readings on which the sermon
below is based can be found at: http://web.me.com/frsparky/iWeb/r201.htm
s201g10 Christ the King Sunday 34 21/11/2010
In the name of God, Life-giver, Pain-bearer and Love-maker.
(Fr Jim Cotter http://www.cottercairns.co.uk/)
‘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.
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