Sunday next before Advent - St Bride's: Reflection

St Bride's: Sermons

Sunday next before Advent

Sunday next before Advent

C S Lewis

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Three church news items caught my attention this week. Firstly George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking to a conference said that he feared the Christian church would be extinct within a generation unless it took steps to connect with a younger generation.

The Archbishop of York echoed these comments at the General Synod this week when he made an impassioned plea for the church to evangelise or fossilise, and not to become obsessed with internal matters which simply make us look as though we are rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. Thank goodness therefore that the General Synod overwhelmingly approved the vote to legislate for the consecration of women as bishops. We certainly would have lost what credibility we have if that vote had not gone through. Many people within the general public already have -  not a hostile, but a dismissive attitude to the institutional church, and yet at the same time many many people are looking for spiritual fulfillment, for 'something more' in their life.

The sad thing is that certainly in London and in other places around the country the church is doing great things, has got a good story to tell. Within the London Diocese, for instance, our churches run more than 1000 social inclusion projects, educate 50,000 children in church schools, run about 500 Christian enquiries courses, produce 40 + ordinands every year, and are building the first new church in London for 40 years. There is growth and there is good news, but nevertheless George Carey is right - there is a problem, and it's more about persuading people of the relevance and attractiveness of the Christian faith, and the institutional church. Carey: "We have to give cogent reasons to young people why the Christian faith is relevant to them." And not just young people: to people of all ages. Why should they take the Christian message and the institutional church seriously in an age which is suspicious of institutions, uncomfortable with religion, and embarrassed to talk in public about what we believe and what motivates our lives?

And that brings me on to the third news item, which is that last Friday was the 50th anniversary of the death of C. S. Lewis, one of the best known Christian apologists of the last 100 years, whose books have been translated into more than 30 languages and sold millions of copies: The Narnia chronicles have been made into popular films in recent years. On Friday a plaque in his honour was unveiled in Poet's Corner at Westminster Abbey, alongside Chaucer, Shakespeare, Keats and T. S. Eliot. Now people have differing views about some of Lewis' books, but the important thing is that he took very seriously the need to make Christianity credible and to connect with ordinary people who want to try to make sense of life. His book Mere Christianity, which began as a series of radio talks during wartime, has sold millions of copies (150,000 in the past year alone) - and has had an effect only matched by the Alpha Course in contemporary times.

And my point in mentioning CS Lewis this morning is to say we need contemporary apologists for Christianity in the public arena (we have a few of them) but more importantly we all need to learn to become apologists for our faith - not just to leave it to the experts. Not every Christian is called to be an evangelist like Billy Graham, but every Christian is a witness, empowered by the Spirit to share what we have experienced and we seem to have lost sight of that. As Archbishop John Sentamu said in the General Synod last week "Everyone in Britain talks about the weather readily and repeatedly. If only disciples of Jesus Christ did the same about Him."

If the grim scenario described by George Carey - the disappearance of the church within a generation - is not to come about, if we are to become missionary, more outward-looking in our church life, then we need to be confident that we really do have something worthwhile to share with the world and that people's longing for meaning and purpose and belonging has been met by God's revelation of himself in Jesus Christ.

C. S. Lewis was at his best in evoking that elusive joy that haunts us, that longing for the place where we most truly belong and of which our present existence is but an echo and a foretaste. We need our contemporary Christian apologists to evoke that sense of divine mystery and wonder; we need ourselves to become more confident in giving expression to our deepest feelings and our Christian imaginations. But in the end, as Lewis himself recognised, we need to live out our Christianity. As he said "Christianity is not what I say, it isn't what I write, it isn't even what I believe. It is what I do, because of what I believe." Renewal of the church really happens when our faith is lived out in our lives.

"Stir up, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people, that we plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded."

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