Sermons preached by the Rev Susan:
(Scroll down the page to read the relevant sermon)
1 March 2020
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” ’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written,
“One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
“He will command his angels concerning you”,
and “On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’
Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
“Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.” ’
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Jesus was baptised, showing his solidarity as a human being with the rest of the people responding to John’s call to repentance, that word which conveys a turning round.
What was Jesus turning round from? A Christian, believing that Jesus is equally man and equally God, cannot entertain the thought that Jesus was turning from sin.
So I think in Jesus’ baptism action he was not needing to be turning from, but he was turning to God.
For 30 years he had lived a quiet but probably quite fulfilled life as a normal human being, part of a respected family, in a small village, with loving parents, brothers and sisters to play with, run with, learn with; and help; part of a wider family including some Holy people like his aunt and uncle Zechariah and Elizabeth who gave them all a significant link to central Temple worship. They were not well off but they had food and clothes and a place in the community, they had work, a livelihood, they were part of things. Synagogue was a source of inspiration and strength and friendship and teaching, a place of prayer and praise. Festivals were celebrated by a community pilgrimage to the city. It was all good.
And then suddenly, turning thirty it seems as if Jesus had one of those big birthdays, where you can’t help but take stock: What was he doing? What had he done? What else was there for him?
I wonder if you ask that, on a birthday, at New Year, when something changes in your life... or even use Lent to think through those questions?
What am I doing?
What is important?
What else is there for me?
And you can guarantee as a follower of Christ, there will always be something new for you, not matter your age or even limitations, for we are a body of people needing each other.
So, at the time when Jesus turned 30, perhaps even on this significant day, Jesus wandered out to be alone for an hour or two, as was his practice. Jesus heard the voice of God, the call of God through none other than his own cousin John the Baptist, the wilderness prophet of God. “Repent, and be baptised” was John’s call to everyone.
"Turn around," God said that day to Jesus," turn this way.” And suddenly Jesus knew that was God’s voice into his own life. Turn around, come away now from your domestic life, your home, your family, and turn to Me for direction and purpose.
So, Jesus was baptised. And having been obedient to this first call, as he came out of the water, he saw heaven open, and there was the Spirit of God resting on him, like brightness and feathers. And he heard the voice: "this is my Son! whom I love"
And everything made sense. Or at least he knew he’d done the right thing. And then, as Jesus dried himself with a cloth, and watched others around him smiling and clapping each other on the back, and walking off in twos and threes . . .there was the strongest pull to carry on with that walk he’d started earlier that day, as if that bird of heaven flew just in front and headed further into the desert.
"This is my Son, whom I love."
Jesus could not get enough of those words, they filled his soul with warmth and laughter, with unspeakable joy.
And once he’d been there in the desert overnight, he knew this was for a while. And the initial rush of sheer joy, at piecing together something of who he was, the huge surge of contentment, as when a brother or his mother looked at him in love, settled deep within him and he walked and walked, and walked, and sat, and turned over and over in his mind . . . 'so, what now?'
He would have been hugely aware of his physical needs, away from the comforts of home. How hungry did he get before it became clear that food was actually not the important thing just now? And thirst was quenched by just enough of a small hidden spring, or layer of dew. And a routine of savouring the beautiful cool of dawn and early morning, turning over questions and thoughts, and impressions, before the heat of the sun allowed him to sit and look and think and go over this last year…. and then pondering on this decade since the last big birthday . . . then the time since his bar mitzvah, . . . and then recalling those stories Mary had quietly told, of the strange events of his birth, and the visitors, a bright star, angelic dreams, his father’s sense of what needed to happen and getting on with it.
Just occasionally a terrible day, where clouds hung over the cliffs where Jesus woke, and a dark, dark, almost physical force around and over him put strange hypnotic scenarios into his head, and he couldn’t shift them . . .
“You are really, really hungry,” said a penetrating voice on the first time it happened, “you are dangerously short of nourishment, you are the Son of God, you don’t want to pack that all up and make yourself sick. Quick, this is really important, you have the power of the all-powerful One, turn these stones into bread, eat, eat and be satisfied and strong and powerful again . . .”
And just at the point of wanting to shout to drown out the voice, a small well of silence rose inside him and Jesus understood. He was living through the wilderness, like Moses had. That desert place was the schooling for Moses and the people, a schooling, a difficult discipline of waiting on God, and listening . . .
This was not the time for eating, but for focusing on much, much more important things, the very words of God, his Father, to him:
"Man shall not live by bread alone…."
