Epiphany 3
Second before Lent
The Law and Sin
Lent 1
Lent 5
Lent 5 (2)
Lent 3
Milton Lilbourne Dedication
Remembrance Day
Sunday before Advent
The Unjust Steward




(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 heart'.(Eph.6.6.)

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 else.

So what characterises this love that we should bear to one another?

  1. 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 humanity.
  2. Love is innocent. It does no-one an injury. It is neither over-possessive nor over-protective.
  3. Love is practical. It does not limit itself to pious good wishes.
  4. Love is tolerant. It makes allowance for others' preferences and shortcomings, but does not shut its eyes to their faults.
  5. 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 to offend.

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 of Christ.

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