The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s167g07 Trinity Sunday 3/6/2007
'the Spirit .. will guide you into all the truth' John 16.13
Wikipedia (claiming to be the biggest multilingual free-content encyclopedia on the Internet with over 7 million articles in over 200 languages, and still growing) tells us that it was 'in a certain context (that Prime Minister) Khrushchev (who) said, "Gagarin flew into space, but didn't see any God there"' rather than Yuri Gagarin himself at the time. I reflect that no matter the skill of any surgeon, no amount of dissecting of the human body will ever reveal the human soul. While I can hardly define what a soul is, I've never met anyone without one. So too, while I can't define God, I keep seeing God in all sorts of people I meet.
Trinity Sunday is the day when we particularly focus on the nature of God, but in doing this we remember the fact that the people who killed Jesus were the ones who were the most religious, the ones who knew what 'god' was like and loved 'god' the most. So Jesus came to show us the true nature of God in rather different terms which implies Jesus had a particular and unique relationship with God. In our gospel from last Sunday, Jesus says to Philip: 'whoever has seen me has seen the Father' (John 14.9). The people who killed Jesus were those who refused to believe in a God like Jesus proclaimed a God who associated with others. I have sometimes reflected that for me Jesus was the greatest secular humanist, and it is precisely in him being this that he is God the Son.
Last week I spoke about our world being much bigger than that of Jesus. When we think about the nature of God we are implicitly thinking about how God is the God of others as well as ourselves. If god can only be truly worshipped in the manner I do, and can only be believed in, in my terms, then what does this god do with everyone else? Does God condemn the Buddhist, the Moslem, the Jew, the pagan, the atheist, the agnostics and whatever else, to eternal damnation?
One of the titles we use of God is 'King' and the essence of kingship is that they have enough power to judge impartially. So imperial and monarchical language implies not hierarchy, where those closest to royalty get preferential treatment, but complete impartiality. Rich and poor are judged properly. In the British system of justice, judges often wear wigs - I suspect to give them anonymity so that they cannot be targeted when they render an unpopular judgement. So right at the heart of our judicial system is that the person being judged can expect to be treated properly regardless of their relationship with the judge or not. Properly a judge will decline to hear a case where he or she knows one of the plaintiffs personally. Judges cannot be bought.
King Solomon's prayer for wisdom is immediately followed by him being asked to judge between two prostitutes, each claiming a boy as their own. The message is clear. Everyone can expect to be judged justly, no matter what is one's station in life. (1 Kings 3.16f)
So if we think of God as a King, then we all will be judged properly regardless of our relationship to God. Our relationship to God and Jesus is quite immaterial. So if we think that the fact that we are 'christian' means that we are going to escape punishment for something which won't be overlooked in others then I suspect (strongly :-) that we've got another think coming we are worshiping an unjust god! If we think that because Jesus has died and rose again for me, then my sins are forgiven in a way denied to someone else, then we are worshipping an unjust god.
The God I worship is not unjust and therefore will judge the Buddhist, the Moslem, the Jew, the pagan, the atheist, the agnostic, the gay person in precisely the same terms as the christian. No matter what special relationship we might claim for ourselves as 'christians' it will make no difference whatsoever to a judge who judges justly.
Of course there are many who think of their status as Christians as giving them special and privileged access to the Father through prayer (denied to others), unconditional forgiveness (denied to others), eternal salvation (denied to others). I sometimes think that it is only because these are denied to others that they become 'christians' in the first place!
Recently 'the Dean of St Albans, the Very Revd Dr Jeffrey John, in .. his Lent talk broadcast on Holy Wednesday evening on BBC Radio 4. .. described the "primitive theory" of the relationship between justice and suffering portrayed in the Old Testament as turned upside down in the New Testament. He went on to describe as "pretty repulsive as well as nonsensical" the explanation, given to him in his Calvinistic childhood, of the crucifixion as God's ultimate punishment for sin. .. "Why should God forgive us through punishing someone else? It was worse than illogical. It was insane. It makes God sound like a psychopath. If any human being behaved like this, we'd say they were a monster." .. The explanation "just doesn't work, though sadly it's one that's still all too often preached", he continued. "The most basic truth about God's nature is that he is Love, not wrath and punishment." Some Christians went all through their lives without grasping that, Dr John said. .. "The notion of propitiation as the placating by man of an angry God is definitely unchristian."' (From the report in Church Times - http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/content.asp?id=37491)
God will not be 'hoodwinked' by woolly theology that excludes others. Today we are called to consider what this God of ours is like. Whatever conclusions we come to will no doubt be confirmed. If we think God is like a harsh taskmaster, then God will not disappoint us! (cf Luke 19.20-24) But if we think that God is kind and forgiving to all, then again God will not disappoint us. I know what sort of God I would prefer!
I want to return to those who loved god and yet had Jesus killed. They believed that it was only they who had a worthy soul. Indeed they doubted that the 50% of the world's population - those of the female gender had a soul at all (not so much different a theology from some Anglicans I know). The history of war throughout the centuries has showed again and again the propensity for people to regard those who are the enemy as less than human, as people without souls. This lack of perception of sacredness in the other can be as easily expressed as a lack of perception of God in the other.
As I reflect, the church is often perceived as obsessed about sin, when it is only the church that proclaims that we have certain forgiveness centred around the cross and resurrection. Somehow we proclaim forgiveness yet don't believe it ourselves. And perhaps this is because the forgiveness God achieved in the death and resurrection of Jesus was forgiveness for all. While we think in terms of forgiveness for Christians alone, which is untrue, we will always doubt, with some considerable justification, our own forgiveness. God will not let us 'off the hook' when it comes to forgiving others.
Again, we often think of this forgiveness in personal terms how I forgive the brother or sister who has offended me in some way. Of course God would have us live harmoniously with our siblings. But this doesn't affect as many people as do religious delusions like everyone who doesn't believe in my terms is essentially evil and unforgiven.
My text for today assures us that the Spirit will guide us into all the truth. This is a continuing process. It didn't finish when the apostles died out or when the canon of the New Testament was fixed. Old perceptions of 'them and us' will be done away with and it will be by the Spirit's leading.
Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"