And as Jesus drew back from that very tempting thought of finding bread before him, and schooled his body and its needs back under the rationale for doing this, for coming closer to his Father God, he perhaps walked on. And as he walked Jesus was starting to understand that the way ahead of him would not be a settled traditional Rabbi role, with all the comforts of the locality around him, and a domestic base. He would need to follow where this bird of the Spirit flew, he would be, like Abraham and like Moses before him, someone who walked the region, not waiting for people to come to him, but he would go to them to bring them the bread of life.
The second time Jesus found himself under this oppressive cloud, one day when the sun had disappeared under a cloud itself and a wind whipped up in the wilderness and threw sand at his feet and in his eyes. And as he sheltered in the lee of a rocky outcrop and rubbed his eyes he saw through the dust. The distant city of Jerusalem, and could just make out the pinnacle of the Temple. And in his mind’s eye came the notion of himself, standing on it, lifting his hands to God before all the people below him, making their way to evening sacrifice.
“He will command his angels concerning you”,
and “On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”
"If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down;"
Jesus’ mind reels, he feels dizzy and disorientated, he is the Son of God. There are legions of angels at his beck and call, . . . the people of Moses were always demanding a sign . . . what greater sign to begin his ministry than to show the people the hold God has on him? He leans back on the rock behind him, and smiles,
And with a howl of the wind a bird is blown in to rest itself on the rock, Jesus rubs his eyes, the dust swirls and obscures the city, he looks at his own dirty feet and the bird on the rock and recalls the psalm that has blown in to his mind..
1 You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
2 will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.’
3 For he will deliver you
5 You will not fear the terror of the night,
. . .
or the destruction that wastes at noonday.
9 Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
the Most High your dwelling-place,
10 no evil shall befall you,
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
14 Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will be with them in trouble,
And Jesus knows he must rest, in this noonday heat and storm. Rest physically and rest on God, his refuge, the Son of God still needs the refuge of God the Father, his rock.
“Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” - he shouts to the wind and the eerie light, and he sits down, his head against the rock behind. God will guard him through the slow and difficult ways ahead, God will guard him through all his ways. Jesus sleeps.
As he wakes, the increasing knowledge of the path ahead for him, of not taking advantage of the power of God for him, becomes clearer. He is a human being, and he must walk as people do, and be accompanied by God through it all, dark and light.
Towards the end of this six-week time in the wilderness, Jesus has become used to the privations of not eating, it isn’t mostly an issue, and there is so much in the quiet and the solitude, so much to see and hear and recall. Working his way through the Psalms in his mind, reciting them one by one, Jesus has gradually been climbing. He has come to one of 'the mountains of God’ and he’s been reminded again of Moses and his forebears. Jesus climbs this mountain. Slowly and steadily over days, he works his way up: was this the actual path that Moses took? Until, rounding a corner, at dusk, below him are the foothills and suddenly, the whole plain spread out. Jesus stops, and sits down. Wow! He could imagine the whole People of God camped below and Moses, like himself, nearing the top of the mountain, and that cloud that hid the splendour of God. Though now, there are not tents spread across the plain, there are visible towns and villages, occasional puffs of dust where someone leads a flock of sheep, the sun sending its last soft rays onto polished stone.
How beautiful! How many people there are down there, just going about their evening business. All these people to go and tell of the love of the Father.
A sudden sharp pain across his head . . . and ringing in his ears! - that voice again, that strong and compelling voice.
“All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Jesus is exhausted now, - what a time he has had, starting to understand the way forward, getting hold of this way of unremitting discipline, hearing the truth of the slow and steady journeying ahead, a turning from Nazareth and even Galilee.
He is vulnerable and bewildered, how would it ever be possible to reach each one of these people? And what of the towns and cities he cannot see? What of all those beyond the waters of the distant sea?
But neither has he come this far not to realise he is the Son, just one of Three, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and three together are one in strength, and in love. This journey ahead of him has no short-cuts to love, and nothing in it must speak of domination. Jesus discovers again, that still small voice... and with an energy, built suddenly of anger, Jesus stands and shouts to all the plains:
"Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
'Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’ "
'Get you behind me Satan!’- the Kingdom of the love of God is come, and it doesn’t work in any of those ways.
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
And God said, ‘Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.’ And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so. God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
And God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.’ So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’ And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.’ And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’
So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
2 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
What an amazing set of readings today that lead us through what we call The Grand Narrative of the Bible. Please don’t ever think that because we split the Bible into what we call the Old Testament and the New Testament that it is only the New that is relevant, that would be to miss all the great riches of the Old Testament and be like starting a novel half-way through.
Today we are focusing on the natural world, or in Christian terms, the created world, for it is the Christian understanding that the source of all of the natural world is God. God is creator, the Bible makes it very clear, both in Genesis 1 which we heard today and elsewhere.
Isa 40:28 Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth.
There are various ways of approaching creation as a Christian believer. We can take Genesis 1 as the literal account of how it happened. And if God is God there is no reason why it cannot have happened like this.
