The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s155g07 Lent 3 11/3/2007
'it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem' Luke 13.33
I was struck as I heard the gospel for Lent 1 as it was read out in Church on the morning I began preparing this sermon the temptation in the wilderness - the devil quoting scripture 'like a pro'. We were even given the passage in the psalms (91) that the devil quotes to recite. The devil didn't make any mistakes. And of course the passages that the devil quoted were all about 'god' protecting the beloved son of god, in a way denied to other 'mere mortals'. Is it any wonder I have come to not appreciate the psalms as it seems others do? This should alert us to the fact that the bible can be misused, and the bible can be misused primarily when 'our' welfare over and above someone else's welfare is involved. Two of the temptations that the devil put before Jesus were to use his status for his own personal benefit over others.
But of course, implicit in the proclamation of the Church always has been that membership involves personal advantage over others. In different ways the church has said or implied that outside the Church there is no salvation - but it should be noted here that it is probably the Roman Catholic Church who in their Second Vatican Council has most deliberately built up caveats to this hard line. In actual fact the denial of salvation is worse than terrorists who kill people, for the denial of salvation to someone else implies that they are eternally damned.
This belief in some form of personal advantage over others of course strikes at the very core of our faith. Perhaps our faith needs to be re-evaluated if there is no personal advantage over others to be gained.
Those who had Jesus killed were those who were the most devout and learned. They were the ones who knew all the commandments and loved 'god' with all their hearts and minds and souls. They knew that they had all the advantages over others. The devil didn't try to kill Jesus, just to get Jesus to do it his way, and of course Jesus was killed by the most learned and devout because he didn't do things 'their' way acknowledging and authorising their continuing advantage over others.
I was reflecting further on the words of Jesus: 'unless you repent you will all perish' and it is precisely this redefinition of repentance that defines the Church identifying with the community in which it finds herself rather than setting up in opposition to everyone else, which saves the Church from self-obsession. So no salvation outside the church yes if you mean that that Church which is connecting with others especially others who are not like us for this brings salvation to everybody, including ourselves.
It is this emphasis on not being self-reliant, on not being self-sufficient, of not possessing an advantage over others, that is the beauty of the Church and being a Christian. We can learn and we can benefit from the diversity of experiences that all others we meet can bring to our encounter.
I was interested to hear a very startling example of this recently in a 'Radio National' program recently entitled: 'Rear Vision' and the episode concerning the 50th anniversary, this year, of the Australia-Japan Agreement on Commerce.
The year was 1957, so just twelve years after the end of World War II and Australia became the first nation to open its doors to trade with Japan. Many Australian returned service men and women had plenty of cause to hate the Japanese. I have heard such sentiments in my own lifetime so they would have been greater then. In 1957 Hiroshima and Nagasaki would have still been regarded as bringing salvation rather than heralding a horrendous power that should be lamented. It was a courageous thing for the government of the day to do, and it was not all that obvious that benefits would flow. More significantly, it meant that Australia would stop relying on our Anglo-Celtic heritage and traditional dependence on alliances with Britain and America on the other side of the world, and actually relate to South East Asian countries where we actually are. The presenter Keri Phillips said: 'Japan had signed up to the GATT, a post-war agreement for reducing barriers to international trade, in the '50s, but despite this, not a single member country had extended it most favoured nation status.' Dr Takashi Terada, who teaches at the Institute of Asian Studies at Waseda University in Tokyo, commented: 'I guess when the negotiations were started, when the Australian government officials said that Australia was ready for providing the most favoured nation treatment, Japan couldn't believe it.' Later he said: 'I think this was possible only after Australia showed its willingness to accept the Japanese on an equal footing. The Japanese believe this was one of the most significant trade agreements in Japanese diplomatic history.'
Peter Drysdale, Emeritus Professor of Economics at the Australian National University, spoke of the results: 'there was a huge lift in the intensity of our trade with Japan in consequence of that. But at a psychological level, it impacted dramatically on the relationship too. Within the month's signing of the agreement, the level of travel to Japan and from Japan lifted dramatically, so that it was a pressure on the airline services to open up more routes, and so on .. Australia is the biggest player in the world in the export of iron ore, seaborne coal and bauxite, alumina; one of the biggest in the world in terms of uranium exports. All of these things were built on the back of the establishment of the relationship with Japan through the agreement on commerce. So our position in the world now essentially, has been shaped by what we achieved through the agreement on commerce in 1957 ..'
It was literally the making of Australia as a nation as we know it today; and it came from 'loving our enemies'.
There is no doubt, of course, that other nations have similar stories to tell of the benefits of trading with others, and acceptance of others on an equal footing.
I think that this has something to teach the Church about our relationships with those around us who do not share our version of the faith. It has something to teach us about how we relate to people we have, in the past, been content to demonise and discriminate against, like gay and lesbian people. It is all about accepting the situation in which we find ourselves and working with the people around us on an equal footing.
It is not unusual for me to observe that the most difficult patients in hospitals are those who are Anglicans and 'christians'. Some can be the most arrogant and difficult patients, people who know better than the doctors and nurses. And then I go to them to give the Anglicans the sacrament of Holy Communion denied to their more accepting fellows in the room. I recall someone saying to me that you always should be careful of cars with 'christian' symbols on display they are usually the ones who do the wrong thing!
As 'Christians' we need to wear this label very, very lightly if by it we mean that we have some personal advantage over others, for you can be sure that we will eventually learn that this is not the case.
Do I, or we, want to go back to the 'good old days' of pre 1957 and a return to hatred and suspicion towards Japan? I, or we, would have to have 'rocks in our head' to do that!
Some people want the church to continue to alienate and discriminate against gay and lesbian people, and to continue to think that as Anglicans we have some personal advantage over others by our British heritage. This is just so much bunkum, it has no justification in holy scripture; and our experience, like that of the Japanese Australian alliance, tell us otherwise!
I was recently reflecting that some of the most obnoxious people I've met in the Anglican Church have been the most strident monarchists. If these strident monarchists actually took a leaf out of the Queen's book and were as non-discriminatory as her, I would have much more time for their cause. She spends her life trying to relate to all others on a personal level to raise their self-esteem, and it is lovely to see.
Jesus says: 'Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you.' We are to be gathered together, all of us, if we are willing. If we are not willing we will be left on our own, out in the cold, in the house we have built for ourselves some ways away from the warmth of God's feathers.
Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"