Sermon: The Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost 2015

"Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."

Every generation has been an adulterous and sinful one. There has never been a golden age of righteous living. Of course, at any one time there will be different levels of wickedness going down in different places on earth and occasionally there will be times when in certain places the level of wickedness is so high that it shoots off the scale, such as in periods of genocide or mass enslavement. It is in such times that sin becomes pure evil. However, I expect if it was possible to quantify unrighteous behaviour we would discover that, stretched across the whole world and over a period of fifty years or so, the average would remain constant.

The same is not true about the amount of shame Christians feel about their religion. That does vary from age to age, as well as from place to place. It's causes also vary. For example, at the start of the Christian era going around proclaiming your allegiance to Christ in public could result in an untimely and, most often, prolonged and gory death. It must have taken incredibly strong faith and great courage not to decide to hide your religious loyalties when faced with such horrific persecution. There is no way I would ever condemn those who chose to remain silent about their faith or even those who publicly renounced Jesus when arrested because I really do not know if I would have acted any different to them if I found myself in their situation.

To only a slightly lesser extent such violence against Christians still exists in our world today. Islamic persecution against Christians has been constant throughout the Islamic world since only a few years after that religion began. Muhammed himself treated Jews and Christians very cruelly indeed. The injustice non-Muslims experienced under Muslim rule led many millions of Christians to reject Jesus and convert to Islam over the years. It is the descendants of those Christians who bravely refused to be bullied into renouncing their Christian faith who are suffering today in fundamentalist Islamic cultures such as Pakistan, Iraq and the regions of the Middle East controlled by ISIS and the Taliban. Again, I cannot possibly condemn those who have chosen to flee the persecution rather than to stand in the market squares of the East proclaiming the divinity of Jesus Christ.

During the last one hundred years there has been also been much persecution of Christians, in fact people of all faiths, in communist states. This is still going on, big time, in China and North Korea. Right now the Chinese authorities are systematically pulling down Christian churches and this is on top of the routine imprisonment of individual Christians, especially those who are from the evangelical tradition. It is the fact that Christianity has persisted under regimes which employ imprisonment, torture and execution in their attempt to eradicate it, that is the surprise not the fact that so many Christians, understandably in my opinion, decided to enlist with the enemy and save themselves and their families.

It has been a long time since Christians have faced violent persecution in the West. The last time Christians feared for their lives because of their faith was during the aftermath of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, and then they were not being attacked by the authorities of other religions but by the rulers of the differing factions of their own. However, there is force at work in Western culture that is persuading Christians and potential converts to Christianity, to be ashamed of Jesus Christ, with a higher success rate than all the persecutions of the past put together. It is amazing how much pain people can endure without forsaking their beliefs. Strangely, embarrassment, a mere emotional response, is something that is extremely difficult for people to endure and the enemies of religion have realised this. At this moment in time in the West the greatest cause of apostasy and non-conversion is shame.

I have been a Christian all of my life. I cannot remember a time when I didn't believe in the reality of the Christian story. Therefore, it came as a great surprise to me when I discovered on arriving at senior school that being a Christian was an extremely untrendy thing to be. Those of us who were discovered to be believers in God were ridiculed by our peers and by many of our teachers. It was a boys only school and basically the main line of attack on us was that being a Christian was sissy. That if you were a Christian you were a poof, a bender, queer, a homo and, in the early nineteen seventies' Britain being gay was almost universally regarded as a shameful and perverted thing to be, especially if you were a young lad living in the backwater of a small, provincial factory town.

I cannot remember how I first reacted to this onslaught against my faith, I probably just kept quiet about my religion. But I have always been as stubborn as a mule and I do remember that I eventually kicked back and would arrive at school with a "Jesus Christ: He's The Real Thing" badge proudly pinned to the lapel of my blazer and would leave flyers for the local "Jesus Movement" concert venue all over the shop. Of course, nowadays the institutionally hatred of Christianity is so intense that any student turning up at a state school visibly displaying their Christian faith in such a way would probably be suspended on the spot, but back then religious expression was still officially tolerated and the worst I risked was a beating up in the schoolyard.

Between the end of my schooldays and today things have got far, far more difficult for Christians in England, especially for our young. No longer are Christians accused of being effeminate as that has almost become, post "Naked Civil Servant," a badge of honour. Christians are now tempted to be ashamed of their God and Savior because of constant ridiculing by right on comedians and celebrity seeking scientists. Comedians, such as Eddie Izzard and Tim Minchin, rap on and on in their sets  about how stupid Christians are and such comedians are regarded, ironically, as demigods by their fans, especially their young fans. They are seen as being something to aspire to and if they are so anti-Christianity the message is that being a Christian is not something to aspire to. Worse than that being a Christian is uncool.

