1 Corinthians 2. 1 – 12

Matthew 5. 13 – 20

Fr Alex


It’s been another couple of weeks of political intrigue, with dodgy tax returns and sackings and all sorts of fun and games.  At least no one could say our political scene is dull.

I saw online a witty poem by Brian Bilston that sums it all up – it’s called ‘The only way is ethics.’

These days – given the corrupting nature of power

and self interest – I prefer to outsource

all moral judgements to my ethics adviser.

Is it okay to steal?  I am asked.

That is a matter for my ethics adviser, I now say.

A ruling shall be made on that shortly.

What about lying?  Or cheating?  enquires another.

These are very complex questions, I respond.

My ethics adviser will investigate fully.

Kickbacks?  Bullying?  Human rights abuses?

Do not worry, I reply.  The ethics adviser

is a close personal friend of mine; he will look into it all.

It is important, I stress, to consult somebody

who knows about such things; somebody who can tell

what is right and what is wrong.

It’s been so easy to poke fun at the political classes over the last few years that it’s almost beyond satire now.  But it points to the sad truth that knowing right from wrong is no longer something we can take for granted in our national life.  It’s something else that can be outsourced – made into someone else’s responsibility.

It's the natural consequence of casting off the ancient ethical framework of Christian moral teaching, and replacing it with the new system of ‘what seems right to me.’

I would say that of course; I’m a vicar.  But without that shared system, it’s no wonder two sides are in eternal deadlock over Brexit, national determinism, abortion, identity, and all the rest.  There are no longer two different sides of an argument; it’s two different arguments altogether.

But of course the Church isn’t immune to that by any means.  Look at the knots we’ve tied ourselves in recently over how we live together after female ordination, and with issues of human sexuality.

And we even suffer from the same confusion over right and wrong; the same instinct to outsource our ethical decisions to someone else.

For example, how long have people in the Church thought that safeguarding is the responsibility of the safeguarding officer?  Rather than a foundational part of the life of every Christian, to seek first the good of others, that we all may flourish.

It’s a far cry, of course, from the life of faith that Jesus teaches us in his Sermon on the Mount – part of which we heard in our Gospel reading this morning.

If Lent wasn’t so early, we’d have heard very much more teaching from Jesus over the next few weeks – teaching that really confronts our confused 21st Century society.

Right before today’s passage comes the most famous part of the sermon: the Beatitudes.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; blessed are the peacemakers,” and so on.

He calls his disciples into a new way of living – and today he says that they should show it.

He says they should be the salt of the earth and the light of the world; that they shouldn’t blend in with the world, but rather be conspicuous in their faith.

Salt enhances and brings out the flavour of food.  In the same way, these new Christians are to live in such a way that that their words and actions bring out the flavours of hope, and joy, and peace, in a dull and bland world that often lacks those qualities.

As the light of the world, they are to shine forth with the light of Christ that is within them, illuminating the dark places, and guiding others through the darkness.

They are to be like a city set on a hill.  Their love, compassion, and forgiveness are to be so evident in their lives that they will draw others to them, like weary travellers to the safety of a hill top refuge.

This kind of conspicuous Christianity is completely incompatible with the idea of outsourcing it all to an ethics adviser.

These ways of living aren’t just for others to care about; they aren’t just for those ordained or licensed for the purpose… or for extra good and holy Christians.  They are for all the baptized; the whole body of Christ.

Because we’re not left, like so many in our world today, to stumble blindly through the disagreements and controversies of life, unable to tell right from wrong.  We don’t take our moral guidance from ‘what seems right to me.’  At our baptism we were brought into the Church and given God’s Holy Spirit, to guide us into all the truth.

As St Paul wrote so movingly in our first reading, that Spirit we receive is not the Spirit of this world, but of God.

It was this Spirit that St Paul put his entire faith in, as he lived his mission for Christ.  Not with human wisdom, with his own speech and “proclamations with lofty words.”  But rather knowing nothing at all, except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

If we try to rely on our own wisdom, our own strength – ‘what seems right to me’ – we will be bamboozled by the ways of the world.

The responsibility to do better, to live better, is for each one of us.  But we are, each one of us, given the power to do it: if we put our faith in Christ crucified, and our trust in the Holy Spirit.  May that be our prayer, and our mission, as the holy season of Lent approaches. Amen.