But science, which is not God but is an important source of information, has come to the conclusion that matter evolved over aeons of time.
This does not prevent us from believing, as Christians, that God is the Creator. So, another approach is to understand God as the energy behind matter and the organising principle forming matter. And this, of course, could be over many, many aeons.
From what we know about God’s dealings through the Bible, we see that God is not time-oriented, on the whole, time is the one factor that is not God’s motivation. Instead slow, gradual working is often God’s way, because then depth and complexity are honoured.
So why does the Bible give us the creation story as it is?
We need to look at each book of the Bible in terms of its genre. What sort of literature is it? So, I Kings is narrative, it tells a story, Psalms are worship material, prayers and songs, Isaiah is prophecy, telling the purposes and the heart of God for humanity; Revelation is apocalyptic literature, looking at the end times and what is to come using imagery and symbols.
Genesis is also narrative. It tells the story of the very early patriarchs of faith. It tells how way, way, way back in the day, literally in the mists of time, God acted and God spoke. It wasn’t written at that time, but much, much later. Perhaps in the time of Moses. And like all the Bible, Christians believe, as 2 Tim 3:16 suggests: All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true.
God inspired the various writers who have contributed to the Bible.
So, the beginnings of the world in Genesis are an origin story, a story given to the writer of the beginning of Genesis by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God. And unsurprisingly, because this writer was a person of their time, it bears some likenesses to other early origin stories of the day, as well as clearly providing within the detail, some strong principles that are different.
Before we dive into Genesis 1, our first question must be:
What sort of God is our God? And our Psalm of the day give us the answer many times over: Psalm 136 - his mercy endures for ever;
God is always full of mercy, gracious, wise and powerful. That is, the kind of place God is coming from as Creator. God is fundamentally benevolent.
Our second question:
What is the relationship of God to created matter?
Gen 1:2 And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters
God is present; we could say God is fundamentally interested, hovering over the potential.
Gen 1:3 Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.
God said, ...and there was...God is able to command and it is done.
Later with Col 1:15 & 16 we are given a clue that this is a Trinitarian venture, God the source speaks and God the Son creates: Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—
God the Father spoke, God the Son created with God the Holy Spirit who hovers over matter to bring it into being.
Gen 1:4 And God saw that the light was good. God’s relationship to matter is one of delight. God loves matter. Let’s hear that, deep inside ourselves. Matter is good, matter is where God is at, let us not think that the holy and the spiritual are somehow more important than matter.
Then God was thoughtful, logical...what needs to come first... ? 3 Let there be Light, - light is visible seeing, and light is enlightenment... the first thing we always need is perspective, and vision. God has the ultimate perspective.
3 and organising... separating. Chaos, is unhelpful, and dark, we know that too, I think. Let there be light in this situation, perspective, and vision.
We’ve got to v3 and we see that God’s relationship to created matter is interested, able, thoughtful, delighting, with perspective, and ... 5 God creates rhythm and there was evening and there was morning… Different conditions for different things, the pause and drawing in of the night, after the brightness of the day. And a little later in the account, the years, and the seasons and the stars to mark them.
In fact, the creation story is less about the days, specifically, and more about order. Seven is of course a complete number, used in Jewish writing, to indicate perfection.
God orders matter, God creates the environment, the structure of earth: the sky, the sea, the land. And then God fills it, with all the variety and diversity of plants, fish, birds, animals, insects.
Then, finally, and we have to be very careful how we describe this.... Gen 1:26. Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.
God has created a myriad of living things, a fantastic array, a beautiful variety . . . but something is lacking, that godlike capacity that is really indescribable, except to see it in the difference between a human being and a giraffe, let’s say. A giraffe has a body, senses, instincts for food, water, shelter, company . . . there seems to be evidence that animals enjoy and play, even that they take decisions and act accordingly. Some of you will have heard us bemoan the intelligence of ‘Whisky’, our dog, who can work out far too much... and dogs and other animals can seem to have a degree of empathy, a huge amount of what we call loyalty . . . all those sort of things, but human beings still have more. They are more developed, highly capable, highly rational, highly emotional, and with a very strong sense of justice, of what is right and wrong, and the ability to feel guilt when injustice prevails. They are conscionable.
And because of that, God gives particular responsibility . . .
28-29 God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.
And unfortunately, that one word dominion has completely soured our relationship with the rest of creation. It has been read as domination, and has built us up to be fighting, competitive people, using all natural resources for our own benefit.
Humankind is often seen as the pinnacle of creation, because we came last and are made ‘in the image of God’ but it is absolutely clear that we are not the only important part of matter,
And then God rests, and once again we have a vision of God’s rhythm: action, creation, delight, provision and rest. And perhaps our lack of rest is key . . . because when we rest, and enjoy, and become just one part of this glorious wonder that is nature, then we regain perspective.
