The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s192e07 Sunday 25 23/9/2007
'everything created by God is good .. nothing is to be rejected ..' 1 Timothy 4.4
Perhaps some may struggle with the meaning of the gospel story for today, the trial of the man charged with squandering the property of his master. Yet, for my part, I would much prefer the attitude of this master to that of the God of Jephthah, who vows to sacrifice the first person who came out of his house if the LORD granted him victory over the Ammonites. (Judges 11.30) Victory was given him, and it was his only daughter who came out to meet him. After bewailing her virginity for two months in the wilderness, she returns to her father's house to be sacrificed to the LORD. I much prefer a God who doesn't expect repayment for all I owe the Lord, and doesn't want me to live a life trying to repay everything I owe God. I much prefer a God who doesn't expect me to exact repayment from everyone else of all they owe God.
Of course there are times when Jesus can be as harsh as the God of Jephthah, such as in the story of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18. Here the slave, forgiven of all his debts by the master, exacts full repayment from his debtors, his fellow servant. His unmerciful attitude towards others brings his own downfall.
'Everything created by God is good'. God doesn't make junk! Each and every person has their unique abilities and disabilities, their contribution to make and their needs to be met.
It is significant that if we can't accept someone with thanksgiving, then perhaps we ought not to receive them at all. We are called therefore, not just to accept, to tolerate; but to welcome, with thanksgiving, all people. There are some people in my life who I know are simply best for me to avoid. There are people with whom I have personality clashes. There are people who have agendas they wish to put on me. These people have a right to exist, and they have a perfect right to be the person they are. But in the interests of my own personal self-esteem, I avoid contact with them. I am sure that they have their place in God's order of things, but that does not necessarily have to include me.
I vividly recall at a service I took once, long ago. In the congregation was a good friend, a triple certificated nursing sister. After the service she commented that I put myself down three times during the sermon. She was quite right. I have a habit of doing this to say that I share with everyone else the frailties of human nature. But it alerted me to how this might also inadvertently encourage the practice of putting ourselves down, which is not at all what I would want. A couple of far more recent conversations I have had suggested that I have not kicked the habit of putting myself down even yet!
We are all our own worst enemy, myself included. So often when we think - can God really forgive me the things I have done wrong? the person who forgives ourselves least is not God, but ourselves! I, and we, don't forgive ourselves the silly things we have done. Even here, I too am human! :-)
But again, these words I and we are quick to take personally, when far more damage is done when religious institutions disregard them. Many 'christians' believe in original sin, that every person created by God is flawed. How pervasive this has become, and hides the fact that much more harm is done by institutions that marginalize and alienate others, so often in the name of some god or other.
The Anglican Church has for centuries marginalized over 50% of the population, those who through no fault of their own were created women. Many parts of the Anglican Church continue to alienate the 10% of the population who through no fault of their own were created gay or lesbian. The Anglican Church has for centuries condemned to eternal damnation a rather more powerful threat to wield those who do not believe in the precise terms it expounds.
The gospel story tells us that God is not interested in being repaid in full for all we owe God and God is not interested in us exacting repayment from all that others owe God. Church people are wont to think that God expects everyone else to worship God in the manner to which they themselves have become accustomed. If they don't, well they 'owe God' their worship and money. Our gospel story says: No! This is not the case. 'Everything created by God is good .. nothing is to be rejected ..'
And isn't it interesting that our willing acceptance of the contributions of others is of paramount importance. In most Anglican Churches in which I have ministered, people's contributions are welcomed only when they replicate and affirm the contributions of the existing congregation. Anything that changes the status quo is not welcomed it is rejected. Recently I saw an advertisement for clergy to apply for the position in a vacant parish. The advertisement said in part 'The Parish has a significant tradition of excellence in music ..' I have nothing against excellence in music, but would that parishes were noted for proclaiming: 'Everything created by God is good .. nothing is to be rejected ..'
I have mentioned before that one of my favourite passages from St Paul is his injunction: 'We have gifts that differ .. the compassionate, in cheerfulness' and the word for cheerfulness in the Greek is the word from which we get 'hilarity'. (Romans 12.9) If God commends us to do this, God must do this also. God welcomes, forgives, and accepts, not begrudgingly, but with joy, with hilarity. God accepts us with thanksgiving just as we are and so bids us to simply do to other people likewise. I suspect our churches would be viewed with much more enthusiasm if this were our mission statement!
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