The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:
s190g04 Lockleys 5/9/04 Sunday 23
"Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26
The essence of the "mafia" is that they exist for the benefit of the family and associates; to the detriment of those outside; especially those who do not pay for "protection". So if my parents brought me up to hate a fellow citizen because of their race or colour or creed, God would call me to hate my parents; or at least to hate the particular bias they have. By extension therefore, if the church teaches us to hate people who do not adhere to a particular doctrine or way of worship (our way) then we are called to hate that church.
If religion is only a spiritual form of the mafia, where the benefits are spiritual rather than material, society is going to be left in no better state with or without it. Material benefits are transitory. Those who (pretend to) have control of other people's eternal salvation are infinitely more powerful.
If the collection we put in the plate on Sunday is only to get a measure of divine "protection" in life, the parallels of the church and the mafia become clear. God does not operate in this way.
In the last two weeks I have been talking about our service of Holy Communion and just how open to others it is supposed to be. And it occurs to me that perhaps this is where the focus of this hard saying of Jesus really refers. If our communion is just with the members of our family then we cannot be a disciple of Jesus.
If we see in our eucharistic heritage a tradition which restricts god's blessing to like minded individuals, then we are called to hate that tradition, not blindly accept what has been "orthodox" for years!
Particularly we are called to dispense with things that diminish others outside our circle of those with whom we have a natural or familial affinity.
I was grateful to be asked about my interpretation of John 14:6 recently. "No one comes to the Father but by me" and I answered in terms of Jesus not being the bouncer but the door, ready to open to all people. If our interpretation of John 14:6 is about diminishing those who don't agree with them about John 14:6 are we not completely subverting what Jesus came to bring about? Are we not called to hate this exclusive interpretation when others are diminished by it?
It really doesn't matter if we come from a sacramental or evangelical tradition of our Church. If we do not see the possibility that God listens to others and not just us, we are no different from those who had Jesus killed.
Today we read the letter to Philemon and here we see an example of St Paul not forbidding the institution of slavery. It would surely have been a good opportunity for him to do so. But just because St Paul doesn't condemn the institution, doesn't mean that we can blithely continue treating others as slaves; you know; the attitude that others are only put on this earth for MY gratification. Christianity didn't come down to us as a neatly wrapped package, and our only task is to accept it. Otherwise what would the point of these words be?
As I've gone through my life and the Church, time and again issues have arisen and debates occurred. One side will quote the Bible, as if it speaks about any question definitively. Another side will quote the tradition of the Church as if that gives a more definitive answer. So then ensues an argument about what is the more correct authority. Does this not sound familiar?
There is the age old joke about the authority in the Evangelical Church being the Bible, the Catholic Church being the Pope, and the Anglican Church what the last Rector decreed! I wonder if these words about hating our parents are applicable if they cause us to disregard the dignity of others?
Why do we quote authorities if not in justification for our stance against others and their rights? Is this not to entirely misuse these very authorities?
The writer of the editorial on AnglicansOnline recently wrote about the seeming increasing hostility between Christian and Muslim in these words: "It's easy to assign blame for the increase in hostilities between Christians and Muslims. If only there were a consensus about where to assign it, perhaps the hostilities could be lessened. It is much harder to find a credible idea for how to lessen and move past those hostilities." (http://anglicansonline.org 16/8/2004)
We are called to hate "as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be" if people are thereby diminished. Indeed of course the question is: "Why on earth would we continue with a structure and a system of teaching, if anyone is diminished thereby? Are we masochists? Actually I think that we all are to some extent. Time and again in the Bible God lifts people to their feet, when overcome with religious awe. So, time and again, God bids us stand on our own two feet and use our God given brains, and let others do the same, rather than relying on the Almighty for support thinking that God benefits from our devotion.
Did God send Jesus to die on the Cross because God was somehow missing out on the appropriate amount of worship? I wouldn't worship a god like this. I would be entirely contemptuous of such a god.
How interesting it is that the word about carrying one's cross and following Jesus is immediately followed by the words about using one's brains to "estimate the cost" of building the tower, and "consider whether he is able" to wage the war. There is a logic to our faith. We do not leave our critical faculties in the porch before coming into Church for worship.
If you want to live in a world of the survival of the fittest and the law of the jungle, there is no point coming in here to find a place where one is more likely to succeed than say in federal, state or local government politics. Stay outside if that's your aim. Here God chooses the poor and the weak.
If you want to "win" don't bother to come here. Here, those who lose win, because God loves us, "win" or "lose". It actually doesn't matter in the slightest.
I have no difficulty in commending the God who chooses the poor and the weak. I would much prefer that God than to some idol who supposedly blesses the rich and powerful, for inevitably this will lead to more of what we already wish we didn't have. But we have a part to play; in loving those beyond our fellowship and hating that which would restrict our fellowship.
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