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

s149g15  Advent 2  6/12/2015

‘all flesh shall see the salvation of God’  Luke 3:6

We are here confronted by John the Baptist with the divine imperative to cooperate with God in the formation of an egalitarian and inclusive society.   The emphasis is on the egalitarian and inclusive society, not on worshipping God in the hope that this will magically bring it about or to remind God that this might be nice.   Worshipping our ‘christian’ God in the manner we find personally uplifting has demonstratively not lead to a more egalitarian and inclusive society, any more than the worship of the God of the ancient chosen people.

If ordinary people are deserting the church in droves, it is because we as church have lost sight of this vision of a better world.   There is no empirical public evidence able to be cited that religion is useful in encouraging indiscriminate acceptance of other people.  The empirical evidence is that  churches have creeds, worship and other eggshells that mostly seem to delineate who is acceptable and who isn’t.   ‘All flesh’ will not see ‘the salvation of God’ by reciting the creeds or living up to acceptable religious standards in order to be admitted into full fellowship of any church.

Let us be clear that God is far more interested in the establishment of an egalitarian and inclusive society than our worship of him or her, otherwise God could justly be accused of being no better than an attention seeking child who has never grown up, callously ordaining his son to be murdered as the ultimate bribe to get lots of followers to eternally assuage his or her insecurities.   Such a ‘god’ needs therapy, not more sycophants.   Or, put the other way around, trying to commend to sane ordinary human beings a ‘god’ who is more interested in the worship of the divine - and excuses the plain bad behaviour of those who worship loudest - is an exercise in futility if ever there was one.

We are given a particular time for John’s ministry, but this is only to emphasise that he stood in a long line of prophets in their own times and places before him - all of whom confronted the religious hierarchy with this same message.   And John’s message of the kingdom is no different to Jesus’, who followed soon afterwards.   The announcement of Jesus being the beloved son is not about magnifying Jesus, but trying to ensure that we recognise the divine imperative for cooperation in the establishment of an egalitarian and inclusive society.   Similarly the second coming with the visions of the Son of Man coming to the ‘ancient of Days’ (1) reinforces that the Cross shows us the defeat of earthly imperialism and exclusivism.   In this sense it is nothing new, and we should not be surprised that the church still needs her prophets to call her back to her proper task.   The eternal propensity of ‘christianity’ to become self-serving, exclusive and condemnatory didn’t stop at the resurrection.   The book of Acts shows that both Peter and Paul had to learn this lesson and scripture describes their conversions in no uncertain terms that we may learn the same one too.   As Paul says - this is not a human invention but a divine imperative. (2)   It is not a human invention, but others actually do do the right thing without religion. (3)

So our worship does not excuse us from cooperating with this divine imperative to ensure the exercise of our faith is not to the detriment of others.    Indeed if we retain our pretensions to superiority, every effort to attract others is essentially futile.   Our worship, the fundamental visible expression of our faith, must be seen to be egalitarian and inclusive rather than exclusive and divisive.   We can be open and welcoming until ‘the cows come home’ (4), but others will quickly perceive when this is actually recruitment.   Actually the fact that those whom Jesus called to forgo their sanctified selfishness orchestrated Jesus’ death shows how pervasive this is. 

The church is facing a problem, because ‘all flesh’ are seeing ‘the salvation of God’ - the slow but sure establishment of an egalitarian and inclusive society by secular humanists - and realise how frequently this is opposed by the pretensions of the exclusive church.   The ease of communication initiated by the invention of the printing press in the mid 1400’s and made even more democratic through the internet is a tsunami only the foolhardy ignore.   Sadly some ‘christians’ equate foolhardiness with faith.

Recently I was privileged to attend the annual conference of the PsychoSocial Oncology NZ based on the theme: ‘The Art of Collaboration’. (5)   It was a fabulous conference, and it brought home to me again how ‘real’ people who have no affiliation with ‘church’ and no pretensions to expertise in spirituality - actually experience and seek to express the profound meaning their collaboration brings them.   What they do not want is to have an alien orthodoxy imposed on them and particularly one that is demonstratively divisive - the opposite of collaboration.

That which gives us life is in fact collaboration, working with other people, where each benefit from the experience of the other.   We all know the truth of this in our personal lives, even if we manage to make a thorough mess of it in the attempt; it is that for which we strive.   Meaningful relationships based on equality and mutuality.

So when will the church as a corporate body embrace collaboration on a corporate and credal level?   When will the church cease her obsession for doctrinal, liturgical and ethical delineation, and embrace others as they are?   When will our Holy Communion not be with just those who have confessed their sins, listened to some of our Holy Scripture and our personal interpretation of it, and then recited a creed ensuring we call God by precisely the same name; before we can shake hands and sit down for a meal together?   This is for me what those words: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.   Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth’ imply.   They call us to remove every obstacle we place in front of others before they are acceptable.

And, interestingly to me, straight after this ‘communion’ what do we do?   We are dismissed before others have any opportunity for input, to us and to the church!   So much for collaboration, even within the community of faith!   Good parishioners are to be seen and not heard.   This is not the way of modern society, and if our vision is to return to the good old days when this was acceptable, we are living in a fantasy land.

1.  Daniel 2:12
2.  Galatians 1:11
3.  Romans 2:14-16.