“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33
Sermon at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin
If one is an Irish rugby fan, there could be a busy afternoon of television viewing, for Ulster, Munster and Connacht have fixtures and after the international match yesterday, it is good to catch up with the provinces.
Of course, there was a time when rugby matches would not have been played on a Sunday and there was a time when the thought of Sunday sport on television would have seemed strange and alien. There have been major international players who have refused to play on a Sunday, Sid Going and Michael Jones, two of the greatest ever New Zealand players, would not play on the Lord’s Day. More recently, Scotland’s Euan Murray was another who took a similar decision
Anyone who is old enough to remember the film Chariots of Fire will remember Eric Liddell, the Christian who would not run in the 100 metres at the 1924 Paris Olympic games because the heats for the race were on the Lord’s Day, but who went on to win gold in the 400 metres. Seeking God’s Kingdom took Liddell far beyond Paris, his faith took him as a missionary to China where he was to die in a Japanese internment camp in 1945.
There is a moment in the film where, in a gentle and soft Scottish accent, Liddell delivers a sermon to one group of spectators after a race.
“You came to see a race today. To see someone win. It happened to be me. But I want you to do more than just watch a race. I want you to take part in it. I want to compare faith to running in a race. It’s hard. It requires concentration of will, energy of soul.
You experience elation when the winner breaks the tape – especially if you’ve got a bet on it. But how long does that last?
You go home. Maybe you’re dinner’s burnt. Maybe you haven’t got a job.
So who am I to say, “Believe, have faith,” in the face of life’s realities?
I would like to give you something more permanent, but I can only point the way. I have no formula for winning the race. Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way. And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within.
Jesus said, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is within you. If with all your hearts, you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me.” If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run a straight race.”.
If we are to seek God’s Kingdom and his righteousness, there comes a point when, like Liddell, we have to stand up and be counted. Perhaps we think he was too emphatic in their observance of Sunday, but there will be other things in our own lives where we have to say, “thus far and no further”. There comes a point when we can no longer have a faith that is just private and personal. If our faith means anything at all it has to have something to say about our lives; it has to be more than just the words we say on a Sunday.
When we read today’s Gospel, Saint Matthew 6:24-34, there is a temptation to pick out only those verses that are comforting—the birds of the air, the lilies of the field, there is nothing threatening or worrying in those lines. Don’t we all prefer God to be like that, gently poetic and undemanding? We want a God who is quiet and gentle, we want a God who is private and personal. We don’t want a God who drives us out to face a hostile world, but seeking God’s Kingdom means seeking God’s ways in our daily lives. It does not mean that like Eric Liddell, we have to go off to be missionaries in some distant and dangerous place, but it does mean looking for God’s way of doing things in all we do..
These are uncertain times and what does God ask of us in such times? Surely, to seek his Kingdom and his righteousness?
There is a temptation to say that these are uncertain times for the church, uncertain times for our standing in society, surely God doesn’t want us to be rocking the boat? Maybe we need to ask ourselves whether we believe in the God of Scripture, the God who intervenes, the God who is passionate about justice and righteousness; or whether we believe in an a la carte God, someone we can pick up when it’s convenient and ignore when he makes us feel uncomfortable.
The one thing God does not want is the very thing that is happening in the churches. God doesn’t want the church to turn in on itself and yet more and more we see churches turning their backs on the world. We see fellowships and new churches where there is no concern whatsoever to pursue God’s Kingdom in the world. We see Christianity becoming a private spirituality, something people buy into when they feel a need for it. We see a widespread way of thinking that is based not on the Bible, but is based on a feelgood religiosity.
Had we the courage of Eric Liddell, what things would we stand for? Protestant churches have traditionally been concerned with the individual’s relationship with God, ethical matters for us have been matters of personal morality. Yet God’s Kingdom and his righteousness extend far beyond any of these things, how are we going to seek them?
If we read the Bible and take it seriously we have to take the awkward and uncomfortable challenges as well as the easy ones.. We can’t take the birds of the air and the lilies of the field and leave behind what Jesus asks of us.
If we watch the news and believe that our faith has nothing to say about the stories we see, we really need to ask ourselves what we believe. If we don’t believe in a God whose Kingdom is concerned with the whole of life, then we don’t believe in the God of the Bible, and if we don’t believe in the God of the Bible, then what do we believe?
If you watch a match this afternoon, ask yourself what you would give up to serve God, and, if you don’t watch a match, ask yourself anyway.