After the referendum

Trinity 5 BCP

8am All Saints 26 June 2016

1 Peter 3. 8-15

Today’s Prayer Book Epistle –from the 1st Letter of St Peter, chapter 3, verses 8-15 was almost certainly written for the weekend after the EU referendum!

After a bruising and divisive campaign – millions of our fellow citizens will be disappointed by the result – and I am writing this homily on Polling day before the result is known.

For whichever side wins – there will be many who will be now be disappointed. This is not a party political point – it’s a simple fact.

And the truth is that whichever way we voted – we in this small island will still need to learn to live together whatever our views, and we will need to try and heal our divisions.

I believe the Church and individual Christians have an important role in a post referendum Britain, and I think our role is beautifully summed up by these verses from the first letter of St Peter.

So perhaps you will forgive me if I simply go through them again – but perhaps allow a slightly more modern translation of the Greek original to amplify the beautiful cadences of the Book of Common prayer.

St Peter starts with these words addressed to the Christian community in our dealings with each other

Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous:

The NRSV pew bibles which we use translates this in another way

Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.

Whichever way you translate it – the message is clear

We are to treat each other – even our opponents – with sympathy, compassion and courtesy. That’s our starting point. And for a Christian, it’s not optional, it’s mandatory. That is what the Lord expects from us and nothing less.

But then St Peter goes on to say something even more important

Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.

This is a complicated sentence – so this is what the NRSV makes of it

Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing.

As Christians we are called to respond to abuse – not with more abuse – but with blessing

We are called to be a blessing to other people

And that applies in all circumstances – when we are debating politics – when we are debating religions – when we are driving a car – when we are cross and tired and coping with our colleagues at work or our family, friends or neighbours at home.

St Peter takes this calling so seriously that he even quotes from the bible at this point – so the next 3 verses are a quotation from Psalm 34

“Those who desire life

    and desire to see good days,

let them keep their tongues from evil

    and their lips from speaking deceit;

let them turn away from evil and do good;

    let them seek peace and pursue it.”

So let us seek peace and pursue it, so that we can bring healing to our divided land and become the Blessing for others that God has called us to be.   Amen.

John de Wit

The priesthood of all believers (2)

I had quite a few interesting conversations with people after last month’s article about the Priesthood of all believers. It seemed that quite a large percentage of people had always assumed a vast divide existed between clergy and laity that was only bridged by ordination. Not only that, there was an assumption that a much lower standard of character and conduct was acceptable for the laypeople who themselves, quite rightly, demanded the very highest standards from the clergy. I’m sorry, but that’s not on, laypeople and clergy are equally ‘priests of the Lord’, and should have the same high standards.

I hope that you agree! Now I will try to answer one of the questions I was asked, which was, “What is it that this ‘royal priesthood’ of clergy and laypeople are ordained to do?” Paul, in Romans 15,  speaks of himself as “Doing the priest-work of the Gospel.” But what is this priest-work?

In the Old Testament the priesthood was a body of people set apart for the service of God’s Sanctuary – to keep the sacred fire on the altar alight; to offer the daily sacrifice; to trim the golden candlestick and to renew the showbread. In a word, their primary duty was the maintenance of God’s worship.

In the Early Christian Church, as we read in the Book of the Acts, the Christian community is seen thinking of itself as “a royal priesthood, offering up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” The Church maintained its priorities in the Breaking of the Bread, the prayers, and the gathering together for worship on the first day of the week. No doubt the Church preached the Word and ministered to the poor, but it saw itself principally as a society for worshipping God through Jesus Christ.

I think we sometimes have to remind ourselves in modern times, of the inseparable connection between priesthood and worship. Today there is a tendency is to make much of moral conduct and philanthropy, and to think that worship isn’t so important. We should be ‘decent’ people; kind to our neighbours and supporters of charities. As for worship, well it just doesn’t seem to appeal to some people. So we have become a nation that is largely non-worshipping – there are so many more appealing things to do with our Sundays!

