Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Sermon at St Elisabeth's 26 February 2014

As you may know, I am a Unitarian. What’s one of those I hear you cry. A Unitarian is a Christian who does not believe in the Holy Trinity, who does not believe Jesus to have been God. He was a great prophet and was the Messiah (literally the chosen) of God. And we think of ourselves as Christians because we are trying to follow the teachings of Jesus. But yet we have been branded throughout history as not being Christian because we do not accept the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, as though believing the right things is more important than doing the right thing. And I think that is what Jesus in this morning’s Gospel is trying to say. It doesn’t matter whether you are part of my club or not so long as you are doing my work.

 "John said to him, 'Master, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him because he was not following us.' But Jesus said, 'Do not forbid him; for no one who does a miracle in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us" (Mark 9:38-40). Just a little bit later Jesus reminds the disciples that kindness shown by an outsider to someone simply because the latter was his follower deserved reward. Or, in other words, anyone who does a good deed is doing good. Jesus did not disown any one who was doing good works in his name.

That seems pretty straight forward enough. Anyone who does works in the name of Jesus, whether or not they are part of “our” group, is doing good. But in direct contradiction is the Jesus of Luke who says "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters." And yet this sadly has been the response of the church through history:  if you are not with us you are against us. Until 200 years ago it was illegal to be a Unitarian…

The Jesus of Mark 9 makes no summons for anyone to join. Instead he acts the shepherd to go retrieve the lone lamb that John had driven forth from the flock. This is interesting to me: John tells Jesus that the unknown exorcist had not been following Jesus and the disciples. So to John he seemed to be poaching, violating the disciples' copyright on the name of Jesus. It is obvious that John considered the man a non-member. But it is equally apparent that the exorcist himself did not think himself a member either.

And, most importantly for me, Jesus does not suggest that the man should have joined up either!

From this Jesus we hear no invitation to join up, no summons to decide. No, what we hear is that such an explicit joining is superfluous, altogether unnecessary. Though he has not required you to join him, this very openness makes you think that maybe it would not be a bad thing to follow this Jesus. If this is a possible version of Christianity, maybe I can be (or remain) a Christian after all!

And that is the great point: as far as Jesus is concerned, the man does not need to join. Since he is doing the work that Jesus does, he is already a member. As the Epistle of James says, "I will show you my faith by my works." Jesus has drawn a circle that counts him in. Here is Jesus, in whose eyes one may be as Christian as one needs to be even if one's faith is anonymous or wears another name altogether.  And to, be honest, there is no monopoly on God, or Truth. Despite what the Church may say  - just look at all the different denominations here in Reddish (Anglican, Methodist, URC, Catholic all of which were founded because they and they alone had the “Truth”). That matters not. And I don’t think it even matters whether you are a Christian or not so long as you are acting upon Jesus ethic of Love, whether you know it or not.

I would like to ends with words from the Unitarian Bishop Francis David:

“We need not all think alike to Love alike.” Amen.

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