Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sunday 26 October 2008 - Love & the Great Commandment

The text for this sermon is Matthew 22:34-46


In 2005, Channel 4 decided that it was going to conduct a nationwide poll among the British people to come up with a new set of Ten Commandments. The thinking was that the original ten commandments are somewhat out of date and that a new set might be more relevant for the 21st century. If Christianity (and Judaism) is no longer considered relevant by enlightened, modern people, what sort of moral code doe the British public feel speaks to our lives in post-Christian Britain?

Interestingly, the British public came up with 20 new commandments. And if you're ever tempted to accuse preachers of being long-winded, do try to remember the fact that it was the general public who felt that ten commandments weren't enough.)

Here are the 'new' commandments which speak to the British public over and above the outmoded moral requirements of Christianity:
1) Treat others as you would have them treat you.
2) Be honest
3) Don't kill
4) Look after the vulnerable
5) Respect your mother and father
6) Enjoy life
7) Nothing in excess
8) Be true to your own God
9) Be true to yourself
10) Protect your family
11) Look after your health
12) Try your best at all times
13) Don't commit adultery
14) Live within your means
15) Appreciate what you have
16) Never be violent
17) Protect the environment
18) Protect and nurture children
19) Take responsibility for your own actions
20) Don't steal

Love is the Commandment

In today's Gospel reading, Jesus answers the Pharisees' question 'What is the Greatest Commandment' with the formula from Deuteronomy: Love God with all your heart and soul and mind and love your neighbour as yourself. These two commandments - often called The Great Commandment - are at the very core of the Christian faith and they are at the core of our value system.

I also find it interesting that these two commandments seem to appear in our new, secular commandments - the ones that the public claims actually have relevance to our daily life here and now.

And I find it extremely interesting that 'treat others as you would have them treat you' was thought to be the number one 'new commandment' by the British public.
In some form or another, most of the world's major religions mention this principle - The Golden Rule - as being central to their beliefs. Many forms of paganism, for example, believe that the good you do to others will return to you in like measure but that if you do evil to another human being, seven times the evil you have done to them will come back to you.

A Christian friend of mine once remarked that she liked this pagan principle because it underlines the seriousness of treating other people as you would have them treat you.

I understand what she meant, but I can't help but notice that the Great Commandment doesn't call us to treat our neighbour well because if we don't God will zap us with seven times our own bad behaviour (God forbid!)

Rather the Great Commandments calls us to treat our neighbour well because of Love.

And it suggests to us that there is some kind of important connection between our love for God and his love for us on the one hand and our love for other people on the other hand.

God is Love

Christians believe that love is a force that looks outwards, outside of oneself to the good of the other.

The first of the Great Commandments is to love God with everything that you are: with the centre of your willing and your choosing. This is an invitation to look outside our selves and to focus on the God who loves us and to align ourselves with that love.

But the invitation to love God also comes with the invitation to love other people, to look outside our own interests and even outside the interests of our immediate family and to also take an interest in the needs and well-being of other human beings: People in our community, in other parts of the country and even in other lands.

Created to Love

The Christian author and psychologist M Scott Peck tells a story about one of his clients who felt isolated and cut off from the rest of society.

One day he took her with him to a hospital and asked her to visit with a number of people. (He gave her the excuse that he had to confer with a colleague but, in fact, he had arranged for her to do the visits.) His client visited with these people, who had all been in hospital long-term with serious physical illnesses, and they were very glad of the company. When the visiting finished, he asked his client how she felt and she replied: 'You know, I feel better than I've felt in ages. I don't feel so isolated and I realise that there are other people with problems that are much worse than mine.'

Now, please don't take this as a simplistic 'cure' for depression on my part. My point is simply that I expect that many of us will recognise the truth in that story: that there is a great deal of human satisfaction in looking outside ourselves to the needs of others.

As a Christian, I would say - along with M Scott Peck - that the reason is because God created us this way. We were created to look outside ourselves, to love God and to love our neighbour.


But the wonderful thing about the Great Commandments is that God is at the centre of it all and God is love.

We don't have to worry that every time we miss the mark and fail to do what is right that God or the Universe will return evil to us seven times over. Because at the centre of life, the universe and everything is love. An intentional force that is trying to work all things together for good: God.

My prayer for us this morning is that we may each be strengthened by the love of God and that we may receive more and more of God's love in order to give more and more love to others.

Because at the end of the day and at the end of our lives, what matters most is that we are loved by God and that we love others in return. Amen

Sunday 10 October 2008 - Persecuted Church

The text for this sermon is Luke 12:1-12


This week's edition of The Church Times carries an article about the persecution of Christians in Orissa State in India. The Church Times is one of the weekly papers published for the benefit of members of The Church of England: it's their Methodist Recorder, if you will.

The persecution began this past August when Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati was murdered along with four of his associates. Swami Laxmanananda was a leader in the VHP, a Hindu organisation that believes that the Christian and Muslim world are both dedicated to the persecution of Hindus.

