Who are you to judge your neighbour?

Sermon 

Luke 9:51-62 

St Andrews Indooroopilly 30 June 2019 

Offered by The Rev’d Dr. Mervyn Thomas 

Today’s Gospel is the beginning of what scholars refer to as the  Lukan Travel narrative. As our reading starts: 

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his  face to go to Jerusalem. 

It is a journey which, as we have seen before, doesn’t make  much sense geographically, rather it is a literary device for the  Evangelist to structure his material. It goes on until Chapter  19, and forms the largest single section of the Gospel of Luke. 

It really doesn’t have a very successful beginning. The  Samaritans won’t listen to Jesus, because He is going to  Jerusalem, and there is an ancient enmity between the Jews  and the Samaritans. That is a bigoted and intolerant response,  which is matched by an escalating intolerance from the  disciples: 

Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from  heaven and consume them? 

In the context of this Gospel, and the community of the  Evangelist, that is an entirely plausible response. You can see  their minds working. These Samaritans have rejected Jesus.  Therefore they are wicked. Therefore they should be  destroyed. Therefore we should call down fire from heaven. If they’d had drones and napalm they’d have used them. It’s the  sort of response we see from Donald Trump. 

The Samaritans and the disciples are operating in exactly the  same way. Both are insisting on their own righteousness, both  reject the other. 

But Jesus rebukes the disciples. It isn’t their job to punish  unbelief; it isn’t our job to punish unbelief.  

The disciples are not outraged because of an insult to the God’s  chosen one; they are outraged because the Samaritans’  rejection of Jesus threatens the disciples’ own certainties,  their own sense of self-importance as bearers of the truth. At  its heart, all religious intolerance displays a deep insecurity.  Intolerant people have a neurotic need for others to believe to  reassure them that their faith is true. When that need is  denied, then they react with angry rejection. 

The Church does not have a good history over tolerance. But I  think we are pretty good about it now. We haven’t sentenced  anyone to death for heresy in a long time. The worst we can  manage these days seems to be a bad tempered motion at Synod  – and even those get watered down swiftly.  

Of course there are still harsh judgemental diatribes, and for  some reason they seem to centre on the issues of sexual  orientation and gender identity. There are three passages in the  new testament which have been taken to address sexual  orientation. Each of those makes reference to the word  arsenokoitais. It is a word used nowhere else in scripture, and  which appears in only one ancient source outside the scriptures, 

where it refers to sexual relations between men and women.  Many scholars believe that the word should be translated as  paedophiles, not homosexuals. That indeed is the translation  Luther adopted, and which still dominates German Protestant  bibles. 

So there are three New Testament verses about sexual  orientation, all of disputed meaning. All three are from the  epistles, none are the words of Jesus. In contrast, there are  34 verses about the destitute, all with undisputed meaning, and  nearly all of them words spoken by Jesus. The overwhelming  moral and ethical message of the New Testament is about our  treatment of the poor and the vulnerable.  

Why then, does the Australian Christian Lobby spend so much  of its time talking about sexual orientation, and so little of its  time talking about poverty? Why did the Anglican Sydney  Diocese donate $1Million to the No campaign on same sex  marriage? It they were following scriptural priorities they  should have matched that with $11Million to fight poverty. 

This issue has come into popular focus with the Instagram post  by Israel Folau. You remember that he posted that Drunks,  Homosexuals, liars and other ‘sinners’ will go to Hell. At this  time, and in this place I do have the right to comment on the  theological and scriptural underpinnings of that post. I non apologetically claim that it is based on a naive, uneducated and  simplistic reading of scripture. I non-apologetically deny that  any of us has the right to make statements about an other’s  eternal fate. We read in the Letter of James, Chapter 4: 

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. 

… There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and  to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbour?  

Folau’s post is not orthodox Christian teaching, and it is in no  meaningful sense scriptural. And in terms of effective  evangelism, it’s a joke in poor taste. 

As you know, as a consequence of this post, Rugby Australia has  sacked Folau, arguably one of the world’s best players. He has  suffered a very significant loss of income, and following a  failure to reach agreement with the Fair Work Commission the  matter of compensation or reinstatement will be decided in the  courts. 

I have neither the competence, authority nor inclination to  comment on the legal issues around this situation. What I find  interesting is that some commentators, and by no means only  Christian ones have sought to interpret this as persecution of  Christians. I quote from an Article in the Weekend Australian  by Dr Jennifer Oriel: 

The battle between Australia’s sporting codes and Israel  Folau looks increasingly like cashed-up bullies hunting a  Christian. He has been tried in the court of public opinion  and endured false accusations, smears and mobbing by  sports chiefs. Colleagues have denounced him. Christian  sportsmen who support Folau have been subjected to public  humiliation by rabid trolls and the media. It’s back into the  closet for Christians as PC persecution goes transnational. 

I think this article is wrong. Folau’s treatment is not an act of  anti Christian persecution, because there is nothing particularly 

Christian in his views. It is interesting that Anthony Mundine  has suggested that Folau has been persecuted – but because he  is black. It seems to me that in the west we all interpret  perceived persecution in terms of our individual grievances. 

I also worry that labelling episodes like this as `anti-christian  persecution’ trivialises the deep and appalling persecution of  Christians in Theocratic regimes throughout the Middle East.  

In general, I think that the best way of responding to an idiotic  public pronouncement is to calmly and carefully expose the  idiocy, rather than to abuse the idiot and call for their  punishment. Like Oriel, I do get anxious about erosion of our  freedom of expression. Speaking as a liberal, it seems to me  that there are few things more illiberal than an outraged  liberal. 

On the other hand, sexual orientation is a fundamental part of  our human identity. The best science seems to suggest that it is  pretty well fixed at birth. It is not something we can change. It  is not a lifestyle choice. Telling someone that they are damned  to Hell because of an innate characteristic at the very least  flirts with the edges of hate speech. It is inherently abusive.  That is a space no Christian has any right to occupy.  

More importantly, many studies have compared suicidality in  LGBT and heterosexual youth. The overwhelming evidence is  that LGBT young people have a three to four fold increased risk  of suicidal behaviour (see Suicidality and Depression Disparities  between Sexual Minority and Heterosexual Youth: A Meta Analytic Review, Marshall et al, Journal of Adolescent Health,  2011). Public Christians must be sensitive to the risks to the health and to the life of LGBT young people when they make  statements about biblical teaching. 

Intolerance, rejection of the other and a tendency to abuse  those whom we perceive as different are universal human  failings. In today’s reading, Jesus rebukes our intolerance, and  calls us to a better way.

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