Micah 6, verses 6-8.
Romans 13, verses 1-10.
I learnt in my days at Sotheby’s when lecturing on furniture it was always wise to avoid too many facts and stick to opinions, just in case anyone in the audience knew more than you. So I realised it would be dangerous in present company to have too much to say about the law or lawyers this morning.
Such a distinguished gathering in church as we have today, isn’t always comprised exclusively of people of faith. Indeed it has been suggested to me that many who are involved in the administration and enforcement of justice are not Christians. Hardly surprising as we live in what is now so often referred to as a secular society. We can probably rely on the Bishop for a robust Christian witness, although it is rumoured in some circles that this isn’t always possible.
Bearing all this in mind made me reflect on how to address, preach even to such a varied and experienced and honourable gathering. It was as this sunk in I realised why I had been landed with this duty.
But whatever we think there is an importance in coming together in this way. Not only does it remind us of all the facets and aspects of law enforcement, it reminds us too of the huge variety of people involved. It reminds us of the sense of duty and service especially by those who are not paid for their work. It reminds us of those with civic duties, splendidly dressed in their robes and bearing maces of office. And it reminds us of the ordinary, those of us whose lives are seldom touched by the administration of justice. It is indeed good for us to remember and celebrate how important all of you are to the fabric of society. How you have chosen to serve for the greater good regardless of your personal beliefs.
Nevertheless I am required by oath to try to bring something of the gospel to this gathering. I was reminded some years ago of a television debate where one of the protagonists, a well-known personality, railed against religious beliefs. In what I thought was rather an hysterical manner he claimed, that the ten Commandments and I quote “were the hysterical believing is of a bunch of desert tribes”.
I draw your attention to the passage from St Paul, Do not murder – hysterical?
Do not steal – I remember realising I had a conscience when I was unable to filch a ten shilling note from a fellow pupil’s trouser pocket hanging in the changing room – should I have given in to the temptation?
Adultery? Maybe you should decide that one.
I will grant you that I don’t suppose many of you have had to deal with a defendant who gazed longingly at his neighbours ox, but surely there are other aspects of covetousness that are not helpful to society as a whole.
Of course none of this requires belief in God but to dismiss it as hysterical seems to me to betray an anxiety that it may have something to do with God.
For Paul it was obvious that authority came from God, but it was also obvious that the authority of the state should be respected. We live in a world that in some respects has a greater understanding of our surroundings and in that light perhaps more people question the divine. But sanctimonious liturgy and empty praise have also always been questioned. Is that not what Micah tells us, “Do what is good do justice and love kindness”. Not more not less.
And we come back to the desert. Some of us in the church feel that we are a tiny oasis in a desert, a little haven of light and balm. Some of you bemoan the state of the funding of justice and the funding of the police in these times. Justice that due to lack of funds is led into the desert, so to speak. The strident atheist is right that Moses found himself in the desert and he didn’t like it much. He reluctantly responded to a call. But hysterical ravings?
It’s very inconvenient when the bush burns brightly and the voice of God calls out “I am who I am”. It was inconvenient for Moses, it was inconvenient for Oscar Romero (canonised today in Rome), and in a trivial way it was inconvenient for me when I was troubled by taking the ten shilling note. I am – 1stperson singular of the verb to be – it seems to me that is no accident, it is as if all that is, is our very being, the very being of the turning earth, the very being of all of us gathered here in this place, is suffused with the divine, if only we stop and ponder.
It is true that the laws of God as expressed in the 10 Commandments are not explicit in their condemnation of many other vices that plague society as my model atheist affirmed, it is true as Micah warns us that not all we do in church or the name of God is pleasing in his sight. But Paul reminds us that love is the fulfilment of the law: maybe too difficult to enforce all the time but undoubtedly a worthy goal.
I believe that the presence of God was at the root of this “hysteria”, these “alleged” beliefs – when revelation is written in pen and ink or inscribed in stone it can never reveal the completeness of God. As we celebrate your work we cannot say it is always perfect but we can say as servants of Her Majesty you pursue a greater good, we can pray that through the love of our neighbour, the love of God and a fitting Justice may prevail. Amen.