G. K. Chesterton (the famous author, but a firm Roman Catholic), once wrote, “It isn’t that Christianity has been tried and found wanting, but simply that it hasn’t been tried!”
Looking around the world certainly, the Christian Faith seems not to have achieved desirable changes in our Society that bear all the marks of the failed systems that confronted Jesus 2,000 years ago.
In the USA, once boasting the highest percentage of church-goers (I didn’t say, necessarily, Christians), mass shootings and blatant racism flourishes and the gaps between rich and poor have widened. There, here and throughout the world, people are worshippers of Mammon, the God of money (the “love of which” according to St. Paul, “is the source of all evil”).
Note, Paul says “the love of”, for money is a neutral thing in itself, but rather the selfish ways by which it is gained, and how it is used, make it a source of much evil.
We pray “Thy Kingdom come” of which Jesus had a great deal to say, but never defined what, where and when it has, or is to come.
When we “love our neighbour as ourselves” then the Kingdom will come on earth, but it doesn’t and hasn’t because too many worship the God whom they see in their mirror, sin (self).
Yet, the Kingdom exists, and everyone who is baptised and commits to the Law of Love centred on Jesus is a member.
Every Kingdom has a manifesto, laying down its principles, and this is contained, not only in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chaps. 5 & 6), but in references to the same principles expounded, not only by Jesus but by the O.T. prophets and also contained in books like Deuteronomy. God is concerned for the welfare of the unfortunate, for widows, the homeless, the poor, the outcasts of Society and (not least), the refugees who are to be welcomed. (Luke 4, vv18-30)
The Gospel is a “Social Gospel”, for it is centred on our human relationships with each other and with God.
The “Kingdom” is within every Christian; Paul speaks of our “Possessing the Kingdom”. Jesus says “The Kingdom is within you” for it is in every soul who places God at the centre of their lives.
Victorian hymns proclaimed the idea that The Church (the “gathering together”) is growing, until all mankind acknowledges Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. So much for their optimism and hopes, sadly, not yet fulfilled.
The fact that now there are more practising Christians in Communist China than in the whole of Europe where numbers are declining, shows that through complacency and lack of Missionary zeal, we are failing Him whose Kingdom is of peace and love.
With all the man-made disasters and tragic events facing our world, this is where a positive solution lies; by our living the Gospel.
We pray “Thy Kingdom come, THY WILL be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. The two phrases complement each other, for we pray that the Kingdom will only come if all the baptised seek to do God’s will as already it is obeyed in the heavenly realm.
It isn’t sufficient that we pray that the Kingdom shall come, for it won’t do so unless we seek to obey these final words of Jesus to His disciples, (Matthew 28, vv16-20):
“Go therefore and preach the Gospel to all nations, baptising them in the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit;teaching them to do and observe all I have commanded”.
The solution to all the world’s problems can be found in the revolutionary teaching of Jesus, which if it were followed could transform human relationships. How sad it is that we don’t do so?.
Deprived of a Diocesan Training Grant for my 3-yr. College Course (I hadn’t been recognised as “one of theirs”), having to find funds to pay my way for 2 of the 3 years, I resorted to making vestments and robes for my fellow students using a s.h. sewing machine (£5), accustoming me to using paper patterns to get the right shapes.
This explains the origin of the Lord’s Prayer, which is often called “The Pattern Prayer” that Jesus taught (in reply to a question from the disciples).
He said “When you pray say:
“Our Father”: Jesus throughout His ministry, even as He dies on the Cross, refers to God as “Father”, but here He includes us, by the beginning words “Our Father”, implying that God is OUR Father as well as His. Paul describes it as “adoption” (Romans 8, vvv12-17) ,
By so doing we accept that every human being we meet should be our spiritual brother or sister, members of the Family of God.
This one 3-letter word points a new way to human relationships, for if we are all “brothers and sisters”, something we reaffirm every time we speak those words, then we should treat everyone with respect.
When we pray “Our Father” we are saying that we who once were, because of our sins, “enemies” of God, are now reconciled to Him by the Cross and made friends, even children of God, so we pray as the Divine’s beloved children.
Jesus refers constantly to “The Father”, which underlines His relationship with the Divine Creator,
Jesus is not giving us a single prayer (that I feel we repeat far too often in our services), but a “pattern” of what good prayer should be, and its priorities.
Like the patterns from which I was able to cut vestments of all shades and styles for fellow students and clergy, if we followed the basic seven (yes, seven) themes of this prayer, our lives and the lives of every human being could be transformed.
The frightening behaviour of those who would harm complete strangers, sometimes with apparent impunity and certainly without cause, indicates that our social problems are linked to our failure to live by and teach the tenets of Christianity.
The problem is nothing to do with police numbers, or calling in the army to do the work of our depleted police force, but the remedy is a change within each one of us.