The natural world is really important. It is the environment in which we are provided for and where we can thrive. But God delights in the sky and the land and the sea and trees and grass and plants and animals of all kinds. These are really important in their own right.
In most of the prophetic books of the Bible, God speaks through the prophets to the people of God, but in Ezekiel ch 36 the prophet speaks to the mountains, the hills, the watercourses, the valleys and the areas laid desolate. And promises them restoration and new life. Because, as the epistle reading today from Paul’s letter to the Romans, tells us:
the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; the creation waits with eager longing; the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
From the beginning, all matter is in relationship with fellow matter, and with God. We are all created from the dust of the ground, the same molecules that make up the rest of matter. In God’s purposes and vision, our soul and body will be reunited in our resurrection body and we are promised a new heaven and a new earth. Free from decay. Interestingly, our relationship with the natural world that we are in, doesn’t stop, it continues.
And isn’t it interesting what Jesus says, in the light of the other two passages of scripture?
Matthew 6: 25 do not worry about your life,
How much of our treatment of the earth is related to fear? ... that we won’t have enough, that we won’t be the best, the most beautiful, with the ultimate comforts . . . because we should be at the top of the chain....
No, Jesus says: Matt 6:26 Look at the birds of the air; Consider the lilies of the field..
Be humble, learn from the rest of creation, take your hob-nailed boots off and the attitude that goes with them . . . and walk barefoot . . .
if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry,..... your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, his fairness..
and all these things will be given to you as well.
So perhaps we should be marking the Anglican fifth mark of mission.
To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
We’re not all skilled in horticulture, we don’t all have the environment as our greatest interest, we all have different callings, and we respect our differences, but now, in the current world climate, we must all understand and have good and helpful attitudes to our relationship with the rest of creation, and support those who are particularly skilled.
Perhaps we should all be eco-churches with green wildlife friendly churchyards?
Perhaps we should all be supporting A Rocha a Christian ‘Green’ charity working across the world, who assist churches to become green churches.
Definitely we must take in that we are in relationship with the rest of the created natural world. And start to mull on how we might help that relationship to blossom?
But above all: be humble about creation.
Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.
But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sistersbeloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. For this purpose, he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.
‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
I heard an interview recently with a woman whose story has been made into a film. Of the incident that inspired the film they said, “Would you do it again . . . knowing what you know now?”
“Yes," she said, "yes, I would."
Because she knew that she had done what was right.
A couple of weeks ago, Philip and I went to see that Film. It is Official Secrets, and it’s based on the true case of , a translator working for the British security services at the GCHQ surveillance unit in Cheltenham.
In 2003, in the course of an ordinary week at work, Katharine was astonished to receive an email making it plain she was expected to find out incriminating personal details in the lives of UN representatives from small countries so that they could be blackmailed into voting for the war in Iraq.
Gun, in her work, was bound by the Official Secrets Act, the breaking of which would be a prison sentence, a criminal record and the unlikelihood of her ever having a satisfying job again.
However, the march against The Iraq war had just taken place, the largest march of demonstration ever in Britain. And Gun is appalled at the Prime Minister’s determination to take Britain into this war, despite so much public opinion against it, and even more aghast that this is clearly being done in underhand ways.
She has a terrible choice. If she leaks this document, there is a chance that war may be averted . . . Katharine is not a powerful person, she is an ordinary citizen doing a job that she fell into. And now in that job she is being asked to do something that she knows is wrong. If she does what is right, she will be seriously penalised.
She takes all her courage into her hands; she leaks the document.
I found this a really powerful film, because it is true. Katharine has the courage and the personal integrity to do what is right, just because it is right.
The apostle Paul asks us to work out our own salvation. Our Epistle reading reminds us:
So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.
We are to find the path that Jesus calls us onto, and to follow that. To do what is right. Integrity matters, and courage matters, especially for us as Christian people.
I wonder, however, if these days the shortest poem by W H Auden is more apt than ever? In October 1953, Auden wrote on a WW tombstone:
Epitaph for the Unknown Soldier
To save your world you asked this man to die;
Would this man, could he see you now, ask why?
For courage seems to have slipped off our radar these days, sliding on the mud of relativism.
Do we think of courage as something that is reserved only for times of national crisis ?
It strikes me that each day we need to be aware of moments in which we might show courage. It is at the heart of who we are as Christian people. In particular, the courage to have integrity, the courage to go the extra mile, the courage to do the right thing, however small that might be, however difficult that might be, and even if no-one is looking.
Like Katharine Gun doing what is right at work.
For every time that happens, the light of God is brighter in our world, and we have followed the most courageous human being, Jesus Christ.
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.