18th Sep 2018
Those of you who were able to attend our AGM in July heard Bishop Mark’s excellent sermon about FSW and its place within the Diocese. If you weren’t able to attend, you can read the full text of the sermon below – a challenging message for us all.
Bishops are sometimes called upon to preach rather a lot in a short space of time and this is one of 5 occasions I have been called upon to preach over the period of one week.
I was with Canon Guy Bridgewater, on Monday, at a licensing service in Crawley. Chatting with him, I noted then that Monday’s reading from the prophecy of Isaiah bore a very striking resemblance to today’s reading from Amos and that he might observe some repetition of thought in the two sermons.
But before I go on to say something about Amos’ prophecy, let me draw attention to something
The fact that I can point out the similarity of thought found in the minds of different prophets shows there is a theme, a motif or a strand of tradition running through Old Testament scripture.
Isaiah and Amos agree – they vindicate or confirm one another – they reveal a common understanding of the truth.
We are not considering an odd verse or two in isolation but a Scriptural theme found in the Old Testament and endorsed by Jesus in the New.
Amos and Isaiah, alike, speak of God’s utter rejection of their liturgical observances.
God has no regard for their sacrifices:
Isaiah, (in Chapter 1), tells how God specifically rejects their Sabbath and new moon observances along with their attendant sacrifices.
Amos, today, tells of God’s rejection of their festivals and solemn assemblies, of their burnt offerings and of their grain offerings and of their worship songs.
Both prophets, having announced God’s rejection of their worship, go on to demand something different.
On Monday: Isaiah demands that the people wash their bloodied hands, cleanse their hearts and instead seek justice, do good, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan and plead for the widow.
Today Amos says: “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”; an image drawn upon by Martin Luther King, if I remember rightly, during his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech.
Those looking for social transformation and justice have drawn upon this Old Testament theme many a time.
Religious faithfulness is not simply a matter of liturgy and ritual observance. There is nothing inherently wrong with offering worship, nor with making sacrifice in whatever style. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the incense Isaiah says is unacceptable, any more than there is anything intrinsically wrong with the worship songs Amos condemns.
What is always unacceptable is the hypocrisy that honours God liturgically but dishonours him in every other way:
These things are not acceptable.
Social justice and acts of mercy towards the deprived, oppressed, unfortunate or incapable are just as much the offering required of us as liturgy of any kind or content.
Amos and Isaiah – and Jesus himself, within the Gospel from which we have just heard – are addressing whole communities or gatherings. They are addressing the way that collectively we arrange things for those who are dependent upon our goodwill, but they are also addressing us as individuals.
FSW has a strong history of service to those who must depend upon more than themselves for their wellbeing.
It is a tradition that, under, Martin Auton-Lloyd’s leadership, you are seeking to further today, having reshaped your outreach for changing circumstances. FSW, I believe, represents the ‘diaconal arm’ of Chichester Diocese – that part which embodies service to individuals in need.
Insofar as any organisation can represent or embody the life of the Church, FSW represents that social engagement which prevents our proclamation and our liturgy from becoming sheer hypocrisy. FSW represents that service to people which incarnates our faith and the Messianic Mission which we share with the one into whom we were baptised.
Brothers and sisters, I believe that FSW holds a huge opportunity that is far, far, more than that of many philanthropic charities seeking to contribute to the common good. FSW cannot be the sole agent of service to those in need of help. It is incumbent upon every Christian disciple to make sure that their prayer, their worship and their faith have an integrity which is expressed in a care for others and especially for the poor. You cannot be the SOLE agent of care, but you do have the authority and the means to challenge the household of this diocese to make sure its proclamation is not mere hypocrisy.
You enjoy a place in the life of this diocese which is unique. You have place which entitles you to challenge. You have the space to speak to deaneries, to parishes and to structures to ask the pressing questions about the expression of faith through generosity and action.
Not all generosity will or should be expressed through support of FSW; there are other important ways in which people will properly spend their time energy and resources. But you are privileged to question and to challenge, you are right to hold to account the household of which you are a part; to hold to account those who profess the Christian faith, those who pray allowed ‘thy Kingdom come’; who profess a concern for those in difficulty.
The coming years and the prospect of Brexit seem likely to challenge profoundly the financial structures of this country and the kinds of social provision we have known since the Second World War. The context in which FSW will be at work may change quite radically and quickly; we simply cannot know. What our Christian tradition does teach us, however, is that we sometimes need to travel new paths and work in very different ways if we are to keep in sight and travel towards our destination… which is the Kingdom of God.
FSW exists to help build the Kingdom of God. That is why we are here and how this Eucharistic sacrifice of thanks and praise is redeemed from the hypocrisy which was the scorn of Amos, Isaiah and of Christ the King.
May Christ bless the best intentions of FSW with the power of His Spirit and bring them to glorious fruition and may prophetic examples of sacrificial care and compassion keep us from hypocrisy and the judgement it deserves. Amen.