Feb 13th 2011 St Lawrence, Morden. “Love is Faithful”, or “Do not commit adultery.”

Scripture readings:  Hosea 6:4-11, 14:4-6;  Ephesians 5:21-27

I begin with what is called ‘the creation ordinance.’  Gen:1:27/8.  God’s command to humanity.  It is repeated after the story of Noah and the flood in  Genesis 9:1.  For ‘bring the earth under your control’ in the Good News Bible, the King James translation says ‘replenish and subdue it.’  I don’t read ‘subduing it’ as oppressing it, but as learning to live with things like earthquakes.  In my lifetime, the science of understanding the movement of tectonic plates has developed hugely.  Where possible we are given the stewardship of improving our world – making deserts and arid areas habitable, use natural resources, the seasons of summer and winter, the wind, and of course the amazing fertility of our planet, this tiny ball in the immensity of our universe, in the corner of one galaxy among millions, in all that we call space.  Together with subduing the earth we are told to ‘replenish’ it – no justification there, for destroying anything, rather conserving this beautiful world that God has given us. 

And against that background, ‘us’, humanity is to fill the earth – without destroying it.  We are ‘put in charge of’ it, to rule it justly.  Women and men – in all our variety of race and colour, shape and size, intellectual variety.  Of course, there is no monopoly of happiness by the more intellectual, the smallest child together with people of limited mental ability, can experience pure joy, deep happiness.  The constitution of the United States defines the basic human right of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  And there is no doubt, happy, balanced adults, able to deal with life resiliently, grow best from children who have been raised by their biological parents, living faithfully together through the bad times as well as the good.

There are wonderful exceptions to that within our own congregation.  But the general principle is questioned by many in our society, and even the Church of England marriage liturgy has gone ‘lite’ on life-long marriage being first for the sake of children.  That’s how Cranmer’s prayer-book put it, and for 100’s of years, it was taught in the Church of England that children come first in marriage.  But in 1980, the marriage service was changed, and children dropped down the list of the reasons for marriage.

Of course, modern contraception enables sexual union without the conception of children, but their nurture remains the priority in the Biblical understanding of marriage.  Chapter 22 of Genesis records Abraham on mount Moriah following pagan custom, being willing to sacrifice his son, thinking that God had demanded it.  But God stops him.  For Jews (offspring of Abraham’s son Isaac), and for Arabs (offspring of his son Ishmael), Semitic society has ever since made children the priority in everything, and sex outside marriage is a serious crime – because it violates by far the safest and best way to bring up children.  Contemporary Western society on the other hand places individual adult freedom, and the right of individuals to pursue a sexual lifestyle they believe will bring them personal happiness, above the welfare of children.  Children growing up with only one of their biological parents, nearly always their mother, is increasingly the norm.  And now Elton John and his same-sex partner together with Elton’s children, they are held up as examples of a family structure as good for the children, as any other.

Jon Kuhrt, brother of our one-time curate Martin, wrote an article a couple of years ago for the magazine called Third Way, the article was called ‘Families valued’.  He has a lot of experience over many years, working with homeless people.  Jon Kuhrt says: “our culture finds it very hard to face the reality about family life.  Birthed in a positive desire to promote freedom and justice, the liberal consensus has morphed and hardened into libertarian denial about how communities work.  Personal freedom has become the golden calf our society worships….” John goes on to say: “Following university, I spent five years managing emergency hostels you young people in central London for the charity Centrepoint.  Day after day, homeless young people came to our hostel highly damaged by deprivation, drugs, self-harm, prostitution, violence and low self-esteem.  But under-pinning all these issues, one factor towered above all the others – family breakdown.  Every day we would hear the stories from the young people about their dysfunctional families – too often concerning violent, neglectful or completely absent fathers, and mothers who just could not cope.”  So Jon calls for lifelong marriage and commitment within families.  Our own youth-club leaders, over many years working with 100’s of young people, I know say the same.  Children from stable family backgrounds, are so obviously much happier and have much greater self-respect, than those who live with only one of the parents that conceived them.

