Don't repeat the mistake on page 847 of The Prayer Book .  Here is what God really requires from the chosen people:

Do justice

A series of essays in the Episcopal Church


Still in Darkness Still in Darkness

Still in Darkness

 

A Sermon at WESTMINSTER ABBEY – EVENSONG – 2nd OCTOBER 2005

By the Rev. Canon Robert Gage, Precentor of Wakefield Cathedral

 

Words from our Second Lesson, the First Letter of John: ‘Whoever says, "I am in the light", while hating a brother or sister, is still in darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light. But … whoever hates … does not know the way to go….’ [1 John 2.9-11]

At the heart of Christianity is Jesus’s command to love one another. Love isn’t just about how you happen to feel. It’s about how you choose to act.

St John understands this. He insists: ‘Those who say, "I love God", and hate their brothers and sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.… Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.’ [1 John 4.20-21]

Must? Look at the Church! The fact is, we Christians don’t always love each other!

What gets in the way of love? Disagreement. And not just disagreement between Christians. We live in a world where disagreement of any sort is often seen as the next thing to treason. Sadly, Christians are not much better at handling disagreement than anyone else.

We ought to be. Jesus’s command to love one another should mean we’re experts at handling disagreement, showing courtesy and generosity. We ought to be showing the whole world how you can disagree with someone, and still love them – still respect them.

Religious experience often gives people a sense of confidence. Unfortunately, that confidence can sometimes turn into arrogance. Yet Paul reminds us, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, that there is a great variety of experience. I shouldn’t expect your experience to be like mine. You shouldn’t expect mine to be exactly like yours.

The same is true of insight and understanding. All Christians read the Bible. We do so – inevitably – from within one tradition or another. We find in Scripture, partly what we’ve been taught to find there, and also what comes as fresh insight from the Holy Spirit.

The perspective from which you read the Bible may be different from mine. You may find different emphases in Scripture. You may draw different conclusions. We can both read reverently and thoughtfully, and yet have different insights.

This doesn’t mean one of us must be right, and the other wrong. That’s possible, of course. But in general, our differing views will form part of the permanent conversation – both valid and necessary – which is one of the greatest strengths of the Church.

Or at least, it should be. The trouble is, many Christians feel that different opinions, different insights, must mean some people are right and others wrong. They see difference as dangerous – as evidence of error. Difference frightens them.

They may even start to hate their brothers and sisters for their differences – just what John, following the clearest possible lead from Jesus himself, says we must not do.

As in every age, some particular differences of insight and understanding worry Christians today. One of these is how to think about sexuality, and homosexuality in particular.

Sex is always emotive. But the current controversy about homosexuality is doubly emotive, because it raises big questions about the kind of authority we find in the Bible.

What is the Bible? Is it the record of various encounters between God and his people? Or is it the infallible utterances of God himself? Should we take every word of Scripture as a binding law for all believers? If not, then what kind of authority does scripture have?

The Bible includes many different kinds of writing, composed and assembled over centuries. As we read it, we can see Israel’s understanding and insight evolving.

But remember: Jesus rebuked those who quoted scripture to set aside the basic commandment to love their neighbours. That commandment runs through the whole Bible, though not every text expresses it. Some texts, in fact, taken alone, even contradict it!

The Bible contains many things we do not read as law. The Old Testament says that anyone who works on the Sabbath should be killed. The New Testament says that women should cover their heads, and never speak in public. Both Old and New Testaments insist that if you lend people money, you must not charge them interest. Both Testaments endorse slavery.

Such texts, and many others, are of great historical interest. They show how our understanding of God has developed, and how faithful people in different times have grappled with difficult issues. But it’s hard to see how individual texts can have the same status as the core Bible commandment to love one another.

St Paul emphasises the priority of love in Romans, Chapter 13: ‘The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet", and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbour as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.’ [Romans 13.9-10]

The Bible is ‘essential equipment’ for every Christian; but there is more to Christianity than the Bible. The Bible is the Church’s book. What authority, then, does it have for the Church?

Anglicans have traditionally said that authority comes from the interaction of three elements: the Scripture, Tradition and Reason. Tradition, here, means the history of Christian thought. Reason means our God-given power to think – both individually and collectively.

The Bible is essential, but it always needs interpreting. Tradition, being essentially historical, is not – by itself – sufficiently open to the Holy Spirit. Reason, taken alone, is too subjective, too culturally determined. But taken all together, these three – Scripture, Tradition and Reason – help us to access the supreme authority of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This three-fold way of ‘earthing’ God’s authority is neither arbitrary nor stifling. It allows – indeed, it requires – continuing conversation. It gives us the freedom to do what Paul said we would all have to do: ‘work out our salvation in fear and trembling’. [Philippians 2.12]

So don’t be afraid of difference! Remember that Christians whose views differ from yours are sincere believers, just like you. They, too, are trying – under God – to find their way through the challenges life throws at us.

I’m sure that God will forgive our mistakes. I’m not so sure he will forgive our hates. So be careful! You have a duty to love your brothers and sisters – even those you disagree with most. They are God’s children. Never dare to hate them.

And remember St John’s words: ‘Whoever hates … does not know the way to go.’ [2.11] ‘Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.’ [4.21]

 

 

 


You are welcome to submit your essays for consideration for this series. Send them to lcrew@newark.rutgers.edu Identify yourself by name, snail address, parish, and other connections to the Episcopal Church. Please encourage others to do the same.

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