AN EDUCATION IN RIGHT AND WRONG – THE LONG HAUL
Sermon delivered on the Twenty-Fifth Sunday
after Trinity (2nd Before Advent) the 13th
November 2016 by Bishop Nicholas J.G. Sykes in the St. Alban's Church
of England (Cayman Islands) in the service of the Holy Eucharist.
Scriptures: Malachi 4: 1-2a 2 Thessalonians 3: 6-13 S. Luke 21: 5-19
S. Luke 21: 15 "I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none
of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict."
THE GIFT OF MOUTH
From time to time you come across the kind of person who has a ready
answer for any situation, argument or accusation he is confronted
with. I am certain there are not a few husbands who will claim to
have lived with one for many years, and indeed a few wives too. But
this kind of ready tongue, I feel, is especially necessary for
schoolteachers, because they need to keep themselves ahead of their
charges in all circumstances. If we complain about a child's "mouth",
though, it probably means he or she is talking at the wrong time, or
that he is using bad language, or answering back in a rude way
instead of obeying an instruction or order. And someone who is "all
mouth" is a person who makes a lot of threats or blandishments
but does not carry them out. A panellist on a modern TV or radio show
needs to have "mouth" in order to talk down his opponent.
MOUTH AND WISDOM TO PROTECT THE TRUTH
Such things have been recognised, of course,
for as long as human beings have argued with one another. We have
heard that the Lord also promises that He will give sufficient
"mouth" to His own to withstand their adversaries: however,
we should note that what the Lord promises is not mouth alone, but
wisdom. The style and content of the Christian side of an argument
with those in opposition should be unanswerable not because our
opponents can't get a word in edgeways, but because they have met
their match with the truth. However, the Lord warns that even His
gift of "mouth and wisdom" might not protect his people
from persecution. The Lord's mouth and wisdom will protect the truth
from being betrayed, but for this we may have to suffer.
THE COST OF THE TESTIMONY
In our Gospel the Lord says that being brought before hostile
religious and civil authorities should be understood by His people as
the time to bear testimony, the time to tell out the truth as they
have received it, the time to protect, not themselves in a selfish
way, but the truth from falsehood, and right from wrong. The word
testimony translates the Greek word "marturion", from which
is derived our word "martyr", and that illustrates the
point here. We bear witness as the Lord's people, for the truth, not
for personal comfort or even ultimately to preserve our lives.
Traditionally also, schoolteachers have agreed that the truth is
important, and seen themselves also as bearing witness to the truth,
often at the cost of personal comfort, especially in an environment
in which often not only the students but those who send them to
school also have less interest in the truth than in what seems to
give most immediate reward or comfort to the student. Today too, the
teacher may at times feel threatened by those he is there to serve.
So the teacher finds that he needs to be given a mouth and a wisdom
which none of his adversaries are able to withstand or contradict. We
should bear in mind though, that this is not a promise that the Lord
gave to teachers or to mankind in general, but to those who are being
brought before the bar of authority for His own name's sake.
DENIAL OF THE NAME AND EROSION OF TRUTH
The theological basis of the scriptures and of the apostolic faith –
what S. Paul in our second lesson today and elsewhere calls “the
tradition”- undergirds our civilisation's concept of truth, which
it is still our teachers' and preachers’ duty to propagate. That
theological basis, and truth itself as a concept, meet with
opposition today, as indeed they often have in other ages and
cultures. Many teachers themselves may be agnostic with regard to the
theological basis, but do still try to teach the truth in their
chosen field. Even the sanctity of truth, however, can by no means be
taken for granted. Universities and colleges of education may well
teach that meaning is not what is conveyed by the text to the
student; rather, meaning is what is conferred upon the text by the
student as he reads it. Much in our media and in “postmodern”
theories of education erodes the importance of truth, and of what is
distinctively right; but as one who bears witness to the name of
Christ that is the name above all names, I am bound to perceive and
declare that the erosion of the significance of truth begins with
the denial of the holy name itself. St. John refers to those who have
left the company of God's people and gone out into the world refusing
to acknowledge that Jesus Christ came in the flesh, as deceivers. In
accordance with what St. John says is true, we would have to ask
whether someone who is deceiving in a basic theological and
christological matter could ultimately not be deceiving in other
matters as well. This is one of the hard questions to be asked of a
once Christian civilisation that has come to regard itself as a
secular vehicle for people freely to believe what they want in. St.
John himself I am sure is not at all surprised if he looks down upon
a culture agnostic to the reality of Jesus Christ to see there the
idea of truth itself being eroded.
UPHOLDING THE NAME AND MAKING ETHICAL & MORAL JUDGMENTS
The Old Testament picture of judgment that we get from Malachi today
would make no sense whatever if we were to think there is no right or
wrong, no true or false, no good or bad. And indeed when we only use
the phrases "appropriate" or "inappropriate" to
substitute for a moral judgement about, say, behaviour or language,
these things may well reveal to us that the civilisation in which we
are living is in desperate need of the renewal of its moral compass.
"But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness
arise", the Lord says through Malachi. The light of true ethical
and moral judgment will begin to shine once more when the holy Name
is once more honoured and upheld. All this is not to say that
Christian individuals and Christian civilisations may not themselves
make very serious errors, but ultimately the most serious error must
be to give up such means we have had of detecting error at all.
Might it not be the case that the extraordinary happenings in the
great power to our north mark one more phase in the battle for the
reintroduction of Christian theological consciousness? The merely
multicultural supposedly agnostic society is not viable and cannot
protect itself. A globalist human-rights culture for all its ideals
is a utopia that will fail just as all other utopias have failed in
the past. Human problems and failings cannot adequately be addressed
by a secular legal and political system, no matter how
all-encompassing. Have we not by now witnessed the failings of the
great western post-Christian experiment, and of the urgent need now
to recover our theological and christological roots? We seem to be
witnessing a time when, as Jesus said, "nation will rise against
nation, and kingdom against kingdom". The days have come both
in East and West in which the Christian worldview is more and more
under persecution, due not only to a pressured and suspicious Islam
but also to those who will see any challenging of post-Christian
secularism as a threat.
Many of the twentieth century certainties in all sorts of fields
including politics, finance and science, following the stones of
Herod's Temple that were so much admired by the people of Jesus'
time, are no more. Steadfastness and courage will be required of us
as we seek to be faithful to our calling as baptised Christians to
fight manfully in all our varied circumstances to uphold Jesus' name
in particular, as well as a truth and meaning that is consistent with
this. Let us strive to make the case for the Name of Jesus being the
basis, and not the destruction, of true (albeit bridled) diversity.
By our endurance in the battles we too, sacrificing comfort for
courage, will advance God's Kingdom, we will preserve the truth about
God, man and the world, and we will gain our souls and the souls of
1. What are some of the truths that teachers are called upon to
uphold? How might it be costly to them to do this?
2. In what circumstances is it costly to a Christian to uphold the
name of Jesus?
3. Make a case for "the name of Jesus" being the basis (not
the destruction) of true multiculturalism.