A Beautiful Message of Life

RE: [KaivitiKoro – Dua Vata:54673] Fwd: A beautiful message of life
This was sent to me the other day – forwarded by Roy Thomas
Subject: Fw: [KaivitiKoro – Dua Vata:54673] Fwd: A beautiful message of life

As we grow older, and hence wiser, we slowly realize that wearing a $300 or$30 watch, they both tell the same time.
Whether we carry a $300 or $30 wallet/handbag, the amount of money inside is the same;

Whether we drink a bottle of $30 or $3 wine, the vomiting is the same; Whether the house we live in is 30 or 300 sq.m the loneliness is the same.
Hopefully, one day we will realize, true inner happiness does not come from the material things of this world.

Whether we fly first or economy class, if the plane goes down,we go down with it.

Therefore, I hope we realize, when we have mates, buddies and old friends, brothers and sisters, who we chat with, laugh with, talk with, have sing songs with, talk about north-south-east-west or heaven and earth, that is true happiness!!

FIVE UNDENIABLE FACTS OF LIFE:
1. Don’t educate your children to be rich. Educate them to be happy so when they grow up they will know the value of things, not the price.
2. From London: “Eat your food as your medicines. Otherwise you have to eat medicines as your food.”
3. The One who loves you will never leave you because even if there are 100 reasons to give up they will find one reason to hold on.
4. There is a big difference between a human being and being human. Only a few really understand it.
5. You are loved when you are born. You will be loved when you die. In
between, you have to manage!

If you just want to walk fast, walk alone, but if you want to walk far, walk together!

THE SIX BEST DOCTORS IN THE WORLD
Sunlight
Rest
Exercise
Diet
Self-confidence
Friends

Maintain them in all stages of life and enjoy healthy life.

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Lectionary Sermon 6 September 2015 on Mark 7: 24-37 and James 2: 1-17 (Pr 18 Year B)

I don’t know how it has been for others, but I would have to say from my past experiences, the Jesus encountered in Sunday School, the Jesus presented in stained glass windows and the Jesus talked about in tones of hushed reverence from many pulpits is absolutely unlike the Jesus presented by Mark in today’s earthy encounter. Today we find Jesus facing an embarrassing ethical situation in which his position was made doubly difficult by the dilemma of dealing with a woman who, according to tradition, had no right to talk to him let alone call on his help.
We listen again:

26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.27He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

So what’s this? Jesus who taught we should love our neighbour and here he is in effect calling this Gentile woman a dog? Typical Sunday school lessons might lead us to assume Jesus would always act with tolerance, yet in this passage we find Mark suggesting by implication that even Jesus was the product of his religious setting and upbringing and, at least initially, one who reflected the standard prejudices of the Jewish community of his time.

While I acknowledge that some would claim Jesus was just pretending to share everyday Jewish prejudices when he called the gentile woman a dog, it seems equally as probable that Jesus may well have been simply reflecting a standard view of his time. The historians of the day assure us that was after all how Gentiles were treated by Jews… and Jesus, who was after all a Jew, presumably was exposed to such teachings as he grew in his home community.

I confess that discovering that even Jesus should have started with such attitudes does not particularly worry me. Of much more significance was that Jesus after hearing the woman’s reply, changed his attitude and treated her kindly from that point. 28But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”29Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.”30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

While we might assume that Jesus had such understanding and power that we should expect him to have treated the woman with kindness at the beginning, just remember if he had done so this suggests that Jesus is so far above where we find ourselves to be, that what he does is hardly relevant to our position as deeply flawed individuals. Nor am I sure that trying to make Jesus conform to our Sunday School stained glass image is even a good idea in the first place.

The Bible Scholar John Dominic Crossan in his latest book The Power of Parable shows how the authors of the gospels have crafted some parables, not only by Jesus, but about Jesus, into their accounts and in so doing help us to understand different aspects of Jesus’ teaching. The catch with understanding Jesus from these parable glimpses is that some of the preferred stories are bound to dominate. The stories that we tell and retell then shape our thinking and may even limit our vision. We should not however mistake any of our snapshot images from different parts of the Gospels for the complete image.

Very well then, what might we take from this story from Mark’s gospel. I am sure there are almost certainly layers of understanding of this event, yet for me, there are two points that speak to our situation. First, if Jesus himself can find himself caught up with a standard prejudice of his community, then perhaps we need to be particularly vigilant that we too are not missing seeing our own prejudices simply because they are widely shared in our community. And second, if Jesus can put aside his prejudice in the light of new understanding, and learn from one outside his faith, perhaps we too might be prepared set aside our prejudice so that we can act in a way that reflects our beliefs as followers of Christ.

Our other writer today – the author of the Epistle of James – was similarly determined that, rather than allow his listeners to think of themselves as plaster saints, we should recognise his insistence that we confront our challenge to be real people in real situations – and even perhaps have the readers catch glimpses of themselves as they really are. Today’s reading from the Epistle of James addresses a basic issue which in a different setting Jesus had to face in the Gospel reading. Just as Jesus started with an apparent attitude of favouritism for the Jews and preferential treatment for those who were not Gentiles – or in the eyes of the Jewish people – dogs, James gets straight down to the nitty-gritty and addresses the underlying issue which is almost embarrassingly topical, that of favouritism.

The background that gives rise to favouritism in the first place has many dimensions.

Biologically we are attracted to those like ourselves and there is something built into our community thinking that no doubt helped our ancestors survive by banding together against those recognised as not fitting. Our very identity as a group depends on identifying those who cannot belong. When the differences are taken to an extreme the results can be devastating. Why else are the current refugees finding it so hard to be accepted by nations such as ourselves. For centuries it has been easy to convince communities such as ours that other peoples are sufficiently threatening in their differences to make suitable enemies for us to go to war.

But it isn’t just at this international level that the differences are noticed. Within our communities and even within our churches, existing differences provide an excuse to treat different people with a differing degree of acceptance. In some traditional churches there is set seating to recognise those who have rank and in fact one of the reasons why John Wesley originally fell out with the established church was that he complained about such hierarchies from the pulpit.

Clearly this has caused problems in the Christian Church from the beginning. The gold rings on the fingers James refers to was indeed the standard way many of the wealthy demonstrated their power and position. Some of the leading citizens wore rings on every finger except the middle finger and often wore many rings on each finger. According to commentators like Seneca, some of the more ostentatious even hired rings so that others might be impressed by their incredible wealth.

