The readings on which this
sermon is based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r150.htm
s150g12 Advent 3
'whether he might be the Messiah' Luke 3.15
I guess we all look outside of ourselves, myself as much as anyone
else, for someone to fix society, to fix our lives, to establish
peace. People often look to a partner to fix them, to
hide behind, or to surreptitiously use to manipulate
One way of evading responsibility is to claim a special
heritage. So the 'brood of vipers' claim ancestry from
Abraham to justify their self interest rather than any concern for
the wider community. It is historically interesting that
the claim is that they are descendants of Abraham, which includes
the other offspring of Isaac and Jacob, the Midianites, the
Ishmaelites and the Edomites. This implies the
Israelites had to include at least these others in their circle of
The Bible of course can also be used to promote one's own self
interest and the marginalization, alienation and condemnation of
others. This is a favourite method of 'christian'
churches of all flavours and eras. 'No one comes to the
Father except by my interpretation of who Jesus is' which is much
the same as 'no one comes to God except through me and my
We blithely quote Creeds as if they confer a privileged status on
us. We use the holy communion to delineate who is 'in' and who
is 'out'. We use baptism as an entry ritual and require
prayer, study and bible reading to establish our 'real' credentials.
Some claim a special relationship with the divine associated with a
past conversion experience or an experience of the Holy Spirit,
which sets them apart from others. This means that other
good people live lives feeling inadequate because they haven't
experienced such a conversion.
And there are the movers and shakers in churches whose large
donations in the collection plate mean that their wishes
prevail. One of the constant frustrations in parish, and
I suppose diocesan, life for ministers is having members of the
congregation at constant loggerheads, each expecting the minister to
take their side! I suppose that God has a difficult time
with this too!
But the other interesting thing is that Jesus dismisses the
importance of Abraham completely. So the church is not a
giant pyramid scheme with the foundation members at the top - an
important thing to realise in episcopal churches and in newly formed
congregations. I suspect that the revival in interest of
church planting has, in part, a desire to be foundation members of a
church. It confers a degree of immortality.
I suspect that this is also the reason for the initial popularity of
the Charismatic and Pentecostal churches - the lure of being
foundation members, being remembered and revered.
Humanity's penchant for the proliferation of sects is similarly
motivated. But if Jesus discounts the status of Abraham
in preference to those, here and now, those around us, any
pretensions to grandeur are quickly dispelled. Of
course, the other reason for the proliferation of sects is the
unwillingness of the church to listen and value differing
opinions. By claiming a monopoly on truth the church
attempts to keep others subservient and infantile, and this is ever
doomed to failure.
No one is better, or worse, than ourselves. We, each and
every one of us, are - and therefore we are, each and every one of
us, sacred. Sacred enough to die for, because those who
claimed a special status couldn't abide a Messiah who didn't
acknowledge their superiority over others. We, each and every
one of us, are human, and it is our humanity that is sacred, not
some religious or spiritual facade.
John dismisses any suggestions that he himself is the Messiah, and
in fact Jesus also distances himself from the title.
Jesus didn't live to establish his own superiority over others, but
called his followers to include people rather than marginalising,
alienating and condemning others.
If our remembrance of the saints of old, even the ones I personally
hold dear, like Pope John the XXIII - gets in the way of our own
responsibility to embrace all those around us now, those of other
faiths and those of no faith, the straight and the gay, the rich as
well as the poor, the able and the less than abled - then we are
failing our Lord's command. Apostolic Succession is
meaningless in this sort of kingdom! Jesus speaks of
John the Baptist: 'Truly I tell you, among those born of women no
one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the
kingdom of heaven is greater than he.' Matthew 11.11
To bring this into the here and now: I know that the nurses in the
hospital in which I work regard the patients they care for as no
less sacred than Jesus or the blessed virgin Mary - and thank God
that this is so!
We as christians have to contend with the fact that Jesus asks not
for our worship but for us to accept others around us.
This is what those words of Jesus mean: 'When you are offering your
gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has
something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and
go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and
offer your gift.' Matthew 5.23-24 As so often, the
church interprets this as applying personally to individuals, but,
more importantly, it applies to brother and sister churches.
It is more important that churches recognise each other's essential
goodness than it is to be continually at loggerheads over who is the
more special in the eyes of God, and whose offering the divine
prefers, who uses the correct name for God, who worships in the real
kosher manner, and on the proper day ..
I have, in the past, had occasion to refer to St Paul's lovely
passage in 1 Corinthians 13, where he says that love does not insist
on it's own way, and surely this means that if God is love, God
would not insist on his or her own way, assuming that there was one
proper, kosher, divine way. And for those who quote: 'I
am the way .. no one comes to the Father but by me' - surely this
means that Jesus' way is an all encompassing, all embracing way.
While we as individuals embrace those who are around us, while the
church seems only concerned with defining who is in and who is out,
I have to wonder what lasting good will ever happen.
Proclaiming Jesus as Messiah is not what we are called to
do. Neither is threatening condemnation or an immanent
end to this world. We are called to love those who are
different, and to call our church to love churches who are
different, for it is only in this way that we can be of any use to
society as a whole.