Love One Another
Sermon preached by
The Reverend Charles Royden
4 September 1999
Recently we heard the news of the death of Dom Helda Camara, a Roman Catholic cardinal who was renowned for his social conscience and his work with the movement which has been termed liberation theology. It was he who said the words
'when I feed the poor they call me a saint, when I ask why they are poor they call me a communist'
Liberation theology has been a voice of conscience in the church urging us not to forget those who suffer in third world countries. In our lesson this morning we were encouraged to love our neighbour and not to forget the needs of those less fortunate than ourselves. Where is the voice of conscience which challenged us about our behaviour, our attitudes and our Christian lifestyle. I wanted this morning to think about this voice of conscience and I thought of Jiminy Cricket, who challenged Pinocchio about his behaviour in times of moral decision. Jiminy shouts at Pinocchio and tries to make him see reason.
As Christians we have the voice of God as our conscience to challenge and to bring us to reason. I am mindful of that Christian hymn
'may the mind of Christ my Saviour live in me from day to day'
The mind of Christ must awaken us to right behaviour towards others, challenge us to live less selfish lives and to think of the needs of others more than we think of our own. On holiday recently I went fishing for the day and Corinne was left with the children for the day. I left her the car and asked her to make sure that she parked it off the road when she went out because I had forgotten to renew the tax disc before we left home. Corinne has a moral conscience which is much louder than mine and she immediately reminded me that this was not satisfactory. Off she went to the post office that minute and bought a new tax disc, just as well because no sooner had she done so than she was stopped by a police car just outside Ballater! She hadn't actually committed a serious crime, my brother Ross jumped our of a hedge and I think the policeman thought he looked suspicious. Beware of clergymen jumping out of bushes!
Some of us do have consciences which are much more finely tuned than others. We must remember that history has shown how badly the Christian conscience can be corrupted. We need only look at the action, or lack of it, of the church at times of great evil, such as was seen in Germany in the Second World War. For each one of us there is a danger that our conscience can be corrupted. We can excuse our bad behaviour, make allowances for lapses of moral behaviour, each one of us must be alert to ensure that we allow God access to mould us and challenge us. He does this of course as we pray and ask him to be present in our lives. he does it as we read his Holy Word, the Bible and let it speak to us afresh each day. He does it as we meet together with other Christians and he is uniquely present with us in our Christian community.
Today we are faced with so many ethical decisions which seem to be neither black nor white. Should the church use its land for farming genetically modified crops? Should we allow the morning after pill for girls of 12 following the publicised cases this week of child pregnancy. These are questions which you will not find in your bible, so how do we go about finding the answers? This is the word of conscience that we should be guided by when we are faced with difficult moral choices and dilemmas.
We might wish that we could simply be given by God a list of easy to understand rules and regulations, which would tell us how we should behave. We would then find it easy to know that we were doing the right thing. How annoying then that Jesus summed up all the commands with the injunction to love our neighbour. So too with our bible reading today from Romans 13:8
The commandments 'Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not covet, and whatever other commandments there are , are summed up in this one rule 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.
In the midst of a crazy mixed up world we are faced with so much which we struggle to understand. The Christian is not faced with a steep and rugged pathway anymore. Now we are faced looking out over a bog and the path is totally unclear. We have to fight our way across with muddy boots, spending much of the time sinking. The Bishop of Edinburgh Richard Holloway, was this week was criticised for failing to lay down black and white moral rules. We prefer targets easily defined morality. There is a management word which my wife likes the SMART target method. They should be
- S Specific
- M Measurable
- A Achievable
- R Realistic
- T Time related
Now we may prefer specific clear black and white morality, but we have to realise that we are not living in that kind of a black and white world. The decisions of conscience are not specific, measurable, achievable, realistic for our human nature and time is limited to all of us.
And so we must take to heart this commandment to love. There are few who would disagree with it. Then we must as a Christian community listen to each other and to God and try to discern the way forward. Let us pray that God will by his Holy Spirit be present inside each one of us as we try to know his will in our lives.