Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: Laying down the Law

The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity
11 October 2020
10.30 Morning Service

Revd Nicholas Mercer

In 2007 I was serving in Cyprus at HQ BFC

We used to attend the Church of All Saints which was a Nissan Hut at the far end of Camp

Although our children were very young at the time we always took them to Church

Just after we had arrived, a woman came up to me at the end of a service and complimented me on the behaviour of the children

Your children were so well behaved” she said

I replied, slightly hastily, that it was “more by good luck than good management”

To which the woman replied “Yes, your Good luck and your wife’s good management”

Indeed, she was absolutely right

My wife generally laid down the law when it came to the children, particularly in Church

However, I would like to think that we both played an equal part in their upbringings but in different ways

The reason I mention this story this morning is that both readings, in a sense, are about laying down the law

Both passages from the Old and New Testament seek to distil the essence of the Law so that we do not get tangled up in the minutiae

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind”

To which Jesus adds

And the second is like it: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself

The reading from the Old Testament however goes on to make an important addition

It tells us, not just to obey the Commandments but to

Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home”

Not only do we have to follow the law ourselves but there is a parental duty to pass this on

At first sight, this exhortation seems quite straight forward

However, it is much more complicated depending on whether you are Jewish or Christian

If you are Jewish then the law is a whole system of regulation by which you live your life

Jewish boys and girls in Orthodox Judaism are instructed in the law

And by the age of 13 then they have their Bar (or Bat) Mitzvah’s which literally means “under the law”

But this distillation of the law also found its way into Christianity where there is a different relationship to the law

This issue taxed the early Church, particularly with its Gentile converts, who were not familiar with Jewish law and all its requirements

This led to St Paul saying, that Christ is “the end of the law” (Romans 10:4)

That said, St Paul still exhorts us to “bring up our children in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4)

And it seems therefore that the exhortation this morning is as applicable to Christianity as it is to Judaism – but just by different routes

This exhortation however poses a profound question for all Christian parents and wider society

How do we bring up our children in the faith?

Outside of the home, as a society we have made provision for this in our State schooling

The 1944 Education Act requires State schools to hold assemblies that are of a “broadly Christian character”

And, at the same time, although the National Curriculum does not include Religious Education, it does require Schools to teach it

This Statutory framework however is under constant threat

No less than 76% of Schools were held to be non-compliant with the provision for assemblies and, as a result, Ofsted no longer inspects them

A couple from Oxfordshire last year threatened a judicial review of the decision to hold Christian Assemblies at their Primary School

And the Humanist Society have, inevitably, been vocal too stating

“We are the only sovereign state in the world to require schools to hold daily Christian worship, yet 80% of our young people and 75% of people of parental age are not Christians”

And to be fair they do have a point

At the same time, the requirement to teach RE in Schools does not necessarily mean that Christianity is the preferred choice

Any of the Great Faiths can be chosen

Whilst I worked as a School Chaplain, I was responsible for teaching Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Buddhism and Christianity

I found it enormously rewarding and enriching and it was an invaluable education for all young people going out into a multi-cultural world

However, it did water down the Christian faith  

This was recovered, only in part, when boys came to confirmation in much the same way as their Jewish counterparts at their Bar Mitzvah

Which takes me back to the Biblical exhortation this morning to “recite [the Commandments] to your children and talk about them when you are at home

In light of the sometimes poor provision by the State, instruction in the faith, in the end, depends to an extent on personal circumstances

Your children or grandchildren may go to a Church school where there is still focussed teaching of Christianity

You may of course choose, like so many, chose to educate your children and grandchildren independently at a school which has a faith foundation

You could find yourself outside all this which makes it all the more difficult

However, it does not render it impossible –

In my first parish in there was a large State Secondary school in the middle of the town, which had been a former grammar school

It was an excellent school with a first rate reputation

However, it was indifferent to matters of faith, indeed it almost seemed scared of bring faith into the mainstream of school life

Until one day, a parent took it upon themselves to complain about assemblies and to point out that they were not of a “broadly Christian character

The school acted most commendably

After inviting all the local Churches to a meeting, it was agreed that each Church would provide a representative for each year group

And that we would come into school, not only to speak to the children, but to take assemblies as well

Just one determined parent to “lay down the law” was all that it took to, in a sense, recite the Commandments to the children and to talk about them

So despite the antiquity of the exhortation in the Bible this morning the instruction to recite the Commandments to our children is as relevant today as it was all those years ago

It is for us, as parents, to recite the Commandments to our children and this also means bringing them to church and directing their schooling where possible

I would like to see all Christian parents adopting this approach

And if grandparents are able to exert any influence then that would be wonderful – whilst respecting their siblings and their right to choose.

At the end of the day, bringing Children up in the faith can be about “laying down the law”

And is not always about “good luck” but rather “good management”