COMPLETING THE LONG-TERM PROJECT

Sermon delivered on the Ninth Sunday after Trinity the 24th July 2016 by Bishop Nicholas J.G. Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban's Church of England in the Cayman Islands in the service of the Holy Eucharist.
Scriptures: Genesis 18: 20-32         Colossians 2:6-19         S. Luke 11: 1-13

S. Luke 10: 13 "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!"

ENGLISH CULTURE VIEWED FROM THE CROWN JEWELS QUEUE
About fifteen years ago about this time Winnifred and I had just returned from a holiday break abroad. An image that stays with me and helps me to remember that holiday is from a day in which we decided we would behave like a couple of tourists. We took trains from my son's flat where we were staying to Tower Bridge, took a tour guided by one of the Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, popularly known as "Beefeaters" and then joined the line to see the Crown Jewels in the heart of the said Tower of London. The line was long, and they used the style of queuing in which the line snakes around a particular area before passing into the next area. What impressed me about the Tower arrangements was the way in which the time spent in the queue in all the areas was made interesting by a series of movie segments showing coronation scenes, in which the various crowns or orbs or sceptres we were about to view as real objects played their respective roles. So here we were as tourists in secular London listening to the most exalted concepts and language of coronation services expressing the abasement of the Head of State and the Supreme Governor of the Church before the Christ, "For in Him", says S. Paul in his Epistle to the Colossians, "the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fulness of life in Him, who is the head of all rule and authority." As we made our way steadily along the snaking line, I seemed to watch the modern advocacy of the separation of Church and State being dissolved. I saw as if in vision how a community such as a modern state can only regain its wholeness if, as expressed in the coronation service, it acknowledges in humility its own abasement before a higher majesty than its own and its own commitment to His service. We come to fulness of life in Him who is the Head of all rule and authority. We don't come to fulness of life through our conformity to human concepts, even to the great international conventions. For sure these may express human idealism of one kind or another, and they can be seen to be a mirror image of many failings in the past. But for fulness of life something else is necessary. Snaking along the queue we were being restored in our minds to the direction from which that "something else" can be successfully sought. Our life without that, is like a life of only two dimensions lived by beings that are potentially three-dimensional. On that day in the Tower, for a few moments we were once again shown what human culture actually was and from where it truly sprang.

THE FATHER’S GIFT TO ONE WHO ASKS HIM
That three-dimensional depth-commitment of faith, it seems to me, comes out very well in St. Luke's version of our Lord's teaching about prayer. "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!" St. Matthew's version of this saying says, " ... how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!" I used to like the Matthean version more than the Lucan. To my younger mind it seemed to speak of a better promise. But now I realise that the Holy Spirit is indeed the best of all gifts, and that even a gift from the heavenly Father, unaccompanied by the guidance of the Spirit, may work ill in a person's life eventually. There are some things that a well-intentioned human father will not give to his children even if they ask him. But if the heavenly Father gives the Holy Spirit to one who asks Him for something, then that means that the very prayer itself will be immediately affected. Because of the Spirit's influence a human desire can be transformed into a divine hope. The gift of the Holy Spirit becomes a foretaste of the very fulfilment of the prayer, and thus the actual beginning of its fulfilment.

THE BASIC FAITH RADICALLY AFFECTS THOUGHT
Of course it is impossible to think in these terms without the faith that God exists and without the faith that He is the good Father in comparison with whom we are all evil. A good deal of the time we do not in fact see this. Without faith, what we want is often denied to us, and certainly in the short run. If we want fulfilment, therefore, we need to keep away from the 2-dimensional flat life, life without the faith-dimension. That is the life without a heavenly Father to ask, or a life in which God is absent or uninterested, a life in which God may at best have set the stars and planets upon their heavenly motions but then took no further interest in them. Jesus never spoke of such a God. Why then are we in the West so accepting of the idea that our societies can be stable and prosperous and its members can be happy through our being accountable to man rather than God? Is it not unsurprising that in such societies, a want becomes a deprivation and an outrage, rather than a prayer? "Father", Jesus taught us to pray, "hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come." That is the beginning of a mental dimension that's worlds away from what today's most believed authorities teach us is basic to society today. So who's right, we should ask, today's most believed authorities or Jesus the Son of God? They can't both be right.

THE NECESSARY CONFRONTATION
One aspect of the Church's task is to make the three-dimensional faith-judgements an overwhelmingly credible and effective opposition to the 2-dimensional flat-life judgements of our contemporary talking heads sometimes to be found in the media and even in government positions. It may seem to be a hard task, but it is one that must be attempted, and we are given the promise that the gates of hell will not prevail when they are rightly stormed. There is only one alternative to this, and that is to lose a long war of attrition. If we do not use the mind of Christ with which the Spirit equips us, we will ourselves become flat-lifers, and that is a far worse scenario than the wounds that faith will incur. In today's man-centred mental and ideological environment, there may only be one reason why the Church is not more unpopular than it is, and that is because we have not yet had the courage to oppose that man-centred environment in the manner that increasingly we are being called to. However, little by little but more and more we will see a Church being openly persecuted because of the effectiveness of its attacks upon the gates of hell, and in that time the Church will grow.

THE LONG-TERM PROJECT
Also, we should reflect that God's timing, which also can only be discerned by faith, is different from 2-dimensional flat-life timing. Our Old Testament Lesson today shows us a picture of a God who acts in judgement only very deliberately. "Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry which has come to me." The picture is painted of the Lord not quite believing that things are as bad as He has been told without checking it out first for Himself. And then He makes every conceivable allowance both for the possibility of repentance and for the deliverance of those who have not accepted the ways of the outrageous. Accordingly, the faith-project in which we are engaged is a long-term project. When there is action, it is sometimes very fast and very decisive, but it is never precipitate. Let us indeed pray to our Father, therefore, to prevail over hell's silver tongues, and let us first be thankful that because we pray, the heavenly Father will supply us from the beginning with the Holy Spirit to enable us to carry on His project to completion.

BIBLE STUDY QUESTIONS

  1. The loss of faith for the English is actually the loss of their culture as well.” This is opposed by those who see England as essentially multicultural. Show how the loss of faith can predict a loss of culture.

  1. Give examples in the New Testament of the role of the Holy Spirit in linking divine fulfilment to our current situation. How do our prayers become changed by the gift of the Holy Spirit?\

  1. With regard to the present ideological climate, how do you see any response of the Church to its continuing development?