It’s not just a game – it’s life and death

John, whom I beheaded, has been raised

This is probably how Theresa May feels about Boris Johnson – he has come back from the dead in the form of Donald Trump

Prophets are annoying – it’s their job.  This story comes just after the story of Jesus being rejected by his own people in Nazareth – his home: ‘A prophet is not without honour except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home’ (Mk 6:4)

That doesn’t bode very well for an Ordained Local Minister like me who is licensed to preach only in his own home and to his own kin

Notwithstanding this, I dare to continue and to address the issue of the raising of Christ – the raising of Christ which seems an important issue as Christ does seem to be going out of the lives of so many in our country today – the raising of Christ which for me at least simply will not go away

This was much on our minds and in our prayers as Harry and I attended the Guildford Diocesan Triennial Clergy Conference in Swanwick, Derbyshire, a week or so ago

It was a great unifying event – to have all the clergy of the diocese in one place for three days

The climax came with everyone packed together, all focused on one thing, for two hours passion ran high, there was a feeling of great togetherness, at the end there was shouting and cheering – even dancing around

Was this the keynote speech by Bishop of Burnley, Philip North – in which he derided the new heresy of ‘declinism’ in our church despite the fact there are more Christians in the world today than ever before and promised us that the church in this country would arise anew from the poor.   No – though that did get a standing ovation!

Was it the sermon by Bishop Andrew when he called on each of us to trace the grace in our own lives – to mark it out and to call it out to others as the sign that God is very much alive?  NO – though that is the lasting memory of the conference for me

Was it perhaps at the elevation of the Host in the Eucharist – the moment that was so revered in the Medieval church, so special that it was marked by the sounding of a bell at which everyone in church – even those behind the rood screen who could not see because they were too poor and unimportant – would drop to their knees at the idea of Christ’s special presence with us?  Again, NO, though for me that is the highlight of passion and engagement in our service together each Sunday morning – so please sidespersons remember the bell!

No, the event which unified everyone with common emotion and purpose giving rise to those cheers and dances came when Eric Dier scored the winning penalty for England against Columbia in the world cup round of 16.  Shame!

It is commonly said that football is a religion – as one of the high priests from one of its most famous temples once said: ‘it’s not life or death, it’s more important than that’

Football indeed has lots in common with religion

  • There is the pilgrimage to the ground
  • The iconography of the players
  • There is affiliation from a shared uniform – the vestments are the team’s football shirt – or indeed no shirt when the team is Newcastle
  • There is a sense of belonging, of differentiation – of gaining identity from difference
  • There is the great unifying singing from the stands (but men predominate in the choir rather than women)
  • The action is vicarious – it is conducted by well-trained and highly skilled professionals, while the laity look on – this is an act of powerlessness, of humility on the part of the spectators – they give themselves up to a higher power

There are however some elements of football which are very different from Christian religion – pagan elements which perhaps account for its greater popularity but are dangerous

  • Large amounts of alcohol are consumed, before and after as well as during the service
  • The object of scoring a goal which has its origins perhaps in hunting (hitting a target) is connected also to fertility rites –the goal is penetrated and there is something undeniably sensual in the quiver of the net when the ball strikes it – these certainly engage primally and viscerally with our strongest and most basic passions – but strong is not the moral equivalent of good

There are other elements of football which we do well to leave behind – the identification of enemies – the self-definition through difference from the opposition

These things are very un-Christian – this is perhaps why I feel somewhat repelled by the quantity of vitriol poured out towards Donald Trump – bizarre and at times odious though he is

Such divisions may define us – one against another – but they also undermine and deny the common divine element in our humanity as well as our essential equality

For we are more alike than we are different:

99.4% the same in fact in terms of the DNA we each share with each of our fellow human beings

Indeed, we are even more like other animals than we would imagine:

98% the same as chimpanzees

70% the same as cats

50% the same as bananas!  (Perhaps someone will bring a banana on a lead to the pets service on 22nd July!)

The role of a prophet is to point out the underlying truths which may be obvious but ignored – like the fact that King Herod is having an affair with his brother’s wife – which got John the Baptist killed (Notice how it is the primal passions which provoke first Herod’s adultery and then the murder of John the Baptist)

The prophet takes a plumb line to life and points out what is straight and true (Amos)

In our collect we prayed for God to ‘graft in our hearts the love of your name, increase in us true religion

I can honestly say that Arsene Wenger has let me down every year for the 15 years since Arsenal last won the title – in that time Jesus Christ has never let me down

That helps me to love his name and increases in me true religion

Over the next six weeks we will be studying the letter to the Ephesians – it is short so why not read one of its 6 chapters each week

It is probably not by Paul but instead the writer used his name in an early attempt to draw together a church which has already started to split into different camps and to see a divergence of belief and behaviour

It uses the famous images of the body of Christ and the armour of god

It is a prophetic call to live a Christian life which holds in tension the fact that we are all different and have different roles to play in creation but that we are all fundamentally the same – all connected

As we heard in this morning’s Epistle,   in the longest sentence in the bible: We are all God’s children and inheritors of God’s kingdom

We are all special

We should all be excited about life

About sharing life together

About sharing the good news

About sharing the presence of God with us this day

And we meet with Him who is all life and power in the body and blood of his son

We are called to be a part of the body of Christ

John, whom I beheaded, has been raised

So in our worship and in our lives, let us raise the body of Christ anew – bury our divisions and live as one – like a football crowd

I do not expect cheering and dancing in the communion

But I do ask that you put your hearts and minds, your bodies and your souls into that moment and lay them before your God for His salvation – just as much as if it were a penalty shootout for the national team

Religion is not just a game – it is more important than that – it is life and death and, indeed, life after death


Sermon delivered by Chris Hancock at St. Mary’s Headley, 15th July, 2018

Proper 10B – Collect and Readings

Lord of all power and might,
the author and giver of all good things:
graft in our hearts the love of your name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of your great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen

Amos 7:7-15

Ephesians 1:3-14

Mark 6:14-29


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