FILIAL OBEDIENCE

Sermon delivered on the Fifth Sunday after Trinity the 26th June 2016 by Bishop Nicholas J.G. Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban's Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands in the service of the Holy Eucharist.

Scriptures: 1 Kings 19: 15-16, 19-21     Galatians 5:1, 13-25     S. Luke 9: 51-62

S. Luke 9:51 "When the days drew near for Him to be received up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem."

HERE TO BE OBEDIENT THROUGH CHRIST
One of the characteristics of the modern church seems to be our lack of a strong resolve. This is a condition that likely comes about as a result of our steady attenuation by our spiritual foe. My bible commentary points out that the prophet Elijah after his massive battle with the prophets of Baal appears to have gone through a phase of spiritual attenuation or weakening, and the effects of this may have lasted until his replacement by Elisha. Accepting that the prophetic role under the New Covenant belongs to the whole Church, that is something for us to play close attention to in order for the Church of England in the Cayman Islands to be true to her calling; for the Church is commonly under serious attack. God's special purpose for us is that we are here to be obedient to Him through Christ in a way that is eluding more and more churches as well as individuals in our time. So what is being obedient to God?

THE FILIAL RELATIONSHIP
Radical obedience to God begins with a filial relationship with Him. As we see from our second Lesson today, obedience in Christ does not begin and end with complying with a law code of any sort, even if that code should be recognised to be God's own code. Although the buzz-word today is “compliance”, and we do concede the rightness of many of the demands made of us to be in compliance with international codes and norms, we should not confuse these demands with Christian ethics. We might well first ask whether the codes and norms being held out are God-given, or whether or not they are under God's authority, or whether or not they are in His Name. We should begin to fear lest complying with any of these norms brings us into conflict with the greater authority of God Himself. For the beginning and end of our obedience as Christians is finding ourselves to be true sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father. It must begin to hurt us to find that we have hurt Him by becoming unlike Him or displeasing to Him. So to know what we must be like, we must know what He is like, and for that we must believe in His Son Jesus Christ who revealed His glory and still does reveal His glory through the work of the Holy Spirit within and among us.

GOD THE FATHER, GOD THE SON
One of the pitfalls of the modern church is that there are influential leaders within it that are no longer sure about who God is. If, for instance, there are reasons to make us doubt that God has definitively revealed Himself to His people as "Father", and if there are reasons also to make us doubt that we ought to refer to Jesus Christ as the Son of God, then these will be reasons indeed to make us radically unsure that God has ever revealed Himself to His people at all. We would have to begin to believe that everything we thought was a revelation from God, such as we understand from the Scriptures, was in fact just a view of God that a particular set of human societies came up with. It would follow that this view of God that they came up with was so coloured by the assumptions of their particular form of society that it might be completely inapplicable to us who consider that we live in another form of society.

For instance there exists a demand in some quarters of the church that we pray not to “our Father”, but to “our Father and our Mother”. That is suitable to the modern age, it has been argued, because of the codes and norms that we are expected to comply with these days, forbidding discrimination on the grounds of sex. Or people may think that this is OK because in their own life it was their mother that "fathered" them, as the saying goes. But here we should begin to exercise the godly fear that I mentioned earlier. We should begin to fear lest any of these codes or new norms brings us into conflict with the greater authority of God Himself. Christian doctrine does not ascribe human sexuality, whether it be male or female, to God. Nevertheless, every theophany, every direct revelation of God that has been recorded in Holy Scripture is referred to with the pronouns He and Him, and neither She nor It. Moreover, these disclosures of God often took place during times in which people in general did worship both gods and goddesses. “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets”, it is written in the first verse of the Epistle to the Hebrews, but never did He speak as a “goddess”. “But in these last days,” says Hebrews, “He has spoken to us by a Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world.” Jesus Christ, in whom is the fulness of the revelation of God to mankind, was not on earth and is not in glory, in His humanity a woman. The fulness of God’s self-disclosure to the world was effected by His being incarnated not as a woman, but as a man. Some may find this truth easy, and some may find it hard, some have drawn right conclusions from the fact, and some may have drawn wrong conclusions from it, but the issue is whether or not it is true fact. The most important implication that flows from this truth is that the distinction between male and female in the human condition is not only biological, but, more importantly, has a theological dimension. Thus Israel is the betrothed of God, and the Church is called to be the Bride of Christ. In God’s plan, the two sexes of God's creation are honoured and distinct at every level. The effect of degrading the basic and honourable meaning of right discrimination has produced norms that forbid distinctions as much as possible between men and women, and this has had a disastrous effect on matrimony, on children and on society as a whole, and particularly upon men. I read that in the United Kingdom there are 160 primary schools that have adopted a so-called gender-neutral policy with regard to whether a child may wear trousers or a skirt at school. This hasn't quite reached Cayman yet, but you should have heard what was said in the LA about earrings the other day. The inevitable result of this discrimination-degradation is that there are many young men who now no longer feel that they can be called to responsible leadership in their own families or in the church. And indeed the ratio of men to women in churches has suffered steep decline. At the same time, statistics have shown that in the sustaining of church attendance of children to adulthood, it is the father’s influence that normally prevails over the mother's.

THE WEIGHT OF THE ETERNAL
Our Gospel tells us in Luke 9:51 that "When the days drew near for Him to be received up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem." The days draw near not by any human decision, not even by Jesus' own independent will, but by the will of the Father. It's worth noticing also that St. Luke focusses on the divine dimension: the days are drawing near for Jesus, not to be condemned by men, but to be received up by God. In Greek it reads, "As the days of His assumption were fulfilled". This demonstrates the correct focus of our own intentions where all matters of obedience are involved. Jesus could "set His face" so firmly to go to Jerusalem, where He would be betrayed and condemned, because of the joy that was set before Him, not because of the suffering. Again, the modern church has become gravely weakened because of its practical lack of the eternal dimension. We tend to forget that when we meet together, it is not primarily for our own benefit. It is primarily to minister to the Eternal God what is His due, or at any rate that part of His due we can muster. We are to invest our own human efforts, utterly inadequate and flawed though they are, in His eternity and sovereignty, which are not far away from us, but as near as faith itself. That, then, is another aspect of the calling of the Church of England in the Cayman Islands: to be made aware of and proclaim by the grace of our heavenly Father, in the way the modern church in general may be forgetting, the eternal dimension. And the greater that awareness is, the more possible will be the otherwise impossible obedience to which He calls His people.