LAST SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY
A Titanic Struggle
Matthew 22.40 "The whole Law of Moses and
the teachings of the prophets depend on these two commandments."
Few are more than vaguely aware of
a titanic struggle which has been joined in the Christian fellowship in
recent years. In the West there is a sense in the Church pew that that
empty seats and depleted coffers denote something seriously wrong.
Elsewhere, many Christians have a sense of being besieged by hostile
It might be argued that ordinary people like you and me
should leave great issues to great men and women. That may be true - and
yet there is a real sense in which each of us is caught up in and affected
by these events. Whether we will or not, as we pray, worship and live our
lives out, we contribute our tiny piece to the eventual outcome of these
larger times and tides. We are engaged even if we don't want to be.
As I think of the issues at stake, it occurs to me that
a simple yet profound truth, which has tended to elude humanity over the
ages, has been discovered. A precious few have grasped it in every
century. But not until our times has a significant number of people
consciously realised that the only constant in life is change. Not only
that, but the pace of change is now faster than ever before.
I'm aware that this is a truism, that many have said it
already, that it has become something of a mantra. But I think it
important that Christians wherever they are stop to ponder how change
affects them, and why.
All struggles on the larger scale are comprised of struggles in
microcosm - in the myriad ways each of us faces up to new things in our
lives. It seems to me that the greatness of Jesus is comprised in part of
a hyper-awareness of the constancy of change, and of the evil which comes
of trying to replace trust in God with devices which protect us from the
world which God created.
Of all such devices, none is more powerful and insidiously corrupting
than the idea that God has fixed in concrete certain ways of thinking and
behaving. Of all groups in the world, none is more wedded to this concept of
life than religious people. Christians in particular claim to know, for all
people everywhere and at all times,
- what's right and wrong, whether it be the Ten Commandments, or the
precepts of the Bible, or the pronouncements of Church authorities;
- how to make contact with the divine; and therefore
- the best courses of action for everyone, to the point of being able
to tell statesmen what their momentous choices should be.
Many Christians act as though they are an island of stability in a flood
of change. If this bishop or that synod, this council or that cardinal, this
assembly or that pastor, legislates this or that then the flood is diverted
around an island of unchangeable certainties.
Both Jesus and Paul were entirely familiar with this approach to life.
They called it "the Law". It was a set of absolutes which could be
interpreted, but never changed. The Law ruled humans. In exchange it
provided apparent security. And yet, as Paul says, "No one is put right with
God by doing what the Law requires" (Galatians 3.16).
Jesus was equally bold. The entire Law is itself ruled by love, he said.
It is superceded, overcome, and replaced by an entirely different way of
living. He proceeded to demonstrate this truth by dying for it.
The Law defines the response before encountering the person. Love
encounters the person first, and follows with a response which seeks the
good of the other. Love calculates the right response to life; the Law
prescribes the response. The Law elevates principles over people; love
sacrifices principles in the service of others.
The difference between love and Law can, I think, be well expressed by
the difference between a lifestyle which seeks security and stability
above all, and one which accepts the uncertainties of loving others as we
were first loved.
The struggle, then, is not so much between the old and the new, or
between Western and African Christians, or between Islam and
Rather, it is between those who perceive themselves as having arrived at
the gates of a heavenly city, and those who still travel the hard road,
whose destination is uncertain, and for whom no maps have yet been made.
It is between those who claim access to final truth, and those who
recognise that God's way, the way of love, moves and shifts eternally.