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

s201g10  Christ the King   Sunday 34  21/11/2010

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

‘Father, forgive them’   Luke 23.34

It is really a rather odd thing to say when you think about it.   Is Jesus more merciful than God?   Does God need to be asked by someone else before we are forgiven?   I mean Jesus could have said, ‘Father, I forgive them ..’

And we believe that the cross was no accident.  We believe that Jesus went to the Cross by the definite foreknowledge and plan of God. (Acts 2.23)   So it might have been more appropriate for Jesus to say: ‘Father, I forgive you for planning this to happen to me ..’

And Jesus attitude of forgiveness doesn’t sit at all squarely with his denunciation of the scribes and the Pharisees in Matthew chapter 23 and Luke 11.15 - 12.12.   If we take Matthew’s chronology, his denunciations would still be ringing in their ears.   Words such as: ‘woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!   For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven.   For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them.   Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!   For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.’  (Matthew 23.14,15)

No, Jesus word of forgiveness is for those who truly did not know what they were doing.   They are said straight after he was crucified; we are told (in John 19.23) by the Roman soldiers.     Those who were really responsible, the orthodox and the devout, knew full well what they were doing and why they were doing it.   And they had Jesus killed, not because Jesus claimed to be someone special - that was simply their excuse.   They had Jesus killed because he associated with people who did not belong to them.   For me it is salutary to remember that those who had Jesus killed were precisely those who lived by the words: ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might’ (Deuteronomy 6.5) so exceedingly strictly and ostentatiously.

Today we celebrate Christ as King, and the essence of kingship is that they treat people completely impartially.   Of course, royalty attracts those who are toadies - those who believe (hopefully incorrectly) that by their fawning subservience, they will be treated more favourably than others, or over others.    And the fawning subservience of royal adherents only imitates the fawning subservience of some ‘christians’, of catholic, evangelical and charismatic persuasion alike.   They believe that their fawning obedience to their own rules and regulations will make them preferred over others.

People who are toadies know what they are doing.  They worship their master or mistress in order to get their way - over others.   And this is what cannot be forgiven!   It is the sin against the Holy Spirit who enables the church to speak the languages of others, not the compulsion that the church exercises to teach others to speak the language of the church, whether that language be biblical, traditional or ‘spiritual’.

I have been reflecting that the Anglican Church is often described as the ‘via media’ - the middle way, between ‘catholic’ and ‘protestant’ opponents, oft to the derision of each of these others.   I want to suggest that perhaps the beauty of the Anglican Church is that it could stand opposed to every exercise of unworldly religion - any religion that suggests that God is restricted to any form of creed, sect or whatever.   Of course the Anglican Church has its own members who subscribe to a creed that they are superior over others by virtue of their british heritage ..

God forgives people who do not know what they are doing, the people who are ignorant of bible, tradition or spirituality that purports to distinguish the adherents from others - so those who deliberately draw distinctions between themselves and others are - a priori - not forgiven.   In this sense the church that draws distinctions between people is not the dispenser of divine forgiveness but the perpetrator of evil and the way for forgiveness to be denied.   And this is the real cause for the derision of the catholics, protestants charismatics or whoever - for the way of equality of all dismisses their pretensions to superiority as a phantasm - demolishing their whole raison d’être.  

Ordinary people are forgiven for not knowing the Bible, for not knowing the traditions of the Church, for not knowing the things of the Spirit - when they fail to ‘appreciate’ that such things are more important than plain and simple charity to all, whoever they are.

For me it is this interpretation that brings out the real meaning of those best loved words of Jesus:  ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.   ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.   ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.   ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.   ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.   ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.   ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.   ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.   ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.   Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’  (Matthew 5.3-11)   It often seems that those most sure of the faith, most sure of their faith and who are so dismissive of others, fail to appreciate the import of these words.

And Jesus’ denunciation of the religious that I quoted above is enlightening - they: ‘lock people out of the kingdom of heaven’ - they are very clear who is in - those who belong to them - and who is out - those who don’t belong to them.

Jesus didn’t say: ‘blessed are those who know their bibles back to front’ or ‘blessed are those who go around knocking on doors quoting random passages of scripture to others trying to make others feel inadequate’!   Only recently we received a tract in our letterbox about how ‘God’ condemns any church that has Sunday as its Sabbath.   Jesus didn’t say: ‘blessed are those who live morally pure lives’ or ‘blessed are those who are intimate only when and with whom others determine’.   Jesus associated with these other sorts of people.

What are we on about?   If we are not on about treating people equally and equally mercifully, then I am certain that we are not doing what Jesus did, and we can’t claim to be his disciples.

It doesn’t matter how ‘willing’ we are, if we are enthusiastic about discriminating against others, it is only a matter of degree that we are different from the Hitler rallies that ended in the massacre of millions of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, people with disabilities, and (Wikipedia tells me) Jehovah's Witnesses, in the Second World War.

Many people react against the words of Jesus: ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matthew 5.48) as an unreasonably impossible ideal, yet it does tell us that God is like a perfect father and a perfect father loves each and every one of his offspring equally.   We celebrate Christ the King similarly, for the perfect king treats each and every one of his subjects with equal regard.   Indeed, it is in loving beyond the boundaries, that we love like the perfect Father - and it is how we actually can be perfect.   It is not an impossible ideal, but just the normal way of life that anyone, not tainted with delusions of superiority, can easily live by.

We are called to follow Jesus, and so we are called to forgive others when they don’t know  what they do, when they don’t know the intricacies of our faith, our scriptures, our worship, or our lifestyle, for this is what Jesus did on the cross.   We don’t have to take up the task of trying to inform others of all these things, for they are a snare and a trap for anyone who holds them as making them better than others.

Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"