The readings on which this
sermon is based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r201.htm
s201g13 Sunday 34 Christ the King 24/11/2013
'we are getting what we deserve for our deeds' Luke
I have been thinking about St Paul recently and his emphasis
on sin and death, forgiveness and new life. It is very
Cross-centric. And we, like the criminal on his cross
recognised, like good and devout Anglicans and christians,
that we too have sinned, that we too 'are not worthy to gather
up the crumbs under thy tableí (1), that we deserve to die,
and that somehow we are inexplicably forgiven whereas others
who havenít heard, havenít understood or who have rejected the
message are not. This seems all so personal, so
comforting, yet also so unreal.
Recently I attended a funeral and the person's faith was
stressed along with the assurance of the person's place in
heaven. It was sad, because the deceased would not have
wanted this at all and many of the mourners were not people of
this sort of faith. It was what was unsaid that was
glaringly obvious. What about the thousands who so
recently died in the typhoon in the Philippines?
Do we worship a God who is so personal that the concerns
and fate of thousands elsewhere are completely irrelevant?
Well not me!
Now I am a firm believer in Karma, 'what goes around, comes
aroundí (2) and íthe measure you give will be the measure you
get backí (3), and especially that this applies equally to the
devout and the orthodox as it does to any one else. But
this is not God's vengeance at work. Humanity has its
own way of paying back inhumanity without God intervening.
The thousands in Tacloban and surrounding areas
did nothing to deserve the utter devastation that they
continue to endure.
St Paulís ideas are on a different level. He is talking
about getting religion wrong and inexplicably receiving Godís
forgiveness. This is a different conversation entirely.
When St Paul talks about sin he is not talking about
sinning in general but one particular sin, the sin he himself
committed prior to his conversion, the persecution of others
in the name of God. He makes no bones about it, and his
conversion doesnít thereby make him morally perfect. He
is not promising, like one website does, 'Our Christ-centered
courses are free of charge and help people just like you
escape impurity, over-eating, substance abuse, gambling,
smoking and more.í In post-earthquake Christchurch
many, including myself, have put on weight and have enjoyed
probably one or two more glasses of wine than we should.
It is a fairly natural reaction to trauma.
St Paul's concept of sin is the same as Johnís when he says:
'Those who have been born of God do not sin, because Godís
seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been
born of God.í (4) Those who follow Christ do not sin
because they do not commit THAT sin, the sin of persecuting
others in the name of God.
When we are baptised to become a member of
an exclusively saved community and we say ĎI turn to
Christ, I repent of my sin, I renounce evilí we will not
escape the charge of being evil when Jesus says to those who
would hear: 'If you then, who are evil, know how to give good
gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father
give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!í. (5)
If the church into which we are baptised only gives good
things, things like acceptance, forgiveness, and sacred food,
to her children alone, how does it escape the charge of being
evil? So baptism cannot be into an exclusive subset of
humanity, but into the riches of community with all people.
And the same can be said for those who count
the beginning of their
christian journey in a conversion experience rather
St Paul wrestled with this after his conversion.
Previously he had understood Godís particular call was tribal,
so he uses the language of adoption to explain how in Christ
the boundaries were crossed. But the religious
persecution which I detailed recently (6) drove him further
and further from Jerusalem, finally forcing him to Ďcross the
rubiconí from his ministry to gentiles in Asia, to even more
foreign gentiles in Europe (7) ending up at Rome.
So the Cross is not about my personal sin, but about the
religious sin of exclusivism - of restricting Godís particular
concern to a specific group of people somehow denied to
others. And indeed it is this that was the real reason
that the orthodox and the devout engineered Jesusí death -
because he associated with people other than themselves.
And when we make the church into the same sort of
institution with boundaries not essentially any different from
tribal ones, we do the same.
Jesus was killed not because he claimed to be the Son of God
or to quieten the consciences of those who believe him to be
so, but because he proclaimed the message of love for all
people, not just believers. The words of John are
specifically addressed to those who proclaim their love for
God: 'We love because he first loved us. Those who say,
ĎI love Godí, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars;
for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have
seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The
commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must
love their brothers and sisters also.í (8) There is no
one who isnít our brother or sister and there can be no one
excluded from this command to love - otherwise there is no
point whatsoever to the command.
There is no one excluded from the
forgiveness and freedom of the Cross, indeed it is
the Cross that frees all from the strictures of religious
exclusivism not to establish a better exclusivism, but in
order to extend to all that forgiveness and freedom.
As I have gone through the church, I am finding that
increasingly I am having to un-learn the verities the church
has taught me - and I am a slow un-learner :-) I want
to say that I, and we, have not got what we deserved from the
church, the guilt, the demeaning, the disapprobation, the
moral manipulation. Each and every person has been
created in the divine image, with a brain to use and a heart
to love. The hostile and demanding community in which
we have lived, hostility exacerbated (if not initiated) by the
church, has led how many millions to take desperate measures
to provide for themselves and those they love. Nowadays
people even resort to not believing in a loving God, and why
on earth would they?
So yes, the Cross has indeed taken your and my sin away, but
it is taken away because it is the sort of irrelevant and
entirely understandable sin indoctrinated by a hostile
church colluding with our own feelings of self
loathing. God has no interest in us wallowing
in guilt, the demeaning, the disapprobation, the moral
manipulation perpetrated and perpetuated the name of
religion and if it takes the Cross to lift us out of this
imposed mire then the divine will gladly do it.
(3) Luke 6.38
(4) 1 John 3.9
(5) Luke 11.13
(7) Acts 16.10
(8) 1 John 4.19-21