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

s171e13   Fourth Sunday after Epiphany  3/2/2012

'the greatest of these is love'  1 Corinthians 13.13

Today I want to explore what 'love' might mean.

I can’t imagine Jesus ever saying ‘Thou shalt not molest children' - particularly if you happen to be ordained, licensed or employed to work ‘in my name’.   Perhaps he should have, but perhaps also in those times, as until recently, child molestation was ‘swept under the carpet’.   Jesus wasn’t about giving rules when the rule is obvious to everyone except the perpetrators of such acts.

But significantly Jesus also doesn’t say love your partners or your children.   St Paul talks about husbands who are to love their wives as Christ loved the church, but again love of family is something that Jesus regards as obvious.   Again I suspect that domestic violence and child neglect were no less prevalent then, as they are now, and we don’t need Jesus’ authority to try to tackle such problems.

I believe that it is the influence of secular humanism that has led to the issues of child molestation, domestic violence and child neglect coming ‘out of the closet’ and things are actually being done to try to stop these things occurring.    Secular humanism has cut through the so-called love of the Church to expose molestation for what it really is.   Indeed I suspect that it has been secular humanism that has led to the almost complete demise of the dictum: 'children are to be seen and not heard' which the church has happily commandeered into 'parishioners are to be seen and not heard', and 'others are to be seen and not heard'.

If we interpret what is accounted by Jesus as the second greatest commandment: ‘love your neighbours as yourself’ as if Jesus meant that Jews were meant to love straight Jews who were their neighbours, and by extension to us, that we Anglicans love straight Anglicans who are our neighbours, then Jesus would have been applauded, not crucified.   Jesus' love was accepted by individuals, but it was the institution which baulked at his inclusiveness.   In our gospel reading for today, Jesus' message of inclusiveness led to those who had worshipped with him his whole life, those who could name the members of his family, to want to chuck him off their local cliff!

Jesus' words when it comes to divorce is about respecting the other.   It was what religion would allow.

Jesus tells us to 'Love (our) enemies'   Few of us actually have enemies to love.   Most of us try to keep our heads down and get along with those whom our lives happen to intersect.   There might be a good deal of trans-Tasman rivalry (Australia verses New Zealand) yet by and large it is good natured chiacking.    ‘But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.   For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?   Do not even the tax collectors do the same?    And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?   Do not even the Gentiles do the same?    Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’   And the last of these injunctions, in the context, should be translated: Be inclusive, therefore, as your heavenly Father is inclusive.’  (1)   ‘Brothers and sisters' surely means 'spiritual brothers and sisters' - 'the evil' and 'the good', 'the righteous' and 'the unrighteous' - not just natural ones.

So often it is religion that fosters the concept that others who are different are enemies.   St Paul has rightly written: 'For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.'   (2)   The real atrocities in this world are committed by people with an agenda about their own superiority, most often bolstered by a superficial reading of scripture, 'christian' scripture, no less frequently than any other.

Again, Jesus' words: 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you' are not 'do unto others as has already been done to you' and has no caveats to restrict who these others are.  (3)  So again this is not just towards those who use the same name for God as us, worship like we do and are intimate when and with whom someone of whom we approve.

So I do not find it at all surprising that we don’t find Jesus talking about intimacy between people of the same gender.    Jesus is on about breaking down religious barriers to love, not defining when and with whom people might share intimacy. 

I was 'interested' to see a video of Steve Drain and Timothy Phelps from the Westbro Baptist Church being interviewed by Russell Brand, and their definition of love is to warn others that they are going to hell unless they become like them, straight, bible believing, and gay hating.  (4)  They believe that 'love' demands that they confront others.   And of course, this has superficial scriptural warrant, specifically in Ezekiel.    However the problem is that the prophets always confronted the religion of the day, not those who professed no religion.   The prophets confronted religion that exploited the poor rather than embracing and welcoming them.   And threatening eternal damnation is a rather unsubtle way of exploiting the poor in spirit, manipulating the weak, and putting oneself on a pedestal, even in a so called 'church' without bishops!

In Ezekiel we are told: 'He said to me: Mortal, go to the house of Israel and speak my very words to them.   For you are not sent to a people of obscure speech and difficult language, but to the house of Israel — not to many peoples of obscure speech and difficult language, whose words you cannot understand.   Surely, if I sent you to them, they would listen to you.   But the house of Israel will not listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me; because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart.'  (5)

But perhaps more compelling for me is the logical contention that this 'confrontational love'  of the Westbro Baptist Church implies that God is the author of difference of doctrine, strife and condemnation.   Now the bible is indeed imbued with the concept that God is all sovereign and that everything that happens is pre-ordained, but for me the passage: 'In God there is no darkness at all' must hold some weight also.  (6)   A 'god' who is the author of difference, strife and condemnation has a lot of darkness in him or her.   To suggest that God has engineered society to fight over intricacies of religion, the correct name for God or sexual intimacy, is beyond belief.    Who would believe in a demon such as this?

I need to say to those who quote St Paul in Romans chapter 1.24-27 as a condemnation of same gender intimacy; this would be to suggest that St Paul begins his most important theological treatise on the relationship of the ancient Jewish faith to the new Gentile church with a gratuitous swipe at gays and lesbians, and for me is quite beyond belief.   St Paul is talking about the 'old boy's (and girls') networks' that distorted the faith of Israel he knew and continue to distort the gospel of Jesus, as evidenced by those at Westbro Baptist Church, the Anglican Church League of the Diocese of Sydney and GAFCON.

I am grateful to our good friend Eddie who reminded me that we are called to be more than tolerant.   We are called to go the second mile, out of acceptance and love.   So if we are confronted by Gay Pride marches, what does going the 'second mile' mean in these circumstances?

For me, loving is not joining in the greeting of peace during a service of worship, such things are obvious and unremarkable.   I would not be at all surprised if they ‘passed the peace’ at the recent atheist worship service.   No, loving is listening, noticing, and accepting others who are different.

And the various denominations have branched out into all forms of business management models to try to preserve the church as it has been rather than a community which exists for those outside.   For me, Mission Statements and Small Group networking are convenient activities to avoid listening, noticing and accepting others who are different, and betray the fact that the ‘love’ of the church is actually all about the preservation of it’s own identity, world without end. 

(1)  Matthew 5.44-48

(2)  Ephesians 6.12

(3)  Matthew 7.12


(5)  Ezekiel 3.4-7

(6)  2 Peter 4.5