These days, wealth and influence can be conveyed with more subtle touches but there is little indication that there is genuine effort to give the poverty stricken equal consideration even within most mainstream Churches.

James has a habit of touching a raw nerve or two with his examples. When he talks of different treatment offered to people who dress differently or who are treated differently because of their position, we ought to be able to recognise that his words apply to many social situations in our community. Curiously although the faith we follow teaches otherwise, it is very difficult in practise to recognise when our faith should affect our actions.

If we are to take Jesus seriously there must always be an uneasy relationship between his teaching and the actions of the rich. Jesus is recorded time after time speaking about his special relationship with the poor. In Jesus first sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth he says: He has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. (Luke 4:18) and Blessed be the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God (Luke 6:20). When Jesus invited the rich young man to surrender his possessions and follow, the rich young man turned away in sorrow for he had great possessions. And the simple fact of the matter as William Barclay pointed out, was that the gospel offered so much to the poor and demanded so much of the rich, that it was the poor rather than the rich who found themselves attracted to the early Church.

Notice that James wasn’t so much condemning the rich, as the unjust actions by which many of them maintained their wealth at the expense of the poor. In James’ time if a person was unable to meet their debts they could be accosted in the street, seized by the clothing round his neck and half throttled as they were dragged off to the law courts. Where the emphasis is only on the debt and never on the well being of the creditor, we can understand James seeing injustice.

Adopting Christian ethics carries with it clear responsibilities. When the rich show tangible concern for the poor they can become an inspiration to many. I think for instance of Bill Gates and his wife with their Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funding countless worthwhile helpful projects in a hurting world. How very different are those grasping millionaires who make their money by stealing it in dodgy financial deals and property scams. Nor is it clear that many of the rich in those wealthy nations where there is a widening gap between the rich and the poor are particularly focussed on doing something about the gap.

On balance there is still a considerable distance to go.

Adopting Christian ethics seems to fall short of encouraging poor immigrants, or ensuring that the city night shelters are well appointed and well provisioned. For example the only significant night shelter in Auckland is about to close through lack of support.

Richard Fairchild in one of his sermons refers to an incident in Los Angeles some years ago where 600 would-be lawyers were sitting their finals paper. One of the students suddenly collapsed and stopped breathing. Only three students in the whole group stopped to help and for the next 30 minutes until the ambulance arrived they rendered CPR while the others carried on carried on writing as if nothing had happened. Since the paper was on ethics it raises the interesting question. Should those in the vast majority who ignored the incident be considered to have passed the practical?

This week’s practical…. There is a serious refugee crisis as those fleeing the chaos of civil war and economic meltdown put themselves in the hands of people smugglers for risky journeys on sea or land. Should we only continue to give consideration to the rich migrants. Would that constitute a pass in the Christian ethics exam.

When James tells us that we shouldn’t treat those with the trappings of power and position any differently from those who appear poor, to recall his words might get us a pass in the theory paper of New Testament knowledge. But, as with those aspiring lawyers, our real question should be how do we get on with the practice?

James with his famous dictum about faith without works being dead is a direct challenge to those like ourselves who make time to worship but who may not necessarily see a need to find practical ways to live our faith. To admire the works and words of Jesus or to agree with James and his nuggets of practical wisdom would be shallow and hypocritical if we cannot make some room for the actions they recommend in our own lives.

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A lectionary sermon for 30 August 2015 on James 1: 17 -27 (Year B, Pr 17)

A crossword puzzle clue for you: In a word ( 8 letters) what does James, the writer of the Epistle of James, think true religion is all about?

The Epistle of James is one of those books in the Bible that almost didn’t make it at all. It certainly didn’t appeal to some of the Bishops who were making the original lists of Holy Books for what we now call the New Testament. The oldest surviving list of the New Testament books of the Bible – the so called Muratorian fragment, leaves out the letter of James. Some lists did include his Epistle, but a fellow called Tertullian, one of the early Christian Church authorities, also left out James altogether in his list and even if the Bishop Eusebius, writing about the time of the Emperor Constantine, did at least include the Epistle of James, he calls it one of the disputed books. While it is true that the later Church Councils reinstated James as part of what we now call the New Testament, there was a continued roll call of those prepared to object.

The most famous of the critics was Martin Luther. The teachings of James clearly upset Luther who called the Epistle of James the Gospel of Straw. Luther’s beef with the Epistle was that as far as he was concerned it seemed to contradict what Paul was saying about justification or salvation by faith, and what is more to Luther , it didn’t seem particularly evangelical. Finally he wrote in exasperation:
“I almost feel like throwing Jimmy into the stove!”

The popular assumption that the author of the letter, James, was one of the original 12 disciples is generally contested by many scholars. James the Son of Zebedee was martyred in 44 AD which is too earlier a date from other evidence and James the Son of Alphaeus, the other likely apostle, was virtually unknown in all but one other mention in the Bible. There is some better if ambiguous evidence for the suggestion that it was in fact James the brother of Jesus (or half brother) who wrote the letter. Others point out that the Greek is too high a standard to be that of James the brother of Jesus, but regardless of the authorship, it is the teaching of James which sets it aside from the other books of the New Testament.

Even today, some of the more orthodox Christians continue to be uncomfortable with James. I have for example encountered some conservative ministers who tell me with some smug satisfaction that they have never preached on James. For those who love the finer points of theology, these modern day critics may feel they have some justification.

In his writing James appears to have absolutely no interest in the parts of the faith that require great learning. It would be hard for example, to imagine James taking part in discussions about intellectual theology or what in the Methodist Church we call issues that need to be sorted by the Faith and Order committee. Not for James a consideration of how women should dress and behave in Church, nor for the slightest concern about the colour of vestments, nor even the vexed matter of who is worthy to administer or receive communion. It would also be hard to think of James having the slightest interest in denominational Christianity.

The theologians who criticize James appear to think he is saying “by your good deeds you can get to heaven”. As it happens, if it is worth anything coming from a non authority, I disagree. I think what James is saying is that it makes no sense to be a hearer of the word if you don’t at the same time let yourself become a doer of the word. Or to change the metaphor…When we look into a mirror or check to see what others think of us, it is true we might have a clearer idea of how we are … but there is little point in letting the mirror help us with our perception unless we are going to do something about the self-image it shows.