So:  Love is faithful, or, as the 7th commandment is traditionally known: “Do not commit adultery.”  This is not to spoil adult fun, but to ensure by far the best environment for human beings to thrive, to know shalom/ salaam, to reach their full potential.  Of course, as I said earlier, there are exceptions.  Hilary and I have been hugely privileged to share with friends who were grand-parents the bringing up of their three grand-children, now five of the seven have married and with nine in the next generation, that’s two football teams – with Hilary as the referee.  Step-parents, adopted parents, caring adults – teachers as well of course, we can and do make a wonderful positive difference to the lives of so many children.  But the general principle remains.  As government withdraws these days from the ‘nanny state’ ethos, the general principle needs to be encouraged more and more.

Interestingly, in at least two of today’s (Sunday) newspapers, the headline is:  “Government to allow civil partnership ceremonies in churches.”  Another example of what John Kuhrt calls “government morphing and hardening into libertarian denial.”  Some suggest churches will be forced to allow or endorse such ceremonies.  Fine, then they can take over the running costs of churches and cathedrals, and leave congregations to hire community centre and government-owned churches, and get on with mission.

Those who are not married, or do not have children, have a hugely important role to play in encouraging children, and particularly teenagers, into a lifestyle that respects life-long, faithful marriage – that encourages the young not to be sexually active outside marriage, so that as parents they remain faithful to each other.  Faithful, but living together?  Still the thin end of the wedge.  Sexual fantasies are pretty harmless?  No, said Jesus, look on anyone lustfully and you commit adultery.  Pornography is not new, in the 19th Century there were explicit drawings and early photographs.  In the 20th century, magazines proliferated.  Page 3 of the Sun with its  topless models….  And now, with 21st century computer email, mobile phone and all the other digital media technology…  it demeans and cheapens the subject however adult, and of course, often the subject is far from adult.  “Be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” said Jesus.  Of course he wasn’t only talking about sexual sin, and even life-long Christians who manage not to make headlines as sinners of whatever kind, fall so far short of God’s ideal.

Then there is the question of the role-modelling by ordained church leaders.  The Revd David Banting, on the General Synod of the Church of England reminds us, just this week:  “The apostle Paul wrote (in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1) that overseers have a noble calling in the Church’s ministry. They must be blameless and of good reputation, especially with regard to the outside world, and they must watch their life and teaching closely (see 1 Timothy 4.16).  I am grateful to the Bishops of the Anglican churches of sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria, which together make up the large majority of the Anglican Communion, for taking a stand against the selfish liberalism of many Anglican Bishops in the west.  I understand that the primate of Nigeria Archbishop Nicholas Okoh is meeting English bishops this week, the new Bishop of Southwark, Christopher among them.  please pray for these meetings  

Now to my second point: and I am nearly out of time.  So just headlines, and if you would like to work more on them, come to tonight’s service…

We read from Hosea, the old Testament prophet who married a prostitute, who was unfaithful to him.  Hosea saw that unfaithfulness as carried over, and made worse, by his nation’s unfaithfulness to God.  In other parts of the Bible as well, adultery  is about so much more than selfish indulgence of sexual appetite.  It is no accident that together with sexual licence, comes a selfish indulgence with food, and with consumerism in general.  Once we refuse a limit to our appetite in one direction, then inevitably, that carries over into so many other spheres of life.  As David McCall reminded us last week, from King David’s Psalm 51:4 “Against you God, you only, have I sinned…”  All selfishness wherever directed, ultimately is against God.

Leaving pre-occupation with food and sex for a moment, what about the West’s pre-occupation with cars?  As a youth, I was drawn to motor vehicles.  Being an army cadet meant that I could drive 3-ton lorries at 14 – not on public roads of course, but in army training areas.  I was a dab hand at tractor-driving at hop-harvest time.  Did you know that in many parts of the west, for every 1,000 people, there are 750 cars?  In India for every 1,000 people, there are 25 cars.  In China, I think it is already around 100 cars per 1,000 people, I don’t know about Africa.  What kind of world would it be if for every 1,000 people there were 750 cars?  We would all have been long dead fighting over the last drops of oil left in the world.  And forget electric cars and hydogren-propelled, they will always just be toys for the rich.    