As Dorothy Sayers in her book, ”Creed or Chaos” says: “If I do not believe in the fatherhood of God, why should I believe in the brotherhood of man?”
By this we are not questioning or discussing the sexuality of God, but demonstrating the caring, forgiving Being who by His sheer Immensity and the nature of the Godhead and the Incarnation itself, has shown this “Caring”, that appears even in the Old Testament where so much blood is shed apparently at the command of Him who is supposed to be “Love”. God by His very nature is mystery.
We find this “Caring” nature of the Divine, right through the bloody chapters of inter-tribal wars described in the historical books of the Old Testament, coming to fruition in the prophet Hosea’s realisation that God is a caring, intimate being who “taught Ephraim to walk, took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them,I led them with cords of compassion, with the bands of love” (Hosea 11, vv1-4).
Society does not need more police or the army, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which sadly as a Church, since the end of the last war we have failed to proclaim adequately, but is inherent in the first two words of the “Pattern Prayer”. Think thereon.
“I’m surprised that you’re troubled with wandering thoughts in your prayers”, a lady said to me recently, assuming that we clergy have our prayerful relationship with God easy-going.
The truth is that not only I, but almost every Christian has this problem. Recently, to my shame I said the whole evening service of Compline whilst thinking of something entirely different and shocked when I realised what I had done.
I am not alone, for of the Confessions I heard from regular penitents, this problem was the most frequently referred to, hoping that I could help them to solve it.
As a result, I have returned to a practise of prayer that was my Intercession pattern for most of my priestly Ministry.
That is “Praying with mental pictures”.
Many of us have problems with our prayers, but this method may be of some help, particularly with the prayers that are part of our daily communion with God.
It may not work for you, but don’t worry too much if it doesn’t.
Ask yourself the question: “What is my mental picture of Jesus?” Many are still holding that Sunday-school image of a nice, probably white, young man holding children’s hands; the “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” image. It is essential that through reading and thinking, we can come to know the real human Jesus, almost intimately
First, seek Him in the Gospels, but particularly St. Mark’s, where quite tersely, Jesus is seen as a provocative young man, who “tells it as it is” but with a sense of humour. Try and build up this mental picture, for this is the key.
As a parish priest who visited as many of the parishioners as possible, whatever the circumstances, I tried to bring Jesus into my prayer, without needing to sum up suitable wording. Rather I imagined the person (or people) in their home or perhaps in Hospital or where ever, with Jesus beside them. Thus mentally and graphically bringing Jesus into the prayer.
I would in my imagination go along roads in the parish and stopping at each house where I had visited, praying that Jesus might enter into that family, whatever their perceived needs and picturing its inhabitants as I knew them, together with their Divine companion. In the process of holding this mental image, wandering thoughts were less capable of intruding.
This applied equally to cases where there were problems, and what I needed, was to bring the healer and the patient together.
Our prayers for people must issue from “love”; sometimes we shall need to pray for people who have offended in some way, but prayer that doesn’t stem from love (agape, which means “caring, or being concerned with”) will be ineffective.
In any case, once we bring Jesus into the prayer picture, we need to leave the result in His hands; it is not for us to determine the real need or the result we pray for.
This held good for me, not only for personal encounters, but also in situations (of which there are so many brought to us visually in the media) where we can bring Jesus into a refugee camp, a disaster, or whatever and whenever our prayers are focussed.
The Americans have a “WWJD” movement, which interpreted is “What Would Jesus Do?”, when faced with a spiritual problem or physical needs.
This can only be valid if the question is being referred to someone whom you have come to know through the Gospels together with our meditative thoughts.
Our problem is that we think that we can only communicate our prayers by words. If our minds are concentrating on pictures, there is less space for intrusive thoughts.
We need to realise that this form of prayer can be used in any circumstances, regardless of time or place, and even without words. It may not work for you, but give it a try!
A Ryde Councillor supported the refusalof a request from the Holy Trinity “Spire” for a grant towards their work, which supports all kinds of help for the homeless, the hungry, those who need counselling or help.
This Councillor justified this on the grounds that they couldn’t use public money to support a Christiangroup despite the fact that they are doing exactly what Jesus commanded His disciples as part of their Mission.
We are seeing a steady reduction in help for the under-privileged and infirm by both national and local Government. Whilst Mrs. May declared recently that it was the “end of austerity”, we are still seeing cuts in all manner of social work.
An examination of the Scriptures (both Old and New) shows that from the earliest days, God was seen as a champion of the under-privileged, the homeless, the hungry, with a command that even “strangers” (immigrants) should be welcomed and treated well.
If Jesus is the true face of the living God, then it is clear that there are some differences between the two pictures of God that we may have. Isaiah tells us that God does not require the blood of sacrificed creatures and elaborate ceremony, but rather demands social action in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and, caring for the sick, for prisoners and disadvantaged.
