The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s154g07 Lent 2 4/3/2007
'unless you repent, you will all perish as they did' Luke 13.3
We will all die; we will all perish. There is no one who has escaped this fate, and nothing we can do here in Church or in the world will change this. Some of us will die suddenly and unexpectedly, and some will linger on longer than we would ever want. It is hard to know what is a 'good' death these days. For us in Australia the chief cause of death is old age except if you do something silly. I confess that riding my motorcycle across the Hay plains at 110 kph (70 mph) in 40+ deg C (104 deg F) heat - when some of the tar on the road looked distinctly tacky was probably not my wisest of ideas. I was dressed appropriately, I had lots of water and the highway is well frequented by other travellers. I rode during the day when kangaroos wisely are lounging in whatever shade they can find. I would definitely come off 'second best' if I'd hit one of them.
Suddenly or lingeringly is not what Jesus is actually talking about when he says we will 'all perish as they did'.
The key for me is Jesus' redefinition of repentance given in his 15th chapter of Luke's gospel, in the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. The essence here of repentance is 'rejoice with me' for something or someone else has been found. It is not a turning to religion for this may or may not connect us with the concerns of other people. It is a turning, a diligent searching and connecting with the concerns of other people that they too are found. They never were 'lost' it was just the connection that was lost.
Without repenting, without 'getting the message' that God wants us to be connected with our brothers and sisters, without glimpsing the peace that this offers to all the world, we will die, suddenly or lingeringly, unaware of the true nature of God and the love God has for all people.
It is not as if God is going to have Jesus standing at the heavenly gates as the heavenly bouncer - telling us that we have got it all wrong and we are unworthy and can't come in. God's whole purpose is for us to live peaceably and charitably in this life. If we haven't got this message now, then our relationships with others now is affected.
In his 'Virtual Church of the Blind Chihuahua' on the internet J. A. H. Futterman has this as his third bylaw: 'Every once in a while, when you assert, "I believe ..." ask yourself just exactly who is it that is believing. After all, if you don't even know who you are, you should be very cautious in making assertions about who God is. This exercise may help you refrain from projecting your inner demons onto God when you are witnessing to others.' © Copyright J. A. H. Futterman, 1996. All rights reserved. If you believe that God is going to damn everyone else who isn't an Anglican of 'my' sort to eternal damnation then your inner demon is that you have an obligation to spend your life trying to rescue others from their recalcitrance. This doesn't do anything for us and nor for other people's self esteem either.
If we have a belief that we have to change everyone else - what makes us any different from the 'misery guts' that infect the church as much as the world? It is only the fact that God loves each and every person indiscriminately that frees us from this.
It is quite clear to me that the conservative 'Global South' Anglicans believe that 'repent' means that everyone else has to believe as they do, live as they do, worship as they do or else they will be excommunicated: So the communiqué from the recent Primates meeting in Das el Salaam says that, if the US House of Bishops cannot give the reassurances asked for by 30 September, "the relationship between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole remains damaged at best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion."
I suspect that the US House of Bishops understand 'repent' to mean 'rejoice with me', someone else has been found. The difference is fundamental. And I would comment that if repent actually meant what the conservative 'Global South' Anglicans believe, then Jesus would never have been crucified.
As I say, what conservatives want is to only love those who worship like them, think like them, live their lives like them - in other words they only want to love those who make no mark on the Church or on individuals. This is hardly love - it is really only self love - only loving others for what support they give them and their coterie. The 'love' of a paedophile is not true because it is only out for its own self gratification which is not so very different. Jesus was criticised and eventually crucified for consorting with 'tax collectors and sinners' - people whom the religious establishment of his day didn't want to be called to love. They didn't want any contribution from them.
Such people consider the victory of the Church as victory over other people - that they in the end will be proven right. Others consider the victory of the Church as the victory of that love that includes all people. The prospect for peace in our time while we strive for victory over others remains miniscule indeed. The prospect for peace in our time when we seek to love and include others is hopefully greater. The trilogy of the parables of the lost conclude with the cameo of the prodigal father going to his elder son to bid him join in the festivities for his younger brother's return, and the elder brother's refusal.
I have heard it suggested that the issue of gay and lesbian people is the final one for the biblical literalists. If they lose this battle it means that their faith in biblical literacy would be fatally compromised. The real issue is that these people's spiritual imperialism will be exposed for what it really is. The issue now is no different from the issue in Jesus' day.
While I have been on holidays I re-read the 'Chronicles of Narnia' and I was taken by the opening of the final one 'The Last Battle' and the relationship between Shift the Ape and Puzzle the Donkey. Shift was always telling Puzzle what to do and on the odd occasion when Puzzle questioned; he was told that he was being inconsiderate and of course Shift was much cleverer than Puzzle. He was often reminded: 'You know you're not clever, Puzzle'. And my mind went to the Church that frequently rewards compliance and has often made the clergy so much more spiritually adept than lay people. There are, of course, those lay people who are so more spiritually adept than their clergy too! :-) How frequently has the Church wanted lay people to do this or that education program - as if this will save the Church. Since arriving back home I have also used the rest of my holidays to begin to sort out my library and one of the things I have done is to dispose of all the Lenten study guides I have accumulated over the years. I did not count them but they were legion.
The story of the Last Battle ends (as far as the animals are concerned) with Aslan meeting Puzzle. 'The very first person whom Aslan called to him was Puzzle the Donkey .. (and he) .. whispered something to Puzzle .. at which his ears perked up'. The creature who was ever at the mercy of the whims of the Ape and as a consequence the instrument that caused the end of that world - was the first to be included.
So, the choice is up to us. Do we want this world with all it's strife and fighting to continue, and when we exclude others to be forgiven because we are Christians and therefore justified; or do we want to be open to all and happy with ourselves and others. We are all going to die anyway, so we might as well make the best of it in the here and now.
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