Humanitarianism cannot take the place of worshipping God – the worship of the creature in place of the Creator – God has first claim on us, and as his priests, it is our appointed duty to “stand in his sanctuary.” It is, I think, obvious that, if the earliest Christians hadn’t seen their gathering together as their primary duty, the Church would have rapidly gone to pieces, and nothing more would ever have been heard of it.

Is the duty of Sunday worship just a mere matter of personal inclination?  What would have happened if the earliest Christians had regarded their priesthood in this way, and had felt no particular obligation to join in when the Church met for worship? Does it matter less now than it did then?

And if we accept and believe in the priesthood of all believers, then we must remember that the priesthood has always had a representative character. In Old Testament days, whether ‘the congregation of the people’ was there or not, the sacrifices were offered; the priests of the Lord kept watch in his sanctuary, and took their appointed place carrying out their priestly duties. Whatever the nation, Israel, did, the priesthood stood before God for them, and made offerings in their name, as their representatives. In the same way our Christian Faith reveals Jesus standing before the Mercy Seat and making his offering for us.

What we have to do is to think of ourselves as forming, collectively, the Church, the priestly body, God’s ministers, in a world which is alienated and estranged from God, as our modern world is becoming more and more – a world too ignorant of spiritual values, too neglectful, too careless, too absorbed in the feverish pursuit of amusement and of money, to offer God the worship which is his due.

God the Creator (Exploring the Nicene Creed)

As we saw in our last article there is Only One God; One Supreme Being who is the Creator – the source and life and power of all that we can see, touch, or feel; of all existence, animate and inanimate; of all life in endless variety and wonder; of a vast Universe with untold billions of galaxies, in which one of the smaller we are set. He is the Eternal God, the beginning and the end, described in the New Testament as “the Alpha & the Omega” (Revelation 1:8 & 22:13 ); the timeless One; yet also Our Father, with whom we have real personal bond, known by faith and sustained by Love; and with whom we are linked forever, in time and for eternity.

In this article we shall first think about the Creation itself, recognising that it has, along with its sheer greatness and grandness, a moral heart. In other words it is made for a purpose, with a good and wonderful plan, and a glorious final end. Creation, though beginning billions of years ago with what scientists call the big bang, is not a pure chance happening. It does not move in totally random, unsure direction with no certain goal. It is, as we know from the innate consistent dependable physical laws that govern it, the result of very definite design and meaning. It is the work, we believe, of a great Creator’s mind; the activity of God himself; who is forever intimately concerned with and caring of its entire life.

Within that plan of course is what we call Evolution. In modern understanding that process of evolution, taking place over many billions of years, far from denying Divine design and creativity, actually demonstrates the amazing genius, the great inventive mind, and unlimited power of God. As we come to faith in God, without which we can make only partial sense of creation and existence, we see that it is Divine Love that has both made all, and sustains all. That is shown all through the Old Testament, and supremely in the New, where in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, we see that Love at its fullest and most wonderful (John 3:16).

The Christian Faith, as do other World Faiths, asserts categorically that the Creation is GOOD.  The Genesis story of Creation states several times boldly and clearly that what God made was indeed both wonderful and good. He meant it to be wholly good, not something shoddy and inferior (Genesis 1:21). God does not deal in the substandard or second best. And God does not, and cannot create anything that can be described as evil or contrary to the good and his great Love. I have always loved the song “What a beautiful world” composed by Bob Thiele & David Weiss, set to music by Louis Armstrong (top of the charts more than once when I was a young curate!). Here are two of its verses:

I see trees of green, red roses too,
I see them bloom for me and you:
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.
I see skies of blue and clouds of white,
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night:
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world
.

The Book of Genesis (began over 3,000 years ago by several authors, and later edited several times) is not a text book of geology, astronomical physics, palaeontology (study of fossils), or any other human or biological science. But it does present, within a framework of the highest religious thought of ancient times, a strong sense of Divine creative genius and power. And it proclaims the moral truth and purpose of Creation for all time. Creation Story is well thought out imaginative legend or myth, made in the only way possible for that era of human knowledge. Some see it as a poem of Creation, and like all good poetry, conveys truth and meaning and the truly beautiful. The Bible contains some of the world’s finest poetry; the Psalms; the Song of Songs; and countless passages elsewhere.

