A Caution Against Bigotry by dfsdf224s


									Sermon: ‘A Caution Against Bigotry’

Rev. Martin Turner

Methodist Central Hall, Westminster – 12th August 2007 11am

LESSON: Mark 9: 38 - 40

For me heaven is to be in a garden shed on a Saturday afternoon working on restoring
a piece of antique furniture, with the football commentary on the radio,
 but for some strange reason my wife Biddy describes exactly the same scene as hell!

The fact that the football season started yesterday will have brought joy to the hearts
of some of you,
and despair to others,
the supporters of every team believe that this will be the season that they will do well,
  this will be the season when they win the cup,
   this will be the season for topping the table.
Now of course the cream of all football is the Premier League,
 the twenty top teams in the country,
  there were seven matches yesterday and then today the big three,
   Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal, all have games,
     if you are a football fan this is a great weekend.

It was the former Liverpool manager,
 the late Bill Shankly,
  who once said,
  “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death,
   I am very disappointed with that attitude,
    I can assure you it is much more important than that!”.

In his commentary on the passage which is our focus for this morning,
Mark chapter 9 and verses 38 to 40,
 the theologian Tom Wright starts by pointing out that Jesus is saying by
 implication here that there is something going on which really is a matter of
  life and death,
   there is a war going on,
    a war between the forces of evil and the forces of good,
     and that the disciples need to realise that and take sides,
      and also need to realise that by what they do everyone else is actually
       taking sides as well.

We discover this in verse 38,
verse 38
At the time of Jesus everyone believed in demons as being the cause of both mental
and physical illness,
exorcism was therefore used in all religions and the exorcist would use a name
 of something or someone he regarded as more powerful than the demon to try
  and cast it out and bring healing,
 the theory being that the demon could not stand the might of a more powerful name.

Now John the disciple has seen someone doing this and using the name of Jesus as he
did so,
 clearly the name of Jesus seemed to work for the demons were indeed cast out,
  John wants to know what Jesus thinks of this,
   is the man using and abusing the name of Jesus and therefore an enemy?

Now our visitors might not know that for the summer months in our preaching we are
looking at some of the sermons of John Wesley and what they might say to us today,
 sermon number thirty three of the book of forty four sermons is titled,
 “A Caution Against Bigotry”,
  in it John Wesley uses this passage as his text,
   and Wesley looks at this comment of the disciple John and sees John as
    writing off someone for being different,
    Wesley points out to his hearers that they often do the same thing,
     and I would point out the same thing to you all this morning,
       for sadly we Christians still do it!

First says Wesley we dismiss those who have no connection with us,
 people we really know nothing about,
 when we hear of them doing God’s work it is easy for us to be suspicious
  and to write people off.
   Perhaps we do that if we hear of some great revival abroad and we shrug it
    off as probably being exaggerated.

Second, says Wesley, there are those who he describes as being “not of our party”,
 those who we acknowledge as Christian but who we do not really approve of
  because they do things differently.
   Perhaps we think of extreme Pentecostalists whose dancing and clapping
    and claims of healing make us feel uneasy.

Third there are those who hold a different religious opinion,
 particular theological points can divide,
  and probably the clearest example of that is the attitude of the Roman Catholic
   Church to those of us who are not in communion with the Pope.

Fourth, says Wesley, there are those who differ in practice.
 In my experience of ministry worship is too often a great divider in the Church,
  those who like modern songs are dismissed as “happy clappy”,
   or those who like traditional music are dismissed as “stick in the mud”,
    and sadly worship seems to divide Churches as no other issue does.
Fifth there are those who belong to those Churches or denominations, who we believe
to be seriously wrong,
 and who we might indeed criticise or teach against.
  I suppose for me those Churches who teach what we call “prosperity
   teaching” would fall into this category.

Then sixth and last in this miserable parade of divisions there are those who actively
persecute us and set out to be our bitter enemies,
 doing all they can to hinder the work of God,
  and John Wesley knew all about this from his own bitter personal
   experience of being excluded from pulpit after pulpit as he sought to reach
    ordinary people for Jesus Christ.

Now Wesley points out here that Jesus did not concentrate on the differences between
his followers and this man who was casting out demons in his name,
 no, Jesus looks through the other end of the telescope,
  it is rather like the story of the two neighbours who woke up and discovered
   that they each had a huge pile of horse manure on their front drive,
    the first complained,
    “Oh no, my enemy has come to block me in”,
       the second rejoiced,
       “Oh great, my friend has come to help my roses grow”.

Why do Christians find it so very easy to pick holes in each other,
so very easy to criticise each other,
 so very easy to point the finger at the way others do things,
  so very easy to condemn different approaches to ministry,
   so very easy to divide and walk off and do their own thing,
    we see it in the New Testament,
    and we see it in our own Methodist history as after John Wesley died the
     Church split into Wesleyan Methodism and Primitive Methodism and
      United Methodism and Wesleyan Reformed Methodism.

 John Wesley says in this sermon that if we do not recognise God at work in
 others “then we are bigots”,
  and then he goes on to define a bigot as having
  “too strong an attachment to, or fondness for, our own party,
    opinion, Church or religion”.

