Sunday, January 24, 2016

three impediments to proclaiming the mighty Acts of the Lord today

May I speak in the name of Almighty God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Amen

It is a privilege to be asked here to speak today as part of our community's observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and I offer my thanks to both you and your parish priest for this kind invitation. The theme for this year is 'Called to Proclaim the Mighty Acts of the Lord,' which is taken from the First Letter of St Peter. It is a powerful theme, reminding it us as it does of the great commission our Lord gave his disciples at the end of St Matthew's Gospel, telling them to make disciples of all nations. So I thought today I would consider briefly three things in the world today that make more difficult our task of proclaiming the mighty acts of the Lord – three issues which transcend denominational boundaries and which, if we were to set aside our human divisions and work together more closely as Christians, would help us all to be more obedient to Jesus' command to make disciples of all people. These are: militant Islam; strident secularism; and the religious indifferentism that afflicts so many Christians today.

It is obvious to all that militant Islam is a terrible scourge in the world today. We have only to look to the two horrific incidents of terrorism that took place in Paris since the last week of prayer for Christian Unity. We also have the ferocious atrocities taking place in lands under the control of militant Islamic forces, which have led to the vast influx of refugees from those places into the Western World, as further proof. (Note: we must be careful to distinguish between these extremists and ordinary, decent Muslims who are respectful of the religious freedoms of others and simply want to get on with their lives in peace and the extremists of which I speak. Indeed, I suspect the extremists would like nothing better than for us to vent our fearfulness of them on their peaceful brothers and sisters in the hope of radicalising some and driving them into their arms.)

Alongside of its more general threat to Western society, we have to keep in mind the profoundly anti-Christian bias of militant Islam. Not only do they wish to destroy our society, they wish to destroy our religion as well. We see this happening in the parts of the middle-East that are under their control where they martyr, enslave, or drive out Christians. It has been described by world leaders like Hilary Clinton and Pope Francis as genocide. This persecution is not confined to the Middle-East. The Christian advocacy group Open Doors has identified Christians as the world's most persecuted group; and in 40 of the 50 countries where that persecution is most severe the perpetrators Islamic extremists. We must help these our brothers and sisters with both our prayers and material aid. We must do this out of justice. More, we must do it out of basic self-interest, for what they do in these places these extremists hope to do in our lands, and if they go unchecked there, the next stop is the West. And if we allow continue the situation where there are places where it is not safe for Christians to even let others know they follow Jesus, then how is it possible to proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord there?

The next issue is strident secularism. Secularism's adherents present it as being in some way neutral; but in truth they promote a very specific agenda, one that is in many ways hostile to religion. It is not for nothing that Ireland’s atheist and humanist societies, both of which have a vision for this land that does not include religion, have as part of their stated goals that Ireland should be a secular state.

Particularly disingenuous is the way in which secularists argue that anyone who allows their religious faith to inform their public actions amounts to an attempt to force their religious beliefs on others. This is false for many reasons, but I will mention just two. The first is that it ignores that Christian morality is, and always has been, in perfect accord with what is called by philosophers natural law. A Christian does not oppose, for example, murder only because the Bible condemns it, but because our natural reason tells us that it is an act of grave injustice to deprive an innocent person of their life. Scripture does not give us an arbitrary set of rules; rather the law of God conforms perfectly with the law of nature. And this should not surprise us, for both have the same divine author.

The second reason is that it is completely unreasonable for those with a particular belief system to assert that those whose beliefs differ to their own should have to keep silent, while at the same time maintaining that their own, in this case secular, beliefs should be given free reign, and indeed given priority in all debate. We must, of course, resist vigorously all attempts to silence us; for if we allow ourselves to be silenced, how are we to proclaim the mighty works of the Lord to the World?

The final issue is what I have termed religious indifferentism, those who are luke-warm in their faith – something that is condemned in the Revelation to St John. Far too many know little of their faith and practice it only half-heartedly. How can such a person proclaim the mighty acts of God? No one can give what they have not got; and just as if you have no food you can not feed the starving man, if you know nothing of the faith you can not share it with those who are spiritually hungry. This last issue is perhaps more serious than the first two, for its existence makes dealing with those others more difficult if not impossible. The fight against militant Islam is as much a spiritual battle as a temporal one; and if we will not arm ourselves with the spiritual strength that comes from our faith in Jesus Christ it is a battle that we will lose. And if we will not educate ourselves with the God-given wisdom of our faith, how can we expect to oppose secularism and prevent it from driving faith into an ever smaller corner of society?

These issues are serious challenges for us as members of the Church of God; but they are not insurmountable. Nothing is, for truly when it comes to fighting that which makes it hard for us to proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord God is on our side. When it comes to militant Islam we must pray, both for the persecuted and those who persecute that their hearts may be turned from their evil ways; and we must urge our government, in Ireland and Europe, to take action. When it comes to secularism we must refuse to be silenced and put forward our views with pride; and we must pray that those who are in positions of influence, particularly those we elect to represent us, will have the courage to speak boldly on our behalf. And when it comes to indifferentism, we must realise that evangelisation begins on our own doorsteps. It must take place within our homes, among our families, in our communities. 

For if we do not have the courage to proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord to those whom we love most, how can we hope to proclaim it to others? This is a task for all people of faith, regardless of their specific traditions, to work on together for the greater glory of God. And so I end by praying that all here will join with their brothers and sisters in Christ and joyfully together proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord. Amen

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