I wonder whether you identify yourself as a Marmite Christian or Marmalade Christian? Let me elaborate. Earlier last year, OFSTED warned the government that hundreds and hundreds of children have gone missing from state registered schools in cities like Birmingham. The children are being taught in illegal religious schools and susceptible to radical extremism. What is the church doing about it? Birmingham Cathedral is celebrating its 300th anniversary by offering people the chance to turn their emotions into a referendum-style art project based on votes about feelings. They are invited to answer a different question each day about “how they are feeling” at this point in the year. Questions include: “Have you laughed today?” and “Are you looking forward to next year?” And the answers are displayed as eight-foot tall interactive boards.
David Virtue observes, “Niceness” with a capital ‘N’ is it seems the premier product the Church of England is selling to its non-customers. Sociologists have put a label on this product. It is called ‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deism’. I call it ‘Marmalade’ for short.
“There’s a line where the sky meets the sea
And it calls me
But no one knows how far it goes
All the time wondering where I need to be
Is behind me
I’m on my own
To worlds unknown”
I wonder if you can identify with Moana singing “How Far I’ll Go” in the lavish new Disney film?
“Every turn I take
Every trail I track
Is a choice I make
Now I can’t turn back
From the great unknown
Where I go alone
Where I long to be”
When you look at the beauty of the world around you, does it fill you with a sense of wonder? Does its abundance inspire you to praise God? Are you thankful just to be alive? Are you frustrated with the world the way it is? Does the presence of evil and suffering impel you to want to help those in need? Are you restless? Are you longing to fulfil your destiny? I encourage you to see the film Moana.
How far back can you trace your family? Genealogy is undoubtedly very popular today. Amazingly, the BBC is currently running a 13th series of “Who do you think you are?” this autumn, helping well known personalities trace their roots. Given the popularity of websites such as Genes Reunited, Genealogy.com and ancestry.co.uk or software programmes like Family Tree Maker, most people believe genealogies are important – at least their own. If I were to read in the newspaper that a wealthy man named Sizer had died, with no known heir to his fortune, I could get very interested in genealogy. Apparently, “progonoplexia” describes those obsessed with ancestry. The earliest member of my family tree, I can find, is one Matthew Sizer born in 1750 in Orby, in Lincolnshire. But I know for certain that my roots actually go all the way back to Abraham. This evening we are going to answer the question “who do you think you are?” Please turn with me to Hebrews 11. We are going to discover that if Jesus is your Lord and Saviour, this chapter lists your family tree. This is one of the most familiar chapters of the Bible.
The Pilgrim Way is one of my favourite places to walk. It follows one of the ancient footpaths from Winchester to Canterbury across the North Downs. Now there are many public footpaths in England but this one is unique. As the name suggests, for hundreds of years it has been used by pilgrims. For some it was a way to do penance and earn merit with God. For others it was a special time to deepen their spiritual walk. The trail ends at Canterbury Cathedral where pilgrims kneel at the spot where Thomas Becket was killed by the knights of Henry II. There is a simple memorial which marks the place of Becket’s martyrdom. For nearly a thousand years, Christians have knelt there to ask God that they, like Becket, might live courageously for him in spite of the powers of the world. When the position of Archbishop of Canterbury fell vacant, Henry appointed his friend Thomas Becket in the position thinking he would do his bidding. But something happened to Becket after he was appointed as spiritual leader of England. He stopped being complacent about his faith. He put politics and luxury behind him. He gave up his former wealth and life style. And he began to challenge the king over differences between the church and government. He paid the ultimate sacrifice. But Becket’s martyrdom did not earn him a place in heaven. And neither does a pilgrimage to Canterbury. There is only one way to find forgiveness for the past and peace of mind for the future.
What will bring on the feeling of nausea most quickly for you? Is it the debris left on pavements by people who have drunk excessive amounts of alcohol the night before? Or maybe it’s those little presents left for you to step in by anti-social dog walkers who don’t clean up afterwards? Displays of wobbling body tissue resulting from a diet rich in carbohydrates is high on my list. But what is most likely to cause you to faint? For me it is the sight of blood in the wrong place, especially my own. What is it about blood that makes us queasy, nauseous or likely to faint? Perhaps it is because deep down in our subconscious we equate blood with life. There are seven essential biological functions of blood that keep us alive.
- Red blood cells transport oxygen from the lungs to every cell in our body.
- White blood cells defend the body against invading microorganisms.
- Blood transports nutrients from the digestive system and when needed, from our storage reserves to every cell of the body. So fat is beautiful. Well some…
- Blood transports hormones from our endocrine glands to target tissues in need.
