Sermon given by the Rector in Chester Cathedral on Sunday 19th January 2014
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It is a pleasure and a privilege to be here in the Cathedral once again, and to give you, on behalf of the Parish of Chester, our fraternal greetings in Christ.
Those of you who are over twenty can have a little sleep!!
Now hands up any of you who know who these guys are? (Show poster of ONE DIRECTION)
Well they are the boy Band – One Direction – and before I tell you how they relate to today’s Sermon on Christian Unity, let me tell you a little story.
Just before Christmas I said to my daughter Charlotte – Charlotte, Daddy is going to pray for One Direction – Charlotte – Oh Daddy that is nice of you – Me Hmmm yes Charlotte I am going to pray that somebody teaches them to sing – ‘Oh daddy that is so mean!!! – Well actually they aren’t that bad!!
Obligatory joke out of the way – so just what have the pretty boy band One Direction got to do with Christian Unity – well it’s all in the title ‘ONE DIRECTION’
There is but one direction that we are all following and that is to Christ Jesus, as Paul says in the Epistle:
To all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
One Direction, but many routes – today we begin the annual week of prayer for Christian Unity, but might I suggest that we need to do a bit more.
In Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin we are seeing a different approach to the problems we face. The old autocracy of Pius XII and the firm government of Archbishop Fisher is now well and truly behind us and we can all talk – but is talking enough.
As we move into 2014 let us take stock of 2013 and pledge ourselves anew to the Christian faith that we hold so dear.
Christianity has been the bedrock of our National life in one form or another since the days of the early Church, but that bedrock is under threat from both secularism and the growth of Islam.
Unless Christianity stops being frightened of its own shadow and afraid to speak its mind, then we risk being pushed even further to the sidelines. The secular world ignores us and is indifferent, but the world of Islam poses a different problem.
Muslims whatever their sect, are more attuned to their faith than many ‘nominal Christians’ and for that they must be praised – we must learn from them – not of course taking on board all of Sharia which is their moral code and religious law, although there are many points on which we would agree, but their submission to God.
As a Nation we have stopped looking over our shoulder to see if God is watching.
So let us declare 2014 the year in which we will push forward the faith of Christ Crucified; the faith of redemption and hope.
Within this New Year’s message is a warning and a salutary one at that, unless we as Christians start working even more closely and bringing more people through our doors then in 50 years time, it is indeed possible that the predominant religion in this country and parts of Western Europe will be Islam.
And who will be to blame:
Not the Muslims, but ourselves.
We have not stood up for ourselves and have allowed ourselves to be sidelined and this has to stop.
Christian Unity has never been more important than it is today – a unity, not a uniformity, of purpose.
When the secular world sees us arguing amongst ourselves then they take the view that we are not serious about our faith because we cannot agree about it.
When that happens, the question of Women at the Altar, Gay Priests and Gay marriage assume a role that the secular world finds bizarre – when you have one section of the Christian Church saying – women priests, women bishops – no problem – and other part saying – hey this is wrong – it is against our Lord’s view of the sexes!!
Another branch of the Church saying – Gay Marriage fine what’s wrong with it and then the reverse side of the coin.
So the secular world out there scratches its head and says or thinks – for goodness sake they can’t even agree on their own theology.
Don’t get me wrong views on both sides of any argument are sincerely held, but when one part of the Church of Christ can’t or won’t agree with another then the problems start. This has to be clearly understood – no use sweeping it under the carpet
So instead let’s go back to the very basics of our faith and these are enshrined in the Catholic Creeds. On these we are agreed.
Elizabeth I said there is but one Lord Christ, the rest is a disputation over trifles, whilst simplistic carries a real sting.
And that sting is do not get so embroiled in the minutiae of this and that so you lose sight of the goal.
Jesus says in Matthew 11:30 – my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
And why did he say that – because he had swept away all that minutiae of archaic Judaism and replaced with something so simple yet so powerful that it should resonate through every Christian gathering and the passage I am using is from Mark 22 : 29 – 31 – and begins with the Shema that powerful expression of Jewish belief: The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: 30And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. 31And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There are no other commandments greater than these on these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets
We sadly have spent the last two thousand years adding layer upon layer to the minutiae – when what we should be saying to any problem – what would our Lord do.
Well for a start he would talk and he would listen – he did not judge
Indeed although this is a week for declaring Christian Unity it is also a time when we need also to look at talking to working with other faiths yes – like Islam and Judaism as never before to halt the insidious spread of ill informed secularism, that is tearing at the very heart of a well ordered society and placing personal preference and greed above working together as human beings and respecting one another.
So back to ONE DIRECTION to finish and whilst I am still rooted in the Beatles and the Beach Boys there is one song that has a resonance for us all – now don’t expect me to sing it – really – hey if I could sing – I would be applying for the post of Canon Precentor – and yes at times the words are pretty anodyne, but listen –
The Song is One way or another –
One way or another I’m gonna find you I’m gonna get you, get you, get you, get you One way or another I’m gonna win you I’m gonna get you, get you, get you, get you
One way or another I’m gonna see you I’m gonna meet you, meet you, meet you, meet you One day, maybe next week I’m gonna meet you, I’m gonna meet you, I’ll meet you
So whatever our route in the One direction to the Eternal God in Jesus Christ – we are going to find him, we are going to get him around us and through him we will win.
We are going to see God and meet him, face to face.
And I leave you with the opening lyrics of their hits – the Story of my life:
Written in these walls are the stories that I can’t explain I leave my heart open but it stays right here empty for days
Well written in the walls of this great Cathedral and St John’s are indeed stories we cannot explain because they are stories of faith – and we should leave our hearts open to Christ, but unlike the song they wont stay empty for days
So let us be bold and take that one direction together all of us of every shape and shade of Christianity. And declare –
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end. And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified
This is our faith let us proclaim it with pride. Amen Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end. And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified
This is our faith let us proclaim it with pride. Amen