Sermon delivered by the Rev Sydney Maitland
We have all come across the politics of identity in which groups make their claims on society on the basis of the specialized interest in which they have identified themselves. It may be a matter of race, language, gender, social or sexual grouping. Common to all however is their claim to rights over others and to demand a special hearing into their grievances, whether recent or historic, close at hand or on another continent.
These identities are exclusive and demand special standing in laws which are either altered in their favour, or are re-applied in their support.
Our readings however point us in a different direction, for they are both inclusive and exclusive. They include all who live and breathe, all who sit or walk or stand or kneel or lie down. All, regardless of parentage, disability and indeed regardless of personal success or failure. In this God is accessible to all who abide upon the earth.
Yet there is a point of access, and through which God has determined that our access to Him may – indeed shall – be made.
And that point of access is Jesus: and there is none other. This is not a matter of fairness or of limiting God. It is rather a matter of recognizing that in Jesus God has acted decisively, and once and for all time. There is no need to repeat what Jesus has done in His ministry or in His atonement for us.
But equally none other has fulfilled what Jesus has done. So He is not being arrogant or limiting in saying that none can come to the Father except through Him. It is the blood of Jesus that God sees and accepts when we confess our sins before Him in Jesus’ name, and it is that which therefore over-writes them.
Hence Jesus is the only way of approaching God the Father. There are indeed many other routes to God, but if they are apart from Jesus them those who approach this way will find that God is the Judge before whom they must account for their lives in every and all details. No spot or blemish or compromise or taint will be allowed to stand, and there will be no appeal. God will judge justly, but according to the standards of His holiness and not according to the nuanced standards of today’s society.
This indeed is also God – but not the Father whom we are invited to approach in and through Jesus.
But there is something else. We are called to be living stones, built into a holy temple. We are called to be a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s people called out of darkness into His marvelous light. We are called to abide in the light and to find our identity in it. It is to be our home and our abiding, our preoccupation and our purpose.
What we are and what we do should not only be able to stand in the light, they should themselves be lenses for that light. That means that we should be transformed from what we are right now into what God desires us to become.
And this is something that we should be engaged in together, so that we may become something wonderful and glorious in the sight of God. What may look like rubble on the ground to you and me will look like a fantastic temple to God as He clears the site, prepares the foundations, selects the stones to go deepest into the ground as foundations and as He works to build.
This is not a matter of losing identity or individuality but of gaining a corporateness and a bonding.
For us it may be difficult to see what is being done and what is happening among and within us. Yet the promise of Jesus is clear. Whatever prayer we ask in His name, He will grant.
The point of course is that it has to be the kind of prayer that Jesus would make Himself. It has to be the kind of prayer that He would put His name to. What we ask for others may be different to what we would ask for one another or for ourselves. But there was a prayer that Jesus made in the Garden of Gethsemane: one in which He accepted that the answer may be “No” and yet He continued faithfully anyway.
Jesus’ prayer still allowed Himself to be sacrificed in order that God’s greater purposes may be met – and He did so without resentment or complaint.
There is a sense however in which Jesus is asking us to pray for the things that He prayed for Himself, and for the things that He did in His own ministry.
In this He was only beginning what He has entrusted to us to continue, in proclaiming the gospel, forgiving sinners, healing the sick, releasing those who were bound by evil and by deception.
It also means supporting one another and seeking out the opportunities where we also may serve. It may mean overcoming our inhibitions, our embarrassment, or fear of rejection or ridicule, our sense of inadequacy or lack of learning or of standing.
But Jesus has entrusted us with being ourselves in a manner that allows Him to be Himself within us and among us. That may mean standing back from our own interests and preferences, and allowing the things that inconvenience us to lead us into a new dimension of serving God, serving one another and indeed in serving out neighbour.
Jesus has called us, not to do our work in Him but to allow Him to do His work in us and through us. And that can mean letting go of our agendas, no matter how noble they may be.
Perhaps above all, it is allowing Him to draw us into the prayers that He prayed Himself – whether in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the cross or in the course of His own daily life.
That is the kind of temple that we are being built into.