James’ theology then, is only theology at the most basic level but just because it is simple it doesn’t mean it should be set aside. If Jesus could summarize the entire law with the two commandments focused on love – and if Paul could rank the expression of love as the greatest of the three things that last forever, is James doing anything different by grounding the expression of this love in suggested action?

True that from his writing we might concede James would not be likely to pass an elementary theological exam, but on the other hand we ought to be able to imagine James as a very practical and focused City Missioner. Whereas a Pope might make deeply authoritative statements about the assumption of Mary, or Transubstantiation of the elements, or alternately, an Archbishop in the Anglican Church might give a Bible-based opinion about the troubling issue of what rank a woman should be entitled to assume in the church hierarchy, James on the other hand appears to be giving his attention to the mundane and is going on here about nothing more significant than the treatment of widows and orphans.

So what of that word for the crossword. To James what is true religion all about? Eight letters….. I suspect one word that would fit is… “Kindness”. The example of pure and undefiled religion in God’s sight – at least as far as James is concerned – is nothing more nor less, than going to the help of widows and orphans in their distress. If we were to go back a little in history we would probably soon see why James was focused on widows and orphans. In an age where, since only the man of the household might be expected to get meaningful employment, it was indeed an extreme misfortune to suddenly find a family without a breadwinner.

According those who wrote the Bible there are a number of references to the plight of widows and the fatherless. In Deuteronomy for example there is a rule which insists the picking over of what is left after the harvest of grapes, of olives and of sheaves of wheat should be set aside for widows and orphans. (Deuteronomy 24: 17-22). God is also described in one of the Psalms as one who cares about orphans using the term “Father of the fatherless” (Psalm 68, verse 5) and Jesus himself uses much the same metaphor when he assures his listeners: “I shall not leave you fatherless” (John 14.18).

We might do well to remember that even in countries like England it wasn’t all that many years ago (up to the mid 19 century) that widows and orphans were at the total mercy of an unfeeling society. The widows were the ones who might only survive in the poor-house and orphan children were assumed to be virtually free slave labour for the mines, factories and chimneys. Some commentators have suggested it may have been advances in technology rather than the application of Christianity that released them from their bonds. Unfortunately even today a very unequal set of varying circumstances ensures that the problems of many orphans are still by no means entirely addressed.

The modern equivalent of what James was responding to is seen in what happens where a large-scale disaster strikes in an area where there are few social protection measures in place. For example AIDS orphans are often seen as pariahs and on the African continent at least, the incredibly high number of such unfortunate children is worrying indeed. We might also reflect on the plight of war orphans.  Or what about the huge number of Child sex slaves.  We might also remember those orphaned by chemical disasters, think of the recent explosions in China,  or where the orphans are from areas affected by nuclear accidents or past unwise nuclear testing particularly for those of our neighbours in the Pacific who have missed out on appropriate compensation and care.

I suspect if James were writing today he might still be talking of orphans and yet as you read on into James he was concerned for a number of other practical situations. If we extend his principle of caring for those in trouble, to caring for those now currently in trouble, I would imagine that James would be making some very direct and indignant statements about the growing gap between the rich and the poor that we find in operation in virtually every developed nation today. I can also imagine him being strongly in favour of a work like Karen Armstrong’s Charter of Compassion particularly where she says that focusing on compassion is the most important part of all the major religions.

James does not spell out precisely how we should be caring for the widows in their distress – or for that matter how we might care for any others, like new immigrants or those who are unskilled or unemployed. It is true that it is sometimes embarrassing to insist that we are called to address serious problems when their real solution might well mean first acknowledging that the problems only got that way in the first place as a result of our community’s neglect.

Why is it that, for centuries, there have been problems for the widows and orphans? Surely in part it was because no one acted to put sufficient safeguards in place. And to be truthful, those who should have acted are probably those like us. Why is it that in the most productive and advanced nations the distribution of resources is so unequal? Surely in part it is because those like us allow those who govern to set the rules to advantage those most likely to vote for them. Why else would we allow a situation to develop whereby the top 20% of the socioeconomic spectrum should have virtually all the resources and the bottom 20%, virtually nothing.

James is right to remind us to attend to the tasks our faith claims to be important. Our only question can be about which tasks actually matter.  As society has changed and developed, problems grow in unexpected areas and if we care for our neighbours we need to constantly rethink how our priorities need to be adjusted.

If the occasionally unpopular James is right, we can understand some in the Church feeling a bit uncomfortable. It is one thing to see ourselves as Christian and to ask our leaders to help build our understanding of Church history and theology. It is quite another to see ourselves as James would have us see ourselves as being required to be practitioners of compassion. To follow James: pure and undefiled religion is visiting the widows (and I guess for today he would be looking at doing something for any of a host of our neighbours who are getting a raw deal ) or if you would prefer the crossword clue: expressing in our actions that single word, kindness.

The challenge James lays down is in effect a simple choice. Shall we join the critics in claiming the inclusion of his letter in the Bible was a mistake, or will we accept his simple message and act accordingly?

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Lectionary sermon for 23 August 2015 on John 6: 56-69 (Year B Pr 16)

I once heard the story of a young theological student who had to preach his first sermon in front of his professor and class. He really sweated in putting together a rather nicely constructed sermon that reflected Biblical scholarship – that had a real feel-good balance to it – with good illustrations and a well rounded conclusion. The hour arrived and with fear and trembling he started. His confidence began to grow as he continued because he could see the students nodding in agreement as he made each point. By the time he had finished he was secretly beginning to think he had aced it. He was not quite ready for the Professor’s comment at the end. The Professor turned to the class and asked: “Was there anything in that sermon that would have got Jesus crucified if he had been the one delivering it?”

Perhaps the question should have been rephrased to match Jesus’ question to his disciples in this morning’s reading from John’s gospel. “ Does this offend you?”

Because you see, no matter how we make the Sunday school children and ourselves feel good about a Jesus who cuddles the lambs, suffers the little children to come unto him, heals the sick and comforts the sad, there is also a part of the gospel, which even today, has the potential to be deeply offensive. The gospel is not always seen as good news to all because, as a perceptive 19th Century journalist once put it, the faith of Jesus “comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable”.

As long as we do the sort of thing that the Eden Park spectators do and merely cheer on the performances of their heroes, Christianity should offend no-one. Unfortunately as soon as it becomes obvious that we are called to be participants not spectators, there is every reason to expect some of us will be highly offended.

