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

s178g10  Sunday 11 13/6/2010

‘Now which of them will love him more?’    Luke 7.42

This is a deceptively simple incident and story.   It might appear that the whole purpose of God’s forgiveness given is done out of a desire to be loved.   And I wonder if we have not made God into someone who has an enormous insecurity complex, that he, or she, needs to be constantly reassured of our love?    This is, of course, a load of an eight letter word beginning with ‘b’ and ending with ‘t’ - to use the vernacular.  (b*****t).   If anyone has feelings of insecurity - it is Simon the Pharisee.   I have heard it said that those who face death with the least faith are those who have always lead a religious life, even nuns!

Here was Simon, putting on a special dinner for this important person.   He invites all his friends, all good, kosher gentlemen no doubt.   And he is upstaged by this woman!   And a woman of dubious reputation at best.

So this story is not about forgiveness or the love of God, but about how religion can be used to separate us from others, and how Jesus leads us to others.
I have been in parish after parish, congregation after congregation, all of whom know this story well enough, yet don’t anyone dare let someone through the front doors who might upstage the contribution me and my friends are making to the Lord!   They can be shown the back door a.s.a.p!   All is fixed, ‘as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.   Amen.’   How I hate those words!

And our ‘holy communion’ services are done in just ‘our’ ‘kosher’ way - so much more authentic than those in that other parish congregation.   They should just close down and come here for worship!   It would be so much easier!   (For us, of course, for we wouldn’t have to give so much money for the upkeep, with them sharing our load :-)!   I once had occasion to reflect that everyone in the Anglican Church knows that we have to change to survive, and just as equally determined that it will be everyone else who has to do the changing :-)

The Anglican Church has read this gospel innumerable times, yet we wouldn’t want our faith upstaged by catholics, evangelicals, or charismatics!   The church has read this gospel innumerable times yet we wouldn’t want our faith upstaged by people of other faiths and none!   How dare those gay and lesbian persons enjoy their mardi gras so much each year!   They should all be on their knees begging for forgiveness!!!

Who has the feelings of insecurity now?   And if it is us - where is our faith?

This gospel follows those lovely words of Jesus: ‘’We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.’’ (vs 31).   Clearly he is speaking to those who considered themselves uniquely devout and orthodox, for nothing moved them, not ordinary expressions of joy or sorrow that might endear themselves to others.   The only thing that excited them was condemnation of anyone else who was different.   They condemned John the Baptist for his abstemious lifestyle and Jesus for his licentious lifestyle.   And when I look at Church pronouncements, it is usually how other people are making a mess of the world!

Of course we welcome sinners, provided they remember their inferior status and not presume that Jesus would accept their offerings above ours!   Clearly much of our worship and parish structure is about ever so subtle and unspoken positions of power.   And sadly one of the by-products of this is the clericalisation of the church.   We (the clergy) have so magnified the ‘power’ of the clergy that lay people seek to emulate it or decry it.   Any who might come with something to offer that might rival our own version of the truth is not welcome - be that person lay or ordained.   It is fascinating to realise that despite week by week preaching, few parishioners actually believe in terms similar to the preacher.   I recently heard life-time Anglicans reflect on how they had moved on from the faith they espoused in their young and enthusiastic days, and how the clergy person involved hadn’t!

Jesus invited Simon to give his own answer to the parable.   It is an age-old technique.   Nathan the prophet tells king David a story of injustice, and when David’s anger burns, Nathan reveals that the king himself is the perpetrator of the injustice.   Jesus doesn’t preach, because the audience is quite able to discern the right answer for themselves.   And discerning the right answer invites the person to recognise the validity of his or her own reasoning.   It allows the person to continue to think, and to work out the justice or injustice of the accusation, to weigh mitigating factors, even to do things differently.  A person’s value is not diminished, even when they come to different conclusions.

And, despite what I said at the beginning of this sermon, Jesus wants to inspire love in us.   Love of others who are different, of course, for how will others ever learn love if we who claim to follow a religion of love don’t?   But also love of God - rather than simple compliance.  

The Cross is not an exercise in emotional blackmail, such as I think of when I read the words of the sign outside the church: ‘Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?’ quoting Lamentations 1.12.   God wishes to inspire love, and love is a delicate thing, ruined by law, obligation and duty.   I find it interesting that in my experience the people who love scripture are the ones who do not take it literally.   Those who take it literally find it a rod for their own back’s as well as for other’s backs.  

A work of art invites relationship and inspires love whereas a legal manual is tedious in the extreme, read only out of fear of transgression.   As the old saying goes, ‘when all else fails - RTFM’.   None of us read the manual first, we get on with living and loving, and this is what God would have us do.   Scripture is essentially not a rule book, but a work of art, a great tapestry of literary pictures of God and the dealings of God with humanity.   And viewed in this way we are freed to appreciate other works of art with the same subject, perhaps painted by Moslems, Jews, Buddhists or whoever.

God, in Jesus, wishes to inspire love with us, and love is axiomatically a relationship between two equal partners.   There can be no power in-balance in real love - this is what child molesters fail to appreciate.   This means that God treats each and every one of us as equal and equally divine as the Almighty.   And this means that there can be no second class people in God’s view.   Women are equally as divine as men.   Gay people are equally divine as straight people.  

And this is essentially the reason why I support the ordination of women and gay persons, because otherwise we suggest that love can be unequal, and in the end, this excuses unequal relationships between people.   It condones, or at its worst espouses, spouse abuse, child molestation, gay-bashing, racial prejudice, class distinctions, denominational differences, war ..   None of these things are in the will of God.

We are all justifiably horrified by the accounts of clergy and lay people in positions of authority molesting children, yet fail to see that this is a product of a theology which ever makes people miserable sinners, by asserting a perpetual power imbalance, and by putting people down, rather than building them up, making abuse seem ‘normal’.   And for all the horror of the individual crimes against children, I want to suggest that the unrealised corporate crime actually continues to hurt people by the millions, while no one blinks an eye or suggests that our faith ought not to be so, and if it were, then our ‘god’ is worth detesting rather than loving.

So for me the question today is clear: ‘Would other people love the ‘god’ we proclaim to them?’   Even more pointed is the question: ‘Do I love the ‘god’ I proclaim to others?’   For it is love in which God is interested - love between equals - and thanks be to God that this is indeed so!


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