… it has been said that Christianity does not suit the modern man, therefore scrap Christianity. Now let us say, Christianity does not suit modern man, therefore let us scrap modern man
Fulton Sheen Philosophies at War, 1943: 98–99
We are more than used to seeing Christianity as a religion characterised by love: love of God and love of neighbour, which is quite right. It can be all too easy for this to be transformed into a religion of niceness, but at no point in the Sermon on the Mount does our Blessed Lord say ‘Blessed are the nice, for they will have a nice warm fuzzy feeling deep inside’. We are not called to like people but to love them. It is costly and difficult, and the religion of nice offers us syrupy sentiment in place of costly love. It plays down the cost and difficulty of living a Christian life, and offers us something superficial and worthless.
It is difficult when we read passages like this morning’s gospel. Our Lord comes not to give peace but division. Given the massive strides made in the last fifty years towards Christian unity and healing the wounds of our past and divisions, this can sound shocking or even wrong. And yet what Christ comes to bring will cause division because it forces people to make a choice – do we wish to follow the ways of the world or the Gospel? These two can never be reconciled – only in the City of God can we see the rule of love. Only by choosing Christ over the world can His love rule in our hearts and our lives. It is a difficult and a costly choice – we will face ridicule, we will be considered fools, who have chosen a hard and difficult path over the easy path of the ways of the world.
People have always rejected Christianity, ignored it, or treated it with contempt, because it is difficult and costly, it asks a lot of us, and what it offers can be easily mocked – when we proclaim it by our words and actions we have to expect to be treated like Jeremiah and thrown down a well, what we stand for is dangerous and awkward, a truth which the world does not wish to hear. It isn’t as though living the Christian life is easy – we will fail often, we will be like Jeremiah sinking in the mud – but the love and grace of God can lift us up, this can heal and restore us, and help us to continue our pilgrimage through this life and the next.
We are, as this morning’s epistle puts it, surrounded by ‘so great a cloud of witnesses’ martyrs, those who have borne witness to the faith, the saints whose life and prayers can strengthen and inspire us – they show us the path we should tread. We have to look to Jesus and to His Cross to see God’s love for us. What is shameful in the eyes of the world, we can see as glorious – true love which gives regardless of the cost, which forgives sins, which heals and restores broken sinful humanity, which gives us the hope of heaven. This is grace the free gift of God, giving Himself who shared our humanity so that we might share His divinity, strengthened by Word and Sacrament to live out our faith.
The world cannot understand this, it doesn’t make sense, it isn’t logical, it shouldn’t happen. But it does, and it calls the world to something different, something radical and world-changing, which can re-form human society in the image of God and His Love. It will be hard: the world will laugh at us and our feeble attempts to follow God. Yet, we believe in a God who loves us, and who would never laugh at us, or belittle our feeble efforts to follow Him and conform ourselves to Him. So may the fire of God’s love be kindled in our hearts and lives, that we may be ablaze for Him, aflame with love for God and neighbour, love our enemies and our friends, and lets us change the world, not just this village, or this county, but all of God’s creation, all of humanity, that they may know God’s love and that it may rule in their hearts and lives.
That is why we have come here, today, to be fed in word and sacrament, to be fed by God, to be fed with God, with His Body and Blood and His Word, so that it may nourish us and prepare us for heaven, so that it can transform our human nature and fill us with the Divine life of love and forgiveness, which we can start living out here and now and change all the world, so that it may believe and be transformed to sing 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.