When the gospel principles intrude into politics people get uncomfortable. My nation follows the United States in refusing to sign the United Nations Treaty to safeguard the rights of Indigenous peoples. My nation follows the United States in refusing to call the Nations of the World to Nuclear Disarmament or face up to the need to ban other weapons of mass destruction. My nation spends more on Defence than it does on helping those who are in need. Is my nation following Jesus?

Notice too that Jesus is talking to his followers in these terms, not those who would see themselves as critics or unbelievers. Anyone who thinks that believers are unlikely to get the huff with Jesus’ teaching should think back a few short years to the sorts of things that have affected contemporary Church. Every time there is a war or soldiers are called up to serve their country there will be those who are divided about the implications of Jesus’ teaching on peace. Interfaith dialogue is a continuing stumbling block. Homosexuality and the blessing of same sex marriages does not get universal Church approval, Middle East politics, the treatment of the poor, treatment of foreigners, mercy killing, abortion and stem cell research are just a few of the topics liable to stir up resentment and if the truth be known it is quite likely that Jesus teaching is the last thing we genuinely want to consult.

Sometimes disputes over fine points of doctrine are so extreme they appear humorous to outsiders.

In the Church of the Holy Rude (which I understand means Holy Cross) in Stirling, Scotland, in the 17th century two of the ministers fell out over some minor teachings relating to their views on the covenant and since both men had followers, the problems were addressed by building a wall down the middle of the Church so that for the next few generations the two dissenting congregations could worship independently from one another. Before we sneer at the way such actions directly contradict the main thrust of Jesus teaching we might also wonder at why so many attempts at Church Union founder on such minor differences in doctrine.

In the wider community there is even more marked rejection of the Jesus way. Some time ago I remember an acquaintance of mine who has been a tour bus operator in Europe and the United States was looking through a Trivia quiz with me. We came to the question, “ What is significant about Lombard St in San Francisco?” – “The zig-zag nature of the street” I ventured. “ Isn’t it supposed to be the crookedest Street in the world?”

“Second most crooked”. He corrected. “Which is the most crooked?” I wanted to know. “Wall Street” he replied. Good answer in view of the mayhem caused by the dishonest financial operators, yet think of the number who still cling to the notion that the creation of wealth, regardless of the ethical issues, is the main aim of business. I wonder how many of the current investors would be offended by the principles Jesus taught if they thought of his words applying to them.

Much of the industrial military complex at the heart of many advanced nations economies depends for its existence on the notion of dealing to one’s enemies. Imagine if those industrialists manufacturing and selling weapons were forced to take seriously Jesus’ injunctions about turning the other cheek and keeping no score of wrongs. Even the right to bear arms as laid down in the second amendment of the US Constitution loses its point if there is a genuine intention to forgive one’s enemies. In a nation where a good proportion of the population are gun owners we can imagine the outrage if someone was to suggest this does not fit Jesus’ teaching.

And what about Love your neighbour. I am sure that many would be reluctant to accept their neighbours should include those stateless refugees in those teeming refugee camps and would be offended to think that their nation needed to liberalize its immigration laws. I suspect we are more likely to sympathize with Britain trying to shut escape routes through the Channel Tunnel to desperate illegal migrants than we are to find alternative ways to help them find a future.
Think too of those who consider that their faith is essentially correct, whereas they believe others like the Muslims and Hindus are condemned. If Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan to remind us that the faith labels have to take second place to right actions, those who call themselves Christian may be offended by the implication that, because they may be like the Pharisees Jesus was addressing, consequently even those self-claimed Christians might also need to do some serious soul searching.

Jesus was a master of metaphor and when he asks his followers eat of his body and drink of his blood in effect he asks his followers to become one with himself. Unfortunately for those who prefer to keep their faith in a token form, this may well have caused serious offense. If John is correct that many of Jesus’ disciples at that point walked out on him, it is clear that offense was taken. While it is true that some of these might have been offended at the literal possibilities of Jesus words, for those who understood the metaphor, the other real problem would have been the threat to their comfort zone. It is one thing to recognize words as being wise – it is quite another to be expected to act on those words, and even harder allow them to become part of ourselves. For those who watched Jesus challenging respected Church leadership and confronting a variety of established conventions the thought that they too might be called to place themselves at risk would have been more than a little disturbing.

When John says that some of the disciples found Jesus’ words hard, we note John used the Greek expression scleros logos which, although it means literally hard word, this is only hard in one specific sense. Scleros is not hard in the intellectual sense – it is more in the sense of being physically hard or unyielding.

That Jesus could have followers who suddenly realized following was not for them is also a reminder that when we use words like God or Jesus we do not all mean quite the same thing. A significant number of Christians today as well as some in Jesus’ day thought of Jesus as some ethereal spirit while John clearly believed strongly that God had become genuine flesh and blood through Jesus. Still others today would say Jesus was human and only God in a figurative sense. It may infuriate some believers to suggest that knowing which possibility is correct only matters if we are intending to allow our belief to become part of our being and living.

When Church authorities discuss the significance of communion they often refer to today’s passage from John. The relationship with communion is obviously open to different interpretations and we might note for example that for many in the Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic formal understanding of transubstantiation is that in communion the bread and wine somehow become the actual flesh and blood of Jesus. Although some Catholics and members of many other denominations might challenge that interpretation, since Roman Catholicism is the largest of the Christian denominations we cannot disregard the existence of the belief. The Romans in their early persecution of Christians may have been misunderstanding this same belief when they frequently accused Christians of practicing cannibalism.
You may have also noticed in this passage John records Jesus making frequent use of the word abide where the meaning is being at home. Abiding in Jesus – in other words being at home in Jesus may require a degree of commitment and attitude towards Jesus that goes far beyond what some would think to be appropriate. At the very least the word abide suggests Jesus is talking of the most intimate involvement between himself and his followers.

Allowing Jesus in to abide even in a metaphorical sense clearly doesn’t lead to perfection. Even the greatest of Church leaders still demonstrated very human faults. Augustine was a very naughty young man. Luther was intolerant of Jews. Calvin was intolerant of those who had a different theology. John Wesley had a very tenuous relationship with his wife (which may had contributed greatly to his willingness to be absent for long periods from home on his preaching journeys). Martin Luther King was a philanderer. And so on through a very long list. Nevertheless the mark of Christianity is for each of these leaders that they were prepared to attempt to walk with Christ even when the way was hard. It was the direction of their respective journeys that caused them to do much good. The challenge then for us may not so much be attaining perfection in Christ as it is to accept his offer to allow his abiding presence to give us direction.

