Faith is Brutal – Rev'd Matthew Catterick

The Bible readings set for this evening beg the question – what does it mean to be faithful? We have the psalmist fixing his eyes on God, seeking refuge, asking the Lord not to be left unprotected. We have the Israelites, storming their way through Canaan, taking possession of the Promised Land. And we have Jesus, following his own divine conscience, bringing about the Kingdom by healing a man with a withered hand.

There is a note of desperation in all of this too. David, the psalm writer, is as ever, fearful. He speaks of being trapped, snared in the nets of those who do evil. We hear of people being driven out, violently, from the Promised Land. And we learn of the Pharisees, who once again, outsmarted by Jesus, start plotting to bring about his death.

Faith is brutal and faith is bloody. Having faith puts our lives on the line.

At this point in the church year our calendar reminds us of some truly remarkable stories. Last Wednesday we had St Ignatius of Antioch, one of the earliest Christian martyrs, who, when facing death in the Roman circus, expressed a longing to die for his faith. He said ‘I want to be mauled, ground fine by the lions’ teeth, so that I may be as wheat for the bread of Christ’.

And just ahead of us now is the Feast of All Saints; that great company of witnesses, so many of whom chose to surrender their lives rather than compromise their belief. And the sad truth is that there has never been a time in history when someone, somewhere has not died rather than give in to the powers of oppression, and the reality is that it seems to be getting worse – with more martyrs being created in the last century than in any era before. Think Maximilian Kolbe. Think Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Think Martin Luther King.

Faith is brutal and faith is bloody. Having faith puts our lives on the line.

What we see in the example of Jesus is an unflinching approach to the truth. For him there is no other way. Although it is stated that on the Sabbath they can’t pick corn, his people are hungry and there is food there ready to eat. Likewise, performing an act of healing on the Sabbath was seen as breaking the law prohibiting work. Yet Jesus ignores this and tells the man to stretch out his hand.

No doubt Jesus was conscious of what this would mean; that many would follow him, but that others would be completely outraged. They started to plot his death. And the moral of the story is this – that if following our own conscience makes us at times unpopular, for some maybe even detested, then take heart, this might well mean that you are doing something right and good.

This is what Jesus means when he says ‘take up your cross’, ‘follow the narrow path’ – for he gives us an example of service that breaks through social and religious conventions, revealing to us a higher, faith-filled vision, not based on rule-keeping, but founded on justice, respect and truth.

The word ‘Gospel’ of course means the ‘Good News’. And it’s only good news for those who those don’t like things as they are, who long to live in a better world. ‘He hath put down the mighty from their seat’, proclaims the Virgin Mary, ‘and hath exalted the humble’. And today we hear that ‘The hungry are filled with good things and the rich sent empty away’.

To have faith means then to surrender yourself to this radical inversion of power. To be saintly means to submit your life to God. To live by faith means accepting that whilst we may not glow with worldly success, we may nevertheless be assured that our chosen path is right. We are to be, as St Paul says, Holy Fools, yet wise in the sight of Christ.

May God give us such wisdom, and the courage to live out our convictions. Not courting popularity, but higher truths, a more profound sense of justice. And may we be strengthened on our journey of faith, with the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not yet seen. Amen.

Rev’d Matthew Catterick, St Saviour’s Pimlico
21st October 2012

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