In my recently-retired state, I now have a little time to see some breakfast tv before getting on with the day and it strikes me just how much we Brits love a hero. Almost every day there’s at least one in-depth item telling the story of one form of hero or another.
Naturally in recent weeks, it’s mainly been Commonwealth Games athletes, but in normal times we have people climbing mountains or doing multiple marathons, or some other form of amazing endurance like rowing a very long way or similar. People have always been inspired by heroes such as Captain Tom, or little Tony Hudgell, or the three dads who walked to raise money for suicide prevention.
And whilst a hero who is heretofore unknown is much to be admired, it seems they attract even more admiration if they are famous, whether for working as an actor or being a footballer or rugby player.
Leaving aside the important question about what the government should fund versus what we should support through charities, there’s no doubt that these endeavours do a lot of good in raising awareness and in providing much-needed care.
In a world of war, climate change and political shenanigans, it’s good to have people we can look up to for their honest work on our behalf.
At the heart of their heroism are two key things, I think – commitment to a particular cause, and the perseverance to put the effort in to support it and deliver the prize.
And worthy as those prizes are, the promise of God is of a much more significant and life-changing prize for all humanity – the promise of the time when society will work the way God works, in humility, and in love for neighbour and enemy alike. That promise of the Kingdom of God, which Jesus has begun by dying and rising again for us.
But we hear in today’s gospel that that does not come about easily. The passage we heard isn’t, perhaps, what we’d expect – Jesus being a nice teacher who teaches us a nice way to be nice to one another. That would be the easy way out. Jesus could have preached peace and love after the manner of a sixties hippie and not upset the authorities, but that’s not the Jesus we read of in the gospel.
See, Jesus knew that the path he had to tread would lead only to the cross and that it was necessary to go through that to reach resurrection, and so reveal God’s plan not just to Israel but to the whole world.
Throughout Christian history that has created division, as Jesus said it would. From the earliest accounts of arguments between the disciples about who was allowed into the church, through riots about exactly how Jesus was human or divine, to rows about exactly how we are made right with God, to discussion about who is allowed to lead the Eucharist, and in these days, to who is allowed to marry whom in church.
How are we, then, to interpret the present time?
Well, just like our public social heroes, we need both commitment and perseverance. For God’s justice to prevail and all humanity to be drawn into God’s love, we need to continue to show how effective and how life-changing it is. We can preach the words of the bible all we like, but if people don’t see Christians acting together to promote love of neighbour and love of enemy and make a difference in their communities they see straight through us and rightly call us hypocrites, as Jesus did those whose actions didn’t match their words.
It’s a tough love, is the love of Jesus, and committing to it is far from easy. It requires perseverance.
But as the writer to the Hebrews says, we have the example of the saints before us to follow – they have run the race, they’ve climbed the mountain, they’ve persevered in the faith. People like Oswald, George, Sebastian and Edmund in our Lady Chapel window, or the holy women in our south window in the nave such as Bridget, Winnefrid, Elizabeth Fry, Florence Nightingale, Mary Slessor.
The saintly heroes of the church did all they did because they were fully committed to kingdom values. They wanted to do more than raise money to help fix a gap in provision or support research, they wanted to show how knowing Jesus had changed them and could change those they helped. They pointed, always, to Jesus as the pioneer of our faith and to the glory of God he reveals.
It seems to me that the signs of the times require us to do the same. We need to work alongside our community to reveal God’s love for it. We need to persevere in what we already do as a church, and find resources to do more. Let us run that race that is set before us in these challenging times.
Derek Lancaster, Licensed Lay Minister