Sunday, June 16, 2013

three things some Christians don't wants to talk about anymore

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

In our Gospel reading today, as well as hearing the dramatic and touching story of the woman who anoints Jesus' feet, we also hear about some other women whom we are told, almost as an aside, that Jesus had cast out demons from. And so in a single short passage we have touched upon what must surely be the three least talked about topics in Christianity today: sin, hell, and demons. Sin, because we are told the woman who anoints Jesus is a notorious sinner; hell because of the woman's extreme gratitude for having been forgiven of her sins tells us that she is aware of the consequences of her sins, should they go unforgiven, which is of course hell – after all, if there were no penalty for sin and no benefit to being forgiven, what would be the point in being grateful, and showing gratitude in such an extravagant way as washing Jesus' feet with her tears, drying them with her hair, and then anointing them with expensive oil?; and the demonic by way of the evangelists direct reference to the fact that the Magdalene and other women who accompany Jesus had been freed from demonic possession by him.

Oddly enough, even though these three topics are ones that are generally thought of as being uncomfortable topics to the modern ear, they are probably the three most talked about ones in the Gospels themselves, and talked about by no less a person than our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ himself. He makes it abundantly clear that he has come to save people from their sins; he calls people to repent of their sins; he forgives them their sins; and after he heals them he often tells them to go and sin no more.

Clearly Jesus wasn't a fan of the attitude common to so many whereby they simply shrug their shoulders when sin is mentioned and say 'so what of it? I'm not so bad?' Rather his attitude was that all were sinners and all were in need of redemption … and generally, if you read scripture carefully, it was exactly those who thought they were good upright people who were actually the ones who were in need of redemption most! 

As for hell, well not only is Jesus the one who talks about it most in the Gospels, he actually mentions it more than any other individual topic. He is constantly warning people that it is real and that people will go there if they do not turn from their sins and repent and believe in him and the good news that he brings. And that brings us to the demonic – and casting out demons is one of the kinds of miracles of healing that Jesus performed very frequently.

If we were to leave out all the references to the devil, Satan, the demonic from the Gospels they would be a lot thinner, I can assure you. And if we left out as well all mention of sin and hell as well, not only would they be slender books indeed, neither would they be the Gospels … because, like it or not, these topics are part of the Good News that Jesus came to bring us. To try and deny them, or try to airbrush them out of the picture, is to deny the Gospels; and to deny the Gospels is to deny Christ.

So why do these topics make people so uncomfortable? Well, perhaps because to call something a sin sounds so judgmental  and being judgmental is, ironically, something of a secular sin these day; hell suggests that there are consequences for immoral behaviour, and that just doesn't sit well in our 'live and let live' society, that likes to think there is no real right or wrong, but rather what's wrong for you may be ok for me, and hell means there really is a set of absolutes where what is right is right for all people; and what's wrong is wrong for all people. And as for demons, well they may be fine in movies, but in the 'real world' the idea is a bit embarrassing and supernatural.

And that last word is key: supernatural. It doesn't mean spooky creatures and things that go bump in the night. It means above nature … which is what religion is about … connecting humanity with the ultimate reality that is above or outside the natural world in which we live. Try to strip the supernatural out of religion and you don't have religion, you have a club with rules; and it doesn't really matter if you don't obey the rules, because there are no consequences for not sticking to them. In fact, you can make the rules up as you go along if you really want.

But that's not what Jesus told us. He told us there a real moral law set by God, and that breaking that law was sin, and that to lead a life of sin and risked punishment, hell; and that the forces of hell, the demonic, entered into this world wanting us to do wrong, longing for us to be punished, to separate us from God. Jesus came to warn us and to save us. And he can't save us if we don't listen to his warning and act accordingly. The woman who wept at his feet knew his power to forgive and save; the Magdalene and the other women knew his power to protect us from evil. They listened to his warning, lived by his words, and were saved. He calls us to do likewise. I pray that you will: in the name of the Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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