26 April, 2015

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter (B) – The Christian life: an all-encompassing commitment

1 John 3:16-24

‘We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.’ 1John 3:16
Sometimes the meaning of our readings from Scripture is pretty self-evident and there is no need of a sermon, like today. So let us look around, let us look at the person sitting nearby, and think, if we can see ourselves willing laying down our life for them, then we still have a lot to learn about what it means to be a Christian...

As I was saying, sometimes, a homily is not needed, but I was scheduled to deliver one, so here it goes… Over the last few weeks I have been talkingabout what it means practically to live the Christian life, to be a Christian. I said that living the Christian life is not just a matter of being faithful in going to church on certain days and holding with firm resolve to a particular creed; it is something that goes a lot deeper than these things. Living the Christian life is about being “works in progress” open to the action of God through prayer; it is about trying to be better each day at imitating Jesus; it is about cultivating virtues such a hope, justice, and patience; and it is about rooting out all those bad habits we might have such as gossiping or being uncharitable towards others. In short, living the Christian life requires a lifetime of commitment that encompasses all that we do, and all that we are.

Today we hear more clearly what this means in the words of the First Letter of John, where the Apostle says to us, ‘We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.’ This is to say that when Jesus lays down his life on the Cross, he doesn’t just redeem us, but he also gives us a pattern to follow, so that we – imitating him – should learn to put others before ourselves; because he loves us first, we ought to replicate his pattern of love with others. So we see that living the Christian life is not something that we can do in our spare time, it’s not a hobby or a game that we can safely store away until the next time we feel like escaping our daily routine; rather, living the Christian life as a positive and generous response to the love of Christ, is something that should pervade us from tip to toe, or – as a traditional hymn puts it,
‘Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.’
However, I do feel that as a Church we often send out the wrong message about this; we are in danger of misleading people with ideas that being a Christian is something easy, done on a whim, or much the same as being part of the National Trust. For example, you may not know this, but in the alternative texts for Baptism produced recently by the Church of England, the requirement imposed on parents and godparents to be good role models for their children has been dropped – specifically, the question ‘Will you draw them by your example’ has been dropped. Thus, living the Christian life seems increasingly something that we can do when we feel like it and then forget about it. Indeed, as many would have it, as a Church we shouldn’t put any impositions on people lest they get put off by all this religion... 
If this sad and terrible trend continues, soon enough we will be asked to rebrand our Sunday service from the Parish Mass to a performance of the musical Anything Goes. This, this trajectory currently being advocated and systematically enforced by many vocal members of the Church of England is a far cry from the lifetime of commitment, and selfless love demanded by the gospel; it’s a far cry from the command, ‘we ought to lay down our lives for one another.’

Living the Christian life is a work in progress that involves all that we are. Today as we keep Vocations Sunday and we think especially of those who are called to follow Christ in their vocation to be priests. We place a lot of expectations in our priests, like demanding them to be self-sacrificing and self-denying in their ministry. However, priests do exist in a vacuum, they not act and love apart from the Christian community. So today, even though we would traditionally be asked to pray for vocations to the sacred priesthood, I ask you to pray that we all – both clergy and lay people – may rediscover what it means to live and love each day as Christ does, constantly bettering our spiritual life, and striving always to put others before ourselves.

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