Hello everyone, and welcome to this week's video.
A few days ago, we said goodbye to two key members of our diocesan team who are retiring after many years of service. Chrissie Pepler has been our Officer for Social responsibility and has made a huge difference to the Churches standing in the community. She has represented us with voluntary and statutory organisations and been a catalyst for social action that has improved many peoples’ lives.
The other is my Chaplain, Brian Chave, who has contributed to the life of our diocese as an agricultural chaplain and vicar. He became Chaplain to my predecessor and latterly has helped me as I have begun ministry here over the last two years. We couldn’t do it without you is an overused phrase, but entirely accurate in the case of both Chrissie and Brian. In their diverse ways they represent the diaconal service that is the foundation of any Christian ministry, lay or ordained. Both will no doubt be hugely embarrassed by being singled out in this public way, but that illustrates their natural humility which is another crucial foundation of Christian discipleship.
We take service for granted as a virtuous thing and almost a self-evident truth. We often name organisations as a service: the police service, fire service, and health service. We even use the word of the army, navy, and air force and our very own Special Air Service. This is deeply embedded in the Christian roots of our culture. The use of power in the service of others is actually a uniquely Judeo-Christian idea. It doesn’t come naturally to human societies. The Roman culture into which Christianity emerged in the first century regarded humility as a vice for example. For them, it seemed to make perfect sense to use power for your own ends. In societies with no Christian heritage one often sees power used for corrupt ends. I have worked in countries where using power for financial gain was endemic.
The Russian army today or the politicians that direct it, seems to be working to the 'might is right' mantra. They seem happy to use whatever means are necessary to achieve their ends without thought to the damage to innocent civilians. Despite the appeal to an orthodox historical myth to justify themselves, this is Stalinist power play red in tooth and claw.
For much of history, Chinese civilisation was more advanced and financially successful than the west. However, from the Renaissance period onwards western civilisation raced ahead scientifically and consequently industrially and financially. The communist government commissioned a number of historians to look into the factors that lay behind this. Their conclusions were clear and unequivocal – the reason was Christianity. It was a thought system as well as a faith that allowed the development of empowered societies. If, albeit imperfectly, you believe that all are created in the image of God and therefore of value, it acts as a force to overcome natural human instincts to use power to dominate and control. It was a belief in one God as a creator, and therefore the reliability of scientific laws that lay behind the whole scientific method that has given us everything from antibiotics to space travel. Ideas are powerful things to shape communities. However much our modern secular society may resent it, and even try to erase it, much of what we value in our civilisation like democracy, service, freedom of speech, and caring for the weak have the fingerprints of Christian faith all over them. It isn’t immediately clear to me how these things will be preserved in the long term if our society cuts itself off from its Christian moorings. If existence can only to be described as evolutionary biology played out over millions of years of chance and selection it's hard to see how you can create any satisfying sense of purpose or meaning. This is not to say I don’t believe
in evolution, but that biology alone is insufficient to describe all that makes us human, nor to construct a values system that fosters kind, noble, and loving societies.
In this Easter season, the events of Christ’s sacrifice for us and his resurrection put a different truth claim front and centre. God is revealed as servant-hearted and loving. Ultimately, he triumphs over evil through these things rather than the imposition of force. This is the truth imprinted in the world God has created, whose reality is fleshed out in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This truth is more than enough to transform a broken world, and even broken people like you and me if we will allow Him to.