 So why do we so often act as bigots and write others off for one reason or another?
 Surely it is always better to speak well on one another,
  to encourage one another,
   to see God at work in one another,
    just as Jesus saw His Father God at work in this man who was casting out
     demons in his name.

Let me give you four brief reasons as to why we need to listen to this caution against
First, we worship God.
 By definition if God is God then He will always be bigger than any one
  perception of Him,
  in fact even in that phrase “any one perception of him” I limit God because I
   speak of “Him” whilst the Bible is quite clear that humanity was created male
    and female in the image of God,
    the Bible tells us therefore that God is not bound by gender,
     those who speak of God as “her” may irritate some of us and we may
      disagree with that use of language,
      but there is insight into the bigger picture of God in such language,
       that’s why we need all denominations and theologies talking to one another,
        for in our different emphasis we have much to learn from one another.
In this Church we are blessed,
 for here we have a huge range of theological opinion and cultural background,
  and if each of us listens to the other we will learn much about a God who is far
   bigger than just my view or just your view.

Second we look at the life of Jesus.
 Jesus broke the gender boundaries of his day as he spoke to women freely.
  Jesus broke the racial boundaries of his day and he spoke to those who were
   not Jews and told stories such as that we call the “Good Samaritan”.
    Jesus broke the medical boundaries of his day as he touched those who
     others saw as unclean – the leper and the woman with the issue of blood.
      Jesus broke the religious boundaries of his day as he said that we worship
       God in Spirit and in truth rather than in a particular place.
       Then on the cross Jesus broke down every barrier which kept any man or
        any woman from his Father God as on the cross he hung between two
         criminals and promised that the way to heaven was now open.
In our Methodist Church we speak of Jesus Christ as dying for all people,
 no bigotry here,
  all are welcome into the arms of his love.

Third, we look at the work of the Holy Spirit.
 I learnt a lot about this when I was a prison chaplain,
  when at fairly regular intervals men would come and talk who had little or no
   religious background and yet had experienced a vision or a special experience
    of the presence of God.
   Just last week I was hearing of many Muslims in Iran becoming Christian
    through dreams and visions of Jesus,
     you see the Holy Spirit does not take the underground and begin to work
      here and at other places of worship from 11 to 12.30 on Sundays,
       the Spirit is at work in the world and many who would not name the name
        of Jesus will speak of a deep experience of God completely away from the
         often too confining structures of the Church.
Fourth we are pragmatic – I started with the football manager Bill Shankley saying
that football was more important than life and death,
 there is a life and death spiritual battle going on,
  a battle between God and those who oppose His way of love,
   a battle between good and evil,
    and in a battle you need all the troops you can get,
     if others want to walk with us sometimes and support us sometimes, don’t
      let us start asking them to fill up the tick boxes to see if they are spiritually
       up to it,
        accept people just as they are as Jesus did when he heard of this healer
         working in his name.

A man died and went to heaven where he was warmly welcomed,
 “I think you will be very happy here “said St. Peter,
  “But first of all I will just take you round,
   I won’t take you into each room,
    you’ll get the flavour of it all just by listening.”

They walked down a long corridor and came to a door marked Methodists,
and the singing was so loud you could hear it a mile off.
 Then they came to the Baptist door,
  where the man could hear splashing sounds and shouts of “Halleluiah”.
  When they came to the Roman Catholic door the chanting was beautiful and
   from under the door he could see the incense escaping.
    The House Church Door had a flashing welcome sign on it,
    and the door shook in its frame as the band thundered out the songs.
     As they approached the next door St Peter put his finger to his lips and whispered,
     “Please go on tiptoe here,
      these are the Exclusive Brethren and they like to think that they are the
       only ones here in heaven!”.

In the Christian life we can if we wish draw lines,
 lines to keep people out,
  lines to shout across,
    lines we invite others to cross so that they can be counted with us.
As we stand behind these lines it is pleasant in some ways,
 the people who are with us broadly agree with us on most things,
  we know where we stand,
   as a Church we can give a line on different issues,
    but as we draw these lines we pigeon-hole,
      we create labels which are so large we cannot see the people who wear them,
       we exclude other Christians,
       and we therefore weaken the body of Christ.
Jesus drew no lines,
 he simply invited people to follow him and to be with him,
  and if others acted for good in his name he acknowledged them and affirmed them,
   for Jesus knew that in the great battle to stand for God and for good
    whoever is not against us is for us.

Such an invitation is a risky one,
 for Jesus might find that amongst his followers there are those whose lifestyle
  is not ideal,
   those whose beliefs are not fully sorted out,
    those who worship God in most peculiar ways,
     those who embarrass us,
      those who disturb us,
       those who are so very different from us.
        It is a risky invitation which Jesus offers.

But Jesus might even find that I am there with him,
 or you are there with him,
  for although we might find it hard to stand on or behind a line,
    may still find the courage to follow the one who makes all welcome.

Copyright Rev. Martin Turner

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