Atheistic scientists also employ the Christians must be stupid tactic. The irony in their position is that their arrogance, their belief in the correctness of everything they believe, their devotion to the binding scientific method, turns them into fundamentalists far more severe than the most hardcore creationist. And they can be very nasty. Scientists who dare to own up to even the slightest whiff of Christian faith do not just face ridicule from their colleagues. Many have been frozen out the scientific community. Many have been brazenly sacked.

As I stated earlier, I am a stubborn kind of fellow. I am naturally so. Being stubborn requires no effort of fortitude on my part. I do not recommend it as a personality trait as being stubborn has pretty much ruined my life. It has certainly curtailed my career and left me with very few friends in the real world. I cannot claim any kudos for myself for having remained resolutely Christian throughout my life as who I am destined me to be so. The people I respect are those Christians who do not have my pathological tenaciousness but who still refuse to be ashamed of Jesus Christ despite the constant pressure from the zeitgeist of out modern Western culture that they should be so. With practicing Christians being very much a minority in populations in countries such as England at this moment in time, not being ashamed of Christ can end you up in a very lonely place. That is why it is imperative that the Church in such lands stops being so wimpish about its proclamation of the gospel, so apologetic about its beliefs, so respectful of the people who are deliberately trying to destroy our faith and snatch our young people from us. The Church should be empowering the people of God to fight back and in kind. I know pride is supposed to be a deadly sin but, quite honestly, we could do with a bit more in our faith and a lot more pride in our God. Our people should avoid the temptation to become arrogant but we do need to allow more certainty into our understanding of life. We do not know how the universe began or why the quantum universe is so different to the classical universe, but we do know there is more to life than mathematical equations. We also know that God loves us and that Jesus Christ is the saviour of our world.

Look at us. Us Christians. We are not that special by even human standards. We are sinners. We are losers and failures. Not one of us hasn't screwed at some point in our lives and most of us have done so over and over again. Yet, Jesus Christ, the one person who did get it right, is not ashamed of us. Christ knows why, but our nature does not embarrass him. So, the least we could do is to have the guts to not be ashamed of Jesus Christ. It's the descent thing to do and, if that is not enough for you, then it is also part of the way to eternal life. It is refusing such a wonderful future because of temporary embarrassment that is stupid not believing it to be true. Put that in your easy laugh pipe, Mister Comedian, and smoke it!

Comments

Sermon: The Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost 2015 — 8 Comments

  1. Reading this, I come to understand how different our personal contexts are, MP.

    I consider myself to be a messenger of the GOOD News, and a follower of Jesus.

    But I am content to let “Christian”/”Christianity” go. They have become shameful terms, but—in my U.S. context—deservedly so. I try to reach the Christianity-haters on THEIR terms, and only when discussing First Questions—What’s the F#cking Point of It All?—come around to “I believe in LOVE, Alfie” (and then, only much later, illustrate the Love via the Nazarean Carpenter).

    So, I laugh w/ Eddie & Tim. Even when anti-theists call all religious people delusional idiots, I can agree—again, in a U.S. context—that (too) MANY of them are.

    And I just try to be my Episcopalian self. Has any anti-theist JoeMyGod reader who’s ever upvoted or personally greeted me thought “You know, that JCF is all right: maybe I should give the Episcopal Church a try?” I don’t know—I’ll probably never know.

    But that’s OK. For right now, however, it makes more sense to me, consistent w/ my faith, to focus more on publicly condemning BAD Christians (Christianists), than to make a stinking fuss over a scattershot that gets me (I pray, a good Christ-follower) in the process. The true martyrs are in Syria (and of course, my queer anti-theist friends would be thrown off rooftops there even before I would).

  2. “we do need to allow more certainty into our understanding of life”

    I’m certain certainty is a problem. ;-/

      • “Stockholm Syndrome.”

        You’re saying I have? No one’s holding a gun on me. “Of Course I Could Be Wrong”, but it’s a freely-chosen wrongness (again, speaking ONLY for myself).

  3. Speaking of ‘bad Christians’ reminds me of the time when Paul Tournier is reported to have been asked if there were any phoney therapists out there. Apparently he replied, “Yes; I am one of them”.

    ‘Bad Christians’ are all that God’s got to work with. Thankfully, he appears to be OK with that.