THE GIFT OF TRUE DISCRIMINATION

Sermon delivered on the Second Sunday of Advent, the 6th December 2015 by Bishop Nicholas JG Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban's Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands.

Scriptures: Malachi 3:1-4     Philippians 1:3-11     S. Luke 3: 1-6

S. Luke 3: 4 “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.”

The basic themes of Advent contain themes of preparation - getting ready for something tremendous to happen. And we thought a little last week about how that tremendous happening that we are preparing for has already indeed begun to happen. Jesus’ arrival on earth some 2000 years ago was the advance notice, in one sense, of the fullness of the Kingdom that we are to prepare for and that will finally come at an unspecified time. Yet in another sense, in Jesus’ coming and presence the fullness of the Kingdom could already also be seen. So now in the New Testament age we live in two worlds simultaneously. We are British, Canadian, Jamaican, American, Caymanian and so on, and quite possibly two or even three of these, attached to the earth; but simultaneously we are called by our baptism and our faith to be here on this earth as “heavenians”, those who are citizens and belongers of a fourth and final Kingdom that we are to prepare for actively, a Kingdom that demands of us, by new or improved rules laid down, that we act differently from our fellow-citizens of the earth. This Kingdom of God will finally come at an unspecified time, and yet in the revelation of Jesus has already appeared in its fullness. John the Baptist, the last of the line of the Old Testament prophets, the first biblical prophet after a break of some 460 years and the unique forerunner of the Kingdom that would be revealed in Jesus, called his contemporaries to get ready for what was about to be revealed, to clear and level the roadway, so to speak, for the King to travel on when He arrived. John the Baptist’s ministry reminds us that as Christians we too are to take thought not only for what has happened, but for what will happen, to be prepared ourselves and to call others to preparation.

In our New Testament lesson today from the letter to the Philippians, in a spirit of thankfulness for their fellowship with him in the gospel, St. Paul says that God who began a good work in them will bring it to completion "at the day of Jesus Christ". They are to prepare for that day, and God Himself will help them to do so. With preparation will come Christian maturity and grace. “It is my prayer,” St. Paul says, “that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruits of righteousness.” Now it is too easy for us to let words sounding so gracious slide right past us and not take much notice of them, but we do well to pay them and their meaning some close attention.

First, in verses 9 and 10 St. Paul links the increase of love to what is translated here “knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent.” St. Paul sees a love-abounding knowledge and discernment as the marks of Christian maturity. We should note that such a quality involves making all sorts of distinctions, making judgments about the good and the bad, or the good and the better. In the maturing of the Christian character, this "love" is most certainly not “blind”, as the saying goes: no, the increase of love supports the capacity to make distinctions and judgments, rather than diminishing it. Significantly, here is the New English Bible’s translation of the same passage: “This is my prayer, that your love may grow ever richer and richer in knowledge and insight of every kind, and may thus bring you the gift of true discrimination.” In the politically correct lexicography of today’s media, politics, and especially law, to the great and lasting damage of Western thought, “discrimination” has become a demonised word, never to be thought of in a positive sense. But if we are to have the discernment, or perception, or sensitivity to distinguish the things that differ, in order to “approve what is excellent”, or even in the Biblical words of the Cayman Islands High School or John Gray High School motto, to “hold fast that which is good”, then it is clear we are being counselled to have the capacity to discriminate between the good and the not good, and to choose and approve the good rather than the other. We might also ask ourselves what the worth of any course of learning might be without such a healthy exercise of true discrimination.

When some of us were struggling with the wording of the 2009 constitution, I so wanted to preserve the idea in that document that “discrimination” should be understood positively as well as otherwise, but I found I had to accept that the negative connotation was so deeply entrenched in the legal psyche, even at that time six years ago, that to do this was not possible. The best compromise we could make was to limit its negative stretch by defining being discriminatory in law as “affording different and unjustifiable treatment to different persons”. So the words "and unjustifiable" were added to the original draft, and that was accepted by the negotiators. So to take a simple example, although a teacher would be right to approve one student getting a mathematics answer right and not to approve another for getting it wrong, thus in truth and actuality discriminating between the one student and the other, in our constitutional law it would not be classed as "discrimination" (the negative sort), because the different treatment that the teacher was affording to the one who got it right over the one who got it wrong, would be justifiable. However, I do perceive that lawyers and others in Cayman of our own day are mistakenly or deliberately ignoring these important points of fine-tuning, as well as a number of other distinctives of the Cayman constitution, such as the procedure mandated to the court for declaring incompatibility of any primary legislation with the constitution. I especially appeal to those involved in making recent legal pronouncements to read over Part 1 of our Constitution again, carefully. And I wonder how some of them could be so forgetful.

If we look wider afield than the confines of the Cayman Islands, the issue of the true understanding of discrimination has become so critically important that it might not be exaggerating to say that the ultimate fate of the Western world will hang upon this issue. Why? because it has become critically important to discern the effect of belief, true belief and false belief, upon a person's behaviour, or the behaviour of a group of persons. This issue has now become in my view the crucial factor on whether the West will or will not win the war ultimately against an islamist terrorism that is set to destroy us. Our current problem is that the West in the name of non-discrimination is in danger of waging a greater war against true belief than the war it is prepared to wage against false belief.

The Advent preparation that fosters a discipline of abounding love requires a true discernment, a true discrimination, between the grace-filled counsels of the sacrificial Christ and the gospel on the one hand, and on the other the various voices that assail all those who listen to them daily. As those baptised into Christ, increasingly we must approve out of love the excellent ways that are consistent with our baptism and discern and reject those other ways that are not. Let us be about the true business with which we are charged, being made pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruits of righteousness. Let us obey and apply to ourselves and the whole body of Christ, the prophetic voice of the Baptist: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” For there is no good future at all for any of us or for those around us, if we do not.