- Blood removes metabolic wastes from every cell to organs that excrete them.
- Blood helps maintain fluid balance in the whole body.
- Blood helps distribute metabolic heat within the body to maintain a healthy body temperature.
How do you get someone’s attention? In 1923, John Reith, the BBC’s first director-general launched a new initiative – broadcasting personal messages directly to individuals to let them know of next of kin who were “dangerously ill” They were very short and clinical messages, containing just a few simple facts like names, towns, car registrations or telephone numbers. “Will Mr and Mrs Smoth, last heard of eight months ago in the Birmingham area, go to Leeds General Infirmary where Mrs Smith’s mother is dangerously ill,” The first SOS message was broadcast in March 1923. It was a 30-second appeal to help find a missing six-year-old boy. Listeners got in touch, and the boy was found safe and well. This success encouraged the BBC to produce more, and an eclectic mixture of “emergencies” followed, including the escape of a Pelican from St James’ Park, and a request for a wet nurse for twins born at a hospital in Norfolk. Another message to a bird-lover urged him to contact a Birmingham pet shop after buying parrots there because the seller had died from Psittacosis or “parrot fever”.
“In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god. Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility—young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians.” (Daniel 1:1-4)
Daniel never expected to end up in Babylon any more than you did. Picture Daniel. One of the brightest and best of Israel. Daniel is from a family of high social status. He is physically flawless. He is a strikingly handsome man. If Joanna were giving this message, she might tell you to picture Daniel Craig. Apparently Daniel is actually much shorter than he appears on screen. So picture someone who looks like Daniel Craig only more handsome and less dumpy. Daniel is bright. He is quick to understand. He is qualified to serve in the king’s palace, which means he has a high level of what we would call ‘emotional intelligence’. He is also devoted to God and God’s people. And he has all the dreams that young men like that have. Back in Judah his future would have been predictable. The whole world is at his feet. He would go to a good university and then on to success in whatever field he chose. He would have a great marriage, live in an enviable home with the right postcode, raise a wonderful family, occupy a prominent place in the community. But life did not turn out the way he planned.
Mark Carney, the Bank of England governor, issued a warning recently that climate change poses a huge risk to global stability. At a gathering of leading insurers at Lloyd’s of London, Mr Carney pointed out that the rapid increase in weather-related catastrophes was causing a spike in financial costs. But he also warned that the challenges currently posed by climate change “pale in significance compared with what might come”. He said our generation has little incentive to avert future problems. Ironically, insurers are among those with the biggest interest in climate change as the syndicates operating at Lloyd’s, the world’s oldest insurance market, are the most exposed to disasters such as hurricanes and floods. Mr Carney said the after-effects of such disasters were likely to grow worse: “The challenges currently posed by climate change pale in significance compared with what might come. “The far-sighted amongst you are anticipating broader global impacts on property, migration and political stability, as well as food and water security.” Who is responsible? We can blame politicians for failing to act sooner. We can criticize multinational corporations for exacerbating climate change through the exploitation of oil, gas and other natural resources. Or we can acknowledge that the Christian Church, which is the largest religious movement in the world, has largely failed to fulfil its responsibility to care for creation. Church leaders have not, until relatively recently, acknowledged that creation care is integral to the gospel.
There are many different kinds of Church. You can be a member of an Anglican, Baptist, Brethren, Charismatic, Coptic, Episcopal, Methodist, Orthodox, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Reformed, Roman Catholic or one of hundreds of other denominations including the Strict and Particular.
Some prefer a High Church, a Low Church, a Broad Church, Mega Church or a House Church. In remote places you may have to attend a Virtual Church. In some countries people belong to the Underground Church because they are a Persecuted Church. Many long to have a Junior Church, and aspire to be a Messy Church. But no one wants to belong to a Dead Church. We need to belong to a Bible Church, a Local Church, a Community Church, an International Church, a Gospel Church and a welcoming, friendly, caring, Christ–centred, Holy Spirit filled Church.
And some are realising that God also wants us to be an Eco Church as well. What is an Eco Church? An Eco Church demonstrates by their actions that they care for God’s earth. That is why on Harvest Sunday at Christ Church we are committing ourselves to become an Eco Church.
Increasing numbers of Christians are realising that caring for God’s creation is central to the Christian faith. We may have neglected creation care in the past but we are rediscovering that creation care is one of our God given responsibilities. A’Roche together with Tearfund and the Church of England are teaming up to help us become an Eco Church. This is a talk I gave at the September Family Service.