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A lectionary sermon for 16 August 2015 on Proverbs 9: 1 – 6 Year B Proper 15

Today with our reading from what is categorised as Wisdom literature in the Book of Proverbs we find ourselves in the part of the Bible which focuses on practical advice. The Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs and in the New Testament a good part of the teachings of Jesus, Paul and James might also be characterised as wisdom. Strangely enough, as a proportion of the whole, practical advice is somewhat neglected in the Bible so when Jesus and Paul or James as well as the various writers of the wisdom literature books of Old Testament do show that religion should have something to do with everyday non Church situations, it can catch us almost unawares.

Religion serves a variety of purposes and it is likely that many only get to meet religion in terms of its public face which is typically anything but associated with everyday life and rather largely to do with what is loosely termed Priestly worship. What members of the public encounter when they “meet Church” in all probability will include a good dose of so called priestly activity particularly if they come to the occasional church weddings, funerals and baptisms.

For some more regular attendees of highly traditional churches, they would find communion or the mass, special robes, sacred music, candles, and in high Church settings incense along with sonorous chanting, carved lecterns, pulpits and altars all of which help which set the mood and fill the senses. The Pentecostals often achieve many of the same ends with a very different approach whereby equally impressive worship is experienced which is very much more preacher-focussed, often using contemporary technology for the effects. At its best the priestly tradition encourages us to experience the feeling of mystery and a sense of the divine. The priestly elements are those which give that sense of belonging to the regular worshippers. Certainly the priestly dimension is where we might expect to reacquaint ourselves with religious tradition and various church customs, some of which stretch back to the distant past.

Unfortunately at its worst the priestly tradition can become a collection of mere archaic rituals and trappings, disembodied from modern reality and everyday life. In the popular mind, well….. at least if city Church attendance is anything to go by, if not actually avoided altogether, the priestly tradition can become something to be reluctantly endured and certainly for a large proportion of the population and particularly those not active church members, seen as largely irrelevant to the day to day problems, joys and sorrows of life.

One Christian writer I enjoy reading because he makes me think is Marcus Borg. In his book called Speaking Christian he talks about shifting to a College where the majority of students were not Church goers. He asked these Oregon students what they thought when they thought of the word “Christian” and found that more than half of his students described Christians as literalistic, anti-intellectual, judgmental, self righteous and bigoted. This should give us pause for thought because surrounded by familiar friends and using accustomed phrases in worship we might assume that outsiders will notice our prayers for the hungry, prayers for those in the grip of war or despair and our prayers for peace and think that knowing we pray such prayers might translate into others seeing us as kind, open minded and peace makers. But the majority of those in our community are not present to hear our prayers. There is also the uncomfortable thought that those outside our country might prefer to notice that we keep our borders largely closed to the poor, that we are one of the few developed nations that continues to resist signing the Treaty for international rights for indigenous people and a nation which can’t bring itself to sign the treaties calling for Nuclear disarmament or bans on weapons of mass destruction all of which might leave observers with a less flattering view of our people.

Maybe we should be asking ourselves if our Churches put too much emphasis on the parts of our faith that don’t have much to do with the everyday.

If we are to take Jesus at face value it is probably fair to say that he had little time for the priestly emphasis. At least according to the gospel record Jesus was rarely teaching in the synagogues and when he did so it seemed to lead to unsatisfactory outcomes. At times he specifically drew attention to the gap between the priestly religious observances and the central ethical ideas of the Jewish faith. Those who made a public show of the faith without honouring the spirit of the God of love – and those who used the Church for personal gain drew his particular condemnation. This in no way means that we should ignore the value of the priestly function, but at the very least Jesus’ reaction points to the dangers of adopting positions of power and prestige or going through the motions of worship without a serious and heartfelt commitment to finding ways to live the faith in our relationships.

Apart from priestly observance, another main dimension of religion is to find those who will be the conscience of the priestly tradition, namely the prophets. When Jesus was making public accusations about the religious leaders’ hypocrisy he too was taking on the role of what the Jews understood a prophet to be. Certainly less common than those who are part of the priestly portrayal of religion, there is a long tradition whereby when authorities are failing, certain prophets have been known to step forward to challenge the status quo. When for example the priestly dimension gets too far out of step with obvious needs of the people, and particularly when injustice is being ignored by Church leadership, it is then the prophets become most strident. An outraged Luther nailing his protests about Church greed and hypocrisy to the cathedral door was a kindred spirit to Amos who many years earlier who claimed to have heard God’s voice thundering “I hate, I despise your feasts!”

Into this strange mix of the priestly convention and the indignant forays of some of the more colourful leaders and prophets, we now encounter the call to wisdom.

Wisdom as portrayed by the early Old Testament religious leaders is uneven at best and at times we would be excused for thinking their human failings often totally outweighed any signs of awakening moral consistency. For those of us aware of our own inconsistencies and moral weaknesses this lack of complete wisdom should be something of a comfort. Some of the wisdom is transitory and culturally embedded. Instructions about what to eat, how women should behave, how justice should be administered and how to treat slaves were probably very helpful to the Jewish society in a different age but we would be foolish indeed to think all such instructions would be appropriate for us today. Nor should we be blind to the failings of those who had responsibility for being the authors of this wisdom.

Although for example the Bible includes the claim that Solomon was known for his wisdom, there is virtually nothing in the main events of his life that suggests he was living a wise life. When King David died the succession should have gone to David’s oldest son Adonijah. Unfortunately for Adonijah, some of David’s generals and advisors had an alternative thought – and decided instead now David was out of the way, one of the younger sons Solomon showed more promise. Solomon apparentl;y liked the prospect of power and when Adonijah turned up to stake his claim, Solomon ordered his murder. Next he fired his father’s high priest, allowing him to live but sending him into exile.

Traditionally we talk of Solomon as being very wise and prospering because of his wisdom. If we look closer we find a self serving and ambitious man who was also unwise in that ultimately many of his decisions to increase his prestige turned out to be very bad for the long term future of his kingdom. His excesses with very many wives and mistresses may have underlined his power but hardly demonstrated temperate judgement. It is true that his magnificent buildings including his palace and temple may well have awed his potential rivals, but his ruthless approach to crippling taxation appears to have been a main factor in the breakdown of his kingdom upon his death.

