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

s201g13   Sunday 34 Christ the King  24/11/2013

'we are getting what we deserve for our deeds'  Luke 23.41

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 than baptism.

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