Commitment - St Bride's: Reflection

St Bride's: Sermons


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Some years ago when I was still a Vicar in Birmingham, I had a Churchwarden whose work took him on a large number of overseas trips.  And he was very fond of telling the following story from his own past, which took place before he had himself become a regular churchgoer.

He was on a business trip to Nigeria, had checked into his hotel, and that evening went down to the hotel restaurant for dinner.  He seated himself at a table, and a few moments later, a waiter sidled up to him and said, very discreetly: 'Excuse me, sir - but may I ask - are you a Christian?'

Now it so happened that this conversation took place just at the time when my later-to-be Churchwarden really was grappling with issues of faith.  So in response to the waiter's question he launched into a long and rather rambling answer, along the lines that, he had been baptised as a baby, and had been brought up by a vaguely churchgoing family, but had stopped going many years before, and was asking himself at present whether the time had come when he really ought to be deciding whether he ought to commit ... when it suddenly occurred to him that this was in fact quite an unusual question for a waiter to be asking one of his restaurant's clientele.  

So he paused and asked the waiter: 'As a matter of interest, why do you want to know?'  To which came the waiter's reply: 'Because we have separate menus for Christians and Muslims.'  Oddly enough, even though he had completely misread both the question and its context, that did prove to be a turning point on that particular individual's journey of faith - when he did find himself addressing the whole question of commitment.

The issue of faith commitment is an interesting one - particularly for those of us who, for most of the time, can enjoy the luxury of living at a time and in a place where our Christian faith, at least at the level of our churchgoing, doesn't necessarily cost us very much at all.. This is in contrast to the way, for example, it is costing three Iranian Muslim converts to Christianity at this very moment.  A report in the Church Times on Friday revealed that they are currently appealing against a sentence of 80 lashes each for receiving wine at Holy Communion - in breach of the law in Iran (where it is not illegal for Christians to drink wine, but it is forbidden for Muslims, and the law there continues to regard them as Muslim, despite their self-professed conversion to the Christian faith).   Those of us who received communion here this morning did so without incurring any risk of that kind whatsoever.  And it is very easy for us to forget that we are the lucky ones.

Iran is of course Iran, and a very different social, cultural and religious context from our own.  But it is worth us pausing to reflect from time to time, just how costly faith has also been for our own forebears in this country in ages past.

Today, 16th October, the Church of England remembers two Reformation martyrs: Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer.  Nicholas Ridley was a Protestant Reformer, who assisted Thomas Cranmer in preparing the first Book of Common Prayer - from which the service we are using this evening is derived - and who was consecrated Bishop of Rochester in 1547.  When Mary Tudor, the staunchly Catholic daughter of Henry VIII came to the throne, Ridley was excommunicated and imprisoned for his Protestantism.

Hugh Latimer was another Protestant Reformer and close adviser of Henry VIII, who was appointed Bishop of Worcester in 1535.  He fell from the King's favour when he refused to sign Henry's 'Six Articles' of 1540, which were designed to prevent the further spread of Reformation doctrines - and he resigned his Episcopal See.  Latimer too was imprisoned under Mary Tudor, and he and Nicholas Ridley were both burnt at the stake in Oxford, 461 years ago today, on 16th October in the year 1555.

Their actual martyrdom was unusually grim.  Ridley's fire was lit first, but because the faggots put around him were damp they wouldn't burn properly, causing him untold agony.   Latimer famously called out to him: "Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out".  Ridley, responded by crying out, the words of the crucified and dying Christ: "Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit".

I can remember as a student in Oxford writing an essay on Ridley and Latimer, and pausing from my library books in order to get on my bike and cycle to Broad Street where, just outside Balliol College, a cross made of cobbled stones is embedded in the road, marking the site of their martyrdom.  And it is alleged that it is the scorch marks from the flames of the fires in which they were martyred, which can still be seen on the doors of Balliol (now rehung between two of the quadrangles in the college).

Theirs is a grim and chastening story.  But it is one that we should not, and must not forget - both as a reminder of the perverse and terrible things that human beings are capable of doing to one another in the name of the God whom, ironically, we proclaim to be a God of Love (a chilling fulfilment of the words of Jesus in this evening's reading from St John's Gospel: 'The time cometh that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service'); and also as a cogent reminder of the true cost of discipleship - a price that, sadly, is still paid by many in other parts of the world even today.





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