Certainly once Solomon felt secure he was prepared to make the servant like public declaration expected of a truly great man. We read for example that the Lord offered him the opportunity of claiming whatever he wished as being the most important for his reign as king. That he only wished for wisdom would have seemed humble and admirable if we did not also have the record of what he chose to do in practice.

That is not to say he did not make wise statements. No doubt many of the wise proverbs attributed to Solomon are good standard aphorisms and I believe we can still learn from them. The catch is that Solomon himself was living by a different set of standards and hypocrisy is its own judgement, as it would be for each of us if we taught Christian principles and failed to demonstrate them in our own lives.

Regardless of the dubious character of some of the writers of wisdom there are nevertheless sublime and subtle insights as there are in today’s reading from Proverbs. In any case wisdom is hard to pin down because for most of us it represents gaining a healthy attitude to a stumbling journey rather than arriving at and defending a destination. Accordingly we benefit when wisdom is described in metaphor.

This metaphorical house of wisdom based on seven pillars sounds ambiguous but the clue to its understanding is in verse six. Laying aside immaturity and living in walking in the way of insight in no way suggests this house of wisdom is a fixed target or arrival point. In any case, some of the wisdom proffered in the Bible for specific situations doesn’t translate into different times and different cultures particularly well.

Thrashing a child with a rod may well have been acceptable in Old Testament times but is likely to land you in court in many places in the Western world today. Anyway you would be hard pressed in virtually any modern community to justify having a child stoned to death for swearing at a parent no matter what some ancient verse might say. Nor will the ancient verses tell you about the ethics of modern finance, global trading, stem cell research, water-boarding or intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Remember Solomon’s world was very different from that of Paul and even further from our world. Since the problems for Solomon’s people were very different to the problems facing the early converts to the Christian church, even in those Bible days the specifics are less important than the attitudes required. Paul was dealing with a constantly evolving situation and we find him talking about different situations, yet he too was able to see the characteristics of a journey. Paul too identified some of the same attitudes for the traveller: to lay aside childish things is very similar as Proverbs using the expression to lay aside immaturity. Furthermore, saying be careful then how you live as Paul is attributed as writing to the Ephesians has more than an echo of the author of Proverbs saying walking in the way of insight.

One last thing. Just as there are limitations in finding practical guidance for personal problems in priestly observance, or prophetic declaration, while the next steps of the journey may be contemplated in the priestly setting of Church, the real steps of the journey of insight are going to be taken in our day-to-day context of our personal world.

We may well gain thoughtful inspiration from principles laid down by Jesus, or Paul and even from that deeply flawed individual called Solomon, yet eventually we have to do our own growing in wisdom. May it be that we encourage one another in our respective journeys.

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Lectionary Sermon 9 August 2015 on1 Kings 19: 1-15 Pr 14 Year B

The lectionary reading chosen for today’s message is one of the optional Old Testament readings from the lectionary. This is a purely personal choice because I happen to find the story more interesting!

Today’s story from the life of Elijah follows on from an extraordinary account of what many today would call bizarre magic. This episode we look at today highlights understandable human weakness and failing, and concludes with help found in the commonplace. The Jews in the telling and retelling of their history were not as wedded to literal truth as modern journalists are expected to be and sometimes it is hard to know where literal truth ends and parable or even self-serving fantasy begin. But that is not to say their stories contained no deep insight.

Some background is helpful in this episode from the Elijah story. The Merlin-like figure Elijah lived in an age where boundaries of kingdoms were fluid and forever changing while competing tribes struggled for power and survival. To assist in this process, marriages and alliances often brought together competing cultures and religions. To remind us what was happening in today’s story we must first remember that the Phoenician Princess Jezebel was married to King Ahab, but as a follower of the God Baal, and with her erratic husband’s apparent connivance, she had set about the destruction of the power of the prophets of Yahweh.

The setting for the story today comes in the previous section. After having seen a number of the prophets of Yahweh killed at Jezebel’s behest, in his turn Elijah decides to bring matters to head by challenging the prophets of Baal to a trial at Mt Carmel as a public demonstration of the respective powers of Baal and of Yahweh . The contest in effect pitted the combined supplications of the prophets of Baal and Ashera to their God against the prayer attempts of the single prophet of Yahweh, Elijah.

I leave it to others wiser than me to determine whether or not that the record of the extraordinary contest was intended to be believable in a literal sense, but at least in terms of the colourful version recorded here, Elijah is reported as prevailing in a most dramatic way. First the prophets of Baal are seen to fail totally in their attempts to use prayer to ignite wood under a sacrifice on their altar despite using their most fervent incantations to Baal. Then Elijah steps forward. He calls on Yahweh to call down fire from heaven to set fire first to the wet wood on his altar, and with everyone watching, the fire consumes first the wood, then Elijah’s ox sacrifice, and finally even the stones themselves.

By way of an encore Elijah prays earnestly for the drought to break and it begins to rain. As a consequence, again (at least according to the story), Elijah was then able to use his success in contrast to the failure of his opponents as an excuse to put the unsuccessful prophets of Baal to death. That he might single-handedly kill 400 or more priests of Baal without a good number escaping seems rather unlikely to my way of thinking, but at the very least, the slaughter adds colour to John Pridmore’s tongue-in- cheek observation that Elijah was not a great supporter of interfaith dialogue!

As today’s episode begins, the furious Jezebel wants revenge and makes it known she intends that Elijah will be dead before the day is done – and given her track record it is hardly surprising that Elijah believes her and flees for his life. Perhaps realizing that nowhere would be safe, Elijah runs until his strength gives out, then, tired, dispirited and hungry, he gives up and asks his God to take his life.

Instead, someone, well to be exact following the text of the story, an Angel (?) appears with a gift of a loaf of bread and some water. This simple gift – and a subsequent gift of more bread is sufficient to restore his strength and his will to live – and he is able to resume his journey to Horeb – perhaps now better known to us as the Israelites’ sacred mountain of Mt Sinai.

Fire from heaven that can even burn rocks, weather responding to a prophet’s plea with a drought broken at a word and finally an angel delivering fast food is all fairly heady stuff. The skeptic in me wants to explain this all away as convenient mythology, yet even a skeptic should understand the value of traditional stories in helping understand the shaping of a people and their self perception of their belief system.
There is also the not unreasonable thought that actual events may have provided the nucleus of the story even if they were later “remembered big”. Furthermore I am far from convinced that the central message requires suspended belief.

