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10 June 2007

What is the Nature of Religion? - to control? condemn? create conflict, barriers, intolerance? - that is the mantra of those who oppose religion - it’s written in newspapers, books, added to radio chat shows and often the religious do little to dispel the myth. Perhaps it is to lead people towards a holy life? - but how? by upholding and enforcing the rules apparently set out by God? Rules about what you can eat, what you must do with your wealth, how you are to behave, what you can wear, with whom and when you can engage in sexual behaviour?

It was within such a religious culture that Jesus lived and from which Paul emerged. But Jesus broke the rules as they were understood by that culture - he broke the sabbath rules, he broke rules about who you can eat with, who you can talk to and about raising the dead - Jesus broke the rules and tore down the barriers that such rules create. Paul saw that the law was not helping people to lead a holy life - but distancing people from God because they just could not keep all the laws that had been constructed - and that you could not expect people alien to that culture to take on Christ and all the baggage - for the baggage is not necessary when Grace Rules.

But Paul is accusing of watering down faith - making it too easy - and religion should not be easy! - and despite Paul - the church has continued to create rules about the nature of a holy life - often quoting Paul to do so and usually those rules revolve around sexual and moral behaviour - such a long list of “thou shalt not’s” that your left wondering whether God wants us to have any fun at all. Dispute was tearing the early church apart - and it continues to do so - do we accept the secular view of sexuality - or do we impose standards of sexual behaviour which would condemn the relationships some of you are living in - unmarried, divorced, same-sex, relationships which in the past would have had you removed from church life and is still unacceptable in some traditions. Outside of sexual behaviour there will be some who have been convicted of criminal offences, who drink, who smoke, lie, cheat, abuse power, spoil creation, make war &c - sinful behaviour that break the rules of a holy life. - yet Grace rules mean that you can still have a relationship with God and still belong to the church

Easy religion? - no - grown up, responsible religion that expects us to have a relationship with God, to follow Jesus and make sense of what that means in our own lives, our own contexts - those who accuse us of easy religion think that what I’m saying is that anything goes - it’s OK do what you want you will be forgiven anyway - not the case - expectation that lives will be different, will be changed, will follow the way of Jesus but as a response to God’s grace - not as a condition of it. No rule book that must be adhered to or else - but the gift of God’s love and the encouragement to respond in love to God and to your neighbour. and if aspects of our relationships or lifestyles are not right - dishonest - shameful - then we seek healing and restored holy life.

At ordination Ministers promise to live holy lives. Some seem to think that involves some sort of morally pure sinless existence - and was used as an argument when discussing sexuality. I recently had cause to reflect upon my ordination promises and on this one suggested that perhaps my idea of a holy life is one which lives with contradiction between theory and praxis, that makes room for vulnerability, that holds firm to certain ideas yet makes room for insecurity, that lives with eyes open trying to catch a glimpse of God and spends time with people whose lives are also full of holes. We are called to live by Grace, to live by the Spirit - Paul knew that people needed something to replace the law and as we work through Galations we will find that he points us towards the fruits of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control

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