8th August 2023

Sunday 14.05.2023

Sunday 14 May, 2023, 8.00 a.m. & 10.30 a.m.

A sermon preached by the Rev’d Canon Nigel Davies

“Paul said – For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.”

Paul’s opening sentence, as he spoke to the people of Athens outside the Areopagus, which was the centre of cultural and cultic observance, is a favourite of mine. It makes a marvellous opening to his speech, Paul had observed well the context in which he was about to speak and choose his words carefully, to get the maximum attention of those who passed by. With such an opening I am sure people stopped to listen to what he had to say and as recorded in Acts his words had eloquence, running into trouble only when they became more esoteric, and the crowd grew sceptical.

We have not wanted for eloquence in our national life this past week. The words of the Coronation service gave expression to the hopes of the King and many in the Kingdom. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s sermon gained approbation, phrases such as: “We are here to crown a King,
and we crown a King to serve.” And “Service is love in action. We see active love in our care for the most vulnerable, the way we nurture and encourage the young, in the conservation of the natural world. We have seen those priorities in the life of duty lived by our King.”

Usual service resumed, however, later in the week when he upset many with his condemnation of the Migration Bill in the house of Lords, a speech he end with these words: “I urge the Government to reconsider much of the Bill which fails to live up to our history, our moral responsibility and our political and international interests.” So… to our Gospel for today and some words of Jesus: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”. And  “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me.” Jesus’ statement seems unequivocal, especially when applied to Christians who, are after all, are the ones supposed to love Jesus. There should be no difficulty here with Jesus’ two basic commandments as recorded in Mark’s Gospel: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” and “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’” But as we know, the scribe who was questioning Jesus, wanted qualification. This would appear to be a default human setting. We ask for certainty, unambiguous statements, and then are unhappy when we get them. Think of the world of the Law. I am sure that the Dean can attest to the fact that Laws, which seem straightforward, are open to interpretation and Law Firms ply their trade in this area.


Christianity exhibits similar characteristic. Christian Doctrine and Ethics, it could be argued, have contributed to the world of equivocation. It seems that those who profess the faith are no better, or worse, than the scribe who asked Jesus to identify ‘his neighbour’. Perhaps I am being naïve, or two simplistic, but if we return to the words of Jesus in our Gospel, can they not be paraphrased as – ‘If we love Jesus, we do what he tells us’? Sweeping away the rules and regulations that have grown up over time isn’t easy, as Kemi Badenoch the Government’s business and trade secretary, had to admit to The Commons, regarding EU Laws. I am sure there are those in the hierarchy of the Church who would argue that interpretation in the implementation of our faith are necessary, even if they seem less necessary, to Jesus.

I suppose that once the Church became organisational and denominational, rather than a movement, it was inevitable that bold statements would be finessed. This is apparent in the Letters of Paul to the early church, as he grappled with the problems of interpretation that arose, as Christianity transitioned from a sect within Judaism, to a faith in its own right.

As inevitable as this might be in the scheme of things, it is no bad thing from time to time, to look with unfiltered eyes on the ‘law of love’, is it? Do we really have to then turn wistfully back to reality, or can we not align ourselves more closely to the Love of God and love of neighbour, not just as an aspiration, but a priority for our lives and the life of the church?