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

s195g13    Sunday 28  13/10/2013

'go on your way; your faith has made you well'  Luke 17.19

Jesus' words: 'Go and show yourselves to the priests' are often interpreted to reinforce Jesus' respect for the temple, clergy and the faith of the ancient people of God.   But if this is the case we must also see that when Jesus says: 'go on your way; your faith has made you well' he is expressing his respect for the faith of the Samaritan and does not expect the Samaritan to change that faith, heretical though it might have been.   Jesus says: 'go on your way', not resume your visit to the orthodox clergy.   He knows that the orthodox clergy would treat him with distain.

And this is not an incidental message - in fact the crux of the incident and it's retelling is about the faith of the Samaritan.   The message of the acceptance by the outcasts and sinners and the antipathy of the devout and orthodox is repeated over and over again, right throughout the gospels.   If 'no one comes to the Father but by' Jesus then we have to reckon with the fact that Jesus himself recognised the less-than-orthodox faith of others and was happy to attribute health and wholeness to that faith.   Those who so blithely quote:  'no one comes to the Father but by' so often mean that Jesus is pedantic and condemning of any deviation from what they think Jesus stood for, when Jesus was remarkably relaxed about orthodoxy - things like sabbath observance, ritual cleanness, and here, heresy.

And I note that the greek text is equally well translated: 'your faith has saved you'. (1)   Matthew, Mark and Luke all attest to Jesus using precisely this same phrase variously to the woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages (2), blind Bartimaeus (3) and the sinner woman in the Pharisee's house (4).   It means far more than healing.   Being saved is thankfully acknowledging the inclusion of self and as a consequence, thankfully welcoming the inclusion of all others.

So by contrast, being damned is refusing to accept the inclusion of others and excluding oneself from the community of inclusion.

It is clear that thankfulness and inclusion, rather than orthodoxy, was important to Jesus.   We need to see that the heretical were thankful to be included, whereas the orthodox and the devout were angered that others were included.

In our recent diocesan synod the issue of marriage equality was being debated.   One speaker was from a country church which has, because of a particularly beautiful setting, up to 100 weddings a year.   He stated that if they were to have same gender weddings, two thirds of the congregation would leave.   Now I have little doubt that the number of people coming to that church for those 100 weddings would far exceed the numbers in their normal congregation.   In most country parishes I know they may well be full to overflowing for a wedding whereas the normal congregation might only be 20 or 30 on a good day.   If they accepted same gender weddings the number of weddings could well double to 200 a year.   (Suitable venues in Christchurch are a bit hard to find post-earthquakes).   In the first month alone 'Twenty-four of the 82 same-sex couples married since Aug. 19 came from six areas abroad, while the other 58 were New Zealand couples, registrar-general of births, deaths and marriages .. said in a statement.' (5)  If a small wedding has 50 guests, perhaps 20 people (2/3 of 30) are using threats to exclude 5000 others (100x50).   I am sure the numbers of differently gendered weddings there would remain the same.   It is the orthodox and the devout who are angered even contemplating the inclusion of others.   It is THEIR church, their faith, and they won't share with others.

I recently heard a good Anglican taking a vicar to task - saying intimacy between people of the same gender is not natural.   For this person it is unmentionable, like leprosy.  There seems no appreciation that for some, being intimate with someone of a different gender would be completely unnatural for them.  Leprosy is a medical condition and fear of contagion is understandable.    According to Wikipedia: 'Approximately 95% of people are naturally immune and sufferers are no longer infectious after as little as two weeks of treatment'. (6)   However the suffering of gay and lesbian attraction is caused by the ingrained prejudices of others.  It is others, the Westboro Baptists and some good Anglicans, who need to be cured, not gay and lesbian persons.

I have been a part of the church for many years and the overriding aim of the church has always been to get more people to come to church.   Jesus says to this Samaritan that he is saved, he doesn't need to bother.   He is saved from having to join an institution devoted to continuing division and discord presumably initiated and perpetuated by God.

And we too are saved, saved from having to subscribe to a church devoted to continuing division and discord presumably initiated and perpetuated by God.   The words to the Samaritan are equally addressed to us.   Jesus invites us to go on our way too, away from orthodoxy and devotion and into the real world.

And I am certainly not alone in this sort of thinking.   In 2009, Robin R Meyers wrote the book: ‘Saving Jesus from the Church  - How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus’.  

In my sermon next week I will be reflecting on the structure of our Holy Communion service which emphasises that communion is a reward for orthodox faith guaranteed by reading the appropriate scriptures, hearing a suitably orthodox sermon and reciting a creed authorised by the church.   Is this really communion with our founder who treated religious badges like sabbath observance, ritual cleanness, and heresy as unimportant?

Jesus is the initiator of affirmation and inclusion, fundamental to incarnation.   It is this for which we are saved.   We are saved from criticism and exclusion, not by setting up a better or more powerful excuse for criticising and excluding others, but by affirming and including others.  The words of Jesus: 'For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get' are surely not directed to everyone else! (7)

(1) ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε
(2) Mat 9.22 // Mk 5.34 // Lk 8.48
(3) Mk 10.52 // Lk 18.42
(4) Lk 7.50
(7) Matthew 7.2