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

s200g10  Sunday 33  Hanmer Springs  14/11/2010

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

‘do not go after them ..’   Luke 21.8

I began writing this sermon on the 4th of October and as at that day, since September the 4th Christchurch (New Zealand) has experienced 2546 quakes and aftershocks after the first 7.1 magnitude one at 4.35am; 142 magnitude 4 to 5 and 13 magnitude 5 to 6.   So two months after the first this means we’ve averaged 156 / 61 or 5 every two days over magnitude 4!   These certainly are ‘the shaky isles’!   We have seen the stones of some churches thrown down, from little chapels to large structures.   They have been of all denominations and subcultures within denominations.   Many want to say that the end times are upon us.   But New Zealand has been known as ‘the shaky isles’ for a very long time; earthquakes are a part of life here.   Wikipedia tells me that: ‘The country records more than 14,000 earthquakes a year – but only about 150 are usually felt.’ (  So there is nothing new.   It is all a part of the cycles of nature, of life and death, of destruction and rebuilding that surrounds us every day and everywhere.   And many are overwhelmed, the forces of nature are unpredictable  unstoppable.   And yet as I look at our Vicarage driveway, I see shoots of weeds sprouting between asphalt and concrete.   The forces of destruction and the forces of regeneration are equally unstoppable!   I just wish some of the things I have attempted to plant over the years have been similarly resilient, but sadly my thumbs were never green.

The cross shows us that God will not use force.   Of course many ‘christians’ point to the cross as spiritually compelling - using words that echo Jeremiah: ‘Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?   Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me, which the LORD inflicted on the day of his fierce anger.’ (53.12)   But as soon as one uses force of any kind, physical, moral, spiritual, magical or whatever, one immediately loses both the object of it all and the means to that object.

‘Christians’ often want to make the object of it all ‘God’, but ‘God’ comes with a variety of names and the history of ‘civilisation’ shows us that competition between ‘gods’ inevitably involves the use of power.   And I repeat, the cross shows us that God has irrevocably forsaken any use of power.  

But also the propensity of focussing on ‘God’ means that the love that God actually wants is essentially bypassed.  There can be no love when power is involved.

And again, I repeat, this is not particularly a personal thing.   If the church corporate, preaches a gospel of how individuals ought to love, but how the corporate body actually uses power, of what earthly use is the efforts of the people in the pew?    The threat of person damnation is a powerful weapon and it obliterates even the possibility of love.   To use the words of Jesus: ‘no one comes to the Father but by me’ (John 14.6) as a personal threat is inimical to the gospel.

And I want to say that those who use these words of Jesus ‘no one comes to the Father but by me’ actually mean that no one comes to the Father but by an acceptance of and compliance with *my* interpretation of who Jesus is.   Now it is manifestly obvious that there are as many interpretations of who Jesus was as there are ‘christians’, so this leads as to the inevitable conclusion that no one can claim to be right.

Jesus says: ‘Do not go after them’.   Even in what seems the most dire of situations, we are bidden to hold firm to .. loving.   I am reminded of Lot and his wife fleeing Sodom.   Surely the Lord did not turn Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt because she wanted to see the fireworks.   She looked back wistfully because she feared being powerless.   The eternal allure of power, power over others, affects us all, myself as much as anyone else.   And the pillar of salt is the pillar of sameness.

The object of our faith is loving across all boundaries and the way to this objective is to love across the boundaries - the boundaries of religion, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality - everything.   We can but love others.   Indeed I believe we can rightly re-interpret Jesus’ words as: ‘no one comes to the Father but by .. love, the love that crosses boundaries of religion, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality - anything that seemingly might get in the way’ for that is precisely how Jesus lived his life, and in the end why he was killed.   He was killed by those who didn’t want the boundaries between them and others to be eternally meaningless, and so anyone who wants to set up meaningless boundaries, even in these seemingly tumultuous times, is deluded.

We, each and every one of us, hold our own keys to our salvation, we don’t need anyone else.   It is as we look beyond ourselves and those of our families and friends who we naturally try to love, to others, whoever they are - we too are doing what God would have us do.   And the other key is by turning away from those people and institutions who continue to draw distinctions between people, including if that be the church.   It is for this reason I have included links to the Inclusive Church web-site and the No Anglican Covenant web-site both here, on my web-page and on my ‘Facebook’ site.   For me, I have to stand up and be counted against the thousands of Anglicans who want to say: ‘no one comes to the Father but those who believe like I do, worship like I do, and who are intimate only when and with those of whom I approve ..’

And it is interesting, as I look back, the reason I decided to ‘test my vocation’ in about 1973 was actually to find out what I myself believed in contrast to a priest who eventually left the Anglican Church and became a Catholic (priest).   He did this essentially because he believed that they had a central authority to delineate who was in and who was out.   The presenting issue for his departure was the ordination of women, but it was more fundamental than that - it was (and is) one of power.   My own ‘raison d’etre’ has remained unchanged in the interim as well - to proclaim a gospel of weakness.   And in the end it doesn’t matter whether I have lots of followers or not, for the important thing is not that I have lots of adherents or readers, but whether people love beyond the meaningless boundaries that the ‘church’ and ‘civilisation’ has a penchant in erecting.

Our opening sentence for our service today is one of those classic wonderful texts: ‘What does the Lord who has showed you what good is required of you?   To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’  Micah 6.8  This says nothing about getting others to walk humbly with your God.   Your God and their God though the same, are different for they are seen with a different pair of eyes.

As I look back at what I have written, the theme of different people seeing God differently parallels different people seeing Jesus differently.   This, like the earthquakes, might make us think that there is no stability anywhere, yet the world goes on, and in the end love will conquer, though perhaps ‘conquer’ is an infelicitous word.   In the end we can only accept that love is the object and love is the way.   We can only accept others, for they have as much a right to exist, now and in eternity, as we do.

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