There must be massive, political intervention, very soon.  Somehow, restraint must be exercised.  The adulteration of God’s world cannot continue.  All sin is ultimo\ately against God.  The one country in the world that could set an example is China.  President Obama could never impose a meaningful carbon-tax however much he might want to.  Democracy won’t do it as we know it, Capitalism certainly won’t.  Socialism on its own won’t.  But China might.  I am proud of my parents’ contribution to the Chinese church, one-time missionaries in West China.  Christians in China are helping to mitigate the excesses of socialism.  Also, the growth of the church in many parts of Africa I suggest provides huge opportunity to teach the west about accepting limits.

Finally, two words from the Bible, to western Christians, whether parents, politicians, or just citizens in democratic countries.  From Galatians 6, verse 2: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”  The burden of caring for our world must not be unequally shared.  How this can work out with regard to the rest of the world, let alone the nurture of children in Morden and Sutton, it is up to us to work that out.  Is there something you can do to share the burden of people in other parts of the world, more equally?  And yes, Gary and Sharon James’ family, vegan food can be very tasty, thank you for your example there!

My last word from scripture is that which we read from Ephesians 5, and we are back to marriage, as an example, perhaps the best example of accepting limits to our selfishness.  “Submit to one another…” (v.21).  Sometimes I criticise our Good News Bible for its translation, but I commend the way it puts v21 at the beginning of the paragraph about marriage.  I am sorry to say the NIV puts it at the end of a paragraph, the English Standard Version makes it just an afterthought.  Of course there were no such breaks in the original manuscripts.  I am quite sure, that our submitting to one another introduces not just wifely submission, but every bit as much: “husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave his life for it”.  Explaining that to couples, I find quite a lot of wives are happy to say “obey” in their marriage vow.

We to love, to stay free from adultery, not just faithful in marriage, although that is taken for granted.  We are called to love as Christ loved, to be faithful in all our relationships, to recognise that love – grounded in the love of Christ – is stronger than death.

I’m sorry to have gone on a bit.  If you can, come tonight, and we will discuss adultery, how to avoid it, how to be faithful, and so begin to love, as Christ loves us..  Oh yes, and happy Valentine’s day tomorrow.

Note added, after the evening service discussion pointed out an important omission to my sermon:  Christians free from the responsibilities involved in the procreation of children, have the privilege and responsibility to encourage the state to support marriage.  I am quoting from Roger Sruton here: “the state (I take him to mean a democracy) is always and inevitably the instrument of its current members; it will respond to their pressures and try to satisfy their demands. It has therefore found it expedient to undo the sacrament (of marriage), to permit easy divorce, to reduce marriage from a vow to a contract, and — in the most recent act of liberalisation — to permit marriage between people of the same sex…”  Yet “…Societies endure only when thery are devoted to future generations, and they collapse like the Roman Empire when the pleasures and fancies of the living usurp the inheritance of those unborn…  The burden of state-sponsored sex education (in a democracy where there are not enough Christians together with people of other Abrahamic faith to influence government) is to turn the sexual urge for erotic passion from marital commitment and dutiful child-bearing.  The attitude is reinforced by the state’s support for abortion (and euthanasia?)”

