I was taking a funeral the other day at Saltwell Crematorium. As we were waiting for the cortege to arrive I was chatting to the funeral attendant. It was a busy day at the Crem. After the Christmas closures the early days of January are usually fully booked. “You’ve done well today”, Ian said, “You’ve whupped the humanists 7-1!” I looked up at the board and he was right, the list of officiants for that day showed seven clergy and one humanist. But that was only one day. Humanist funeral celebrants are something of a growth trend in the employment statistics.
I am writing this in the week following the Charlie Hebdo murders and other associated killings in France. 17 people are dead, shot by gunmen shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is greatest) and claiming to have avenged the prophet Muhammed.
We live in strange and unsettling times. We live at a time when secularism is on the rise but religion still makes the headlines. We live at a time when so many people are turning their backs on God at the same time as religion is the hot topic of private conversation and public debate. I am not quite sure where our society is heading, but the world we inhabit, its values and structures, already radically changed in my lifetime may well be unrecognisable in another 50 years to what it is today. In times like these when so much that we have taken for granted is being shaken and there are many siren voices calling for our attention, we need to be wise and focussed.
Caught between the winds of secularism on one side and society’s attempt to respond to the rise of Islam on the other it is easy for Christians to feel excluded and marginalised. We must resist the urge to respond aggressively and seek instead to continue to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ in both word and action.
The 23rd chapter of Matthew’s Gospel is a disturbing read. In this chapter Jesus is critical of the failings of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees. At the beginning of his discourse he advises the crowds, with regard to these leaders, “So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example.”
As those religious leaders, criticised by Jesus, had sought to exercise a growing influence over the crowds so there are many today, from secular humanists through to religious fundamentalists who are so sure that their version of the truth is the one everyone must follow. We must not be swayed by these voices, but listen instead to the voice of the one whose name is ‘Love’. In St Valentine’s month we are reminded that, The King of Love My Shepherd Is, and to follow him is to walk the path of life, and to serve him in love is to find our purpose whatever is going on around us.
Grace and Peace