|4:45pm||Sunday Organ Recital - Jean-Luc Thellin|
Sermon preached on the Second Sunday after Trinity (14 June 2015) by the Reverend Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor
The Reverend Canon Michael Hampel looks at the Church and the State and says: "God is Lord of all creation – not just of the religious people."
Deuteronomy 10: 12 – 11: 1 Acts 23: 12-35
In this morning’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the secular state safeguards the future of Paul and thereby of one of the principal building blocks of the early Christian Church.
It’s interesting to note just how often the secular state has come to the rescue of the Christian Gospel when the Church has not been its best champion.
Think of theories about the earth being flat, the abolition of slavery, the emancipation of women, race equality, women in leadership, and gay rights and the Church has a chequered history – not so much because it was necessarily ‘on the wrong side’ on any of those campaigning issues but because it took far too long to fall in line with the state on them.
And that, I suppose, is part of the problem. We don’t like to be told what to do by such heathen people as politicians but also we are often afraid of being seen to follow the secular state rather than lead it.
And, yes, we take a long time because we’re nice people who want to try and carry everyone with us and not upset the apple cart – which means that, even where we want to lead, we often find ourselves in a game of catch up long after the Government has passed the necessary legislation and the world has moved on, leaving us often looking saggy and a but loose at the seams.
At a question and answer session with a group of teenagers here recently, a student asked me whether I thought that the Church often adapted its teaching to secular society and I had to be honest and say that, yes, I did think that but I also added that it was a relief to me that it did so because, otherwise, we might find ourselves little more than a re-enactment society for some inglorious past era.
And many people think we are anyway!
It would be easy – and perhaps blithe – of me to say that I wish we could lead the way on changes to the ordering of society such that we were the champions of the sort of equality before God which the Christian Gospel espouses rather than the laggers behind in the race which we always seem to be but I know that we, as a Christian community, must take our time and try not to lose any of the sheep in the fold as we seek God’s truth and his righteousness.
However, I also think we should be less separatist about what it means to be the Church over here as opposed to the State over there.
In our readings today, not only does the State rescue Paul but we are also reminded in our first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy that the earth with all that is in it belong to the Lord our God. In other words, God is Lord of all creation – not just of the religious people and the buildings they occupy. After all, if it were the other way round, the Lord of all creation wouldn’t get much of a look in here in England.
The State is as much part of God’s creation as the Church of England and it may just be that the all mighty and all powerful God whose Spirit breathes new life into his creation in each and every generation is active in the corridors of power even as we speak and even as we shut the church door and get on with our worship.
Another of our students the other day asked me whether there was any dilemma that God was not powerful enough to resolve. And I was reminded of Bishop David Jenkins’s great line that we may not be up to it but God is certainly down to it – and I have a rather delightful but perhaps also mischievous view that, while I’m sure that God approves of the Church’s cautious, not to mention very slow, approach to Gospel change, he probably does – more often than not – leave us to our debates and goes off to breathe the wind of change through the corridors of power so that the world gets a little closer to his plans and purposes for us through the State, while the Church plays catch up.
After all, if he’d left it to his ancient people the Jews to sort things out for him, Paul would have been silenced long before he’d written the majority of his letters to the Church. It was the State that saved the day.
Let us pray:
Behold, O Lord God, our strivings after a truer and more abiding order. Give us visions that bring back a lost glory to the earth, and dreams that foreshadow the better order which you have prepared for us. Scatter every excuse of frailty and unworthiness: consecrate us all with a heavenly mission: open to us a clearer prospect of our work. Give us strength according to our day gladly to welcome and gratefully to fulfil it; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, evermore. Amen.