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

s185g13   Sunday 18  4/8/2013

Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?  Luke 12.14

We can easily assume that this is a question of the distribution of a family estate, but it can surely also refer to the family spiritual inheritance that is being hoarded.   The bible is littered with examples of sibling rivalry over religious preeminence.   The first murder recorded was over religion, when Cain perceived (rightly or wrongly - after all it is after the fall) that his brother's offering to God was preferred over his own.

Sibling rivalry over religious preeminence is central to the story of the ancient people of God, personified in Jacob and Esau.

We can view the question of sibling rivalry over religious preeminence as an allegory of the Jewish faith and the new Christian Church and the desire of the new church to have the Jewish faith share their inheritance with them.

But we can also see that it has a relevance today as newcomers to a congregation are expected to imitate and comply lest they be treated as outcasts.

We can also see that the same charge can be laid against 'christianity' when others are expected to imitate and comply or be treated as outcasts.   And others plead with God that we don't hoard a 'christian' spiritual heritage to ourselves.

And Jesus' answer is: Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?

We are first addressed as friend.   Jesus is no adversary that we have to convince, or judge that we might be tempted to bribe, by our devotion, tithing, orthodoxy, ritual purity or moral uprightness. 

So when Jesus says: ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life' (1) and '‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.   No one comes to the Father except through me.' (2) - they cannot mean that Jesus is the heavenly bouncer, arbitrating or judging who is worthy and who is not, by faith or works.   Jesus is a friend to all, not a judge or arbitrator over anyone.

And we need to hear these words of St Paul: 'Who are you to pass judgement on servants of another?   It is before their own lord that they stand or fall.   And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.' (3)

So our salvation is not dependent on others who selfishly choose not to share the blessings of forgiveness and sacred food to anyone other than those who submit to a set of doctrines, however scriptural or orthodox they are.  Indeed seen in this light it is precisely these who risk their own salvation, for 'with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. (4)   And: "Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you.'  (5)   And: "Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.   Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.   A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."  (6)

Why should not these words about selfishness apply to the church which condemns the charitable sceptic, excommunicates the questioner, marginalises women and alienates gay and lesbian persons?

And what possible difference to the world will my personal charity make while the church as a corporate entity actually operates oppositely?

In Christchurch we surely have got the message that our spiritual heritage won't save us from disaster.  We know the blessings of having to get to know our neighbours better.   I often attend a mid-week service on my way to the hospital.   The Holy Communion is celebrated in an apartment lent to the Anglican parish by a local Jewish community.  Our spiritual heritage should bring us closer to others.

One of those sayings that has been going around the internet for a long time has been the question: ‘If you were arrested for being a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict you?’   For me, the real question needs to be addressed to the church corporate: 'How is the faith you proclaim affirming and inclusive, one that welcomes the incarnation or is your faith one that excludes, marginalises, alienates and crucifies others'?   And if it is the latter, the world is right to treat us with contempt.

Sadly I think the church often concentrates on a personal message to individuals, and if Jesus actually meant this to be, he would have been made high priest, not crucified.   It was precisely because he spoke to the corporate religion of his day that his message was so scandalising.

Jesus tells the parable of the rich man - the proverbial scrooge.   And the scrooge dies - just like each and every other person in this world.   And the rich church passes away in precisely the same way as the poor one, whatever their doctrine, orthodoxy, ritual, morality or whatever else differentiates them from another church or faith.   In the end we can't take our doctrine, orthodoxy, ritual, morality or whatever else differentiates one from another, with us when we die.

It is not our doctrine, orthodoxy, ritual, morality or whatever else differentiates one from another that is sacred, but that which we share with each and every other person - our humanity - which is the most sacred thing.

(1) John 3.16
(2) John 14.6
(3) Rom 14.4
(4) Matthew 7.2
(5) Mark 4.24
(6) Luke 6.37-38