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

s196g10   Sunday 29   17/10/10

In the name of God, Life-giver, Pain-bearer and Love-maker.   (Fr Jim Cotter

‘will he find faith?’  Luke 18.8

When I think about this question and what it might mean, I realised that Jesus surely couldn’t mean - will he find some people dutifully reciting the Nicene Creed Sunday by Sunday!  Later minds, later than Jesus himself, and certainly greater than mine have pondered the question of who Jesus was and his relationship to God and the Holy Spirit.   But for all it’s importance, it doesn’t answer the question of what is the faith that Jesus may or may not find, for the gospels make it plain that the question of Jesus’ relationship to the divine is the trap set by those who had him killed.

To be specific, those who had Jesus killed, did so because they claimed his message was that he was claiming to be the son of God.   To take but one example Mark 14.61 says: ‘the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’    This question is a trap.   If Jesus says ‘yes’ they would kill him because it was blasphemous to say this of oneself.   If Jesus were to say ‘no’, then they would have killed him with impunity anyway.   Why should we believe that this was the real reason those who justified their killing of Jesus gave?   It was their excuse.   The real reason they had him killed was that Jesus associated with people other than themselves, but this they wouldn’t care to admit.

And this caused me to reflect recently how the church often seems to get into a time warp, where the issues of 350 BCE, when the creeds were formulated, or 1500 BCE when the issues of the reformation were asked - as if these were questions of which the answers had been debated, answered and defined for all eternity.   St Luke’s gospel, time and again, points us to faith in the most unlikely of places, in the heretical Samaritan and in the women who came for healing.   Doctrinal or devotional purity seems far from the Jesus these people knew and loved.   Jesus reached across these chasms with gay abandon.  

And it strikes me that often during the creedal debate or the justification by faith debate the central issue of the gospel was lost.   The fact that Jesus reached across the divides that humanity erects, between peoples of different faiths, people of different cultures and people of different genders has been submerged by the debates of who was right and who was wrong.   I have much sympathy for those who have difficulty reciting the creeds, because while they might seem innocuous, the bloodshed and hatred that lie behind them are blithely ignored, as well as the legitimate concerns of those who don’t express their faith in God in precisely these terms.   And we are sometimes willing inheritors of the same divides, in some cases unwilling inheritors of these divides.

It is manifestly obvious that none of the apostles and bishops before 350 BCE expressed their faith in terms of the creeds - so does this mean that in none of these would Jesus find faith?   This, of course, includes all the writers of our New Testament scriptures, as well as all the prophets and holy persons of the Old Testament!

As I say, the difficulty with the creedal debate and the reformation debates was that they drew lines in the sand, delineating just who was ‘in’ and who was ‘out’.   Effectively they drew boundaries, when the Jesus I know crossed boundaries.   And so the religion that draws boundaries is essentially human and the religion that crosses boundaries is essentially the one that is divine.

Jesus speaks of an unjust judge who succumbs to pestering by a widow, but immediately counters this with a picture of God who won’t delay in granting justice.

Sometimes in this world we have to be persistent.   Those people we expect to be pillars of justice and righteousness aren’t.   There comes a time in one’s life when we realise that our own parents, for all their loving care for us (if we were so blessed) does not mean that they handed down to us a paradigm of unconditional love for all.   I certainly didn’t have this.

I am about to celebrate a marriage and the exercise reminds me of the doctrine, still expressed in some Anglican prayer books to this day, that the daughter is a chattel which the father gives away.   So our spiritual parents, our religious leaders, have not passed down to us a paradigm of unconditional love for all.   The primary concern of most clergy has been to ‘evangelise’ - to get everyone to agree with us, that Jesus is the Son of God and do what we want. 

However the history of the church is that it was forced out of these little ghettos and forced to see that God accepted others: Samaritans, Gentiles, all sorts of other people.   So we read: ‘By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.’  (Hebrews 11.8)  And again: ‘During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’’ (Acts 16.9)  He was not to stay in his native Turkey, but to cross into foreign territory, to ‘cross the rubicon’ from what is technically Asia, into Europe.   It was NOT that the church had the goods and everyone else had to accept the package as is, but that the Church had to realise that God’s mercies were far wider than they had previously ever imagined.   And they only did this very reluctantly, not the least because they saw it as contradicting what scripture decreed.

And I want to suggest that this approaches something of what Jesus means when he asks: ‘will he find faith?’   Will Jesus find people reaching across boundaries, or staying safely away tucked in their little ghettos, unwilling to be disturbed, even when a friend needs help to provide hospitality to an unexpected guest?

And it seems to me that the trap set for humanity is eternal - does our faith focus on who Jesus is or who do we include?  

For the trap is not just: Who Jesus is.   By extension it also means: Who we are.   The trap is to consider ourselves privileged in the sight of God, to the exclusion of others.   We see this in the fighting over the ownership of Palestine to this day; but just as equally amongst ‘christians’, as to just who is closest to the truth, closest to Jesus and closest to God.   I am told that George Bernard Shaw wrote: ‘It is not disbelief that is dangerous to our society; it is belief.’   And no doubt he means that belief that divides people off, one from another.

The trap: who we are, means that we don’t need to consider others who aren’t like we are.   The doctrine of who Jesus is and who we are, in effect means that there are others we don’t have to worry about, others we don’t have to love.   But the incarnation shows us that Jesus comes and associates with the less than devout, the less than morally pure, the sick, the poor, the outcast, and the despised.   This surely is the basis of our faith, and of course, we are called to follow Jesus.  So the question comes to us: will he find us incarnated into society or steadfastly separating ourselves from others?

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