All Saints Benhilton. 28th May 2000
Christ Our Future
Next Saturday-week, the Eve of Pentecost, a number of you from All Saints will no doubt be going to the London Arena to join some 8,000 others for the great Christian millennium event, Christ Our Future.
There we shall be joining other faithful souls, including many bishops and priests, to meet together to celebrate the Faith Once Delivered to the Saints which God has entrusted to people like us to safeguard in this as in every previous, and every future, age.
But whether you have decided to come to the London Arena or not, this seems to be a good opportunity to look at exactly what it is we shall be celebrating and safeguarding; and what better place to do this then in Father Michael's Parish knowing that in 1986 he was the very first person in all Southwark to throw in his lot with Cost of Conscience, the body of priests from which Forward in Faith was born, who have sponsored and arranged this event.
So let us look in turn at those three words, Christ, Our, and Future, because each one of them provides a clue as to why Cost of Conscience and Forward in Faith came into being in the first place.
It comes as a surprise to some people learn that there are a number of Christians in the world, principally but not exclusively in the United States and this country, who are trying to take Christ out of Christianity.
They do this in a number of ways.
First of all they suggest that Jesus was one of many men that have existed in history to tell us about God.
Of course, as far as it goes, what they say is perfectly true. From the birth of the human race there have been people to whom God has revealed himself "in sundry times and in divers manners". But what they say doesn’t go very far at all.
For there is a critical difference between the man who tells us about God, and the man who says that he, and he alone of all the human race, actually is God: and it's a total and absolute difference.
If such a man says he's God when he isn't, then he's a raving lunatic, and the less attention we pay to anything else he says the better. Such a person needs locking up for life for his own good as well as everyone else's.
If on the other hand he is God (as he claimed to be, and as Christians down the ages have believed him to be) then so far from locking him up, we should be worshipping him, falling at his feet and listening with the greatest attention to anything and everything he has to say.
But there's another suggestion which these people make that goes like this: Jesus was a first century Jew, culturally conditioned by his time on the age in which he lived. We cannot be certain, therefore, how relevant some of the things he taught are to today's world.
To that we must reply that there are such things as permanent or eternal truths, and it is primarily with these that we as Christians are concerned.
Permanent truths are changeless truths, and it doesn't matter therefore whether they were first enunciated by Moses, Euclid, Socrates, Jesus Christ or St Paul, or for that matter when they were first stated or to what extent those who first proclaimed them were themselves culturally conditioned by the age they lived in (just as the people who raise these doubts today are themselves, like you and I are, inevitably culturally and intellectually conditioned by the world in which we live).
What those who claim to be telling the truth say is either true, or it isn’t. It makes not a scrap of difference to the truth or falsity of Theories of Evolution, Relativity or Gravity, that Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawkings and Isaac Newton were every bit as much a child of their time as you or I or Jesus Christ are: that doesn't make what they said one iota more or less true. Truths are neither more nor less true, and falsehoods neither more nor less false, because they are either ancient or modern.
But there's another reason why such people want to take Christ out of Christianity, or at least to put other men alongside him. That reason is because this age, like every other one has its own pet theories and agenda about Life, Death and the Meaning-Of-It-All.
But the views and teachings of Jesus, most inconveniently, don't happen to agree in every respect with these pet theories, or at least not in the unchallengeable way that people would like them to.
The sort of pet theories doing the rounds at present, courtesy of the spin-doctors, are best summed up in Soundbytes: words like Fairness, Justice, Equality, Self-expression, Fulfilment, Rights and Achievements about which one hears so much today. It means little to the spin-doctors that there was a quite different list 40 years ago and in another 40 years it will have changed again. Their job is to make today’s wisdom accepted by everyone, not for the passing fashion which it probably represents, but as if it were, and must always have been, and always will be, self-evidently true.
