Here’s my sermon for this week.
Romans 12.9-end; Matthew 16.21-end
If something goes wrong someone must be to blame. Never us, of course, always someone else. We live in a culture of blame – and as the advertising points out, where there’s blame there’s a claim. Anything goes wrong and we point the finger – and are even encouraged to try and make profit out of it.
An oil tanker runs aground. In the spill hundreds of sea birds die and untold marine life perishes. Inevitably the recriminations come – somebody must be to blame. Was the ship too old? The design outdated? Salvage equipment inadequate? Was profit the motive for operating an unseaworthy vessel? No-one ever says that we are all to blame because of our insatiable desire for fuel. We want fuel to drive our cars. And even if we don’t drive we buy produce from our supermarkets that has been flown from across the world when it could be sourced locally. And because of our insatiable desire for more and more fuel companies spend millions getting the stuff out of the ground – and when things go wrong it’s their fault, not ours.
We continue to pollute the planet, and contribute to global warming by burning fossil fuels. Something should be done, we say. Somebody needs to sort it all out. And we expect others to act, because, after all, it’s the government and big business that needs to solve the problems. It’s not our fault, so we don’t need to do anything. Some parts of the world are already suffering from the effects of climate change. They need help – and if they don’t get it then someone must be to blame. Just as long as our own standard of living doesn’t suffer if the government gives financial aid.
Too many elderly in our own country struggle to make ends meet because the state pension is too low. They should be helped, we say, they should get more. But don’t put our taxes up to pay for it.
Money is, sadly, more important than human dignity and the right of each person to live free of poverty. More important than the future of our planet and its people. Why? Since when was money more important than people? And yet, it has always been the case. The mindset of society and of most people in society is a mindset that puts our own needs first. The nature of humanity is that we live for ourselves and for today – it’s instinctive. The urge of primitive humans was naturally to survive against the odds, and that instinct to provide for ourselves and our families no matter how it affects the world around us is a part of our make-up.
The future is distant. Today is all that matters. So with bulldozer and chainsaw we destroy the natural balance. Ancient cultures disappear but humanity progresses. We need to drive our cars, power our factories, clothe and feed the growing population. So many of us no longer live near a forest. Instead we hunt in supermarket aisles, giving little thought to where all these goodies come from. We become accustomed to all these material things and have a mindset that makes our control of this world so very important.
What is more relevant is that our control of this world – our expectation to have – is all too often at the expense of those who have not and without giving consideration to the effect upon others. That may be at a personal level – the smoker who gives no thought to the passive smoking imposed on others; the four-car family who pollute the atmosphere on hot summer days and increase the discomfort of asthma sufferers; the typical consumer who buys cheap foreign electrical goods without asking questions about the employment conditions, and even the ages, of those who make them. It may be as a society, a society that receives more in arms sales than it gives in aid. Or that continues to ignore the destructive effect upon our environment of pollution from cars, factories, un-recycled rubbish. The future seems so far away – so we think only of today. We live for ourselves and blame others for the world’s ills.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. The message of the Bible is that God doesn’t want it to be like that. The Christian message is that together we can make a difference – if we stop putting self first and start showing love in our living. Too often we are like Peter, who as Jesus says has his mind on human things, not divine things. We need to learn to view our world as God sees it.
Two of today’s readings remind us of the importance of a right mindset. Saint Paul gives a whole list of instructions for right Christian living – and what a list it is. And yet, if you break it down and look at each part individually, none of seems that difficult. If we could all live like this just think what a different place the world would be to live in.
… hold fast to what is good … love one another with mutual affection … outdo one another in showing honour … serve the Lord … rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep … live in harmony with one another … do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly … if it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all
So why do we find it so difficult? Because we have a wrong mindset. We see things in human terms, not divine terms. Our whole mode of thinking needs to change. As Christians we must learn to see the world as Jesus sees it, to think as Jesus thinks, to act as Jesus would act. Saint Paul begins the chapter from which our New Testament reading is taken like this:
… I implore you by God’s mercy to offer your very selves to him: a living sacrifice, dedicated and fit for his acceptance, the worship offered by mind and heart.
… and this is the important bit that helps us set today’s reading in a context:
Conform no longer to the pattern of this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds. Then you will be able to discern the will of God, and to know what is good, acceptable, and perfect.
“Be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” If money is all important then our behaviour will reflect this; if getting the better of others is what is uppermost in our minds, then this will motivate our actions. Energy follows thought. But if we think of God’s mercy, if we have the mind of Christ, if we offer our lives to him, we will do what he wants, which, as Paul says, is “what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Peter too has got it wrong. In Matthew’s account, Jesus has just given to Peter the keys of the kingdom. Jesus has just told Peter that he is the rock upon which he builds the Church, followi8ng Peter’s great declaration of faith in Jesus as the Messiah, at Caesarea Phillipi. Now we see the same man being rebuked as a stumbling-block to this same master, because Peter did not understand that the one he saw as his Messiah must also suffer and be put to death. And Jesus says to Peter:
Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.
Or as the Contemporary English Version of the Bible puts it rather more clearly:
Satan, get away from me! You’re in my way because you think like everybody else and not like God.
The disciples still held hopes of Jesus becoming a triumphant king. Jewish thought at the time would not have seen Messiahship in terms of a dreadful dying but only as a political triumph. As we know from that last great struggle in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus dreaded what was to come. He needed his closest followers to understand and support him. He needed them to be of the same mind. He had warned them that they way they were thinking was not God’s way but a human way. For Christ, God’s way meant crucifixion. For many of those closest to him it would mean martyrdom. They would choose between this world and the next, and they would die for their choice.
Jesus did not set out these choices just for his disciples but also for us. Going to the cross, to Calvary, meant giving up his life so that we may find ours. He asks us to give up whatever takes his life away from us. Not that he asks us to go about looking for a cross. Our lives will offer enough opportunities to make choices, choices that are not easy when this life is so visible and the life of which Jesus speaks is so hidden. The kingdom of heaven may be within, but the kingdoms of this world are outside and visible and offering so much that is attractive and desirable.
When Jesus says, “Let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me,” he does not mean a constant giving up of what we need or want, rather like giving up chocolate for Lent. Instead he asks us to recognize our utter dependence on God, to understand that we have nothing of ourselves. We owe even our existence to the creative love of God. We may not be able influence governments or great corporations directly. But together we can start to make a difference to our world.
For the call of Jesus is a call to have our minds not on human things but on divine things.
- When we think with the mind of Christ, we can begin to change the world.
- When we see with the eyes of Christ, we can begin to change the world.
- When we love with the love of Christ, we can begin to change the world.