View from the Rectory - September 2019



A homily preached at St. Mark’s on The Sixth Sunday after Trinity

So, Boris Johnson has achieved his ambition at last. After all the plotting and backstabbing three years ago it seemed that his moment had gone but, if a week is a long time in politics, three years is an eternity. As we witnessed his obvious delight in being at the helm I wondered if it would last. The role of  Prime Minister is a decision-making one.  The constant requirement to be decisive would finish me off in a matter of days. A former Downing Street aid commented  that an essential skill for any Prime Minister is being able to triage; consider the issues, decide what has to be dealt with, what can be ignored, and what can be partially addressed and then set aside for the time being. No one can deal with everything at once. We live in an age of protest; pro-Brexit, anti-Brexit, pro-democracy (Hong Kong), Extinction Rebellion, to name but a few. Where there is decisive change it is expected to be accomplished by a massive groundswell of opinion orchestrated via the internet and social media  putting intense pressure on those in high places. For those of us accustomed to the more genteel practice of writing to the editor of The Times or to one’s member of parliament  this all seems rather alarming. Social media fuels rage and though the urgency of some issues justifies rage the confrontation and instability arising from it cannot be a good thing. As the man in the hot seat, will Boris Johnson, I wonder, have the wisdom to draw the heat or will he fan the flames? 

Methods may change but instincts remain the same. Exerting pressure on those in high places, either by protest or constant petition has characterised society from the very beginning. And depending on your view it either derives from, or engenders a similar attitude to God. In Genesis Ch. 18, Abraham warily petitions God for the few righteous souls left in the notorious cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. And the more he is heard the more confident he becomes in asking. Elsewhere in the Old Testament there are numerous instances of mass repentance, people led by their king donning sackcloth and ashes praying earnestly to God to revoke his judgement. It may seem a world away from our own experience but as late as the First World War there were national days of prayer and fasting instigated by church, parliament and the King.  Jesus himself urged  corporate repentance on the towns of Capernaum and Chorazin and it was certainly his belief that God the Father could be leant on and influenced by persistence in prayer. Those famous words in St. Luke ch.11, ask, and you will receive, seek, and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you, are reinforced by a parable  in which God is likened to a householder reluctant to open his door to help a friend at night but eventually doing so because of his sheer persistence. The implication is that if we human beings respond to constant petition through sheer annoyance, how much more will the God of love and mercy fulfil our requests.

But what when we ask and do not receive, seek and do not find, knock and find that the door remains firmly shut? Is it simply due to lack of faith or persistence on our part? Some would have it so. I’ve known instances of terminally ill people being unable to come to terms with their mortality because they were surrounded by earnest believers insistent that one should not admit of any doubt that God would intervene. And there are extreme churches particularly in the USA which take a highly materialistic attitude  to Jesus’ words. So, ask and you will receive can mean, if you really do want that Mercedes brother, then pray with all your might!  To anyone with a modicum of biblical knowledge this is  of course utterly contrary to Jesus’ Kingdom values. Yes, Jesus does insist that those who ask will receive but he is quite specific as to what we should be asking for. much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’    Many would prefer the Mercedes and I suspect few of us, even regular worshippers, yearn for the Holy Spirit. But why not? St. Irenaeus, one of the great early Christian writers observed, the glory of God is a human being fully alive. And by that he meant more than  functioning well in every physical and mental capacity. To be fully alive means being replete with the life of God our creator and redeemer. God is our origin, God is our destiny and so it follows that if we are not conscious of his sustaining presence during our mortal life, then something essential is missing and our lives are but half lives.

It remains to be seen if Boris Johnson gets what he is so earnestly asking for or whether Extinction Rebellion will force the hand of governments on climate change. But if we all earnestly seek the Holy Spirit,  not only for ourselves, but for every person and for every situation into which we pray, then perhaps the powers and dominions of this world will be transformed in the image of the Kingdom that is to come.             

Charles Booth


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