The thing is that the Swami wasn't murdered by Christians. A Maoist group has twice taken credit for the Swami's murder and defended it's actions They stated that the reason for the murder was that 'Laxmanananda was not fighting for Hindus. He was heading the VHP and implementing an agenda targeted against the minorities. No one speaks for minorities. They are exploited.'[1]

The article in The Church Times tells of horrific violence against Christians in Orissa, describing the situation as 'The sort of horror that dulls the senses or excites overstimulation'. Witness in refugee camps had horrible stories to tell. At least 50,000 Christians have been forced out of their homes and a number have suffered torturous deaths.

What has happened in this area, according to those familiar with the situation, has been a long propaganda campaign against Christians and Muslims that seemed to me to be quite similar to Hitler's propaganda against the Jews. The VHP's message that Christians (and Muslims) are dedicated to the eradication of the Hindu people has been taken on board by many individuals in the area.

The Importance of Truth

This morning's Gospel reading is actually all about the persecution of the early Christian Church although it might not sound like it at first hearing.

Remember that Luke was writing after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple by the Romans and the knowledge of these events must have inevitably have had an effect on the way he told the story of Jesus' life. In this section of Luke's Gospel, Jesus is warning his disciples about the coming persecution of his followers - something about which Luke had firsthand knowledge.

The reading is an exhortation to Christian disciples to be bold in proclaiming the truth of Christ when persecution comes and to draw on the strength and the witness of the Holy Spirit for their boldness.

Truth is something that is important for good functioning of human society and it's absolutely vital in the life of the Church.

Luke 12:3 says 'Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops'

Or in simple language, 'The Truth will Out'. If you plot evil in secret, eventually there will be an evil outcome. If you do good in secret, blessings will result even if no one knows who was the source of the initial good deeds.

As Christians, of course, it's easy for us to sympathise with our Christian brothers and sisters in Orissa.

It's easy for us to see in the VHP an example of how an organisation with good intentions turned to evil. Because the VHP arose out of a Hindu movement in the 1950s and 1960s to ban cow slaughter in India and speak up for the Hindu people and for Hindu culture. For a number of decades, it engaged in it's work through peaceful demonstration, petitions and challenging laws it felt to be unjust.
And it opened schools and hospitals for poor Hindus.

But over the years, it became more and more radical and it developed the conviction that international Islam and international Christianity were out to destroy Indian Hindus. And it spread this message of conspiracy until it was unsurprising that violence would erupt in the countryside.

The truth is important and so with the story of Christians in Orissa. Because the mainstream Hindu organisations have been joining with the Christian Church in India to condemn the violence against Christians. But many ordinary Hindus have gone further than mere condemnation: risking their own lives in order to protect Christian neighbours.

We can see that the truth is a complicated business but that's why it's important to tell the truth.

It's even more important in situations where we are tempted to turn some group or another into a scapegoat. When the truth of a situation is not told, then it becomes easier to scap-goat individuals according to some category: all Hindus are evil, all Muslims are evil, all teenagers are thugs, all men are bastards. Whenever we hear these kinds of simplistic statements, the alarm bells should ring and we should suspect that the whole truth of the situation is not being told.

Be True To Your Faith

This morning's Gospel reading tells us that, in the face of persecution, disciples of Christ are not to be hypocrites. In this case, 'hypocrites' doesn't mean people pretending to be better than they are: it means people who don't stand up for what they say they believe.

In the context of the Gospel reading, it means not admitting to being Christians because of fear of persecution. In our own context, it might mean being afraid to admit that we are Christians, but it can also include failing to seek a more complicated truth than one of 'baddies' and 'goodies'.

For us hypocrisy might mean not speaking up to challenge the current mood of anti-Muslim sentiment. Speaking up against anti-Islamic sentiment doesn't mean that we affirm and profess the tenets of the Muslim religion. It simply means speaking the truth that the situation is much more complicated that than a simple story of 'we are good and they are bad'. It is not Muslims who are terrorists, but terrorists who who are hiding behind the name of God to further their own ends.

Of course, acting in truth or speaking up for the truth can be dangerous. Jesus knew that. That's why he promised the Holy Spirit to us as his disciples: to help us to do what is right, even in the face of danger or persecution.

That includes, of course, speaking up for the truth of the Gospel and of the Christian faith. But I believe it certainly also includes speaking the truth in all situations and unmasking any lies told in secret.


It's possible that this sermon was not as 'spiritual' as you would have liked.
I wonder if some of you might even have thought it was too 'political'.

However, today's Gospel reading does talk about standing up for truth in the face of persecution. It reminds us that when we do have the courage to defend the truth, that the Holy Spirit will be with us.

When we hear Jesus say that he is the way, the truth and the life, I believe this statement means that Jesus is the Truth. But I also believe it means that God cares deeply that the truth is told.

Sometimes our faith is not just about what we call 'spiritual' things, but it must also be about what we do: About having the courage to speak the truth on the one hand but also about putting in the work to seek the truth in complicated situations. We should not settle for answers that are easy but rather seek for answers that reflect the truth of the situation.

My prayer this morning is that we will all witness to the truth of Christ as our Saviour and also speak the truth in all situations, even when it is dangerous and unpopular.

And may we each be given the guidance and the power of the Holy Spirit as we seek to be beacons of the light of truth. Amen

[1], Accessed 11 October 2008.


I haven't posted any sermons for awhile as it became too onerous.  Rather than try to catch up from the summer, I'm just going to resume from this point on.