The tendency for some Christians is still to read and interpret sections of Holy Scripture in a largely literal way, failing to see that its particular genre and actual setting in ancient times and cultures must be taken into consideration. Remember that these were pre-scientific eras where myth, story or legend was usually taken as accurate historical fact and objective truth. Biblical understanding and interpretation today must take into account all that the wide fields of modern knowledge, the sciences and prudent literary criticism, have to teach us. Otherwise we do grave injustice to Scripture and fail to understand it properly, learn from it, and use it in the best possible way.

In this series we are thinking about the Nicene Creed, starting with the One Creator God who creates only the Good. So we have to ask what did go wrong in this good creation? There isn’t space here to explore the complex story of how our human species, homo sapiens, evolved over many millennia; and gradually developed a moral sense with awareness of right and wrong. Or, in the long distant past, the origins of human sin and evil, and all that is contrary to goodness and love. Genesis Chapter 3, in a poignant and telling legend, describes what we call The Fall, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, choosing to go their own way rather than his. This falling away from the good and the best in human relationships, first with God, and then with each other, sadly affects us all. The Christian Faith proclaims the Good first, and then how God can indeed rectify our damaged moral state, and does so lovingly, faithfully and ceaselessly. So the next article will be about JESUS, how he and only he, can accomplish our SALVATION.

However, I want to stress again that the goodness of the whole Creation, and the essential goodness of all humanity, despite our many sins and failings, has never been destroyed or totally lost, however much it seems diminished at times. The Creed expresses our core faith that God in goodness and eternal Love never deserts us, but forever seeks to bring us back to himself, and to hold on to us, for all eternity. When we come to the Resurrection of Jesus I shall write something like this: “This central and wonderful truth of faith asserts that all creation is essentially good, for God made it so, and his plan from the beginning to the end, is to affirm its goodness and beauty, constantly restoring and renewing it through Christ. Indeed, all creation, everything around us, everything made and done for the good of humanity, every act of human love and kindness, reveals the life and presence and goodness of God”. (Genesis 1 again; Acts 14:15-17 & 17:24-28; 1 Timothy 4:4; James 1:17).

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forever. Amen. Alleluia!

 A Song or Prayer for Easter Day or at other times

God, good Creator, please accept my praises:
Offered, dear Father, on this happy morning:
Death now defeated, life unending granted, heaven now wide open.

George Abell

Disaster

In hardship people seem to struggle and I’m not sure we get it right. Here’s an attempt to tackle the subject which is bigger than a small article, but runs on the lines an old friend helped me with years ago.

When devastating events occur in our lives how do we respond? How do we develop our attitude to the pruning-hook a heavenly Father takes to our life?

  • Consider the Lord Jesus, ‘who for the joy that was set before him endured (literally ‘stayed under’) the cross…’ (Heb 12:2)
  • Consider the apostolic command to:
Rejoice Rom 15:10
Rejoice at all times 1Thess 5:16
Rejoice always Phil 4:4
Rejoice when ostracized and hated Luke 6:22 & 23
Rejoice in being brought low James 1:9 & 10
Rejoice in constraints Rom 5:3
  • Or the examples of
Rejoicing in institutional persecution Acts 5:41
Rejoicing in being misunderstood 2 Cor 6:10

 

Is there a way to reconcile the ruin of a career, thwarting of ambition, disappointment of hope, the loss of relationship, the devastation of family, or the destruction of home with this New Testament focus on joy and rejoicing which are, after all, commands?

At the last supper (John 15) the Lord Jesus called his disciples branches of himself. He said that any branch bearing fruit would be cut off by the divine gardener in that very area of fruitfulness and his purpose would be for the branch to bear more fruit in the future. Herein is the core of the rejoicing that is necessary.

Every son that is received is chastised, Heb 12:6 ff. Indeed if we have not known divine chastisement then in this same passage, Heb 12:8, it is made clear, we’ve not been begotten of a heavenly father.

Therefore we should rejoice in tribulation, Rom 5:3, at all times, always.

Colin Slater

Editor’s note: Colin has opened a discussion in an important area. If you have any comments please feel free to make a contribution in the magazine.