The readings on which this
sermon is based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r186.htm
s186g13 Sunday 19
'Do not be afraid.' Luke 12.32
And yet the Son of Man comes, like a thief, at an unexpected hour.
And as ever, this word is more importantly directed towards the
church rather than toward individuals. If it was simply
directed towards individuals, Jesus would hardly have been killed by
the orthodox and the devout - they would have made him high priest.
If our faith is cluttered up by possessions, like God, scripture,
creeds, buildings, or whatever, then the Son of Man comes at an
unexpected hour to take them away.
Recently I have been referred to the book: "God Revised" by Galen
Guengerich and he argues against a supernatural God in this modern
era. And he makes the case convincingly, and he is
certainly not the only christian to hold these views.
This makes me wonder if it is the supernatural, omnipotent and
interventionist idol that the Son of Man, the thief, has taken away
from us. Surely Jesus on the cross shows us a weak and
passive God. Does not the incarnation itself point us to
something more human, more intimate, more caring? That
master who .. 'will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat,
and he will come and serve them'? I suspect that in fact
humanity is well rid of powerful and interfering beings, and the
bullies and megalomaniacs who imitate them.
When Jesus says: 'In everything do to others as you would have them
do to you; for this is the law and the prophets' (1) he is saying to
me that the purpose of faith is not to proclaim and worship an
interventionist God but to act charitably towards
others. The purpose of faith is not that we have the
correct name for the divine, the correct orthodoxy, ritual or
lifestyle, but that our faith includes people who have different
perceptions about all these things.
There is, of course, a good deal of evidence that God is neither
interventionist nor omnipotent. God did not nip the
world wars (and every conflict before and since) in the
bud. God does not strike the LGBT person dead, nor those
who oppose them. Each and every one of us, whatever our
faith or lack thereof, will die. As an aside, I always
find the phrase, 'the consolation of the Holy Spirit',
irksome. It seems to suggest that faith is the second
prize in life, given to those who aren't successful in worldly
affairs. And a second aside is why, with all this
evidence that God does not intervene in the world where the fate of
millions is concerned - why do I persist in going along with some
church's insistence that God is vitally concerned about my virginity
before marriage, whether or not I use contraception or when and with
whom I am intimate - when no one is harmed?
The evidence is surely that if God intervenes, traditionally it will
be at the time of death, when power is taken away, and it is in
powerlessness that we become as God is.
Our faith is not expressed by praying that God will intervene in the
course of human existence - this seems to me to be little different
than praying that evolution will cease. We will be left in no
better place than the cripple by the pool of Beth-zatha waiting 38
years for something to happen. (2) No, our faith is that
we as a church are to be affirming and inclusive of
others. Our faith is that our being affirming and
inclusive will have immediate effects, albeit
incremental. Our faith gives us something to contribute
So we do not have to be afraid of God or science which may well
explain the origins and order of life in different terms than the
various (inconsistent) accounts in the book of Genesis and other
Of course Jesus is portrayed as the intervention of God.
Jesus cured the sick, gave sight to the blind, exorcised demons,
cleansed lepers and raised the dead. In a week or two's
time we will read the story of the woman bent over for 18 years who
Jesus cured on the sabbath. (3) The point of this story
is that God comes to bring health and to lift the back-breaking
burdens that life and religion loads on ordinary people.
I have often cause to reflect that when people encounter the divine
in the bible they fall down and invariably they are lifted to their
feet. That primal human dignity - to stand on one's own
two feet - even before the Almighty - and by logical extension - to
think and reason and doubt - will not be taken away from anyone.
The trouble with believing in an interventionist God is that it
absolves the orthodox and the devout from 'pulling their finger out'
and actually including others. So believing in an
interventionist God leads to divisions between people and the
opposite of the caring that brings affirmation and inclusion.
If Jesus came to assert the importance of belief in the existence of
an interventionist God, why would he have made the 'golden rule'
above of such importance (1) and said 'a second is like it: 'You
shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two
commandments hang all the law and the prophets.'
(4) We are called to detest the idol who pretends to
favour us over others, and love the God who bids us love those other
than our spiritual relatives. We are called to love the
God who loves others besides us - for realistically why would God
just love us and hate others? Save us and condemn
others? I am sorry, but anyone who thinks God loves us
and condemns others because they are not like us, is in la-la land!
It is only affirmation and inclusion that really brings health,
sight, freedom from possession, cleanliness, indeed life itself, to
all people. Again and again God intervenes to bring
affirmation and inclusion - freedom from fear - fear of criticism,
ostracism and condemnation - too all - and through us - or not.
Recently I have been thinking about that classic Warner Bros cartoon
- 'the Road-runner' (5) where the bumbling and ever doomed efforts
of Wile E Coyote to catch the Road-runner delighted many of my
generation in the early days of TV. And it struck me
that the name of the cartoon was 'Road-runner' not 'Wile E Coyote'
who the cartoon was actually all about. Viewers laughed
and connected with the ever failing Wile E. The
Road-runner made only brief appearances, and then just to fly away
at supersonic speed. And I thought how the bible is a
bit like this too. We think that the bible is about God,
when it's really about the history of humanity and our bumbling
attempts to capture God, who is always out of our reach.
Surely the Bible teaches us that God can never be captured, to be
the sole possession of one person or group of people, and our
attempts of worship of the God of all are inevitably on a par with
everyone else's. Surely we are to identify with each other in
The real reason that we need have no fear is that while God cannot
be captured, God is there for everyone, and once we open ourselves
to this truth, we open ourselves to the real God and to God purpose
for us to include and affirm others.
(1) Matthew 7.12
(2) John 5.5
(3) Luke 13.10-17
(4) Matthew 21.39,40