It may seem strange or even contradictory to begin by being so happy, so upbeat, when all around us the world is in a mess: recession, unemployment, a growing gap between the richest and poorest in society, civil war in Syria, the possibility of an Olympic shambles, and to top it all the Church of England seems more and more to be trying to turn its back upon the faith and order of two millennia of the Christian Church. What was within our lifetimes seen as simple mainstream teaching is now seen as dangerously out of touch, repressive, regressive, reactionary, oppressive and downright wrong. Instead, we have replaced the Gospel with the Spirit of the Age, and where the Episcopal Church in America has led, we appear to be following. Yesterday saw the 179th anniversary of John Keble’s Assize Sermon which gave birth to the Oxford Movement its words still ring true, and I commend it to you in the strongest possible terms: it isn’t very long, but it contains truths which the world and the church need to hear.
In the twelfth chapter of the Letter to the Romans, Paul says to the church in Rome – do not be conformed to the world, do not fashion yourselves after it, but be conformed rather to Christ. It is simple advice, which some two thousand years later humanity still seems reluctant to heed. But this does not cause me anger; rather I am all the more concerned to preach the Gospel. As Christians we may have hope, because our hope is in Christ, who became incarnate for our sake, who offers the world a radically different alternative, a totally new way of living, and totally unlike that of the world. He suffered and died and rose again for our sake, that we may have true joy and hope, which can never be rubbed out by all the heresies which may beset his body, the Church.
As Christians we are to bear with the failings of the weak, and to build them up in truth and love. We are not to bear grudges, we are not to concern ourselves with power, for in our weakness is our strength. We are to welcome all as Jesus Christ has welcomed us, for the glory of God. This is truly radical, and totally unlike the ways of the world. It is costly, it is demanding, it is truly life-changing and it is truly wonderful. And to be honest there are plenty of people about doing just that, living out their faith in their lives. We can be happy, but not complacent, because it is a wonderful thing and it should encourage us to do more, to live more fully in Christ – to pray harder, fortified by the Sacraments, filled with joy and an example for others to emulate.
Like Paul I have spoken to you boldly, by way of reminder, because of the grace given to me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus in the priestly service of the Gospel of God. It is amongst other things a prophetic calling, to save others from stumbling, to pick them up when they do, to bind their wounds, and show them the right path. It is a joyous task doing the work of God, building up God’s people in love and defending truth against error, but above all to give glory to God.
It’s a big ask, it isn’t for the faint-hearted, and it allows us to see why the message of the Gospel has been ignored or subverted, it’s the sort of message which has caused the death of many in the church. Be we should not be afraid, or scared, or worried, because by living as our Lord requires us people are attracted to the Christian Faith and way of life, it represents a freedom from the conformity of the world around them, a radical true freedom, of love and of the spirit.
But giving glory to God is all that any of us can hope to do. If we build up one another in love then we can be truly radical and transform this world, and conform it to the will of God, so that every tongue may confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the Glory of God the Father. In two thousand years we have not yet managed it, but that does not mean that we should simply give up, or conform ourselves to the ways of the world. No, we should be encouraged to strive all the more that the whole world may re-echo the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion, and power, now and forever.