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

s191g13   Sunday 24  15/9/2013

'ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance'  Luke 15.7

I've always wondered about the maths!   The reality is that with the usual interpretation of this passage, the church is the 99 who need no repentance and the atheists, agnostics and people of other faiths are the 1 who need to be brought back into the fold.   Now if this were the case the Pharisees and the scribes wouldn't be grumbling, they would have been applauding!   They too valued the sort of evangelism that a traditional interpretation of this passage commends.   So Jesus said: 'Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!   For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.'  (1)   Some years ago the Diocese of Sydney had a goal of converting 10% of the population - faithfully following what this passage seems to commend.  (2)

But the maths, I guess then just as much as now is that the church is in the minority.   It is the 1 in the ocean of the 99 non-believers, as the goal of the Sydney diocese testifies.

If we believe in Jesus we are left with the only option that there actually are ninety-nine percent of people who need no repentance.   If we are literalists, believing in the inspiration of each and every word of holy scripture, how do we leave this out?

So if we think that God is ready to throw a party when a solitary person decides to come to church - we present to the world a god who has a massive inferiority complex that is only assuaged by the number of followers and how loudly they sing!   Well, a god with a massive inferiority complex is not worth worshipping - in my - not very humble - opinion!

But the God I worship would rejoice when a religious person exits his or her holy huddle and decides to love those outside the holy huddle, because it is only this that will possibly bring some reconciliation and peace to humanity at large.

Some words a priest said to me recently made me recall those hard words of Jesus: 'That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating.   But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating.   From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.'  (3)  And I thought, it is the person who has received the many spiritual blessings of church membership who is expected to give them away, and as St Paul says 'count them as dross', and be human to those outside.  (4) 

These words in the gospel for the 1st of September struck home for me: 'But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.   And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous' (5)   I thought of that very common saying that there is no such thing as a free lunch - except in Christianity.   We go out of our way to provide a free lunch - we deliberately invite those who cannot pay. 

And it leads me to think about the importance of Eucharist - the eucharist of inclusion and affirmation - in a world where much giving and community has an ulterior motive.   We do not hold eucharists to provide food and drink to physically hungry people.   People don't expect a four course meal washed down with the best wine!   Our eucharist is a symbolic meal expressing our willingness to have others at our table and in our fellowship.  Our eucharist confers dignity to others - or not.   And it is only the church who does this - or not.   Certainly secular humanism expresses the equality and dignity of each and every human being, often better than the church.   But organisationally it is only the church that exists to deliberately sit down with all others and eat together, in the name of the divine, following Jesus - enacting egalitarianism, acceptance and inclusion for all.    If we do this then we will be blessed in our doing, but far more importantly the world will be blessed by our doing this.   If we do not, whether it be for reasons of details of ritual, belief, morality or ethics, we will not be a force for real community and we will be following the example of those who had Jesus killed.  

The maths also highlight the fact that the poor and the outcast in Jesus' day (in their droves) recognised the invitation of Jesus and responded.   It was the devout and the orthodox who demurred.

All God asks of us is to be a part of the society in which we live, to contribute as we are able and to be helped where others are able - and this is surely good news.   Forgiveness, healing and community flow naturally from this.   The demon of religion is that which separates ourselves from others.

I have mentioned before that on the Sunday before we returned to  Christchurch, Mary and I were privileged to hear Bishop Gene Robinson preach at the Chocorua Island Chapel NH.   I commented to someone who perhaps didn't know, that he is the gay bishop who has brought the Anglican / Episcopal Church, kicking and screaming, on his shoulders, into the 21st century, just like Jesus the good shepherd is pictured bringing the devout and the orthodox, kicking and screaming, on his shoulders, back into the fold of humanity.

My final point is to say that this parable tells us in no uncertain terms that God's aim is for 100% inclusion - not 10% inclusion.   Surely God can't be this unrealistic?    For me, this is a totally unrealistic aim unless we see that God calls the Church to actually change some of her prejudices.  The parable of the marriage feast speak of the man refusing to wear the garment appropriate to a wedding.   He didn't want to be there, he wore the funeral garb in his heart, because of the other people who were attending.  (6)

Would there not be joy in the presence of angels if the church actually consented to this inclusion into society and came quietly :-)?

(1) Matthew 23.15
(3) Luke 12.47,48
(4) Philippians 3.8
(5) Luke 14.13,14
(6) Matt 22:1-16