Jan. 30th 2011 10am CELEBRATION service at St Lawrence, Morden, Surrey

Genesis 22:1-19;  Matthew 5:33-37.  Love tells no lies.  The second in a sermon series on the 10 Commandments…

One problem I had as a teenager, (and believe me, I was a problem child, I had lots of problems), one problem was, that I exaggerated.  I had been taught from an early age, to tell the truth – not to lie.  Matt 5:33 “Just say yes or no- anything else you say comes from the evil one” guided my parents’ lives, and so they guided their children.  But, as most other children, I tested out simple deceits, like taking a few pence from Mum’s purse etc, getting caught – and discovering that denying my crime meant I got a harder smack.  By the time I was a skinny teenager, lightweight in just about everything, the temptation to exaggerate was hard to resist, to make myself seem bigger.  I can’t remember specific examples, just that friends knew to take what I said with a pinch of salt, sometimes quite a large pinch.  As I grew older, struggling to make sense of a growing commitment to Jesus, I was still exaggerating.  And just tweaking the truth, that’s quite hard for other people to spot.  But friends sense after a time that what you say is not reliable, and friendships are shallower as a result.  And you end up lower on the scale of happiness about life.  Learning to be a person who tells the truth, with no exaggeration – that I finally learned is very important in establishing strong and lasting friendships.

Moving from the personal, to a society view of truth, or untruth:  Communities, governments that exaggerate, to use the modern word ‘Spin’, end up as unhappy communities and nations.  20 years ago, to ‘spin’ simply meant to make thread to make cloth.  But the word has taken on a completely different meaning, largely thanks, I am sad to say, to New Labour.  Of course it has been happening in government for a long time.  The last century saw a huge advance in government-inspired propaganda.  The 1st world war propaganda-machine developed hugely.

I believe that much of the actual evil of the Nazi regime began life in the minds of British propagandists.  The murderous ‘hun’ bayoneting babies was a common caricature.  Of course there was every bit as much evil in the great war machine built up by the British Empire before WWI, as there was in Germany.  Truth is often, nearly always a casualty of war.

Matthew 5: 33 is actually a warning of the danger of emphasising a half-truth with an oath.  When Jesus said “let your yes be yes, and your no, no” He was specifically warning against the too easy making of oaths.  Some Bible literalists have taken that to mean they will not stand up in a courtroom, and with hand of Bible say “I swear by Almighty God that I will tell the truth and nothing but the truth…”  The epistle of James repeats the warning in ch. 5 v12.  Earlier in chapter 3, James has warned about the tongue (the bit on a horses mouth, the rudder of a ship, a tiny flame setting alight a forest).  Then there is the famous poster from the second world war Careless talk costs lives….

Its true, and as J John in his Just 10 book reminds us of the poster, it doesn’t have to be only in wartime that careless talk costs lives.  The danger that gossip can do, does not need to be underlined by me today.  As disciples of Jesus, everything we say is in, if you like, God’s hearing.  Christians need to strive to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, at all times.

Christians let God down when they tell less than the truth,against the clear teaching of the New Testament.  There is an Arabic word ‘taqqiya’ which allows being selective with facts, originally justified when survival is threatened, for instance used by Shia Muslims when under Sunni government, and as well – the Muslims of my old parish of Oman in the first century of Islam, were despised and looked down on by Muslims in central Arabia.  Now taqqiya has now come to mean, for a number of Muslims, not needing to speak the whole truth to non-Muslims.  So, the 9/11 plotters justified before Allah, pretending they were simply learning to fly jet aircraft for innocent purposes.  So, young Pakistanis from Britain fly to Karachi allegedly to visit family, but then join a terrorist training camp, or join the Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.  Those are extreme cases, and not true of Ahmadiyyas by the way.  I encourage you to make friends with Muslim neighbours, the large majority will probably be more honest as anyone from  a nominally Christian or secular background, but some will be practising a mild taqqiya towards you, in their desire to win you for Islam.  That doesn’t mean don’t make friends, just be as careful as we need to be, when making any friends of whom we don’t know their background.

Tony Blair’s spin-doctors practised taqqiya, as they broke this 9th commandment, as they produced more and more half-truths for media consumption.  All this applies of course, particularly on the internet when it is even easier to hide one’s true identity or motive.  Young people particularly, please note.

