Loving Our Neighbour
Sermon preached by
This summer we travelled as a family to Bournville on the outskirts of Birmingham, destination - Cadbury world. (This is not a recommendation - it seemed like a good idea at the time)
One of the things which I knew we would see was the Cadbury exhibition which has life size models of the Aztecs and the Spanish conquistadores. Chocolate has its origins in South America with the Aztecs. In 1519, Hernan Cortez the Spanish explorer arrived in America at a place we now call Mexico, looking for gold. He met the Aztec emperor Monteczuma and discovered 'Chocolatl' which the Aztecs drank and put in cakes, made from the fruit of the Cacao tree.
Hernán Cortéz tasted this chocolate and took the beans back to Spain where the chocolate drink was made. It was kept a secret and enjoyed only by rich people. Eventually, the secret came out. It was introduced into England in 1657.
Apart from discovering chocolate the Aztecs were an incredible people.
The Aztec Calendar
You may remember famous symbol of Mexico which is picture of a 12 foot stone slab. The Aztec name for this huge stone is Cuauhxicalli (Eagle Bowl), but it is known as the Aztec Calendar or Sun Stone.
In the centre you can see Tonatiuh's Face, this is the face of the sun, Lord of Heaven. The crown, nose-pendant, ear-rings and necklace are magnificent. The hair is blond, due to the golden appearance of the sun. The wrinkles on the face show age and maturity. And the tongue was stuck out like a sacrificial knife because the god demands to be fed with blood and human hearts.
It was carved during the reign of the 6th Aztec monarch in 1479 and dedicated to the main Aztec deity: the sun. The stone weighs almost 25 tons, has a diameter of just under 12 feet, and a thickness of 3 feet.
On December 17th, 1760 the stone was discovered, buried in the "Zocalo" (the main square) of Mexico City. Afterwards it was put in the wall of the Western tower of the metropolitan Cathedral, where it remained until 1885. Then it was transferred to the national Museum of Archaeology and History
The figures on the stone are about when the Aztec world began, how it would continue and when it would end. The Aztecs believed that they were living in the fifth and last creation of the world. They called each creation a sun, because movement of the sun gave human life.
The amazing Aztec calendar meant that a date was only repeated every 18,980 days. This means that every day was different for a period of time which lasted 52 years.
Modern scientists calculate the tropical year to be precisely 365.2422 days. The Gregorian calendar, currently in use, gives 365.2425 days for each year, the remarkable Aztecs were closer at 365.2420 days. How amazingly clever they were to work that out? It is just one of many mysteries which we do not understand about the Aztecs
The Aztec religion
The Aztecs were clearly not stupid, but their religion has been recognised as primitive.
When each period of 52 years came along, sacrifices were performed to avoid disaster.
The Aztecs were a very religious people and had perhaps 1500 gods. The Gods had to be offered sacrifices to stop violent destruction being brought down upon them. In order to stop their destruction they performed human sacrifices to the gods. They believed that if they fed the gods with human blood, this would keep the sun alive. Cortez wrote that the Aztec priests performed human sacrifices and that the priest would pull out the heart as a special gift to the god.
Two great civilisations and two religions.
So here we have the meeting of two great civilizations, Christianity and the Aztecs. The triumph of Christianity over the Aztecs has been seen as a necessary triumph over a pagan religion which performed human sacrifice. Cortez is said to have wanted to build a Christian church over the place of every Aztec temple. Of course the real reasons lie rather in the desire for Aztec gold which can still be seen today furnishing Spanish churches.
Of course when we look at Christianity you can see that we had our own types of human sacrifice at the time and you may think of the burning of protestants by catholics and catholics by protestants in England.
And the message of all of this is I think quite simple - Being religious, even being fervently religious is of no virtue in itself. Religion is not necessarily a good thing. Indeed it can bring out the worst in people.
I am not sure who was the more advanced, the Aztecs with their calendar or the Spanish with their guns and horses. What is clear is that the religion of both caused them to take life and treat other human beings with dreadful brutality.
In our Romans reading this morning we see that the measure or the worth, the value of religion, is judged by the necessary demonstration of that religion in actions of loving kindness. When we ask how good is our religious faith the answer is 'as good as your love for your neighbour.' The words and the deeds of those who seek to worship God should be characterized by a ruling principle which is that we 'love our neighbour as ourself.' That principle is the scale upon which we weight the true value of religion.
This week we remember the terrible tragedy in New York, when the twin towers were attacked by religious fanatics. Their religion was no better than that which we would describe as the pagan faith of the Aztecs. For those Islamic extremists human life was considered cheap and worth sacrificing.
Some of the very worst crimes against humanity have been committed by religious people, in the name of their god. Religion does not always make people good people. Often people will use religion to gain divine blessing or authority for acts of terrible human greed and aggression.
We have all to be so careful of using Christian teaching to justify our own social or political agendas. We can think for example of the manner in which this has been done to justify apartheid in South Africa and America.
In 1878 the Cadbury brothers George and Richard moved the family business which had been created by their father John Cadbury 1824 to Bournville. There under the Quaker influence, which was so strong in industry with companies like Leverhulme, Rowntree and Fry's, they set about creating a model of good social behaviour and employment conditions.
When a one of the women on the workforce was married she was retired from the workforce and summoned to see George Cadbury. He gave them on leaving a Bible and Carnation. Now I am sure that he thought he was being very generous and he was convinced that wives were to be at home and not in the workplace.
How important that we constantly seek to think through the implications of Christian teaching. Our faith should so inform our thinking and our behaviour that we are able to reconsider and necessarily change our belief and practice. I say necessarily because perfection is unlikely in most of us.
The Christian life is expected to be a life which is distinguishable by its practice. Acting the quality of love, the absence of evil and this done through the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Christian and the Christian community was to be recognized as special. That is why Matthew gave instructions in our reading today that we should seek to settle disputes inside the church privately, one to one. We must constantly allow our faith to challenge our assumptions and inform our thinking. We must be prepared to rethink and evaluate our ideas in the light of the demands of this commandment that we treat others as we would wish to be treated if we were them.
We might not like our neighbour - They may be a different colour than us. In our society we still hear far too often of crimes which are racially motivated. Christians must never be stained by such a sin against God, who made us all his children. Our neighbour may be from a different social background, it is of considerable concern that Methodist Christianity and Anglican Christianity in our country is not only white but it is also middle class.
We have to be able to transcend these barriers: remember that when Jesus was asked for an example of who a neighbour was, he chose a Samaritan, somebody who a good Jew wouldn't even condescend to speak with.
It is no use calling for change in the world, we have to be the change which we want to see in the world.