Before Lent: "The Times are a Changing"

The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams

This week I caught sight of a video of an old friend making her final journey. BAC Alpha Foxtrot or British Airways Concord 216 - The last Concorde to take off or land anywhere made her final trip, without even leaving the ground, across the runway in Bristol, where I used to work, to take her place in a brand new museum built to recognise the history of Aircraft in Bristol.

A beauty of a different time - Concorde represents a different understanding of the needs of air travel. There's been a shift in the industry from transporting small numbers quickly for more money, a shift towards transporting large numbers more cheaply. Efficiency, safety and lower costs drive developments. I was on site in Bristol when Concorde 216 landed that last time. Watching on what could have been described as a wake. Middle aged men who had helped design Concorde when they were in their prime were walking around glaze eyed. It was the end of an era that they had been a part of, a final rejection of what they had built.

We are all embedded in our own world view, we have our own idea of how the world works. And being embedded within a world view it is hard to shift. At times we realise the world has already moved on. It’s hard to accept the change has happened. That’s why every generation struggle’s with the next generation’s idea of what music is. Or why I still struggle to accept that ‘to friend’ has become a verb that doesn't necessarily have much to do with the people I choose to spend my time with.

It’s also why the Church  (and based on the gender pay gap those outside the church) has taken so long to make any headway on gender equality in ministry. Or why the church is failing to make any sense when it comes to gay marriage. And sometimes we don’t notice those changes happening, like the shift which we are in the midst of now, An end to liberalism, or is it post-liberalism… But I'm not going to go into that now - if you would like to, and I suggest you should - our Lent Course will be going into the specifics of these changes.

But changes to world views, shifts in understanding, demand that we take a big step back and remember what the core principles are. For designing aircraft, it’s about getting back to what the real design question is - How to get from A to B through the air using existing airports… and what you are trying to optimise - safety, fuel efficiency, speed, comfort, etc.

Today’s Gospel is from what is known as Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It’s one of the great collections of teachings which Jesus gave his followers. Here we join him and Jesus is in full flow - using the best of his attention grabbing methods to get his point across. A bit like MPs in parliament calling their colleagues jihadis. Full of gore, as if it were an episode of Game of Thrones - plucking eyes and cutting off hands. He is trying to get across a point about needing to take responsibility for our actions. Amusingly the text has been completely miss used - suggesting that women should dress modestly so they won’t cause men to sin in their mind… No, no, no - clearly Jesus is not blaming the object of the eye, but the owner of the eye itself.

Rather, Jesus’ point is that so long as we don’t tackle the real core problems, we are only contributing to the problem. Jesus is railing against legalistic following of the law, without obeying the spirit of the law itself. Finding a loop hole or a way round what the law is about.

Jesus is demanding his followers take a step back and consider what the objective of the law is for them. What are they trying to optimise in their own lives. And so you have to consider what the foundation for the law is in Jesus’ teaching. According to Jesus, quoting the Old Testament, there are two laws upon which everything else hangs: Love God and Love your neighbour as yourself.

And he expects us to apply our imagination when Loving God and Neighbour. After telling that well known story of the Good Samaritan to show the young man who is the neighbour he is meant to love, Jesus says ‘Go and do Likewise’ - not ‘Go and do this thing’ or ‘Go and ask yourself what I would do’ but ‘Go and do Likewise’

Not murdering, but failing to love your enemies is still failing to live up to God’s calling to us.

Not committing adultery but ignoring your partner, or failing to talk to them honestly when the relationship isn’t working is failing to live up to God’s calling to love them.

With Jesus’ words on Divorce, he is speaking into a culture at a time when divorce was something a man did to a woman.  Men were casting off their wives with no regard for them as anything but property. It’s what happens when we treat somebody else as less than ourselves, less than human.

Jesus wasn’t preaching hell and damnation. It wasn’t about guilt, it wasn’t about not making mistakes. It was about loving, about compassion and caring. It was about imagining new ways of loving one another. It was about reconciliation. Which fundamentally is about truly listening to each other’s experience. Not assuming we’ve got it far worse, or that somebody else is lazy, or incompetent, but if we listen.

If we truly listen, deep down, to the point that if we tell the story of their own experience back to them they recognise it as their own. Then we’ve started living out that love which makes us, the love which is stitched into our very being by our creator. And even in doing that, in listening and loving to that extent, the law will take care of itself. Changes in culture will become irrelevant. because we will be living, not according to the spirit of the Law, but according to the spirit of the God who created the law.