But I want to focus now, and the main point of my sermon this morning, is to focus on one kind of un-truth – and that is a partial Gospel, one that is hidden – however unintentionally, from others.  We have great good news.  A great Gospel to proclaim.  And I believe most of us in Britain today are guilty, culpable, of hiding it.  Yes, we are happy for people to know we are Christians, but we have nearly completely lost the urgency of warning.  I was wondering how to emphasise this, when Sue White introduced me   I am grateful to Sue White, who  at yesterday’s weekly prayer meeting,  introduced me to a prayer by Corrie Ten Bloom.  I am going to ask her to pray it now:

“Lord, open our eyes to the world around us.  Use us to warn people and tell them:  that when we walk hand in hand with you we are safe, even in the midst of a storm.  And, that there is an eternity to lose or to gain.”

Not to speak the truth, is as bad as telling a lie.  Think about the ninth commandment’s sentence structure for a moment.  It is like a double negative.  “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.”  Take the negatives out and it says: “You shall bear true witness for your neighbour.”  Of course, originally, it was there to enshrine truth-speaking in disputes among nomadic tribes, wandering the Sinai desert.  But later, as the prophets got going, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the rest, they would I think have applied this commandment in the way I am doing.  And most certainly a little known prophet called Zechariah…

At the beginning of my ordained ministry, David Sheppard, one-time Bishop of Liverpool, wrote a book called “Built as a city.”  It has inspired me all the way so far, as it calls for Christian engagement with all of our urban society, not just the bits we are most comfortable with.  David Sheppard focused on a passage on a passage in Zechariah, ch. 8, with its great picture of a society at peace, real peace with itself, and where 9 non-believers grab hold of the robe of 1 believer to follow them into the presence of God.  There again at the end comes the word Immanuel – except that it is “God is with you.”

We could have read that passage, but I wanted to finish with Abraham and Isaac.  Discerning God’s leading, Abraham had a tough call didn’t he?  He had no written scriptures, how on earth was he to work out what God was saying to him?  And the way Genesis 22 is written, you’d think God was purposely misleading him.  I think that is a mis-reading.  Remember Abraham had come out of a pagan society, where child sacrifice was socially acceptable.  I’m sorry to say this, but often that is how matriarchal societies – without a Christian understanding of God – end up.  I wonder if some of the oak-trees in Morden Park come from oaks where the pagan druids would offer their human sacrifices, usually young girls?  Abraham was trying to work out his relationship with God, and the great wonder is, that he came to realise that God does not demand death in payment for our human sinfulness, but there is the great phrase in v14 of Gen. 22:  “The Lord provides.”  Indeed He does.  God provides the sacrifice, in laying down his own perfect life on the cross.

Forget the crude and totally wrong picture, of a Father God demanding the death of his Son-God, a kind of second God alongside him.  One or two modern songs make that mistake.  The Christian God is One God.  The disciples came to realise that although Jesus as a human being called himself God’s Son, just as Jesus calls us children of God, Jesus was in fact God Himself, in human form.  That is the great heart of the Christian Gospel – it was not that God demanded the death of someone else to pay the price of sin, he paid it himself.  St John in his great book of Revelation begins with the (human but with a glorious, resurrected body) lamb before the throne, but concludes with the lamb upon the throne.  And you and I have the awesome task of proclaiming that to the world.  And those who accept that they cannot earn their way into God’s presence, but simply need to accept that he invites them, freely, out of his limitless love, which has the power to break the power of death over us.  And we break the command of Christ, when we fail to go into all the world to make disciples, even more – as when in Morden and Sutton today, the world comes to us.

I have run out of time.  I finish with an invitation.  For those who are not in an evening home-group or the Wednesday study group, please join me at the Rectory, 7.30pm, Tuesday week, that’s February 8th – for a Question-time. I hope some answers will be given as well. It will be a bit like Alpha or Christianity Explored, but with the very clear aim of helping those who come, bear witness to the truth of the Gospel.    Notes from that meeting will then be circulated to the home-groups so they can pray along with us.  Let me know if you intend to come.

Thank you for coming to a service at a different time than usual.  It will be the end of May before we have another 5th Sunday, when again, the service will be a celebration – at 10am.  Until then, see you at our 9am or 10.30am services (or 8am or 6.30pm services!).