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Sunday, 29 November 2020

Sermon Notes from Advent Sunday

 "The day is at hand" +


In the Epistles of St Paul "the Day" often has reference to the return of Christ and final Judgement. Judgement is one of the main themes of Advent . And when St Paul first preached the Gospel, this theme was clearly present (Acts 17:31, 24:25). 


Does Judgement, from God's perspective, apply to what the world calls victimless crimes? Sexual impurity, drunkeness, envy/jealousy? Yes, as we see in today's Epistle. It's easier for people to see validity of judgement of sins against loving neighbour, but they inwardly rebel against the idea that God punishes the other sins, that they should even be considered sins at all. "No harm, no foul." However, their conscience can still prick them when they do these things, despite this attitude. Why? Where is the sin?


For a start, they are often not victimless, even in the conventional sense. And they are usually strongly associated with sins more obviously harmful to others. 


Drunkenness in one person often claims the life of another, or seriously injures them, as the alcoholically-enhanced road toll reminds us, and as do the scenes of drunken brawls, whether at schoolies venues, as we have seen recently, or elsewhere. 


Jealousy can seldom help but break out in gossip and back-biting. It is unusual for it to remain a purely hidden vice of the mind. 


The scandal of the abuse of children and minors by RC clergy is due to the same domino effect of sin. The abuses noticeably peaked between the late 60s to the 80s, but were below general community averages before and after this time. Why? They were partly the result of a dangerous change in the choosing and education of seminarians (trainee priests) that occured in the 60s. What was this change? The Church institutions relied on the advice of so-called experts on human sexuality. These experts didn't explicitly teach potential priests to abuse the young, nor did they instruct seminaries to choose paedophiles or ephebophiles. What they did do was teach seminarians and others that traditional sexual morality was foolishly restrictive and that pornography and seeking pleasure for its own sake were ok. And they counselled against allowing through men into the priesthood who they found believed in the classical teaching on these issues, labelling them as too rigid. And, too make things even worse, they told bishops they could cure the abusive clergy, while telling each other that the age of consent should be abolished. These experts based their beliefs on the work of a man called Kinsey. Kinsey, who deliberately set out to overturn concepts of sexual perversion, has been shown to have used scientific fraud to make such perversions appear much more common and therefore normal than was truly the case. And, worse still, he has been shown to have used at least one paedophile rapist, working even on infants, to get his data. He couldn't bring himself to stop at so-called victimless crimes. In each case, we find that the philosophy of the only bad sex is non-consensual sex (rape) leads to rape anyway. 


So, victimless crimes do in fact lead quite naturally to victims, offending against love of neighbour.


The second point to make about these sins is that love of neighbour not the only love. Love of God, love of self, are part of the great commandment. Human dignity is the missing ingredient in so many people's ethical thinking: the good life is not just about maximising feelings of happiness or pleasure and minimising feelings of unhappiness or pain. "You owe it to yourself" is an old saying. How can one sin against oneself? "You are not your own, you were bought with a price" (1 Corinthians 6:20). Twice-purchased, by creation and redemption. We belong to God. Self-destruction, self-dehumanisation is an insult to Him, a defacing and defilement of his work of art. Fulfillment of our humanity requires that the reason rules the passions, that the will governs instincts. It also requires that sexual faculties which are designed for creating new life, forming loving unions and sealing the mutual gift of the whole self in a marriage, are not squandered on mere pleasure for self. When we degrade ourselves, we defile God's image, God's gift of spiritual life.


The morality which denies all of this, and judges actions only on how they maximise pleasure or feelings of happiness in the greatest number, is utilitarianism or consequentialism. Why does utilitarianism-consequentialism fail? It cannot make any sense of purely internal sin, despite the essence of morality, of human goodness, obviously being dependent on motive. It cannot even explain why a bedridden man who has secret murder fantasies impossible to fulfill is being a bad man. Or why a hypocrital woman who is outwardly polite and "nice" to a colleague at work but inwardly despises her for her less fashionable dress sense, is being a bad person. Or why a child who chooses not to steal something only because they know they would get caught and punished, is not virtuous.


It is not enough to avoid inflicting pain on others, as essential as that is to goodness. It never has been.


The last point to make is that in itself, such holy Judgement would be Bad News for us. But it does not exist by itself! It exists in the context of the Gospel of Justification. Justification is the declaration of innocence based on forgiveness, the act of judgement that is actually mercy. A blessed paradox. The "good news" about Judgement? Grace, forgiveness, renewal, are freely available. Evil deeds are forgotten, it's as if they never occurred. Good deeds are enabled, prepared, given by God in Christ, but credited to us as if our own.

Thanks be to God. +

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