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

s145g09 Sunday 33 15/11/2009

'beaten in synagogues' Mark 13.9

One could never charge Jesus with naïveté! But any naïveté was beaten out of him right at the beginning of his ministry, when those with whom he attended worship all his life, his neighbours in a town small enough that they could name his brothers and sisters, his mother and father ­ it was these people who were so scandalised with his message that they sought to kill him themselves right at the outset of his public ministry and long before the crucifixion. (Luke 4.16-30)

And why did they do this? Because he had the temerity to remind them that God chose a foreign woman to care for Elijah and that Elisha cured Naaman the commander of the foreign army.

It seems a fact of life that those who consider themselves particularly religious ­ and of course I am talking about 'christians' as much as anyone else ­ are scandalised that God might care for anyone other than themselves. It also seems a fact of life that often those who do not profess any faith are most concerned with the equality for all and the necessity to treat all people with respect. The larrikin outlook of Australians including contempt for all things religious - has the ethic of a fair go for all.

For I point out that Jesus says that we will stand before kings and governors because of Jesus, not that those kings or governors would necessarily be antagonistic ­ it may well be for approbation.

The religion of 'the world' inflicts pain on others ­ be it ever so cleverly disguised as religious. Often of course we inflict pain on ourselves, thinking that we are being religious! How well we learn our lessons! And I am speaking as much to myself as to anyone else.

So any religion that does not treat others with respect is essentially not of God. While the early Christian community used the word 'synagogue' as a pejorative term for all that would diminish others, St Paul was constantly having to warn people against Judaisers (another pejorative term) for 'christians' who diminish others in the name of God. Jesus had to warn his disciples not to 'lord it over' others, in other words treating others less than respectfully. James speaks against having distinctions between believers. And so the warnings are for us, not for others.

Time and again throughout scripture people who meet the Almighty fall down on their faces. I think the only one that didn't was the Blessed Virgin Mary and she was probably at most 16, so she can be forgiven :-)! But each and every time someone falls on their faces, God lifts them to their feet. Their primal dignity as human beings, standing on their own two feet, is restored. And the other primal dignity reserved, we believe, to human beings is to think and reason, and again by lifting everyone to their feet, this is restored by God to all people. God has no use for us grovelling and complying. God wants each and every person to be everything that we can be and to use our brains. Indeed the whole reason for people to not want us to use our brains is to make us comply ­ to grovel rather than rejoice in the wholeness to which God lifts us. God wants us to be able to rejoice in the wholeness to which God lifts us and for others to rejoice in the wholeness to which God lifts them.

God has nothing to fear from us thinking and using our brains because it is in doing so that we are being the most fully human possible. If we use our brains we realise that our own happiness is intimately bound up with the happiness of everyone else. If we are more affluent, more blessed or whatever, others will be envious and our relationship is diminished and long lasting peace is unlikely.

If we only react emotionally with no consideration for others we can't criticise others for doing the same in their relations with us. If we use our brains to think about the effect we might have on others, then peace might possibly be ours, and others' as well.

So religion that aims to get others to conform is to treat others like one would train a pet dog. It is not to treat someone else as actually human. If we hold a religion that does this, how can we progress beyond the survival of the fittest and the law of the jungle? And it doesn't matter who those 'others' are. Those who teach the subordination of women, expecting them to unthinkingly obey their husbands ­ because this is what the Bible demands ­ are treating them as less than human.

So any religion that demands conformity is essentially demonic, no matter how 'christian' it pretends to be. We are to use our brains and see what leads to our encouragement and the encouragement of others to find that religion which is truly of God.

The greatest terrorists in this world are not those who kill and maim people in suicide bombings, even those of September the 11th, but those who continue to inflict poverty, illness and premature death by forbidding the use of artificial contraception, most often claiming to be 'christians'.

Again for me this has much resonance with those words of Bishop John Spong who regularly pleas: that we "live our lives fully, love wastefully and become everything God created us to be."

And this is not some academic theology. Having been in parish life for 29 years and faced opposition by a dedicated few in each of the last three, one realises that a few people in congregations have a theology that the priest is there to conform to their perceptions of the faith. When one preaches that God loves people other than those who are worshipping with us in our manner, this upsets others. Religion that diminishes others has to be fought over. Religion that affirms others will inevitably inspire opposition, as Jesus himself found out right at the beginning of his ministry, as well as of course, at the end.

Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"