Summary: A response to Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor’s statement that Christianity had been “all but eliminated” as a source of moral guidance in people’s lives, and that people were ‘indifferent’ to Christian values. Mission: the essential role of the Church
Sermon: 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time; 9th September 2001
Text: Luke 14:25-33
“Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple”
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
BBC News, last Thursday. The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor stated that Christianity had been “all but eliminated” as a source of moral guidance in people’s lives, and that people were ‘indifferent’ to Christian values, and that music, new age and occult practices seemed to be replacing Christ as something in which young people could trust.
He noted that society had been demoralised, with people seeking transient happiness in alcohol, drugs and pornography. He is not alone in painting a grim picture: only last week, our own Archbishop of Canterbury spoke out against the ‘tacit atheism’ of modern society, and the nihilistic view of many in society that death is the end of it all.
Should we throw in the towel then? Should we pack up and go home? Should we convert this parish church into a warehouse for Mr Kanavan’s future furniture auctions? Rather than just hold one a year like the one next Saturday, which I hope you will support.
No. The Cardinal’s identification of the root problems of society – a society which has allowed itself to become distant from God – is not resignation to this status quo, but a call to each and every one of us to do something about it.
Whenever I am tempted to despair at this so-called ‘Godless Age’, I am reminded of the beginning of Psalm 14: “The Fool says in his own heart, there is no God”. That psalm reminds us clearly that Godlessness has always been with us, and that there have always been (probably a majority of) people who turn away from God. The Psalmist clearly thought those people to be fools. Perhaps we are a little more sensitive these days and more reticent to call people fools, but the truth remains – modern society has lost its way in a most foolish manner, and yet it seeks a way, a truth, a life through all manner of foolish distractions: music, new age spirituality, the occult, drugs, alcohol and porn – as described by the Cardinal.
Yet the truth is under our noses all the time. The way, the truth and the life is found through the incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ, at the foot of the Cross and in the triumph of the resurrection.
The Archbishop of York in his address on Thursday Evening at the excellent Bill Sargent Memorial Lecture reflected this. His visit, his call to the Church’s involvement in social action is strongly reflected in this mornings Gospel. “Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” Our Lord tells us this morning.
Did Our Lord imply therefore that rather than throwing in the towel, we should put up the barricades? Forget the evil society outside, we are saved, we know the truth, we know Jesus.
The cross we have to carry is a cross not for the exclusive, but the cross for all humanity. It is a natural extension of the incarnation of Our Lord on earth that we look beyond this ark of salvation and and see Mission as something not just for a single weekend in September, but for each and every day we live as Christians on this earth. We are fast approaching the diocese Mission Weekend, where we will be called upon to share our faith and reach out to this community in which we live: some in that community may indeed be Godless and indifferent, but many more are people just like us, but who haven’t had the opportunity to encounter Christ, and to share in the fellowship which this Church can so richly offer. May I encourage you all to see this Mission Weekend as a cross for you all – not a burden, but a banner – and may I encourage you to work hard to welcome, encourage and invite all into this church for that mission weekend. We can all do our bit.
After the mission weekend, I shall be continuing in this spirit of mission, and going out to Romania to undertake some mission work in conjunction with the Romanian Orthodox Church.
The Community of the Resurrection, the monastic community behind the theological college at which I trained has had contacts with the Romanian Orthodox Church since before the first world war, and these have continued, even tacitly, throughout the Communist period. Although it is over 10 years since Communism fell, Romania still finds itself in a terrible state. CR suggested that I would be the right sort of enthusiastic deacon with an interest in youth ministry to help set up a church-based social outreach project in a couple of small villages outside Timisora in Western Romania.