The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s054e08 Sunday 21 24/8/08
'cheerfulness' Romans 12.8
Once long ago I remember visiting a member of the clergy who had a poster which went something like: "Lord, make me remember and confess all of my sins today - I might forget them tomorrow." If this is what being a Christian means, I don't think I actually want to be one. It's not very cheerful.
But it is not just on the high church side of our tradition. The 'evangelical' stress on our assurance through the death and resurrection of Jesus again seems to lack the element of cheerfulness. So I was speaking recently with someone after a talk by another member of the clergy, and his comment was that he wanted to take this other member of the clergy aside and question them as to whether they were assured of their personal salvation. Again there was a lack of cheerfulness, if not courtesy and charity. We had an interesting, and for me at least, a very cheerful conversation trading biblical passages over our lunch.
St Paul talks about cheerfulness being a characteristic of our Christian demeanour. In the Greek, it reads . Those who remember singing the "Kyries" in Greek will recognise the as the mercy in . But the word that is translated "cheerfulness" is actually the word from which we directly get the English word "hilarious". So it's a bit more jovial than just cheerfulness. There can be no seriousness in hilarity.
Now if anyone is merciful, it is God. God's nature 'is always to have mercy' in the words of that ancient and beloved (at least by some) Anglican prayer the 'Wee donut'. So if God is always merciful, God is always cheerful. God forgives, not begrudgingly but with hilarity. God wipes the slate clean, again and again.
So God speaking to Lady Julian in the ninth revelation said: 'It is a joy, a delight and an endless happiness to me that I ever endured suffering for you'. (p84) God even suggests that 'in heaven God has given him (Saint John of Beverley) infinite joys, surpassing those he would have had if he had not fallen.' (p95)
But of course, God's forgiveness, so freely and readily given, is not meant to stay with ourselves. We are bidden and enabled to forgive others freely and readily, with hilarity, just as God does.
I often wonder at one of those old collects for Good Friday, where we piously asked God to 'have mercy upon all Jews, Turks, Infidels and Hereticks ..' as if we, humanity, are more ready to be merciful that God! This is blasphemy! The evidence is, of course, entirely the other way around and God bids us be merciful towards others. If others call God by a different name, or worship God in a different manner, surely God forgives them (if forgiveness is actually necessary) and bids them be merciful towards others too.
And isn't being compassionate and cheerful a much more pleasant way to live than asserting our uniquely correct path of salvation and condemning others to eternal damnation? This is even worse than throwing bombs over our back fence, metaphorically if not literally.
I am currently reading the book: 'History's Worst Decisions and the People Who Made Them' by Stephen Weir (Pier 9) which quotes Winston Churchill as saying: 'I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes'. The Kurdish Media site states: 'It is wrongly preserved that the first regime that used poison gases against Kurds was Saddam Hussein's government. This is wrong. British were the first regime to gas Kurds in South Kurdistan.' (http://www.kurdmedia.com/article.aspx?id=10256)
I have no doubt that the 'church' would not be suffering the decline it is experiencing in the West if we were noted for our compassion and cheerfulness, rather than our disputation, our divisions, our antagonism one towards another, even within Anglicanism, let alone across the ecumenical divides. The 'church' in places where there is opposition from other faiths which lead them to fight for their identity do nothing for peace in their region.
But I put the 'church' in inverted commas, because the church is wider than the Anglican Church, the Christian Church, or whatever boat we think the place the disciples are in. Jesus bids us experience the Church in all its fullness and life in all its fullness, in the real world, outside the boat, as he invited Peter to.
Compassion and cheerfulness go hand in hand. We could be compassionate and miserable just as easily as we could be uncaring and jovial. But some 'christians' seem to be uncaring and miserable! I am reminded of the old prayer of the Nun: 'Make me thoughtful but not moody; helpful but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all, but Thou knowest Lord that I want a few friends at the end. .. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken. .. Keep me reasonably sweet; I do not want to be a saint - some of them are so hard to live with - but a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the devil.' (Wisdom from the 17th century: an anonymous nun's prayer).
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