To me the first part of the central message is that Elijah was prepared to stand up to Ahab and Jezebel, and in effect place his own life on the line in defence of his belief. The other part of the message is that when things got really tough, what Elijah needed was not so much some dramatic mind-blowing help – but rather something as simple and as ordinary as a loaf of bread.

The notion of a prophet who is not only prepared to speak their mind despite the consequences but who takes physical action to underline his or her words is less common than some might think in Israel’s long and sometimes difficult history. Sometimes many years would pass before some new prophet would summon the courage to berate or nudge their people and their rulers to face their current dangers and opportunities. Nevertheless when such prophets did appear their arrival often marked periods of significant progress in thought and understanding. Conversely more commonly the religion and developing culture drifted in what one modern commentator called the “doldrums even to the point of stagnant corruption when the fires of prophecy ceased to burn” (Lloyd Geering quoted in The Lloyd Geering Reader : Prophet of Modernity P 26)

There is a sense where examples of this prophetic tradition have continued through the ages. Martin Luther in his challenge to a then corrupt Catholic Church, John Wesley challenging the stale elitism of 18th Century Anglicanism, brave Lutheran pastors like Bonhoeffer speaking out against the excesses of Hitler, Colin Morris with his challenge to the growing complacency of the Methodist Church, Martin Luther King challenging discrimination in the US, and of course Archbishop Desmond Tutu railing against the evils of racism in South Africa are just a very few of the many who can legitimately lay claim to be prophets in their own setting and while such leaders have had to face considerable opposition and even danger from amongst their own, inevitably the Church comes to see, sometimes only in considerable hindsight, that as a result of their prophets’ efforts the Christian faith has infinitely more relevance as a consequence.

We should never make the mistake of assuming that those with Church positions of leadership will automatically lead in a positive prophetic sense. Nor should we assume that Church conferences and convocations will always ensure that the key issues are being squarely faced. A mention in passing is not quite the same as a squarely faced issue. Power can be used or abused in a wide variety of ways and not least is allowing the weight of democratic opinion or the excuse of a packed agenda as a mechanism for turning a convenient blind eye to issues of injustice and inequality.

There might for example have been a period of history when it was appropriate for a smoothly functioning society to have a system of slavery. For us to allow the modern day equivalent of child sex slavery is of course an abomination. If we happen to belong to a church where leaders do not protest such horrors we would be entitled to ask if they had lost sight of the gospel. But let’s be honest. The problem with the light of truth is that truth can illuminate some very dark areas and even in Church there will be those who prefer to offer a mere passing whisper of disapproval lest they disturb those who prefer the shadows.

There might have been a time when society was so structured to preclude women from leadership – including leadership in the Church. But today’s prophets should be able to see that in most developed countries, the church is now required to serve a differently structured community. It may be a sad observation of future social historians that this is currently an age in which we are living through a period when Church is lagging behind society in reflecting the support for women in leadership. As it happens two of the largest denominations, the Catholics and the Anglicans have a history of being exceedingly slow to allow women as priests and still less to encourage women bishops. There are prophets prepared to protest on such matters but looking from the outside it does appear that most protests are muted in the extreme.

Another more serious scandal is that of standing idly by while weapons from the developed nations are poured into vulnerable areas. Add to this we have the exploitation of people’s resources in third world countries, the virtual abandonment of the stateless and homeless refugees and even today the ignoring of conditions leading to regions torn by religion fuelled conflict. These are all issues deserving urgent attention.

There are clearly those in our churches raising such issues, yet to read our newspapers and watch our news bulletins, the overall interest from the Christian camp is lukewarm at best. The reality is that unless the church hierarchies acknowledge their prophets on these topics, the Christian voice is going to remain largely ineffective.

Elijah is now acknowledged and valued by modern day Jews and his story is also part of the early history of what would later become the Christian Church. This is of course with the benefit of hindsight. If the recorded story of Elijah reflected his reality, then in his day he was delivering his message unsupported and alone. The modern world has changed and the moral issues and questions of justice are very different from those in the day of King Ahab. But the new questions and modern issues cannot be set aside just because they are new to our generation.

Clearly we should not all be expected to be prophets ourselves. The tasks of the kingdom are varied and, as well as the tasks of the prophets, there is always a need for others who will be friends of the lonely, visitors of the sick, peacemakers, supporters of the frail and the elderly and so on through the dimensions of what it might mean to live in Christ. Nevertheless, the challenge for us today is to accept the need for the continued role of prophets and if we ourselves are unable to accept the challenge for that role, at the very least we should work to ensure that when such prophets do appear they receive our every encouragement.

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An alternative sermon for Peace Sunday 9 August 2015 based on Matthew 5: 38,39

A minister friend once told me that he was puzzled as to why although one the one hand humankind has made tremendous progress in terms of knowledge and ability to sustain and support population, yet although there have been vast improvements and safety with transport and even much improved understanding in what makes us tick, there has been almost zero corresponding improvement in morality. Our wars are more violent and kill a greater percentage of civilians. Further, wealthy nations will callously exploit vulnerable nations for resources and only intervene for peace if there is a clear advantage in self interest. Financial fraud is virtually out of control and whole nations as well as local economies have been threatened in the process. The number of refugees is horrendously high and the gap between rich and poor mounts daily.

His analysis is probably fair comment. Towards the end of World War 2 the fire storms over the cities of Coventry, Dresden and Tokyo certain showed what total war might mean and we can take small comfort that at least thus far there haven’t been more nuclear weapons used since Hiroshima and Nagasaki – but as Christians we should feel very uncomfortable that whereas wars in previous centuries typically had of the order of 10% civilian casualty and 90% military casualty, yet for many of the modern wars our nation has since supported, those percentages are now approximately reversed and it has been the civilian component of the local population who have suffered the most.

Today is Peace Sunday, the Sunday closest to Hiroshima Day, when on the 6 August 1945, at 8.15 am a bomber crew on the Enola Gay, after having had the success of their mission blessed by a chaplain, dropped a bomb on the city of Hiroshima – immediately killing an estimated 70,000 men women and children – and leaving many more to die slowly and painfully over the next few weeks and months. Tactically yes, it may well have shortened the war and the fact that few were military casualties was certainly no worse than what had happened in the firestorms over Tokyo – yet the real question is why the war needed to have taken place in the first place? And then the consequent question, what in practice would help bring about peace lest it happen again?

