Sunday, 9 February 2020

Religious leaders can be wrong

Isaiah 58: 1-12, 1 Corinthians 2:1-16, Matthew 5:13-20

Our three readings this morning, Isaiah, Corinthians and Matthew have I think something in common. Each of them is critical of religious leaders. Isaiah, robustly, “Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet!”  How is it he says, that day after day my people seek me and delight to know my ways, fasting overtly in sackcloth and ashes, yet have misunderstood?  How do you not see that I want you to fight injustice with effectiveness, to look after the poor and the hungry, find shelter for the homeless?

Paul writing to the church in Corinth criticises them for their worldliness; your faith is not to rest on worldly wisdom, he says, but on the power of God. “I did not come to you proclaiming the mystery of God to you in words of lofty wisdom.” No I came in weakness, fear and trembling relying only on the life and death of Jesus Christ. “We speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden.”

An idea amplified by Jesus teaching the disciples: Look he says, through what I am teaching you, you are the light of the world, do not, now your lamp is lit, hide it. No, put it on a lampstand where all can see it. And do not misunderstand, I have not come to abolish the law or previous understanding but to build upon it and to fulfill. Your righteousness, your good works must exceed those of the scribes and the pharisees, the religious leaders of the time.

The people of Israel and their leaders were wrong, those expecting to find God through Greek, logic, rhetoric and philosophies were wrong, the disciples had misunderstood and we know they will continue to misunderstand, they were so frequently wrong and so we might not be so surprised that Bishops can be wrong.

The mind of God is troublesome to discover.

As Paul reminds us, what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor human heart conceived - this is what God has prepared for those who love him. Humans he tells us, know human things.

Well, actually, I know only very imperfectly what I think I know. I say imperfectly because my mind has changed in more than sixty years and I am not ready to stable it away yet, hoping that it remains open to run with new ideas. Maybe they will come from good arguments, from my mind’s  own energies but hopefully mostly by the work of the Holy Spirit.

The house of Bishops got itself in hot water last week, and a number of people mentioned it to me, many more mentioned it to them and so they came with an apology. The pity of it is, that the statement was unnecessary, it simply reaffirmed the views expressed before. So where are we?  A while ago the Bishops committed to prepare a teaching document called “Living in Love and Faith” which is now to be presented to the Lambeth Conference in July. I expect that General Synod may debate it after that.

The mind of God is troublesome to discover.

So: we wait and see, and pray that this report or range of resources will in Paul’s words speak God’s wisdom secret and hidden, that  in Isaiah’s words the ruins will be rebuilt and that in Jesus’ words “our light may shine before others.”


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