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Common Humanity 8 July 2005

Posted by Dr Moose in Uncategorized.

I don’t know whether this is helpful, prophetic or just pathetic. I think it is a risk to publish – but I will.

The text that follows is the notes towards a sermon written immediately after September 11th. As such it works with the set readings for that Sunday (14 Trinity 2001 – Psalm 14, 1 Timothy 1: 12-17 and Luke 15: 1-10.)

It is the only sermon I ever submitted for approval to my training incumbent as far as I can remember. And the only one that I never preached. In hindsight I wish I had – and it applies no less now. Some of the “local”and “time-limited” references might not be too clear, but the points remain.

None of us will forget about the events in the USA this week. They will join a list of pivotal moments in cultural memory: outbreak of WW2 (Chamberlain), Kennedy, Diana.

Opinions about perpetrators? Insane? Fanatical? Godless? I have no doubt about the need for them to answer for their actions in the presence of a mighty and judging God.

Opinions and feelings about victims; the dead, the injured, the bereaved. I have no doubt about the provision of mercy, grace and peace from the hand of a compassionate and gracious God.

Common denominator: our humanity. I mentioned 3 adjectives earlier.

Insane? Too easy: very rarely are people actually able to be counted as insane in the pursuit of their actions. We might be able to say that we cannot understand their motives, but insanity is a shield behind which to hide the truth.

Fanatical? What is a fanatic? We often have the picture of the fanatic as someone who has lost a sense of proportion about things. But fanatic is the root of out term “fan”. Has the follower of Tigers, of City or of the County Cricket team lost proportion? You might answer yes! How are we to respond to Jesus summary of the Law which we used earlier today… or the statement of unconditional surrender in the Lord’s Prayer “thy will be done”, without any qualifications. In it’s own way that is a call to complete devotion, to putting God at the centre of all we are and all we do – fanaticism by any other name.

Godless? Plain wrong: the highest insult possible to the true believer of any faith. The fundamentalist of any religious persuasion cannot be called Godless. Indeed we are left unable to draw upon the Psalm on our reading sheets “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ All are corrupt and commit abominable acts; there is none who does any good.” The most we can allow ourselves to say is that we might not see God the same way.

It is then ironic, to say the least, that insanity, fanaticism and godlessness could be applied also into the two readings we have heard this morning.

Paul’s reaction of faith in Christ could easily be described as insane by his former co-religionists. To have turned from his devout, even fanatical pursuit of Pharisaic Judaism to an equally devout and fanatical faith in Jesus Christ could surely have seemed to be insane. Devoid of good and common sense. It could have seemed in its own way to be Godless – a denial of the understanding of Yahweh, Jehovah as the sole God, mixed up in some way with this Jesus, who claimed kinship with him as the Son of God, but that is arguable – more likely it would have at the very least have brought the reaction that Paul’s God wasn’t the same one. They didn’t have the same understanding of God.

But the same adjectives may apply to the Gospel. In a very real sense for the shepherd to leave behind his 99 sheep is insane. A human shepherd cannot protect his 99 sheep in the wilderness if he goes off in pursuit of the lost one. What happens if the wolf comes? It doesn’t make sense. The devotion of the shepherd to his lost sheep is like that of the woman in the search for her lost coin: unceasing, devoted, fanatical even. And yet we are told that this is a reflection of the nature of God himself! No wonder the Pharisees and scribes that Jesus was speaking to were outraged and perplexed: he didn’t have the same understanding of God as them.

How are we to make sense of these things?

In the years ahead I’m sure we will all remember the events of the week that has past, as pivotal events in our common life. We will remember where we were, how we reacted, what we did when we heard the news last Tuesday. We will remember some of the stories, not only of tragedy and horror, but also of hope and heroism.

Just as those who died and those left behind had ideals and goals, personal problems, joys and sorrows, so the same for the perpetrators. So the same for us. We must not allow ourselves to forget that those who carried out such actions with such horrendous consequences were human beings, human beings how ever much we would like to deny it, who were like us. We can’t take the easy way out by dehumanising them.

We must not allow ourselves to forget that we all will be called to account for our actions in the presence of a mighty and judging God, but neither must we allow ourselves to presume upon the uncritical acceptance of a compassionate and merciful God.

And it is to human beings, like Paul, like lost sheep, like us, that God calls. Calling us from our own sins and sorrows not to just accountability, but to merciful and gracious relationship.

In the name of God the merciful, God the compassionate, God the just. Amen.



1. Kathryn - 9 July 2005

Thanks, Dr Moose…May I lift a bit of this for tomorrow morning? I’m still wrestling, but want to say something about common humanity and the idea of fanaticism is so closely akin to the ardent devotion which everyone was happy to celebrate in the Cathedral last weekend.
Also, it ws inspired to include the Islamic “in the name of God the compassionate, the merciful”…I’ll follow suit here too, if I may.

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