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 mouth and 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.

POST-CHRISTIANITY FALTERS
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.

ENDURANCE
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 others eternally.

QUESTIONS

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.