If you have ever watched a chick breaking its way out of its shell or a newborn calf struggling to stand on its feet or indeed an infant emerging yelling from the womb, then you have some idea of what Paul is talking about when he says creation is ‘groaning in one great act of giving birth’. Essentially, that is what our planet, our universe, is doing; and each of us, throughout our life, is always coming to birth in our unique individual way.
There was a time when Christians understood the Lord’s command, ‘Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations’, as literally baptising every person in every place. After two thousand years of often heroic missionary work, it is now clear to us this is not going to happen. What is happening, in ways that we do not see (Mark 4:27), is that ‘of its own accord the land has produced its crop’.
I remember an old German priest at Christmas, in the downtown Detroit parish of Holy Trinity, telling his congregation, ‘The world is a far better place than it was on that first Christmas night’. Although the baptised are in a minority, the influence of Christianity has been like yeast in society spreading its values wherever it is found. Many argue that the influence of religion has been harmful and held back the flourishing of human freedom. There is no way of winning this argument and it is a waste of time to try.
What is indisputable is the flourishing of good will and self-sacrifice in so many places. The instinct and immediate impulse of so many people is to help without much thought of ‘What do I get out of it?’ There was a time when our teachers used to solve the problem of why so few are actually baptised by saying good people express in their lives a ‘baptism of desire’, implying that they would be baptised if the circumstances were right.
I do not think anyone would hold that view now or even its more recent equivalent of speaking of ‘anonymous Christians’. The implication is that all good people want, even if they don’t know it, to be Christians. They don’t.
But, despite all our anxieties about life today, there is goodness, honesty, courage and kindness waiting round every corner to show itself. The priests and prophets of this age are those who stand out and are recognised for their courage in seeking truth in every area of life: poetry, music, literature, sport, politics, economics, the social sciences and so much more. Some are actually priests as we normally know them, but most are not.
The role of Christians and all other believers is to journey with people, whoever they are, in their searching. The person of faith will say it is ultimately a search for God and his rule of justice. The person who holds no particular belief, in what transcends reason or science, will also say it is a search for justice and integrity. The two converge. You may climb the mountain by different routes but when you get to the top you meet. The role of the Christian and all people of faith is to stoke the fire in the hearth, though others with no particular beliefs in what is beyond sense and reason may dispute this. Yet, if they love others, as so many do, they love God, even if they do not know him.
October 31, 2021 Sunday 31B Deut 6:2-6 Heb 7:23-28 Mk12:28-34