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Acts 7:55-60 • Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 • 1 Peter 2:2-10 • John 14:1-14
I was delighted to read last week that the coronation service for Charles III would include for the first time – the active participation of faiths other than the Church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s office explained that Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh leaders -- would take part in various aspects of the coronation. And the ceremony would also include female bishops for the first time – God made them male & female in God’s image (Gen 1:27) – imagine that! Hymns and prayers would also be sung in Welsh, Scottish and Irish Gaelic, as well as English. Bloody brilliant, is all I can say – talk about the most inclusive coronation service ever – inclusive of diversity in the world. Furthermore, the main coronation dish is a vegetarian quiche – well done Your Highness – respecting the need to reduce meat-eating in order to help save the planet for younger generations. Charles has often been both resourceful and entertaining in his earth-saving ways – like when he apparently got his old sports car to run on leftover wine and cheese – to which many inquired – what is leftover wine?
Today’s gospel from John 14 contains a line (v6) that depicts Jesus as saying: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This has been a popular line for centuries with people who like to portray their superiority over other religions, and who like to think that God only loves their group, and only Christians will go to heaven. I don’t believe that Jesus said that -- since John’s gospel puts many words in Jesus’ mouth – that are not found in other gospels. I don’t believe that Jesus would condemn all life that God created, except for Christians. I won’t ask if any of you believe this … because if you do, I don’t want to know. And again, I’m so pleased that clearly King Charles III does not believe in such an arrogant stance. As Rabbi Abraham Heschel said: ‘God is everywhere, except in arrogance’. However, if you are inwardly thinking – what does she know, it’s in the Bible so that’s that – tell me, then, what you make of the last two verses (13&14) in today’s gospel, with Jesus, saying: “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask for anything, I will do it.” Has that what your lifetime of prayer has been like – you ask for things in Jesus’ name, and boom – they get done? It can’t possibly be true as is, or else we’d surely be done with all wars on earth, and all the children suffering from poverty, disease, violence & hunger, since we surely all pray for that to end, right?
I was also quite intrigued, especially by the opening lines of our epistle today from the first letter of Peter: “Like newborn infants, long for the spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” It’s clear that here we have God depicted as a nursing mother, ready to feed us with her pure, spiritual milk. And that we’re invited to be nourished there, tasting that the Lord is good. It’s great to see that Peter, or whoever wrote this letter in his name – perhaps a mother who has breastfed babies – is free to use such humanly Divine imagery for God.
And I loved the next few lines as well, about how we’re called to be living stones which God will build into a spiritual house, despite our being rejected by things like the very secular society that we live in – here in this time and place. With all our talk about our two church buildings, and what will likely happen to this one – let’s also keep in mind, that we, all of us here, are the living stones which God uses to build up the real church – in which the Creator’s compassion for all – is meant to reign on earth. The last verse in our epistle (2:10) is also encouraging in this regard: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people, once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” It’s through our growing awareness of God’s mercy in our lives, especially we quite spoiled Canadians – and we are, compared to the rest of the world -- that we are called to share mercy or compassion with others. This is not some burdensome duty, but rather just the overflowing of God’s love and blessings in our lives – overflowing onto others who are also God’s children.
Again, back to the coronation – the inclusion of other world religions implies that those traditions and cultures have their own intrinsic value. Respecting different paths to the Divine like that – is a nice turnaround from the horrible centuries of the aggressive conquests of the British Empire invading countries around the world. By 1913 they held sway over 23% of humanity, and by 1920 the Empire covered 24% of the world’s land area To be fair, it was the mistaken interpretation of lines like the one we heard today that likely contributed to that terrible colonial arrogance -- with Jesus portrayed as saying that no one comes to the Father except through him. Apparently, they paid no attention to the earlier line (v2) where Jesus says: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places”. Creator God made the earth full of diverse peoples, cultures, religions & languages. We Christians are NOT the top of the heap, but rather only one among many. In the time and place when this gospel was written, The Christians had left the Jewish synagogue, and were making shocking claims that this rebel-rouser human Jesus was actually … God, or God’s Messiah! I think that likely sounded quite ‘New Age’ weird to both the Romans and the Jews. That’s why those persecuted Christians of John’s gospel era -- had to emphasize their version of ‘truth’ about who Jesus was – to encourage the beleaguered believers.
What can we take away from all this for our own times? To make room for respectful inclusion in our own culture of other religions and traditions, just as King Charles modeled for us yesterday. And to enjoy God’s loving nourishment so lavishly poured into our lives, like sweet milk for our souls – tasting that the Lord is good. May we indeed taste God’s goodness and rejoice in sharing the abundant life that God gave us – to share with all God’s children, Amen.