The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s191g07 Sunday 24 16/9/07
'this fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them' Luke 15.2
It is important to set these three well known parables in context, for if we don't we can blithely think (continue thinking?) that repentance is all about those people who don't come to church realizing their error, repenting and coming to church with us. In doing so we only replicate the world-view of the Pharisees and scribes and their grumbling. We read two of the three parables in Luke 15 today. The longer one following the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin - is the parable of the lost son and the Prodigal Father which was read on Lent 4. That parable ends not with the festivities over the return of the younger son, but with the Prodigal Father pleading with the elder son to join in the celebrations.
So this trilogy of parables is bracketed as it were, with the association that the son has with 'others' and the Father pleading with the righteous to join in that association.
The Pharisees and the scribes grumbled against Jesus, and of course, eventually had him killed, because he associated with others. Others, they contemptuously call 'sinners', people who didn't come up to their expectations.
On July the 30th this year, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney and his five assistant bishops wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury:
Dear Archbishop Rowan, .. In view of the real hesitations that we experience in joining with those who have consecrated Bishop Gene Robinson, and with others who have allowed for the blessing of same-sex unions, and given the significance of these events, we feel that we cannot give an answer to your kind invitation (to the Lambeth Conference) until later in the year. .. With our best wishes, Yours sincerely, The Most Rev Dr Peter F Jensen - Archbishop of Sydney (and the five Assistant Bishops.)
I note and am glad that both Bishops of this Diocese of Bathurst have readily and publicly accepted the invitation to attend.
The issue is quite plain. These six Bishops have difficulty associating with those who are associated with Bishop Gene Robinson. They are calling for the American Bishops to repent of these associations, whereas Jesus calls the Pharisees and scribes to rejoice of his acceptance of others.
Suddenly these three kindly parables - beloved of all church people - are turned back on those who love them so much. It was the religious people who needed to repent, they needed to rejoice when others are included, but no, they grumbled. No wonder these parables caused such offence, and no wonder Jesus was killed!
The lost sheep is not the person who doesn't come to church, and the shepherd retrieves the person and brings him or her back into the fold of the church. No, Jesus calls the righteous to accept that he associates with others besides them, and calls the righteous to rejoice that this is so.
As we put these three parables together, we should not miss the significance of the opening grumble of the Pharisees and scribes that Jesus associated with tax collectors and sinners and the end of the chapter the Father pleading with the elder son to join in the celebrations. The significance is that when Jesus associates with others he is reflecting truly what God the Father would have him do. This reminds me of those other words of Jesus: 'No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.' Matt 11.27 It is this preparedness to be associated with others that opens us to the reality of who God really is. If we are not prepared to be associated with others, then we can never know what God is really like. If we do associate with others then the reality of God comes with this association.
No matter what religion we profess, if we purport to know God and that knowledge lifts us above others, we are deluded.
Time and again in the gospel of John, Jesus implies his identity with the Father, in passages like "I and the Father are one' (John 10.30) but this identity cannot be separated from the accusation of inappropriate association that so riled the righteous. In his defense he says to his opponents: 'If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me' (John 10.37).
In the course of my work I meet a number of people who believe that they are a divine being. Usually they are fairly harmless, often lovely people. But also usually their delusion separates them from other people. Jesus is unique in that he claimed equality with God as well as associating with everyone.
Repentance means turning around, changing an attitude towards others, rejoicing that God is found amongst others beside ourselves. Upon this simple principle lies the very peace of the world.
It is a revelation, but the associations it requires saved Jesus and saves us, myself as much as anyone else, of any pretension to superiority.
I quoted above part of the letter of the Bishops in Sydney to the Archbishop of Canterbury. They are certainly not the only ones who believe that 'christians' should not associate with gay Bishops who are in a committed and mutual relationship, people of the same gender who wish to have their love for each other recognized and celebrated, or anyone associated with these. The issue is the same today as it ever was and the passions it arouses just as heated. These delusions of grandure are much more harmful to our existence than those of the mentally ill.
But I want to end on a note of joy, for the three parables in Luke 15, all end up with the invitation to friends and neighbours, as well as reluctant elder sons: 'rejoice with me'. It is our choice, to grumble or to rejoice. One doesn't need to be an Einstein to realize what is likely to lead to a happier existence!
There is lots of truth to the old saying: 'Laugh and the world laughs with you; Weep and you weep alone' (Ella Wheeler Wilcox 1850 1919) as well as: 'Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone' which I found on the internet looking up the author of the first one :-)! (Anthony Burgess 1917 - 1993)
Like Jesus, I want to laugh with the world, rather than grumble to myself!
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