WORD OF THE WEEK: COURAGE
Homily preached at Choral Eucharist 9 November 2017
Hertford College Chapel, Oxford
Readings: 1 Thess 2, S John 16 (NRSV)
Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.
In the name of the Father +, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
Have you ever heard of the “Dependent Order of Really Meek and Timid Souls”? When you make an acrostic of the first letters of its name, you have the word “Doormats.” The Doormats have an official insignia—a yellow caution light. Their official motto is: “The meek shall inherit the earth, if that’s OK with everybody!” One would assume that this order is not full of brave and courageous people….
Did he know? Did Jesus know what was going to happen? Admittedly Easter is quite far away, but I thought these readings were quite apt for discussing the subject of courage, which is the word of the day.
Courage. It’s a somewhat old-fashioned word, isn’t it? At least to me, it brings about mental images of valiant knights in shining armour riding in on a white horse to save the fair maiden from the jaws of the dragon. As a matter of fact – that is the complete opposite to how Jesus approached the end of His life – he came riding on a donkey.
We have all exercised courage some way or another, be it with or without equine companions. Those of you who are freshers this term have taken the step of moving from home, for most of you maybe to a strange city, without the comfort of family and friends readily available. For others it might be taking up a new job, or maybe entering the lectern to teach or preach for the first time.
On Sunday we celebrate Remembrance Sunday, commemorating all those brave members of our armed forces who have died in the line of duty. In 2017 we especially commemorate the battle of Passchendaele, where at least 260 000 British soldiers died.
Here we see a courage that many – myself very much included – would never be able to show. Here we actually see the knights in shining armour fighting for the free world. Other people who died for their beliefs can be found on the walls of this very chapel – the Jesuit martyr St Alexander Briant, the 2nd century martyr St Eustace and the 16th century martyr William Tyndale.
Today, the Anglican Communion commemorates Margery Kempe, a Norfolkwoman who lived in the late 14th and early 15th century. She was a woman who most certainly was NOT a member of the Dependent Order of Really Meek and Timid Souls… In proclaiming her faith she blatantly defied the bishops of her day, and she was indeed tried for heresy, but never convicted. Instead she continued to proclaim the Gospel faithfully. That must also have taken a fair amount of courage…
In the Gospel for today St John recalls Jesus’ words to prepare his disciples for his death on the Cross. Jesus knew what was going to happen, indeed it was foretold. Facing that must have taken quite some courage.
However, courage in the face of death, although extremely commendable, might not be the most common sort of courage one have to muster… I have already discussed the courage it takes to take a step to doing something new, be it moving to a new university, a new job or teaching or preaching for the first time.
It also took quite a lot of courage for the early Christians, which St Paul’s description of his time in Thessalonica in the Epistle tells us about. Is that a courage we, as Christians have today? Do we actually dare to live a Christian life in the modern world?
I am not talking about some kind of overly pious living, where one wears hair shirts and goes around beating oneself up, but rather a way of living in a way that transfer the Gospel into action. (How one does that, however, is a matter for a completely different homily, as I fear the Chaplain will have words afterwards if exceed my time limit by too much….)
Of course, we see our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ, these days more than ever our fellow Christians in Egypt. For them to live their faith does basically take the same courage as the people who fought in the battle of Passchendaele. Once again, however, that is a (very urgent) topic to be discussed at some other point.
What I am talking about today is the courage needed to live in a way that shows people the love of Christ for all people, men and women, old and young, conservative or liberal, gay or straight, rich or poor.
Given all the other acts of courage I just have mentioned, one might argue that the act of living a Christian life in itself isn’t necessarily something that takes courage, but I would claim that in an increasingly secular world, that is actually the case.
Jesus tells us in the Gospel those comforting words – “the Father himself loves you”, and let us, while resting in those words, go out and show people that very love. Go out into the world and let it be done as He Himself said “take courage, I have conquered the world”.
O God, give us courage: courage to make experiments, and not to be afraid of making mistakes; courage to get up when we are down and to go on again; courage to work with all our might for the coming of thy kingdom on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.