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

s182g13   Sunday 15   14/7/2013 

'what must I do to inherit eternal life?'  Luke 10.25

I have often reflected that Jesus was not especially concerned about sin and forgiveness.   If Jesus was on about sin and forgiveness he would hardly have aroused the antipathy of the orthodox and the devout.   Jesus was far more concerned about evil, loving only those who can be expected to love in return.   This was and is far more confronting to the devout and the orthodox.   Similarly I don't think Jesus is actually interested in eternal life - if by that we mean a time of everlasting bliss following this life.   Such an eternal life was certainly in the religious thought form of his day and the question the lawyer asked Jesus testifies to this.   The parable of Lazarus and the rich man (1) shows that Jesus used that image in his proclamation.

But as I have said before, Jesus was incarnated into the society of his day and he came not to sanctify the thought forms of that era but to encourage us to be incarnated into the society of our day.   So we are not required to believe that the world is flat or created in six days.   Both of these are far more likely to alienate other thinking persons, rather than demonstrating our love for others.   Why would God reward people for thinking that the world was flat or created in six days?   Indeed why would God reward anyone for the intellectual content of their faith?   If we make it a matter of faith that the world is flat and created in six days, are we not avoiding being incarnated into the society of our day and not following Jesus who was?

Jesus immediately perceives that despite the question sounding very religious and sincere, the question betrayed a selfishness.   It is all about the questioner.   How much did he have to do?   How much could he avoid doing?   The question was predicated on the belief that God had standards.  Some people would measure up to those standard and some wouldn't.   Who does God reward and who does God condemn?

I have sometimes reflected that the statement of Jesus: 'no one comes to the Father but by me' is often interpreted as if Jesus is the heavenly gate-keeper - admitting some into heaven and turfing others away.   But the gospel evidence is that the riffraff are compelled to come to the feast and the others who refuse - refuse because of the presence of the riffraff they know are invited too.   They didn't want to share with them.   They refused the invitation out of selfishness.

And we are not to miss the religion of the three who encountered the man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho who fell among thieves.   The priest and the Levite had a religion which made their own ritual purity more important than helping the injured person.   Jesus could have made the point even sharper had he made the injured person a woman or the Good Samaritan a lesbian.   What would a 'christian' lawyer make of the parable today if this were the case?    

So therefore the real question Jesus poses is not to us as individuals, but to us as church.   Who are our neighbours?   If our good works are directed only towards those who will not incur ritual impurity in us, the question is directed towards the content of our belief.   Jesus parable tells us that faith in him frees us from any consideration of ritual purity.   People, whoever they are, whatever their belief or lack thereof, are more sacred than the content of their belief.

And it is here that the truth of 'no one comes to the Father but by me' is revealed.   It means that no one comes to the Father except by this indiscriminate love for all others, whatever their belief.   No one comes to the Father through their own ritual correctness, moral purity or orthodox belief - things which inherently exclude others.   We come to the Father as we divest ourselves of such things and build a society where these sorts of things don't divide one from another.   We have to be born again into an indiscriminate humanity.

And when Jesus says: 'Go and do likewise' he is saying that eternal life is ours when we do this as a church.   While the church continues to initiate and perpetuate discrimination, eternal life can't really be anyone's.   We are inevitably going to be caught up in misunderstandings over motives.          

I am grateful to be one recipient of some daily words of wisdom via the internet (thanks, Grady! :-) and a recent one was: 'The most difficult thing a person can do is turn their eyes inward upon their real self.'   And this causes me to reflect that the same is true for corporate entities.   So the most difficult thing a church can do is turn her eyes inward on her own real self.   Mostly what church people want is for their congregation and denomination to perpetuate, but perpetuate to do what?   Some time ago I spoke about the church pretending that it speaks the word of the Lord when clearly it doesn't actually agree what that word is.   Church people want others to agree with them.   I suspect that the charismatic movement of the 70's thrived because of a hope that it would bring the various factions of the church together.   Yet I reflect that Jesus never said to the Pharisees that they had to agree theologically with the Sadducees - or vice versa.    Another tack is for the church to seek to be a positive influence in society yet the reality is that good secular humanists do as well at this as the church.   My hospital chaplaincy work shows me how the church is inherently divisive whereas society demands the church hospital to be non-discriminatory to continue to receive government funding.   And the greatest cause of continuing poverty, illness and premature death is not the Osama bin Laden and George W Bush's of this world, but the religious ban on contraception.    So we don't even have a good 'track-record' in being good for society.

But all is not doom and gloom.   There is good news hidden in here.   We need to see the horses and chariots that Elisha showed his servant when he said: 'Do not be afraid, for there are more with us than there are with them.'  (2)  When we choose the way of non-discrimination we will find an enormous number of allies.   We need to see that the inclusive and affirming church indeed has friends.   They may not be in church every Sunday.   They may not share the intricacies of our faith.   But if we actually acknowledged the presence of all people and valued the contribution they make, we would find acceptance rather than hostility.

If we portray the church as offering the reward of eternal life for being a member of the church then we pander to the selfishness in us all.   But if we portray the church as a place of inclusion and acceptance for all we make eternal life here and now, not just for us, but far more importantly, for society in general.

God rewards us with a faith that brings us closer to others, all others, and it is this that is eternal life.   The devout but selfish condemn themselves to a life at the top which is inherently lonely.   And inevitably, because of their misuse of God's name and subsequent influence on others, they condemn society to elitism that poisons existence.

(1) Luke 16.19
(2) 2 Kings 6.16