This morning's thought-provoking-but-not-too-much-for-8 a.m. secular sermon.
I’m not sure I’d want to hear a sermon from a spitting vicar, but we can certainly learn something from one.
The reverend Dr Tom Ambrose was sacked yesterday by his bishop for being "arrogant, aggressive, rude, bullying, high-handed, disorganised and at times petty”, as a Church of England tribunal put it. Twice, he even spat at parishioners.
You might expect that, as an atheist, I might rub my hands over this clerical outrage. But actually, I think it perfectly illustrates an important point that Jesus frequently made.
Jesus was critical of the Pharisees and Sadducees, the priests and bishops of his time. The very people who were officially the greatest authorities on religion were actually often its worst representatives.
It’s one of the most repeated teachings of Jesus, yet I’m not sure believers today always take it to heart. We still seem shocked to hear stories such as that of Tom Ambrose, or the Reverend David King, a married man who lost his appeal last month against a ban from being a vicar, after he had an affair with a married parishioner. But surely Christians should know better than anyone else that just because someone is a member – even captain - of the right religious team, that doesn’t mean they always play fairer than the opposition.
Likewise, the parable of the good Samaritan taught that people with different beliefs can behave better than those with what we think are the “right” ones.
So, paradoxically, adulterous and abusive vicars actually remind us of something that Jesus got right: it’s not just that we should have respect for those who believe different things to ourselves, we should also not give automatic respect to those with whom we agree.