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

s154g13  Second Sunday in Lent  24/2/2013

'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 for far longer than we would ever want.   It is hard to know what is a 'good' death these days.   For us in first world countries the chief cause of death is old age except if you do something silly.   I confess that riding my 250cc motorcycle 1155kms (720 miles) across the Hay plains in Australia some years ago; travelling 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.   Mind you, I was dressed appropriately,   I had lots of water and the highway is well frequented.   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 other people.   It is a turning, a diligent searching and connecting with other people ­ that they too are found.   Of course others are never 'lost'.   ­ If we have separated ourselves off in a holy huddle, it is us who are lost, not others.

So Luke 15 repentance has nothing to do with earning a future place in heaven, it is about rejoicing here and now, wiht those around us.

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.

And, as ever, it is far more important that the church gets this message.   For all you and I might try to follow this commandment, if the church doesn't 'get the message' that God wants the church to find common ground with people of other faiths and people of no faith, our personal efforts will be entirely in vain.

Recently the retiring pope spoke about the sin of disunity - '"I am thinking particularly about sins against the unity of the Church, about divisions in the body of the Church," he said.   "Overcoming individualism and rivalry is a humble sign," he added during his last public Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.' (1)  But the Church is inherently individualistic when it offers salvation to her members and condemnation to others, and whose basic raison d'être is to rival secular humanism and all other creeds.

It is not as if God is going to have Jesus standing at the heavenly gates as the heavenly bouncer - telling us that others have got it all wrong and 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 in the here and now are 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.' (2)   If you believe that God is going to condemn everyone else who isn't a straight 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 neither does it do anything for other people's self esteem.

And if we have a belief that we have to change everyone else - what makes us any different from the gate-keepers who infect the church as much as the world?   It is only the fact that God loves each and every person indiscriminately that makes us any different and frees us from this.

As I say, what gate-keepers 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.   ­ This is not so very different from what many congregations believe evangelism is about.    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.   Similarly the 'love' of a child molester is not true love because it is only out for the molester's own self gratification.

Some people consider the victory of the Church as victory over other people and other's defective theologies - that they in the end will be proven right.   For me, and many others, the victory of the Church is the victory of that love that includes all people and takes into account their perceptions.   The prospect for peace in our time while we strive for victory over others remains minuscule 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.

I often re-read the 'Chronicles of Narnia' and the opening of the final one:­ 'The Last Battle'.   It speaks of 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 goes 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 much 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.  

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'.    (4)  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.

Finally I want to quote Henry David Thoreau.
'I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.'    (5)  and:
'The finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom on fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate handling. Yet we do not treat ourselves nor one another thus tenderly.'


(2)  © Copyright J. A. H. Futterman, 1996. All rights reserved.

(3)  The Last Battle  page 2

(4)   The Last Battle page 227

(5)  Walden (1854)

(6)  Walden, Chapter 1: Economy