Sermons & services

Sermon for Trinity V

Published Sunday 17th July 2022, at 1:57 p.m.

Fr Daniel reminded us last week of the current, rather parlous, state of our political discourse. He commented that he’d been advised never to preach one’s own political beliefs from the pulpit: I think I told him that! And though I am going to stick to my own advice, I would like to agree with him about the state of our political life. And not just our political life. I don’t know if you’re on things like Twitter, or Facebook, and if you’re not, after what I am about to say, you won’t go anywhere near it, because the level of personal hostility on social media sites is, frankly, alarming. It’s one of the things you notice in debate at the moment. Very quickly the debate becomes argument and the argument becomes personal. The person is attacked, not the idea or the philosophy. The person. And I think there are many reasons for this but one of the principle reasons, in my opinion, is the fact that we have lost the art of courtesy. It’s a word that appears in our Epistle today in a list of virtues St Peter clearly sees as things that should mark out a disciple of Jesus. We should be courteous with one another. Now for those of us who were brung up proper, being polite was just what you did. You were polite to people. You said please and thank you. You’re welcome. You held open doors for people. You let people get on the bus before you. You were welcoming to people Now for some people, being courteous is the same as being polite and the two do share some similarities. For others, it’s old fashioned and fuddy duddy and should be consigned to the dustbin of antiquated and irrelevant human behaviour. Which means that level of public discourse and debate I mentioned earlier. Insult. Disparage. Denigrate. And we are, unfortunately, once again seeing this in the political debates in the race to become the next Prime Minister. We must do better. We have to do better. And Christians must lead the way here. And this is why: because courtesy is an intrinsic part of what it means to be a Christian. I want to suggest to you that courtesy has a deep theological meaning, which goes beyond simply being polite. It finds its roots in the most basic Christian belief of them all. As we read in the Book of Genesis: God made man in his image and likeness. Each human being who has ever lived, lives now, or will ever live was created by God in his image: created purposefully. God wants them to be here. And within this creativity of God, there is no hierarchy. Human societies tend to work on hierarchies. Ours did for centuries, and, it could be argued, still does though in different ways than it did in the past. Once based on class and wealth and power. Now on wealth and power with the occasional bit of class thrown in. But Christianity cuts through that (or last should). Though Christianity says we should give due honour to authority, it also says that each and every one of us is created equal. There are differences – there is diversity – but there is also unity and equality. The Queen may be the Queen, but before God she and I and you are all equal. Equally created in the image and likeness of God. Jesus died for us equally and the Holy Spirit was given to us in equal measure. I read somewhere that Christian courtesy ‘just means being nice to people’. I don’t think that’s true. I think it is recognising that other person as a child of God, just like you: regardless of background, culture, creed, colour, belief, sexual orientation, or any of the myriad other ways we humans are different from one another. It’s about seeing the divine likeness in everyone. Many of you may know the namaste greeting in the Hindu faith. Which isn’t just a greeting: it’s a way of recognising the presence of the divine in that other. St Augustine speaks about the spark of the divine that exists in each and every one of us. And so being courteous – a little like the namaste – is treating that other person with the respect that is their right as a child of God. Not just being nice. And definitely not being a doormat. But recognising all humanity in that one other person. Which is, of course, why the Lord tells us to love our neighbour as ourselves: treating them as we would like to be treated, acting towards them as we want others to act towards us. This is the heart of Christian charity. So what does Christian courtesy look like? St Paul describes it beautifully in chapter two of his letter to the Christians in Philippi where he says: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus… That Christ Jesus who came not to be served, but to serve. This is about valuing all people as children of God, just like us. Being courteous is ordinary. It means things like: How do we greet people? Are we alert to how our behaviour might be making them feel? Are we punctual, and if not, how do we feel about keeping people waiting? Do we defer to others? Saying excuse me if we get in their way? Not always feeling we have to answer back? Or respond with a cutdown comment? Do we return phone calls or answer emails in a timely fashion, or do we let them languish in our inbox (mea culpa, here!). Do we show our gratitude to others when they help in some way? And so on. This is all about valuing people. Seeing in them the spark of the divine. The divine image. The image that exists in every one of us. I’ll leave you with the words of a Greek Orthodox saint, St Nektarios, who said this: “A Christian must be courteous to all. His words and deeds should breathe with the grace of the Holy Spirit, which abides in his soul, so that in this way he might glorify the name of God. He who regulates all of his speech also regulates all of his actions. He who keeps watch over the words he is about say also keeps watch over the deeds he intends to do, and he never goes out of the bounds good and benevolent conduct. The graceful speech of a Christian is characterized by delicateness and politeness. This fact, born of love, produces peace and joy.” Peace and joy for us. Peace and joy others. Peace and joy the world. Amen.