Sermon at the Sung Eucharist on the Second Sunday before Lent 2020
It is a risky business to have a commitment to something.
The Venerable David Stanton Sub-Dean, Canon Treasurer, and Archdeacon of Westminster
Sunday, 16th February 2020 at 11.15 AM
Commitment, whether personal or professional, is out of fashion these days. People regularly change partners and careers.
In such a climate, where nothing seems permanent, commitment will always struggle to find a place. We sometimes wonder why we should bother.
But commitment lies at the heart of our Christian faith and the religious life.
Today’s Gospel reading commands us to ‘strive first for the kingdom of God’ (Matthew 6.33).
In fact, Christ spoke about the kingdom, taught about it, and gave more instructions concerning it than any other subject.
Yet sadly, many Christians struggle to understand what the Kingdom of God is really all about and the impact that commitment to it has upon our daily lives.
Within his Gospel, St Matthew mentions the ‘kingdom of God’ four times, the ‘kingdom of heaven’ thirty-three times and on top of that, the term ‘kingdom’ is used seventeen additional times.
Indeed, throughout Holy Scripture, God is progressively revealing to us the nature and reality of his kingdom.
In the Old Testament, he built a people who were to live under his rule, and he promises to establish David’s kingdom forever. (2 Sam. 7:16)
In the gospels, Jesus taught that the kingdom of God had come in and through him.
St Matthew reminds us that Jesus’ first public proclamation was ‘Repent, for the kingdom of God is near’. (Matt. 4.19).
Our New Testament further reveals how the church exists as a present day sign of the kingdom, and how God’s kingdom will be completely established at the second coming of our Lord.
We are reminded again: ‘Strive first for the kingdom of God’.
In other words strive more for the coming of the kingdom, rather than personal entry into that kingdom.
So what is this kingdom of God all about?
Well, the kingdom could possibly be described as somewhere where everything clicks together just as God wants.
A place where justice and peace, truth, love and healing all come together.
Yet this in turn, raises other questions and potential problems: we quite often hear it suggested, that we should be building God’s kingdom, or certainly working to cause it to come about.
But in reality there are fundamental things that need to take place first.
Primarily we need to know the will of God. Secondly, we need to want the will of God to be done, and thirdly, we need not only to know it (and will it) but also be able do it.
In all these areas, human beings are always found wanting, and by ourselves we are not able to bring in or build the kingdom of God.
But the further conundrum is this: we are constantly being called as a Church to build a just and fair society built on the fundamental values of truth, freedom, justice and love.
This inevitably brings us into contact with the political sphere. However we need to understand that it is not the Church’s role to replace the state and politics.
Neither is it our role as a Church to determine government policy; rather, we seek to inspire the state and, in particular, its political institutions with the beauty and goodness of Christ in order to bring about a more just society.
The three values of truth, freedom and justice, all underpinned by love, are absolutely primary within the world of social ethics.
We all have a duty to move towards the truth, to respect it and bear responsible witness to it.
When a community is founded on truth, it is ordered and fruitful and is ultimately concerned with the dignity of all people.
Similarly freedom is encapsulated in the fact that God became a human being in the form of Christ and consequently, is a sign of the sublime dignity of every human person.
We see this through our relationships where every person has the natural right to be recognised as a free and responsible human being.
We must guard against restricting such freedom, such as making it too individualistic or too selfish or just seeing things with blinkered eyes.
Freedom allows us all to fulfil our personal vocations; to seek truth and hold faith, to own cultural and political ideas; to express our opinions; to choose how we live, and as far as possible, how we choose to work.
Freedom also gives us the ability to refuse what is morally wrong.
Then thirdly, justice. St Thomas Aquinas taught us that justice consists of the constant and the firm and that this in turn determines how we relate to both God and those around us.
In other words, how we live is directly related to how we understand other people.
So, what is just, is not determined purely by the law but by the profound identity of being human.
Finally, the way of love, so often restricted to relationships of physical closeness, must also be seen in the context of how we respond and relate to each other.
It is from such love that the values of truth, freedom and justice are born and grow. In many ways, love presupposes and transcends justice.
It’s a sobering thought that there’s no human law that will ever succeed in persuading us all to live in unity, and peace; similarly there’s no line of reasoning that will ever be able to surpass the appeal of love.
Again, St Thomas Aquinas said that ‘love is delight in what is good; the proper object of love is the good. To love is to wish good to someone.’
So we see that God’s master plan of love involved his creating the whole complexity of our natural world, and that, of course, includes all of us here, and indeed all humanity.
It therefore follows that love underpins our entire existence.
We are called to love, and this is confirmed when Jesus challenges us to love God with all our heart, soul and mind, and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves.
Sadly, however, humanity all too often fails to follow this plan of love and we are drawn to sin against God and to distance ourselves from him.
This, sadly, brings about considerable injustice and suffering in a world that should be overflowing with love.
It is of course quite valid for us to ask, why does God allow people to do wrong and to commit sin?
However, this is easily explained by reference to God’s plan of love.
Nobody can be forced to love. If we want to truly and authentically love we must do so voluntarily. Forced love is not love at all.
Therefore, God has given us genuine freedom to decide whether or not we want to follow his plan of love.
The Church places herself entirely at the service of the Kingdom of God by consistently proclaiming the good news of Christ and by the faithful witness of the church through many thousands of disparate communities.
Commitment to sharing Gospel values is, therefore, central to striving for the kingdom of God and exercising the mission of the Church.
This means that our commitment to the kingdom of God must be rooted in and strengthened by our spiritual lives.
In our relationship with God we experience the conversion of heart that is necessary to truly love one another as God has loved us.