Wembley Downs Uniting Church
A portrait of Jesus (Revd Prof Bill Loader) 1.6.2008
Reading: Matthew 7:21-29
In this passage we reach the climax of Jesus` first public address. The author of the Gospel according to Matthew paints his portrait of Jesus in a way that brings his importance home to his local congregations. The result is a challenge: acclaiming Jesus as `Lord` is not enough! The author has Jesus, himself, declare the warning. It is a warning against religions of adulation. In particular it is a warning against their Christian manifestation. Wherever hero worship becomes central, the real focus of faith is displaced. In it we see the project of an infantile fantasy: "I want everyone to praise me and love me. I want to be the centre of everything." It becomes, then, a fantasy about God or Jesus, who similarly are understood as having one major aim: to be praised and loved by everyone and to be the centre of everything. These projections blown into the air have a way of returning as the hidden agenda for life for those now doing the praising. The energy is its own reward. Acclamation, exaltation, exultation, reproduce themselves in a fellowship of well-being and self-fulfilment. Mix instruction with the endearment, and blind adulation becomes blind faith and blind obedience, the religious devotion that bedevils human community and reasonableness. Matthew`s Jesus cuts across the enthusiasm with typical threats and warnings. There is no place in God`s realm for such self-indulgence. God`s ambition, God`s will lies elsewhere than in self-obsession and endless praise. The Jesus of Matthew`s gospel has identified God`s priorities as loving enemies, making peace, overcoming hate and exploitation. Twenty years earlier in another part of the empire Paul faced similar challenges in congregations at Corinth carried away with spiritual gifts, signs and wonders, and ecstatic worship. It prompted him to pen those sacred lines about love as the greatest of all things (1 Corinthians 13). The colour of God`s life which flows through Christ, through the church at its best, and through open human hearts and minds is the colour of love. The movement of God`s life is expanding outward, unleashing creativity, healing, restoring, making new. Generosity marks the heart of God, not obsession with being idolised, self-prompted idolatry. Matthew`s account falters as the author employs the pedagogy of coercion which threatens to reinvent God as ultimately preoccupied with self-interest and prepared to put love at risk to be right, to deny dissent. But behind his reformulations are parables of nightmare, of missing out, designed to awaken change. Can I really get it wrong about myself and about God? Yes, I can. Less coercive but equally challenging is the closing parable about how to build. It takes us to the heart of our self-interest, appealing to our will to make something of ourselves. Do it by building on love: love for self, love for others, love for God, a threefold generosity where interests merge and life is lived, not at the expense of others and in the interests of some, but at the expense and in the interests of all. The world has had enough of religion which plays out our pathologies of grandeur. It still desperately needs people who will bear fruit of the Spirit of love.
130 Calais Road, (crnr of Minibah Street)
Wembley Downs, Western Australia.
Phone 08 9245 2882
Ten kilometres northwest of Perth city centre,
set amongst the suburbs of City Beach, Churchlands, Scarborough, Wembley Downs and Woodlands