Perhaps we should start by admitting to ourselves that the potential for violence is probably part of the human condition. Biologically, the scientists tell us that the brain is organised in layers with the most primitive part – the brain stem (sometimes called colloquially the lizard brain) in common with many higher animals. Certainly this structure is associated with instinctive behaviours including flight and fight particularly when we feel threatened, and assuming the mainstream scientists are correct, over the centuries these functions are part of the basic biology that has helped us survive as a species.

Unfortunately for our basic biological reactions, over recent millennia as a species we have evolved higher intelligence and the human inventive brain has evolved progressively more sophisticated methods of inflicting serious damage to those who we see as enemies. This has developed to the point where anyone with reasonable access to information (ie internet access) can readily find the means for killing very many of our fellows. If the target is a group or even a population that are not only seen as enemies, but for which our leaders have sanctioned the violence, there are few practical restraints to stop us employing our weapons with deadly effect.

Curiously we operate on a series of double standards. For example if we are officially at war we delegate our forces to drop high explosives on whole societies of anonymous people and reward them for so doing – yet should an individual deliberately and knowingly kill even one baby when war is not declared it is deemed a serious crime. Hundreds of thousands of children died as a result of sanctioned policy at the beginning of the Iraq war, yet a suicide bomber who kills a handful on the London underground is quite reasonably regarded as a mass murderer. The distinction between one who suffers burns from fire from 20 000 feet and the one who suffers the same sort of burns by being physically thrown on the fire is subtle but whether or not the victim cares about the difference is a moot point.

They used to ask a standard question of all conscientious objectors when they were called up and were trying to avoid military service. The question was, “ Would you take a weapon to stop someone attacking your wife and child?” When the conflict is one of those nasty modern conflicts where the civilians are the main casualties, I wonder if the most appropriate answer might be – “since civilians are the main ones who will be killed by our soldiers, who will be doing the threatening?”

Although the weapon development has made it urgently imperative to find new ways of making peace there is little sign that many appreciate that such a change in thinking is on the horizon. In the US in particular history conspires to add to the problems. Dating back to the American war against Britain and the need to mobilize a militia when the community is threatened, the right to bear arms is now seen as an essential part of their Constitution. As weapons have become steadily more lethal and the accessibility has increased, the problem they now have is that weapons can be and are purchased not only to protect a community – but in the hands of the antisocial, actually become the means to threaten the community. In the US, total gun crime may have come down a little from the appallingly figure of a few years ago, but incidents of mass shootings have remained at unacceptably high levels, and far higher than most civilized countries. We are in no position to advise the US on their gun laws, but we must also decide for ourselves which direction our gun laws should be heading if we are to have a safe community.

At the heart of all armed violence – sanctioned or not – lie the attitudes we have towards one another. As a people who claim to live in an essentially Christian nation, and one with a proud history of military involvement with conflict, we are probably a little uncomfortable to note that Jesus gave very clear direction about peace making. Because he also lived his message in a society which was no stranger to violence, he is justifiably reported as being opposed to violence at every level.

Turn the other cheek” he taught. “Keep no score of wrongs……” Where does that sit in our foreign policy? “ You have heard that it was said, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, but I say don’t use violence to resist evil”. (Matthew 5: 38-39) “Love your neighbour as yourself” Then he explained that one with the story of the good Samaritan, which in view of the religious differences between the Jews and the Samaritans seems remarkably contemporary as a pointer to best action in Middle East politics. Don’t forget he entered Jerusalem on a donkey as if to underline his commitment to peace.

To be truthful only a small minority of Christians have maintained Jesus’ uncompromising insistence on rejecting violence. Even St Paul acknowledged the practical difficulty of achieving total pacifism and instead in chapter 12 of his letter to the Romans came out with: “If it is possible, as far as you can, live at peace with all men” We seem to have drifted further than Paul from Jesus’ determination to insist violence must never be the best answer. Are you aware, for example, that for something like 300 years the early Church did take this message seriously. For example they adopted non violent methods of resistance, and what is more their list of who should not be baptized included soldiers along with gladiators, idol- worshippers, brothel keepers, and magistrates who exercised the power of the sword.

Unfortunately for Jesus’ message, once the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its approved state religion, the arming of Christians in defence of the empire became standard practice – and although the uneasy relationship between State and Church eventually led to such distortions of Jesus’ teaching as the crusades, some of the orthodox Churches reinstated the insistence that soldiers could not be baptized and continue to fight.

You may remember that years later Ivan the Terrible compromised on this and insisted that since his personal guard should be baptised, their sword arms should be held high during the ceremony and not immersed so that the un-baptized part of their bodies could still be used in his defence.

Few branches of the Church currently insist on total pacifism. The Quakers and Jehovah’s witnesses are probably among the most opposed to war – and there are of course those individuals within the mainline churches who have either been total pacifist or who have chosen to make a stand against specific wars they believed to be unjust.

Regardless of individual attitudes, honesty requires that we choose wisely for ourselves and that we understand that some areas of conflict are complex and offer shades of grey rather than issues which are black and white. Should the occasion arise it may well be totally reprehensible to turn a blind eye to some actions initiated by our own government and our own armed forces. Genocide is always unacceptable and it is hard to imagine any situation where torture would be OK. Some weapons like cluster bombs, depleted uranium shells, land mines, nuclear weapons, chemical and biological weapons are also inconsistent with Jesus teaching and it would be difficult for a mainline church to justify an investment policy with companies producing such weapons. Yet shades of grey include deciding what actions should be taken for example against a dictator who appears to be perpetrating atrocities.

In an imperfect world it is also clear that historically some conflicts have been avoided by the efforts of peacekeeping forces. Christians are by no means agreed about whether or not a just war can be fought and it would be a great pity to legislate against those who are genuinely following their conscience. Unless our own consciences are clear that we have genuinely done everything possible to avoid conflict, there would be a moral problem if we were to insist we had the right to tell others who were going to join up – what they must or must not do.

But ultimately the real problem is with our individual and collective treatment of those we chose to call our enemies. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has been known to say “enemies are friends I am yet to make”, and it does appear to be a fact that it is difficult to choose to fight someone who is being nice to you. Perhaps there is a message here for all of us.
Mark Twain pointed out long ago that the most durable, dangerous, all-encompassing and cowardly lie of all is “the lie of silent assertion”—the maintenance by the mass of people that all is well even when obvious facts make it clear that all is not well.

Perhaps it is not too late to return to Jesus’ advice about peace-making and see for ourselves if the one we claim to follow might have had it right all along.

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