The gospel reading we have just heard is extremely haunting. It is also highly relevant in the context of our times, despite being possibly an ‘end times’ narrative.
It is relevant because 2016 has been a shocking year. It has in many ways been an awful year. Just think of Syria, and way people are suffering there. Just think of Mosul. Just think of the vitriol in the U.K. referendum and U.S. election campaigns and, you will see that hatred is alive and present in our public debates. Such hatred and vitriol has divided families and friendship groups; that is what hatred and violence does. Division is hatred’s aspiration.
Of course wars and insurrections were characteristic of much of twentieth century history, and it is absolutely right that we will be remembering those who gave their lives for the causes of freedom and, justice at the War Memorial later this morning.
So when the world seems so fractious and violent what should our Christian response be? I think that this is one of the questions that today’s Gospel reading is asking of us. Put another way, what is our Christian language, for I would like to suggest that Christianity has its own distinctive language. The reading with its insistence that the Holy Spirit will give us both ‘words,’ and ‘wisdom,’ hints at this.
When the world seems, and is, hostile I would like to suggest that the only authentic Christian response is to speak of love, justice, mercy, reconciliation, peace, forgiveness, hospitality, charity and good neighbourliness. This is our language, these are our words. Those who claim to be religious but do not use these words are in fact religiously illiterate.
But, here is the sting in the tail. These are not just technical words. You can’t learn and use these words as though you were studying a foreign language. These are not words that make the journey from the head to the lips; they are words that must make the journey from the heart to the lips. These are words that require commitment, they are words that need to be lived. They are words that need to be formed inside us by our faith in the person of Jesus Christ and by our willingness to let the Holy Spirit do his work in our hearts. And, when we use these words from the heart we become the sort of people who bring something of the Kingdom of God into the here and now. We become not only speakers but doers of the word. So how do we truly learn these words?
I would like to suggest that there are only three ways: prayer, bible study and, the sacraments of the Church. This morning how about asking God to transform our hearts and give us new words to speak through the simple act of sharing together in the Eucharist? And, can I offer you two key passages from Scripture to study slowly over the coming weeks; passages to take into your hearts. The first is Micah chapter 6 verse 8 where the prophet says: What does the LORD require of you, but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? The second is the parable of the Good Samaritan.
These two Scriptures I believe contain all that is necessary for Christian Religious literacy. Can I encourage you to make these Scriptures yours, lodging them securely in your hearts. In a world characterised by war, hatred, vitriol, division, vain and naked ambition, and indescribable cruelty, we need to both learn and become the living embodiment of the Christian virtues; the world is depending on people like you and me becoming both speakers, but far more importantly doers of the Word, Amen.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown