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

s162g16   Fourth Sunday of Easter  17/4/2016

‘The Father and I are one’  John 10:30

I was amused to read the article ‘Psychologists Break Professional Silence To Diagnose Trump For Public Good’: ‘Vanity Fair quotes clinical psychologist Ben Michaelis’s diagnosis: “Textbook narcissistic personality disorder.”’  (1)   For when we hear these words of Jesus equating himself with God we readily recognise that this can be a sign of serious mental illness.   The article helpfully elaborates: ‘Narcissistic personality disorder can be described simply as a pathological need to puff oneself up, and to put others down.’

But Jesus wasn’t in the business of putting other people down; he was known for incarnation, for associating with tax-collectors, prostitutes and sinners; leaving the supposedly sacred and going where ordinary people were at, both physically and spiritually.

It was, and often still is, religion which demeans others.   Such demeaning ranges from killing the heretic, condemning anyone who departs from creed or practice, forbidding mixed faith marriage, eternally focussing on sin and unworthiness.

As I attended my usual Wednesday service during Holy Week, a 3/4 size crucifix was on the floor in front of the altar.  And it came to me that this is what an exclusive religion does to people who differ, who don’t measure up, who want to express themselves rather than merely admire what is.   They crucify them, physically or no less painfully, metaphorically.

We have to recognise that the church of whatever hue, can and does attract and reinforce those with a narcissistic personality to her leadership - demeaning others.

And I recall those very early words of Jesus recorded by John: ‘Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”’  (2)   Whenever the ‘temple’ - in whatever form it takes - physical, theological, scriptural, credal - excludes anyone - it must be destroyed for the good news of affirmation and inclusion of all to be made plain.   For so often these actual and metaphorical temples become a substitute for including others.   The Temple in Jerusalem was to be a house of prayer for all peoples (3), and Jesus’ first act after changing the water into wine, as recorded in John was the cleansing of the temple; the doing away with the gate-keepers, and opening up the sacred precinct to all. (4)   And at Jesus’ death the synoptic gospels each records that the curtain of the Temple was torn in two, symbolising the opening of the sacred to the secular. (5)   We cannot escape the necessary violence this implies; for it is people who are important, not buildings, theological, scriptural, liturgical or credal constructs - all of which can demean a world full of non-initiates.

To avoid destroying the Temple is to wink at the inherent violence in the demeaning of so many other people.   I have been reflecting recently that we only want people to join us in the Anglican Church to admire and work to preserve what is, which is essentially demeaning of everyone else’s creativity.   As I have written more than once, for all the wonderful strides that Pope Francis is making, the cause of the most poverty, illness and premature death in this world is not ISIS but the Vatican forbidding contraception to millions of adherents - and the church does not see this violence, this demeaning of others.   I recently heard the comment that ISIS are deliberately targeting children - so that people will grow up thinking this violence is normal - that this violence is what ‘god’ wants.

No, a ‘god’ that wants violence, that encourages the demeaning of others, marginalising women, alienating gay and lesbian persons and condemning those who believe in different terms to us or who call God by a different name than the one we use is a demon in disguise - and this is the message of Jesus and in this the Father and Jesus are one.

It was the religious gatekeepers of Jesus’ day who didn’t believe - because Jesus befriended others.   It was others who belonged to his sheep, not them.   It was to others that eternal life was given, not them.   It was others who could not be taken from Jesus’ hand.

Inherent to christianity is an openness to others, this seeing in the secular something essentially sacred; but the forces which divide the sacred and the secular, and people from other people are powerful.

Interestingly, after the most damaging of the earthquakes in Christchurch, in 2010 and 2011, people and communities came together.    The heroes were the ‘Student Volunteer Army’ led by Sam Johnson who mobilised fellow students to help shovel tons of liquefaction from peoples’ homes.  (6)    When disaster happens resurrection happens as people begin to work together as equals.   Edifices, be they physical, theological, scriptural, metaphorical all became irrelevant and we glimpsed something of the kingdom.  The vision that came to people in Christchurch will never be able to be completely stuffed back into the genie’s bottle.

2.  John 2:19
3.  Isaiah 56:7
4.  John 2:13-17
5.  Matthew 27:51 // Mark 15:38 // Luke 23:45