The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:
s197g04 Sunday 30 Lockleys 24/10/2004
"why do you call me good?" Luke 18.19
Flattery will get you everywhere!
If God is actually good, then flattery would have no effect.
One way God would be seen as good is that God would act with justice. No amount of flattery would divert God from acting with justice.
Time and again we see on the television news people who have been wronged complaining that the sentence that the offender received was manifestly inadequate. Justice is certainly in the eye of the beholder. Flattery, or complaints, are not likely to get us anywhere. Australia was settled originally by the criminal system in Britain, sending (often) petty criminals into exile. It seems the rich were want to quote to the starving: "Thou shalt not steal".
Another way God could be described as good is that if God acts with righteousness. This is not the same as justice. Righteousness means that God acts for the poor and needy rather than the rich and powerful. So Jesus says: "How hard it will be for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven." But again, if this is how God acts then any flattery is not likely to have any effect at all. Righteousness is also in the eye of the beholder.
So the question for me becomes: "Is our worship flattery to get our own way?" or perhaps better expressed "Is everyone else's worship only flattery, whereas mine isn't; and therefore I will get what I want?" :-)
My wry sense of humour wonders at the curious way Jesus finishes the words in the gospel reading for today, people get back what they give up. In the kingdom of heaven there are a multitude of mothers in law, not just one! :-)
Jesus tells the ruler some of the commandments, notably the ones involving our relationships with those around us. He omits the ones about God completely. This should tell us again that God is not interested in our worship if this replaces our kindly relationships with others.
Of course if Jesus had been a little bit smarter, he would have said to the ruler: "Sell what you own and give the money to me". But of what use was money to Jesus? Jesus mission in life was to get us to love our neighbours. His own personal circumstances were immaterial to this cause.
Now if God is in fact to act in the world, and it is clear that God can't please everyone all of the time, in terms of giving everyone their own way 100% of the time, because that will inevitably conflict with someone else's wishes, so God, to be of any use to humanity must act for the benefit of the humanity in general. So the God we worship is the God of the whole universe, no matter what name we use.
This God is no different to the God of the other monotheistic faiths. When one comes to consider the polytheistic religions, their very multiplicity of gods indicates that even those religions cannot have a handle on the whole lot of them. And those religions that do not conceive of a personal being; like Buddhism; again the truth they perceive is that the deity cannot be possessed by anyone.
Everything we do to try to make God "ours", however we perceive God to be, and by whatever name we call God, is always doomed to failure, no matter what religious system we ascribe to.
We will have to be content with a God who acts for the benefit of all of humanity, or none at all. If we want justice then we ourselves are going to have to do something to bring this about; rather than rely on God. If we want righteousness then we ourselves are going to have to do something to bring this about; rather than rely on God. This is the essence of the reply to the ruler; when Jesus quotes the commandments and the need for charity.
God gives this world enough food, water, material for shelter and human companionship for each to help and be helped by their neighbour. Even with our exploding population God has given us the ingenuity and technology to produce and deliver the necessities of life so that no one need miss out. We can't blame God when people miss out and one wonders if there is much point praying to God to make it so. God has done the divine bit, all we have to do is share it around.
"Give us this day our daily bread" we regularly urge God. Those of us who are not refugees have scarcely gone without a day's bread in our life, and I suspect it has got nothing to do with our praying. We really don't believe in the power of prayer that much! No, we all use our ingenuity and skill to educate ourselves, so that we can be gainfully employed, and we put limits on our charity so that we do not let ourselves suffer. I certainly do; I am not being critical here. We would be remiss if we didn't.
Our God is the God of the whole universe, and cannot by any means be controlled or manipulated by anyone, and if we pretend that our faith does this then it is not the God of the whole universe that we're talking about or to. For this is the essence of the question the ruler put: "What can I do that will allow me to manipulate God to my own ends? And it doesn't matter if that end sounds terribly religious, like eternal life!" This is simply not what God is on about. It is impossible to manipulate God, but as our gospel tells us, everything is possible with God.
So religion can become the big distraction, the ultimate wild goose chase, leading us away from getting on with life and getting on with others, all the while thinking that we are doing God a big favour by doing so.
And let us make no mistake about it, God would not have us distracted. If there is something opposed to God, then distracting us would be a smart way for that being to subvert the will of God.
Look at these words with care. Come to your own conclusions. God welcomes even infants, when the disciples, faithfully reflecting the "world" and often the "church" would bar them. God is good and welcomes all. Man and religion want to put limits on who God can welcome. It is the very people who want to question others: "Are you sure you're being saved?" that ought to question are they sure which god they are worshipping! It sure doesn't sound like the same one as me :-)! But don't believe me, I don't care about me or God. Get on with those around; it can't do too much harm, and it might even do a little good.
And those who have been blessed with daily bread each and every day of our lives can do with being thankful to God however we perceive God to be.
Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"