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

s186g13   Sunday 19  11/8/2013

'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 to community.

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 biblical stories.

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 our humanity.

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