On this second Sunday in the season of Lent Father Martin presided and preached. He took as his topic “The Anglican Covenant” which was defeated yesterday at the Chelmsford Diocesan Synod.
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FROM THE MARCH EDITION OF “THE PIONEER” (the St Augustine Church Magazine)
In recent weeks it seems that as Christians we have been under permanent attack. The media has been full of stories about how we are being marginalised by the courts and by parliament, indeed the broadsheet Sunday papers on February 26th led with the governments Equalities Minister saying that “The church has no place in saying who can marry”. This statement is telling in so many ways, firstly in that the minister herself obviously holds no religious convictions of her own or she would know that historically up until the mid Victorian era the church was the only body that could determine who could marry legally in this country.
Turn to the back of any copy of The Book of Common Prayer and you will find something called The Table of Kindred Affinity, which lists all the different classes of relative that a man or a woman cannot marry for example – a man may not marry his - mother – daughter – adopted daughter – father’s mother – mother’s mother – Son’s daughter – daughter’s daughter – etc… In an era long before we knew anything of genetics and the problems of DNA corruption the church knew that inter breeding within families caused horrific problems.
Still everything is alright now since we have discovered how to play at being God as we experiment with cloning and gene therapy. Worse still in the last few days it has been revealed that certain ‘clinics’ in our own country and abroad are providing no questions asked abortions if the foetus turns out to be the wrong sex and that for a very substantial fee they can genetically ensure the gender of a future child by gene manipulation and artificial insemination
Secondly the ministers statement is telling in that it says that the traditionally held values of a marriage as being between a man and a woman are no longer seen as acceptable by the people we have elected to govern us. I do not propose here to rake over old ground, each of you will no doubt have your own views, but the biblical understanding of a marriage is fundamental to our faith in a way that the secular concept of a civil partnership is not.
Whilst the Church of England remains wedded to the state in the person of the monarch we can continue to call this a Christian country even though many others, even in the Christian family, would not so regard it! Parliament is still commenced each day with an act of worship and so were all regional and local council meetings before a judge decided to say otherwise. Thankfully at least the Local Government Minister managed to devolve power to each local authority so that it could determine its own practice. None have so far said they intend to do away with prayers, though many will place it before the formal start of a meeting so that those who do not wish to be a part may absent themselves.
These are very obviously issues that should concern us and upon which we should have an opinion and speak out, yet the greater majority of our Bishop’s and even our Archbishop of Canterbury have been noticeably quiet. Mercifully the Archbishop of York and our dear Queen Elizabeth have been rather more vocal in defence of Christian values and our role in society.
Our recent 4th Friday Discussion Group looked at the question of ‘Banker’s Bonuses’ and the Welfare State’. In its discussion the group looked at how the State had taken over from the Church in helping people suffering hard times, unemployment and sickness as well as at how the Church had been in the forefront of education.
Views were expressed to the effect that we seem to be coming full circle in that within in our area two churches are forming a “food bank” in which we will be hopefully getting involved in due course, to help those whose incomes are insufficient to feed their families. We also discovered that many Christians are still involved in education outside the realm of church schools, trying their best to bring the Christian Gospel to those who would otherwise not hear it
The Lenten season, which we are now in, asks us to renew and repair our individual relationships with God and to prepare ourselves to receive the greatest of all gifts, our salvation. Such a renewal is not without cost both in terms of time and effort as well as finance. The Church has always taught its members to make full use of Lent through the three-fold discipline of Prayer, Fasting and Giving.
If we look to the first disciples, the Apostles, we can see that Jesus called them to follow Him and that they did so immediately. They came to know Him through His ministry and teaching and so deepened their relationship with Him. They made sacrifices in His service. They gave generously of the things they had. They responded in this way because they recognised the call of God and His great love for them. When finally they saw His love expressed on the Cross and the proof of the power of that love at the Resurrection, they realised the full extent of His love for them.
The Apostles had approximately three years in which to get to know and learn from Jesus personally and if we look at the scriptures we see that even in that time they never really got to know him that well. The events of that first Easter and particularly their reaction to it together with the events that led to Pentecost show quite clearly how little they really understood. Jesus constantly caused them to question their values and to re-determine them in the light of the events that unfolded around them. And it is no different for us today
Peter’s reaction to both the events of the Last Supper and his subsequent denial of even knowing Christ are a prime example of this very point. Lent is a time that should be equally challenging for us; we should use it to question our own faith and our understanding of it in the light of our own values in order that we might become better disciples of His.
The world in which we live and move as Christians is very quick to impose on us values that have nothing whatsoever to do with those of Christ. We are tempted to chase after material possessions, which we can often neither afford nor in truth need. To adopt a set of moral values towards our fellow human beings that reflects the ‘I’m all right jack’ culture of self before others. Such a culture is totally against all of Christ’s teachings and the best way that we can defend those teachings is by being seen to be active in our support of them. For some of us that will mean a very physical presence in giving our time to local events or organizations and not just those that are openly Christian. However, our local YMCA is very keen to recruit some more practicing Christians onto its governing body and our PCC is to give some thought about our church becoming a corporate supporter.
It is frequently said that no one person can change the world, however as we know this not entirely true, but that should never deter us from trying, from praying and speaking out. From maintaining the values that Christ calls us to uphold, rather than paying lip service to them once every so often in church, before we walk out the door in a false self pretentious glow to forget all about them until the next time we walk back in. If the values we profess to uphold in church are worth so little to us in comparison to the values of our secular world then we should not be surprised when at the time we hear the words ‘I do not know you’ as we are cast into the outer darkness.
This Lent, as we observe the three-fold discipline that is asked of us, we should try to use that to support our calling to be disciples of Christ and to uphold his values. Christ has called us to be his followers; we now ought to use the extra opportunities for prayer that Lent gives us, to get to know God better. To think of the Sacrifices we need to make to our secular values in order to be better followers of Jesus and his values, to respond to the love of God as we should, to walk in the light and not in the darkness that we might hear at the end of our mortal life ‘Well done thy true and faithful servant, enter into the joys of your Lord’.
May God be with you and grant you a holy and prayerful Lent,