But the truth is that what Jesus said and did never squares exactly with what secular man wants to believe, and in some cases, like the ones mentioned above, he said next to nothing about them at all. Instead he talked about things like Sacrifice, Repentance, Humility, Chastity and Forgiveness which sound like, and indeed are, an entirely different agenda from the one that modern man is so keen to promote, and are certainly not self-evidently true. Small wonder, then, if Jesus Christ is sidelined by the modern world.
Our intention on Saturday week is to put Jesus Christ back where he belongs – at the very centre of today’s world. Doing so is not going to make us popular. Nor is it going instantly to fill out churches with people eager to learn the truth. But it will, pray God, be an unmistakable message to the rest of the world that Jesus, and nobody else, is the Lord.
I said a moment or two back that this is "our" intention. That brings me to the second word in the phrase Christ Our Future.
The event might have been called Christ My Future, but it wasn't, and for the following very good reason.
Although the Catholic Faith which comes to us from the Apostles certainly begins with each of us as an individual turning to Christ – and that's why baptism is such an intensely personal (and important) decision, that Faith emphatically it doesn't end there. For through our baptism we become part of something infinitely greater than ourselves, the Body of Christ, Children of God, Fellow-heirs of God's Kingdom with Jesus Christ. That's what we mean by the Church.
Now, at this point, unfortunately, we have to part company with some of our Christian brethren, particularly those of an Evangelical tradition. Quite rightly they stress the supreme importance of each of us individually committing himself to Jesus Christ as our Saviour and Lord.
But so anxious are they that this personal element should not be lost sight of (and we must recognise that that is an ever-present danger) that in the process of focusing on that aspect of salvation they themselves lose sight of the Church, both in heaven and on earth, as a single, united body of suppliants, pleading the all-sufficient sacrifice once made up on the Cross by Jesus Christ for the sins of the whole world.
This is why some of our evangelical friends whom I regularly meet at Reform Southwark find it so difficult to understand and appreciate the sort of thing we shall be doing in the London Arena next week. Words like "pompous", "over-ornate", "fussy", and "inward-looking" spring readily to their minds. Having myself come from that tradition and background I can the see why they feel that way about it, whilst the same time I know that they are mistaken. They are picking up all the wrong signals. One day, please God, they will come to see clearly what they presently misunderstand. Their enlightenment, when it comes, will not take the form of using incense and monstrances, but of realising that the Church of God is something infinitely greater than they suppose it to be.
Christ Our Future. The word Future of course has two related meanings. One refers to the time that lies ahead of us. "In the future", we say, "we shall conquer cancer, solve the world's food problems, and eliminate polio.
But we also talk in a slightly different sense about "my future", "his future", "our future" By using the word "future" in this context we mean "where our true good, our perfection, our chief end really lie". And this sense of the word Future is, above all, sums up the purpose of our Festival in the London Arena.
For we shall not just be looking back to the past, although we shall indeed, one hopes, become aware if we are not already so that the faith which we profess "was won by centuries of sacrifice, and many martyrs died that we might worship God" in spirit and in truth, and that therefore the wellbeing of that faith can never be taken for granted.
We shall certainly also be looking at the present. We shall find ourselves surrounded by thousands of people like us who have been playing their part as faithful witnesses to the truth which has been entrusted to us and "stewards and ministers of the mysteries of God.. An event such as Christ Our Future can be an enormous boost to morale especially for those who attend churches where perhaps there are only a handful of others who remain faithful. It's like having the lights turned on in a dark room were we supposed ourselves to be alone, to discover that in fact surrounded by hundreds of others like ourselves so that we are part of a much bigger show that we ever imagined.
From Past and Present we shall then turn towards the Future. There is only one real future for us and that is Christ himself. He is our goal, our destiny and it is only ultimately in him that we shall find all these things which the world so vainly strives to discover for itself in other ways: fulfilment, satisfaction, achievement, justification and everlasting joy.
Let me remind you of those incomparable words from the 12th chapter of Hebrews
Seeing we are encompassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us; and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Who for the joy that was set before him endured the Cross, despising the shame, and is sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
"Looking unto Jesus". Yesterday, today, and forever: he is our Future.
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