Sermons

Sun, Sep 03, 2017

The radicalness of God's grace

Series:Sermons

Two years ago the Irish held a referendum to amend their constitution to permit marriage equality.

Although the vote was carried by a significant majority...

from all reports, it was a pretty ugly affair.

It gave licence to a great deal of abusive and hurtful rhetoric.

And, sadly, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the "No" campaign was largely driven by the Church.

According to one Irish religious leader who was involved...

"this is not God's will...Marriage between a man and a woman was what God intended to make us happy. Anything that deviates from nature, from the norm, cannot be good in the long-run".

With campaigning yet to begin here in earnest--

pending the High Court's ruling on the validity of the voluntary postal survey--

we should start bracing ourselves.

Sure, much of the "No" campaign here will focus on tangential issues--

and seek to stoke fears and prejudices--

because it can't actually mount a rational argument against civil marriage equality.

But, sadly, it will still be the Church driving the "No" campaign behind the scenes.

We will still hear church leaders pontificating.

And social media will still be flooded with virulently homophobic comments from "good" Christian folk...

who want to impose their misguided beliefs...

and their version of reality on the rest of us.

There will be no shortage of people ranting and raving...

espousing an absolute belief that they--

and they alone--

are right;

that they, and they alone, know the mind and the will of God...

and that anything else is not just wrong...

but, in fact, godless.

But, in a way, should we be surprised?

Haven't we seen that sort of thing time and again throughout history?

The Church has been particularly good at invoking God's name... 

to justify its beliefs and practices...

in an uncritical, unreflective, self-serving sort of way...

even when the Church's beliefs have been based on scientific misunderstanding...

and shaped by a particular historical conditioning...

and an incipient cultural captivity.

The Church has been good at pontificating about what is or isn't acceptable...

and doing so as if it, alone, discerned the mind and will of God;

as if it, alone, spoke on God's behalf.

In the process, though, what sort of God has the Church projected?

The sort of God that we have proclaimed...

the sort of God that we have been indoctrinated with...

is a "God of requirements and rewards"--

God as King and Lord, Law-giver and Judge...

the One who demands belief and obedience in order to be acceptable...

in order to be "saved".

Such a God is, in fact, a distortion.

It's a product of conventional wisdom--

it's a product of how we see the world...

and how we think that things ought to work.

It's our projection.

It's us creating a God in our own image.

On the other hand, as Marcus Borg points out...

Jesus both embodied and demonstrated for us that--

above all else--

God is gracious;

God is loving;

and God's acceptance of us is unconditional.

But, on the whole, we can't cope with such radical grace.

As Borg puts it, 

"Radical grace has...been too radical for most Christians. We most often put conditions on God's grace".

And isn't that so true?

If we're honest... 

we're actually more comfortable with a God who is harsh and judgmental...

who threatens to punish us for wrong-doing...

and who demands blind obedience and uncritical belief.

That sort of God is so much a part of our upbringing...

so much a part of our tradition...

so much a part of our taken-for-grantedness...

that it's hard to see or comprehend anything else.

It's hard to fathom--

let alone to live out--

the subversive image of God that Jesus offers us.

 

But, in a way, that's what's at stake in this morning's story from Matthew's Gospel.

In it, Jesus announces to the disciples that he's going up to Jerusalem...

where he expects to be killed.

Why?

Because of how he has lived;

because of what he has taught;

because he has challenged the injustices of the social order...

and the way that religion has been used to hurt and to oppress--

especially those on the margins and those who don't fit;

because he has tried to show that God is different or other than how they have always conceived;

because he has challenged the status quo;

because he has confronted those in power--

those who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

Jesus expects to be killed in Jerusalem because he has challenged the convention wisdom;

because he has spoken of--

and incarnated--

a very different and very subversive image of God.

Jesus expects to be killed on a cross--

a symbol of shame and humiliation--

to demonstrate that God is on the side of the marginalised, the rejected, and the abused.

Jesus expects to be killed...

in order to demonstrate the limits of humanity's power.

Jesus expects to be killed...

in order to demonstrate that our conception of what it means to be human--

and what it means to live in community--

is fundamentally flawed and misguided.

And, above all, Jesus expects to be killed...

in order to demonstrate that our false conceptions of God...

cannot and will not have the last word.

 

"And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, 'God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you'." 

Peter doesn't get it.

Peter doesn't just misunderstand--

he's unable to comprehend Jesus' radically different understanding.

Peter is projecting his own image and expectation of God back onto Jesus.

But Jesus won't allow it.

God is not...

and will not be...

constrained by our misunderstanding.

God is not and will not be constrained by our religious or cultural captivity.

 

And, in that regard, nothing has changed.

Be it matters of sexuality, race, or refuge...

whenever the Church refuses to listen to...

or learn from...

new knowledge and new insights...

it, too, is siding with Peter.

Whenever the Church invokes the name of God to hurt or to harm...

to deny or to denigrate...

it, too, is siding with Peter.

In so doing, we are demonstrating that we have failed to comprehend God--

certainly the God that Jesus revealed to us--

and we have failed to grasp the radicalness of God's grace.

"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their crosses and follow me".

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