Read Sermon


"The kingdom of heaven is like…."


09 October 2005 11:00 | Fr John Cullen

NT: Ephesians 5.15-21 (Pr 15B); Gospel: Matthew 22.1-14 (Pr 23A)

Now we know why President Bush was so certain that he was right to take the action he did in deciding to invade Iraq in March 2003. He told the Palestinian foreign minister that he believed he was specifically directed by God: "I am driven with a mission from God. God would tell me 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq'. And I did."

I don't know about you, but I have some difficulties with that claim. It's not because I believe that in invading Iraq, President Bush appears to have ignored the Dominical injunctions "love thy neighbour" or "turn the other cheek", as one of the panellists on yesterday's "Any Questions" rather simplistically suggested. One of my difficulties is that while President Bush may be quite genuine in making his claim that he was specifically directed by God, I am aware that the various suicide bombers who terrorised this city in July, and those who have perpetrated similar atrocities in other places since, and most recently in Bali only last week, such people are equally sure that the same God has assured them of a place in heaven because they undertook their deathly mission.

It's an uncomfortable fact we often forget, that as people of the Book, Christians, Jews and Muslims, not only revere a common 'Book', that is the Old Testament; our faith is also in the same God, even though we refer to him by different names: God, Yahweh or Allah.

So when Christians make claims such as Mr Bush has made about his direct communication with God, we need to reckon with the fact that there are others, perhaps directly opposed to our political, cultural, or even theological viewpoints, who can make similar claims, with equal conviction. And such claims are regarded with equal seriousness by the fellow believers of those making the claims. So even if George Bush is President of the USA, and allegedly, politically the most powerful man on earth, his position as a person of faith has no inalienable superiority or infallibility over any other person of faith, when it comes to making claims about his relationship with God.

I believe it is very important for us as people of faith, to reflect on these questions, when they become matters, not only of public debate, but also when they have such far reaching consequences. These are not just interesting topics for popular radio programmes; they are indeed serious matters for the thinking Christian - because the way we react to such statements about an individual's claimed relationship with God, says a very great deal about what we believe about God, and how we regard our own relationship with God, including our prayer life.

You have often heard me raise questions from this pulpit about people who seemed so sure where they stood with God: like the rich man in his castle and the poor man at his gate - who contrary to what Mrs Alexander wrote in the now expurgated verse in her hymn "All things bright and beautiful" are not part of a divinely ordered dispensation. Or again the smugly pious man of prayer who thanked God that he was not like the poor wretch who wouldn't even raise his eyes to heaven….

Jesus reserved some of his sternest words for those who were sure where they stood with his heavenly Father. Even Jesus himself, on the cross wondered if God had abandoned him at his most needy hour.

Again and again in his parables, Jesus challenges the born again, Bible-believing people of his day - for that is exactly what the Pharisees were - he challenges them to put their faith where they think their security is. And that's the point of the parable in this morning's Gospel: the very people who had every expectation of being invited to that royal wedding, were the ones who spurned the invitation when it came. So the king orders his servants to go out into the highways, and "as many as ye shall find bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the high-ways, and gathered together all, as many as they found," and did you note the next phrase? "both bad and good; and the wedding was furnished with guests." I find that very uncomfortable reading. And perhaps most uncomfortable of all is Jesus' introduction to the parable: The kingdom of heaven is like this….

If that is indeed what the kingdom of heaven is like, then I need to think more carefully what it means to pray: "thy kingdom come; thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven……" And if that's what the kingdom of heaven is like, then I think I'd be a lot more cautious than President Bush appears to be, about claiming that I knew exactly what God wanted me to do in unleashing the catastrophe that the invasion of Iraq has turned out to be.

Cookies used on this website
New EU legislation requires that all web sites clearly specify the presence of cookies and their purpose. Cookies are used to enhance the user experience. StGeorges uses Google Analytics to track activity on its site, helping to keep the site relevant and easier to use, via the use of these cookies . For an enhanced site experience, consumers will need to consent to the use of StGeorges cookies. A preference cookie, that will become available to you when you choose the ‘I agree’ button, will be a long-life cookie that will not automatically clear when you close the browser window. If you manually delete this cookie you will need to re-confirm your preferences every time you next visit this website, unless you choose accept the long life option.