   All the global organisations offer this sort of hospitality to fellow members - the service clubs, lodges, specific denominations, NGOs, companies, sports codes .. the list is endless.   The equivalent for the millennium generation who don't go an hour without internet access, are the social media networks.   The desire to welcome and be welcomed is universal.   I am actually typing these words as I am staying less than a block from the Haight - Ashbury intersection; we crossed it returning from breakfast.   The hippy generation, the age of Aquarius and Woodstock again speak of the same desire to welcome and be welcomed, regardless of social mores.   Indeed the mores of the day were deliberately flouted to make this very point.   I have often pondered the reason for the often loud and less than obvious meaning to modern 'pop' songs.   Again surely this is a reaction to generations of children who were to be seen and not heard, denied meaningful employment, and a legitimate reaction to the primacy of logic and reason.

Do we love a God who rewards conformity or who welcomes diversity?   Do we love a God who rewards logic rather than emotion?   Do we love a God who differentiates, judges and condemns, or one who welcomes?   Do we love a God who prefers us to remain in our comfortable 'holy huddles' or do we love a God who calls us out of them into a community for which so many people actually crave?

And if our God doesn't: are we not better without him or her?   If our God doesn't: have we any good news for the world?  

Do we love a God continuing to be incarnate in this world of diversity, diversity of colour, culture, belief, names for God, sexual preference .. or do we love a God who loves only a fraction of the creation created by the divine; loves only a fraction of the population created in the divine image?

Let us be clear that it was because Jesus proclaimed a God of welcome and a kingdom of religious, cultural and moral diversity, that had him killed; killed not by the secular authorities, but by the manipulation of the devout and the orthodox.   That universal craving for community I spoke about earlier was Jesus' raison d'être, the reason for the jealousy of the religious, so dangerous that he had to be eliminated.  

The christian message is that God's kingdom will not be thwarted by the devout and the orthodox and that those who work for acceptance and community are doing God's work and are being led by God's spirit (whether they call 'god' by 'our' name, worship in 'our' tradition, or are intimate only when and with whom we personally approve).   The good news is that we are called to love this God who is not made in our own image, but who we can continually find in all sorts of other people and especially in those who crave for universal acceptance and equality.   May we too see, as Elisha said to the attendant of the man of God: "Do not be afraid, for there are more with us than there are with them."   2 Kings 6.16

Or in the words of John Lennon: 'Imagine there's no heaven / It's easy if you try / No hell below us / Above us only sky / Imagine all the people living for today
Imagine there's no countries / It isn't hard to do / Nothing to kill or die for / And no religion too / Imagine all the people living life in peace
You, you may say / I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one / I hope some day you'll join us / And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions / I wonder if you can / No need for greed or hunger / A brotherhood of man / Imagine all the people sharing all the world
You, you may say / I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one / I hope some day you'll join us / And the world will live as one.