The sermon by the Rector that he preached on Sunday 26th August at both churches in the benefice
A book was published in 2012 to good reviews, so I bought a copy. The book is:
‘Unapologetic: Why, despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense’. The author is Francis Spufford. When I left my previous parish, I left the book there. This week, the book came back to me in the post, so I sat down to read it again, and I will tell you about the book. The book is: sympathetic; earthy; in places course in its language; ‘straight from the heart’; ‘written for the sceptical thirty-something’ of today – and it reads very well.
It is course in its language because Francis Spufford writes about the reality of sin. He describes our personal realisation of the mess that we get ourselves into, and how bad it makes us feel about ourself – and the knowledge that sin has spread its web so that it is pervasive – and the self-knowledge that – as St.Paul puts it in Romans 7: ‘The good I would do, I do not do, and the evil I would not do – that I do’. All this leads Francis Spufford to write directly and coarsely about how this awareness of sinfulness makes us feel about the world – about ourself – because the way sin can make us feel is coarse, and base.
The book is not an intellectual argument for the existence of God. In the face of onslaughts against faith and religion which are commonplace nowadays, it is unapologetic, and it is not intellectual in its approach, but emotional. The humanity of the author shines through.
Francis Spufford compares Christianity with the other two monotheistic religions of Abraham: Islam and Judaism. Alone amongst these three, Christianity does not have a set of rules for daily living. We don’t have moral orders for do’s and don’t’s about particular days of the week or particular times of the year or particular situations we might find ourself in. Actually, Christianity makes impossible demands that nobody can keep, and it demands that our actions are supported by motives that are pure – at all times and in all places. This is the teaching of Christ. This means that nobody can live up to the perfection of Christ: all must face up to their own failings, and each of us stands before Christ the same. The church is a community of people who acknowledge this – and so, in our shared self-awareness, we also face each other and acknowledge each other as equal before Christ. It is Christ alone who is not caught in the web of sinfulness, and so Christ is our hope.
The emotional sense is that when one becomes crushingly aware of one’s own part in the web of sinfulness, even the slightest lifting of the burden is sought. Francis Spufford is realistic that we cannot escape our past, and that prayer is not a magic cure. But he does come down to the way that prayer works, and the healing that it provides. The ability to step outside of one’s own pitiful situation by addressing God in prayer, if repeated over time, becomes a source of hope that there is life beyond one’s obsession with one’s own guilt. It’s easily said, but Francis Spufford writes
persuasively from his own experience. And if it is God to whom one is praying, then natural curiosity about the nature of God opens up the possibilities of learning from one’s past mistakes and allowing oneself to imagine a different future. This is not the full Gospel, but it’s enough.
Despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense. I have two copies – one for each church. I will leave a copy here for you to borrow – but if you borrow it, please put it back in church for someone else when you have read it. The book is not for those of a nervous disposition.