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s158o04 Lockleys Palm Sunday 4/4/04

"It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?" Isaiah 50.9

One of the things we believe about Jesus is that he was without sin. Hebrews 4.15 states: "We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin." It is sad because this throws the weight of what Jesus did on our personal ethics and morality, when Jesus was stating something about religious ethics and morality. He proclaimed a God who was more interested in people getting on with one another rather than a God interested in how devoted or correct is our worship and doctrine.

If Jesus was on about own own personal ethics and morality it is far more likely that he would have been made high priest - not crucified.

Throwing the weight of emphasis on our personal endeavours at living the Christian life, means that people can get away with religious discrimination and think that they are not only blameless, but justified and doing God's will to boot.

No, the sins of the fathers, in the words of the second of the ten commandments, are sectarianism and divisions, and these do have their effects in the third and fourth generation of those who hate the inclusive God, as they hated Jesus enough to have him killed.

The offence of Palm Sunday was not that he cleared away the money changers and those who provided animals for sacrifice from the precincts, but that Jesus opened the way to the Temple for all to enter - all those other people who were not quite up to standard. They were told repeatedly that they were not up to standard, and how often have we been told we are not up to standard, so much so that we have come to believe it? "We do not presume", "we are not worthy", grovel and scrape as if this is what God wants.

I was struck by the words of the prayer after the psalm is said for the office on Monday evening - yes, I'm doing this sermon on Monday as (nearly :-) always. It runs: "God who wonderfully created us and even more wonderfully restored our humanity: strengthen us by your Holy Spirit to triumph over suffering and death, and grant us eternal joy ..." I thought - eternal joy - that's a bit much to ask for! Yet God wants us all to be joyful. God wants each and everyone to be joyful, provided it's not at someone else's expense.

A couple of weeks ago I attended the launch of the 150th anniversary celebrations for St Judes' Brighton, and Archbishop Ian preached. He spoke of God and us as gardeners. The thing I got out of that sermon were the words of St Paul "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth". Again and again we were reminded that we are here to build people up - to nurture one another into becoming the plants we are meant to be. It is not about cutting down to size those who have different foliage to ourselves. It is not about getting people to jump metaphorical hurdles before they are acceptable. I am enjoying Yoga at the moment and in many of our classes we do the tree pose, or in my case, attempt to do the tree pose - standing on one leg with our arms pointed upward. I reflect how frequently God raises people to their feet when they fall on their faces, and how frequently God gives people who loudly proclaim their sinfulness and unworthiness, a job to do.

God helps people to become what they are, God is not interested in declaring people guilty, and therefore in need of repentance. God gives the growth, and we are called to plant, to water, to nurture one another to become the people God intended for each of us in the beginning. We are not all called to be cacti or succulents.

Repentance is one of those foundational words of Christianity, but let me repeat those words: God is not interested in declaring people guilty, and therefore in need of repentance. We need to see that Jesus has reinterpreted repentance - turning away from sin - into "rejoice with me" for someone else has been found. Or to turn it around the other way, the primal sin is separation from others on religious grounds. The first murder was committed when Cain killed Abel because he perceived - rightly or wrongly - that his brother's offering was more acceptable to God than his own.

It is good news that we are to become what we are, rather than something else forced on us - good news for us and good news for all. Good news for us, as much because we can explore who we are as well as not having to try to make others into something they aren't - in the name of God.

I was thinking about that text: "If anyone says to you at that time, 'Look! Here is the Messiah!' or 'Look! There he is!' -- do not believe it. False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. ... So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near." (Mark 13:21-22,29) The problem is not that God will not be found in those places where others bid us look, but that God will indeed be found there. The problem is that these false messiah and prophets imply that God is found there and not elsewhere - and this has been what the Church has claimed for years. If we look for God we will find God everywhere. The trick and the joy is to find God in ourselves - and in others. The false messiahs and the false prophets are correct in their pointing, but they point away from the place where it is most important to find God, as I say, in ourselves and in others. True prophets say to us, look and see the risen Christ in yourself and in others.

For me this is the essence of Palm Sunday. God is affronted when people get in the way of other people in the name of "god" when others want to worship. Jesus accepts us and all people as we are. We find the risen Christ in all people, and therefore each and every person has a right to worship, provided it is not at the expense of someone else.


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