Sunday, May 8, 2016

God's law or man's?

May my words be in the Name of Almighty God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our Old Testament reading today begins with the words: 'and all the people said to Samuel, "Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, that we may not die; for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.' Why did the people sin by asking for a king? It was because they were supposed to have no king but the Lord; and yet they wanted a king to rule over them, like the other nations round about them. And a king, as we see all too often in Sacred Scripture, can lead his people astray.

There is nothing wrong, of course, with having a desire for good government. Roads must be built, the streets must be kept clean, some kind of police force is needed to ensure that order is maintained, armed forces are needed to protect against external threats. But the civil law must not be allowed to interfere with the moral law, for that is not the business of the state; and where it does happen the danger arises that man's subject idea of what is right and wrong will come into conflict with God's objective truth. And when that happens, where the duty of the Christian lies is clear; for as St Peter tells us in Acts 5 it is better to obey God rather than men. He proved his belief in those words by his own fidelity to Christ unto death, as did so many martyrs of the early Church … and those who have continued to be faithful unto death down through the ages, even into our own time; for it is good for us to remember that we still live in the age of martyrs and that people die every day rather than deny their faith in Christ … a faith that we in the West are often slow to risk even the slightest discomfort for.

Perhaps we need reminding of the importance of the faith. Look at what Christ prays in our Gospel reading today: 'I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us.' Christians are called to unity, not just with one another but with God himself – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Divine plan for the salvation of mankind is aimed at drawing us into Communion with the Trinity. And if we are to achieve this intimate union with the Divine, then we must be Holy. As St Peter tells us in chapter one of his first letter 'It is written -You shall be holy, for I am holy ' and in Chapter 11 of Leviticus God says 'I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.'

As Christians we are called to holiness of life; it is why we were created. I recently asked a young man what was the purpose of life. His reply was to have a good life and be happy. I told him that he was wrong. While it is, of course, nice to have the good things that life can offer, and there is nothing wrong with being happy, these are not why we exist. The purpose of our existence, rather, is by God's grace to lead a good life, in accordance with His holy laws, so that we may at the last end in heaven. A short life filled with suffering is a far happier one if when it is over the person is admitted into the divine presence than many years filled with every comfort and luxury imaginable if it prevents that one from entering into eternal happiness.

Of course, poverty does not make one holy; and wealth does not make one a sinner. And we know that there are kings who have numbered among the saints; just as we can imagine that there are those who have lived in the most abject poverty who have also been great sinners. I say 'imagine' for it is not for us to judge who it is that does not go to heaven; that is what our Lord meant when he told us not to judge. That is the prerogative of God alone – and we know that he is loving and full of mercy. When we look at the life of another person, we see incompletely what is going on; only God in heaven can know the complete picture as to why a person behaved the way they did in this life … and he alone knows whether a person is fully accountable for their actions or not.

Even so, it still falls to us to do our best to help others lead holy lives. Just as we must ourselves always strive to lead holy lives as well. For as we read today in Revelation, where St John, speaking of the New Jerusalem which is heaven, tells us that 'Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and every one who loves and practices falsehood.' The one who loves God and shows that love by obedience to his will will end in heaven; and those who do not make it very likely that they will not. Our love for others should therefore lead us to do our vest best to help them to lead holy lives. For this reason I pray that all hear will increase in holiness daily; and I ask that you pray the same for me. Amen. 

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