The Early Christians did so and when Jesus originally sent out the disciples to preach the Gospel, it was to be accompanied by healing and works of mercy, alleviating their needs.
The first call upon The Early Churches’ resources was to share their possessions with the less fortunate.
Even in the 1662 Communion service, the monetary gifts given by the people were predominantly “Alms for the Poor”; the cost of running the parish was to be met by the laity paying a tithe to the incumbent at Easter.
Where is The Church today in all this?
The disciples and their followers were commanded to “Heal the Sick”. Do we still consider this important, with the NHS at hand?
One of the great problems facing our generation is the growth of mental and psychological problems, especially among the young. Much of this stems from a sense of guilt, for which the NHS has meagre resources. It is significant that many of those needing healing in our Lord’s time benefitted from Divine forgiveness from which also flowed healing.
In my younger days, Prayers for healing, with Healing Services were part of the parish programme, regularly naming those for whom our prayers were desired. They seem to have disappeared over the last few decades, yet it is clear that there are so many folk, young and old who need “healing” (meaning “whole-ness”). This cannot come from a pill or an operation, but from a spiritual realignment.
People in such need often say that there is no one easily available with whom they can talk and open their hearts.
Dr. Iken (an American doctor) in her valuable book “New Concepts of Healing” wrote (in the 1950s) that of the people in Hospital in the USA, 50% had mental problems, of whom at least another 50% could “go home tomorrow if they could be convinced that their feelings of guilt could be removed”.
Jesus was concerned with making people “whole”, and among the tasks we have as Christians is to ease the shadow that lingers over many lives. The welfare of people, both spiritually and physically must be OUR concern, for our Good News must be accompanied today (as it was in times past) with these Social and health concerns which for many, only the Gospel can relieve. That is why our “Mission” can assist those who, whilst they may need a “Food Bank” also need to find access to the “Spiritual Bank” of which all are the “staff”.
"Now you have finished your 2 yr. Course satisfactorily, you have a year left prior to Ordination; what do you plan to do?”
So enquired our Co“llege Vice-Principal after I had received the satisfactory results of my General Ordination Exam.
Frankly, I hadn’t a clue, but one subject sprang to my mind, and that was the structure and conduct of the Prayer book services.
“That won’t occupy you for a whole year; why don’t you study “Moral Theology”, that will be of great pastoral help”.
What it meant was, studying human behaviour and being capable of judging the moral value of our judgements and that is important when dealing with troubled parishioners, particularly in hearing Confessions.
Provision is made in the Prayer Book for this (no, it’s not “Popery”), but essential when “guilt” is probably the most troubling emotion in many people’s lives.
The Confessional enables a penitent to have a one-to-one contact with a priest, which includes “solemn absolution”, but also spiritual guidance that can be tailored to their spiritual needs.
Among my set books was one by an 18th century philosopher, Immanuel Kant, who, whilst not a Church-goer had studied “why” we act in certain ways when making moral decisions.
His first important conclusion is that “The only thing that can be called good, without qualification, is ‘A Good Will’ “, for without that some actions may be misguided, for the prime object needs to be to act for the good of whatever or whoever we come in contact.
We may perform good actions, but they may possibility spring from some form of self-interest and not because we wish the best for others, meaning that their moral value is lessened.
Our nation could do with a lot of “good will” on all sides if we are to be an harmonious Society.
Setting the Bible aside for a moment, Kant attempts to draw up guidelines for “good” decisions and our nation could do with a good dose of that!
When contemplating some action or another, to test its morality, Kant suggests that we ask “Could this action be a universal rule for everyone?” In other words, if for instance you feel that you wish to harm someone in some way, could you make that action permissible for everyone to perform? If not, then it fails the test of a “Good Will”.
Then, passing to social relationships, our philosopher considers how we treat people. He says that when dealing with them we need always to consider in making decisions whether we are “using” people to attain our objectives. If so, we are abusing their status and humanity. He says that “We must always see people as an end in themselves, NOT as a means to an end”.
Kant stresses there must be consideration regarding other people’s status and dignity, for each one of us is capable ot “using” others to achieve our own ends.
Now, if you have been with me so far (well done!), you may feel that if Kant has read the Gospels and Our Lord’s teaching, then he and we, will find all this enshrined in Biblical teaching, not only in the New Testament, but also in the Old.
We are to “Love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and our neighbour as (much as we do) ourselves”
That is why, when the Summary of the Law is read at the Communion, to which we reply “Amen (which means “I agree") Lord have mercy” we are pledging ourselves to allow our ‘good will’ and consideration of the needs of others to guide our judgement.
You can sum this up with words from a 1930s Song (altered):
“It ain't what you do it’s the WHY that you do it”!