(Given at Upavon and Rushall on the 14th
Sunday after Trinity, September 16th 2001, after the terrorist attacks
on New York and Washington)
You will, I hope, appreciate that it has been difficult to decide what to
say on this Sunday, the Sunday after the bombing of New York and Washington.
With the events of the past week overwhelming my thoughts, I found myself
unable to treat this as an ordinary Sunday. I feel that you will understand
my abandoning the 'theme of the day'.
Religion is a word associated in the popular mind with a sort of 'hands
together, eyes closed' piety and with 'going to church'. In fact its real
meaning is to do with being bound - something I am bound to do - my religion
is what I feel bound to do because of what I believe. ("Religious"
communities take vows to be bound by certain rules.)
The events of last Tuesday were motivated by religion - by what certain
men felt bound to do - because of what they believed.
Most of the major conflicts of history, most of the invasions and civil
wars, much of the empire building, nearly all of the persecutions,
inquisitions, and martyrdoms, have as their root cause, Religion - what
people have done because of what they believe.
Religion is not confined to those faiths represented at St. Paul's
Cathedral on Friday. Religion includes Nazism, Communism, Humanism, Atheism
and for that matter, the American Way of Life. There is no such thing as a
person with no religion.
And people like to be bound. It relieves them of responsibility and
justifies all sorts of behaviour. If I have a set of rules to which I can
refer and with which to guide my conduct, then I do not have to work things
out for myself. I can cast aside my reason. If I can refer to my sacred
writings and read that the killing of those who do not share my beliefs will
be rewarded with untold sensual delights in heaven, then I can easily be
persuaded to end my hitherto miserable life in exchange for eternal
pleasures. Those pleasures, I am assured will be greater than those which
are enjoyed in this world by those of whom I am profoundly jealous.
But in case you think that this is going to be an attack on Islam, let me
remind you of what is regarded by many sincere Christians as our 'Book of
Rules'. You have no doubt met persons who try to justify almost anything
'because it's in the Bible'. I can justify invading the Holy Land, killing
all its occupants and destroying all their animals houses and goods. Yes,
it's 'in the Bible'.
I could condemn eating of black pudding and the wearing of poly-cotton
shirts. In the book of Leviticus it is expressly forbidden by God to wear
garments made of two kinds of yarn! I could prove or condemn several things
by quoting Isaiah the prophet who at one point (Is.7.20) says that the Lord
will shave with a razor!
It has been said that our Lord Jesus came into the world when humanity
came of age - when mankind had reached a stage of intelligence; when mankind
- or enough of it - was ready to use its God-given talent of thinking and of
reasoning; when people were capable of throwing off the restraints of a book
of rules without lapsing into anarchy.
Saint John tells us of Jesus telling the Jews, bound by their Law, that
if they listened to him they would come to know truth, and that truth would
make them free.
Truth and freedom are two essential themes of the teaching of Jesus;
freedom to go on seeking truth, freed from the restraints of tribal law;
freed from from taboo and from outmoded constraints based on human
invention; looking always for insight into the will of God. St. Paul puts it
succinctly when he talks of Christians 'doing the will of God from the
Which brings us to the third major theme of Christ's teaching - that of
'Love'. That is a word which in these days is more associated with the
faintly ridiculous fandango of human mating displays than with anything
So what characterises this love that we should bear to one another?
- Love is sincere. There is no hidden agenda. It shows as true, lively
inward sympathy, a pity and continuous concern for the needs of all
- Love is innocent. It does no-one an injury. It is neither
over-possessive nor over-protective.
- Love is practical. It does not limit itself to pious good wishes.
- Love is tolerant. It makes allowance for others' preferences and
shortcomings, but does not shut its eyes to their faults.
- Love controls liberty. I may do many things without sinning, but if
some things I do offend someone else, I must exercise discipline so as not
I could go on, but you will already have seen that it has taken two
thousand years of study, of development, of evolution if you like, for
Christians to become aware that some of their 'religion' has NOT been in
accordance with doing the will of God as Jesus revealed it. We still have a
long way to go. The history of Christianity is stained with blood and it is
not only in Ireland where vile deeds are still perpetrated not only in the
name of religion, but by those who profess in different ways to be followers
The day may come when Islam and other beliefs come to that concern for
truth and freedom which comes from doing the will of God from the heart, not
because some ancient prophet laid down rules nor because some man-made
ritual demands it.
In my lifetime, humanity has come together and its various branches have
intercommunicated and interacted in a way we could never have predicted.
Humanity in many senses has become ONE very rapidly; we have yet to learn to
live as one. The consequences of our failing in this duty are beginning to
show. I must ask myself : "Is my religion a demonstration of my belief in
Truth, in Freedom and in Love - of doing the will of God from the heart, or
is it just a demonstration of the restrictions I have placed on myself ?" We
must pray that we can learn quickly.
© The Estate of William John Green, 2004