Sorry to be so very late this morning. Birthday celebrations took up the whole of Saturday and I didn’t have a moment to look at the lections until quite late. When I did, it was only after I’d already been sucked down into the interwebs watching short videos from the Church of England’s “Living in Love and Faith” YouTube Channel. Here is the latest one:
It is a bold attempt, which you can see if you get all the way through it, to be non-threatening. Vague, nothing music* undergirds the witnesses of this “new thing” that the church is doing to both awaken you to delight and joy and also to calm you in case you might be upset about anything. Various participants in the “project” cheerfully smile as they declare that the process of embracing apostasy was most civil, friendly, and “loving.” Actual bishops of the church explain that they’ve listened to lots of people, they’ve listened to each other, they’ve listened more than they’ve spoken, they’ve “studied” the scriptures, and best of all, they’ve learned to become “more open and honest with each other.”**
In the final reckoning, it seemed perfectly good to them to offer prayers for relationships which, they explain, won’t in any way alter or change the Church’s historic teaching on sexuality. It won’t, see, because. In all the listening they discovered that it won’t. In fact, what will happen is that everyone will be welcomed into and affirmed by the church. Towards the end, a young person, helped by the enervating music that these sorts of videos seem to require, explains that you should shut up:
“Whether we chose to use them or not, we can continue to walk together, respecting our differences, and are collectively embracing a radical Christian inclusion, as the agreed way forward.”
The Archbishop of York declares, as you would expect, that “There’s still more work to do.” The Bishop of London tries to soothe your shattered nerves: “We recognize that the Church still needs to attend many to other matters relating to what it means to be human.” And finally, the Archbishop of Canterbury is so thankful:
“We’re thankful for all we’ve learned along this journey. And we will go on seeking the fullness and unity and love together which only Christ brings to us and has made us one.”
I’ve said it several times before so I might as well say it again—these little propaganda efforts are not discernably Christian. Just mouthing the word “Christ” or ‘splaining that you “studied the scriptures” is not a free pass to throw over Christian doctrine and faith. Indeed, calling your project “Living in Love and Faith” does not actually mean that you are doing that. You can call yourself anything you like in this new age, but the act of pronouncement does not make an ontological change. A man declaring that he is a woman does not make him a woman. Two people of the same sex being blessed for their sexual relationship does not make them married. You can’t bring forth the love and faith you so desire by the power of your words.
Similarly, merely saying that you are not changing the church’s teaching by offering prayers for the blessing of same-sex sexual relationships doesn’t make it so. “Living in Faith and Love” does change the Church of England from one kind of thing into another. All the bland untruths preached from ornate pulpits to empty pews are bad enough. But when all the bishops gather together and throw over the word of God, well, they have certainly done something. It is not “living in love and faith” but it is a new kind of life, a new kind of “community” that makes it impossible for the faith of true believers to take root and grow.
Ironically enough, as we barrel towards Lent, this is World Mission Sunday. The readings are short and rather pithy. Jesus, Matthew tells us,
“went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.”
The word “gospel,” if you are basically familiar with the Christian Scriptures, is perhaps a word that sometimes slips by you unnoticed. Jesus uses it to declare beforehand the work he is about to do. He will die, be buried, rise again, and ascend into heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven is here, he says, therefore repent. If you go to him he will embrace you in his arms. If you are a sinner and you confess your sins, he will forgive you. If you are weary and heavy laden he will give you rest.
It bears pointing out that Jesus, a name not mentioned in that video except at the end as “Christ” by the Archbishop of Canterbury, is a real Person. He is not an avatar. He is not a mythical figure. Neither is he you, or me. He is a man who was born and lived and died and was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven and this moment sits at the right hand of the Father. In the way that I don’t enjoy it when people mischaracterize me—perhaps you feel the same way—or try to tell me I’m someone I’m not, Jesus doesn’t go in for that sort of thing either. He is himself, revealed in the Scriptures for our redemption. Faith in him is the way to love and everything else you need.
The most essential thing we should notice about Jesus this morning is how different he is from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Justin Welby doesn’t have the power to heal all your diseases. But he has been given the gift of the Gospel which he could proclaim—it’s literally his main job—if he would trouble himself to discover what it is. Another thing he could do is look to Jesus to discover an essential element of the Christian life, indeed the central piece of the vaunted “Living in Love and Faith” project. Look at what Matthew says about Jesus:
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
Why didn’t they have a shepherd? The leaders of Israel were put there by God to be shepherds to the people. They were supposed to teach the scriptures. They were supposed tell the people that they needed a savior, someone to rescue them not from the Romans, but from their own sins. They had enough of the Bible to feed the sheep. The entire Old Testament is a comprehensible text that convicts the reader of sin and promises eternal life. The person who confessed and believed could receive the healing grace of forgiveness and be restored to life forever. That the very leaders of Israel refused to read it this way is not the fault of their God nor the text he so generously gave. They preferred to enrich themselves, to signal their virtue, to preach a gospel of self-actualization. All the people who were supposed to be in their care, then, by the time Jesus begins to preach, were sheep who had no shepherd. They were hungry and lost and confused and perishing.
This is still true today. If you want to know Jesus and follow him, there is enough information. You can crack open a Bible and start to read it and the character and nature of Jesus, particularly his property always to have mercy, will come off the page and sink into your heart and change your mind and begin to heal you from that most grievous affliction—sin. Sure, you will need the help of teachers and shepherds as you go along to understand that more fully. But Christians have always known—even on World Mission Sunday—that the Word is the power of God to bring salvation to the lost.
Jesus–unlike fatuous church clerics devouring the faithful deposit, the sure foundation, the living stones of generations of godly men and women who actually knew what love is–“has compassion.” That is, his bowls are moved with pity and sorrow for the lost. He doesn’t look at you and tell you that you have “more work to do,” that you have to keep striving to achieve the goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion, that you have to keep listening harder to the cacophony of voices around you. No, he is God. You need to listen to his voice alone because he has the power to save.
Matthew goes on:
“Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’”
Pray Earnestly. God is already answering this prayer. This person spoke at Synod as well as people like Justin Welby:
Does that person not know what love is? Does that person not want everyone to come within the saving embrace of Christ our Savior? Of course he does. What a lie is it, what a straw person to say that changing the teaching of the church to “affirm” and thereby “include” the sinner is necessary to the work of Christ. What a blasphemous lie. What a horror and a shame. No, it is Christ alone who has the power to save. People–all people, every single person in every corner of the world–need to hear about him and not the latest blasphemy of an apostate church. If you change who he is, if you undermine the word about him in the scripture, if you draw people away from him and to yourself, you will not save them. You do not have compassion on them. You are not a shepherd of the flock of God.
How tragic that, as our global anxiety and wretchedness grows, the very laborers that have been called into the field would refuse to proclaim the Kingdom of God but would rather build their own. It’s ok, though, because it is God’s work and he will do it. He came himself for just that purpose. Turn to him and live. Tell others about his glorious kingdom. Let your bowels be moved with compassion for his flock. And now, if you will excuse me, I had better go to church. Hope to see you there!
*Are hymns and organ music too controversial to play in the background of a “church” announcement?
**Is this an admission that they’ve always been lying and obfuscating before?