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Serve God, and be happy - a homily for the Solemnity of Christ the King

Jesus said, “my Kingdom is not of this world.”

This week's news reports a dramatic rise in mental health problems, including depression, among children and teenagers.

I wonder why young people seem to be getting less happy? In some ways, they have more than they’ve ever had. Luxury goods like electronics are cheaper than ever, and it’s hard to find even a really poor family without a TV, or a teenager without a mobile phone and some sort of gaming device.  So how can we be less happy than the generation of old boys I met on Saturday night, whose main entertainment used to be an early morning run and a cold jug of water over the head from Matron?

Part of the answer, I think, is written in the motto of Lichfield Cathedral: inservi Deo et laetare. Serve God and be happy - the two things are linked.

Really? How could serving anyone, or anything, let alone God, make you happy? Isn’t happiness about getting what I want, not doing what someone else wants? Sure, that’s what this world te…

Jesus: God back from the future

Mark 13:24-32Jesus said to his disciples: ‘In those days, after the time of distress, the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, the stars will come falling from heaven and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory; then too he will send the angels to gather his chosen from the four winds, from the ends of the world to the ends of heaven. ‘Take the fig tree as a parable: as soon as its twigs grow supple and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. So with you when you see these things happening: know that he is near, at the very gates. I tell you solemnly, before this generation has passed away all these things will have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. ‘But as for that day or hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son; no one but the Father.’

WW1: A step towards a better world?

A popular view in the West is that history is the story of human progress. In the old days, people were ignorant, mired in superstitious beliefs enforced by a Church which suppressed learning so that it could hold onto its power over the human mind. Thankfully, the age of Enlightenment dawned over the dark ages, liberating us from these shackles, and by the power of pure reason we have progressed onwards to the happy days we now enjoy. Left to our own devices, humans are basically good. Modernity is better than the past, and we can make this world perfect. If the events of the twentieth century have not disabused us of this myth, then I do not know what will. The First World War: 20 million dead, thanks to marvels of modern technology. The “war to end all wars?” Hardly. Because then, there's the Second World War: 60 million dead, including 9 million civilians systematically exterminated by mechanical processes in the Nazi camps and 80,000 killed by the new atom bombs dropped on Japan,…

Salvation and Science: The Transhuman Future

Medical and technological advancements mean that humans can increasingly augment themselves. Biotechnology and nanotech are predicted to accelerate these changes rapidly in the near future.  Might we one day eliminate all disease, mechanically or genetically augment our brains, choose new designer bodies, or even live forever? Might we go further still, and transcend our bodies altogether, living as pure mind in the aether?  Questions arise as to how far we can and should push these limits. Advocates for transhumanism argue for radically augmented human lives. Some posthumanists foresee an age where the distinction between biological and artificial intelligence is completely eroded, and might even argue that the category of 'human' will no longer have any significance. Some argue that we should even become antihuman.  These are common tropes in science fiction literature and film. The cyberpunk genre, generally considered to have been founded by William Gibson in the 1980s with …

The hubris of humanism

“Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”

So begins one of my favourite books in the Bible: Ecclesiastes, the Preacher. His message? Basically: everything is meaningless. All our work, all our effort, ends in one thing: death. Everything that we achieve will one day be forgotten. “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun.” I’m pretty sure that if Ecclesiastes walked into a Clinton Cards shop and saw all the Hallmark motivational messages - “you make a difference,” “life is a story you write as you go,” “your only limit is you” - he’d probably laugh, rip them off the walls, and either burn them or just use them for toilet paper, if he was in good mood. Happy Monday, everyone.

I wrote a little last week about the biblical books of prophecy, and how we need to be like the prophets, speaking truth to power. Well, Ecclesiastes is part of a different collection of Old Testament books called the “Wisdom” books. The other on…

Moses: a model leader for our times?

The Lord came down in the Cloud. He spoke with Moses, but took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the spirit came on them they prophesied, but not again.  Two men had stayed back in the camp; one was called Eldad and the other Medad. The spirit came down on them; though they had not gone to the Tent, their names were enrolled among the rest. These began to prophesy in the camp. The young man ran to tell this to Moses, ‘Look,’ he said ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’ Then said Joshua the son of Nun, who had served Moses from his youth, ‘My Lord Moses, stop them!’ Moses answered him, ‘Are you jealous on my account? If only the whole people of the Lord were prophets, and the Lord gave his Spirit to them all!’ - Numbers 11:26-34
Numbers: the fourth book of the Bible, which probably wins the prize for the least exciting title, but nonetheless contains some interesting stories. We’re going back here way before the time of Jesus. Moses has …