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Sermon at Evensong on the Ninth Sunday after Trinity 2019

There is something more than just keeping to the strict rules or laws.

The Venerable David Stanton Canon in Residence

Sunday, 18th August 2019 at 3.00 PM

As many of you will be aware England are currently playing Australia at Lord’s in the second Test match of this Ashes series. The game is finely poised but we have great hope that England may yet win this one.

When I was 11 or 12 years old at Exeter cathedral school in the late 1960s and early 1970s the choir often played something called Sermon Cricket.

The rules were easy but intriguing. The side of the choir that was batting scored one run for every mention of Father, Son or Holy Spirit, four for the mention of a Bishop and a six for mention of the Archbishop of Canterbury!

This side carried on batting until the words hell, the devil, or sin were mentioned, when it was all change and the other side went into bat.

The winner was the side with the highest number of runs at the end of the sermon. Sometimes there were many innings and we certainly listened very carefully to the sermon.

In the late 1990s, Ted Dexter and Colin Cowdrey, two former England captains, sought to embed the idea of a ‘Spirit of Cricket’ in the game’s Laws, to remind players of their responsibility for ensuring that cricket is always played in an honest and sportsmanlike manner.

The Code of Laws introduced in 2000 included a preamble on the Spirit of Cricket which states that:

‘Cricket is a game that owes much of its unique appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within its Laws but also within the Spirit of the Game’. 

Cricket captains are responsible at all times for ensuring that play is conducted within the Spirit of the Game as well as within the Laws.

In other words, there is something more than just keeping to the strict rules or laws.

There are such things as sportsmanship and ethics; values and honesty.

These key components should never be lost sight of or ignored.

The major responsibility for ensuring fair play rests, of course, with the captains, but also extends to all players, match officials and, especially in junior cricket, teachers, coaches and parents.

Respect is central and the game encourages leadership, friendship and teamwork, which brings together people from different nationalities, cultures and religions.

Our Christian tradition also recognises this reality, and by this I mean that rigid commandments in themselves are not enough. 

Just as the Spirit of Cricket demands that players go beyond the set rules, so, too, as Christians, we are asked to consider how we conduct ourselves beyond the law of the land.

This is a crucial dimension for Christian ethics: that we have an additional obligation to go beyond the detail of the law, and to behave well even where the law does not demand it.

Going beyond the letter of the law presents a fundamentally different idea about the nature of our moral lives, one which is challenges us about our values, over and above the law.

Indeed ethical expectations often involve principles such as: concern and respect for others; trustworthiness and honesty; preventing harm to others.

The core of our Christian teaching may be summed up by the two commandments: Love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, with all your soul, with all your mind mind, and with all your strength and love your neighbour as yourself.

This implies that a certain selflessness is an intrinsic part of the Kingdom of God, where we treat others as though they were Christ, since we see Christ in them.

Such moral teaching may be divided roughly into two types: social teachings (that involve how we live together in society) and personal teachings (about how we live our individual lives).

Social teaching is what is often call social justice. This is based on the dignity of all human beings created by God with a focus on the common good of all.

Here at Westminster Abbey we are currently actively involved in combatting modern slavery especially human trafficking.

Today so many people who fall victim of trafficking want to escape poverty, improve their lives, and support their families.

Often they borrow money from their traffickers in advance to pay for arranging the job, travel and accommodation.

When they arrive they find that the work they applied for does not exist, or the conditions are completely different.

But it’s too late, their documents are often taken away and they are forced to work until their debt is paid off.

Combatting such crimes is all about working for justice in the social arena, not something extra, but an intrinsic part of living the gospel.

Then there’s individual Christian Morality. This is all about individual responsibility. 

Such morality helps us discover how we should live our lives as a result of our faith in God’s word - which has been revealed to us. It is simply the faithful living of the Love of God according to the heart and mind of Jesus who dwells in us. 

But above all the basis for moral decisions is an informed conscience. We each have a responsibility to train our consciences - based on our understanding of the gospel, and on our understanding of church teachings.

When we speak of the conscience we refer to that inner voice that helps us discern the law God in our hearts, and it helps us to judge the moral qualities of our own actions. It guides us to do good and avoid evil.

In this sense the conscience is absolutely key to Christian ethics – because its how we reason on matters of right and wrong. Nevertheless the conscience must be informed:

Cardinal Newman once wrote: ‘Obedience to conscience leads to obedience to the Gospel, which, instead of being something different altogether, is but the completion and perfection of that religion which natural conscience teaches.’

Whether we’re following the laws of cricket, or the civil law of the land, an informed conscience gives us the capacity to recognise moral distinctions and to apply them.

In living the Christian life we have many sources of help from both past and present. When we face really difficult or important decisions we are not alone, yet in the end the decision must finally be ours.

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