John Sentamu: An Easter message. Lasting Christian values can help to turn the world upside down

Spiritual renewal: The symbolic raising of the Cross on top of Otley Chevin shows that Christian values are still alive in the midst of a consumer-driven society. Picture: James Hardisty

Spiritual renewal: The symbolic raising of the Cross on top of Otley Chevin shows that Christian values are still alive in the midst of a consumer-driven society. Picture: James Hardisty

  • The Archbishop of York’s Easter message
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CHRISTIANS of the Early Church were accused of turning the world upside down. Small wonder. They insisted that their leader, whom they had seen die, had shown himself to them on a number of occasions afterwards.

Their own lives had been transfigured as a result of this experience. They seized every opportunity in private and in public to declare that all human beings were invited to receive God’s own life and accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour.

Young people know in their bones that there must be something better, something more worthwhile than the self-centredness which is attracted by the promise of endless pleasure but which somehow never seems to deliver. 

Just imagine how disconcerting this must have been to the establishment!

From the tiniest of beginnings, this group of enthusiasts expanded throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. It’s still happening. Last century the African Church grew from nine million to 541 million members. It is predicted by some that China, where atheism is endorsed and religious observance is often repressed, will soon have more Christians than any other country.

Membership numbers, however, will not of themselves turn the world upside down. Renewal and Revival – personal and corporate – is what is needed.

Every Christian knows that we should recommit our lives to God’s service every day. We have to guard against the insidious lure of temptation which would have us sit loose to God’s demands and slide into compromise and apathy, while continuing to go through the motions of piety.

Real following of Jesus Christ requires a regular spiritual workout, with honest self-examination conducted in the searchlight of Christ’s all seeing, ever gracious love.

God is ever-present and He invites us to renew our commitment to him and to each other every day.

Missionaries from the UK brought this vibrant faith and practice to my home country of Uganda.

I long for everyone to share that same vision and example. God has made all of us with the capacity for it.

Young people know in their bones that there must be something better, something more worthwhile than the self-centredness which is attracted by the promise of endless pleasure but which somehow never seems to deliver. 

It can’t be right for consumerism (which we used to call greed) to measure the worth of human beings by what they own, what they eat and how up to date with fashion they are.

You only need to consider this for 30 seconds to realise that the whole package is actually sub-human.

We are made for that greater reality.

The yearning for something more idealistic can be misdirected. See how some teenagers have been seduced by the promise of the false utopia of IS or even martyrdom to that cause.

Prince Charles confessed his perplexity at this development in these words: “The radicalisation of people in Britain is a great worry, and the extent to which this is happening is alarming, particularly in a country like ours where we hold values dear. You would think that the people who have come here, or are born here, and who go to school here, would abide by those values and outlooks. I can see some of this radicalisation is a search for adventure and excitement at a particular age.”

Government programmes to 
prevent the radicalisation of young Muslims will be ineffective if all they can offer as an alternative is the status quo. 

In the eyes of most young people, the status quo has been tried and found wanting. Something far more worthwhile and exciting is needed.

The Prime Minister tried to offer a grander vision with the notion of the Big Society. It sounded promising, but seems to have petered out.

Gordon Brown, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, bravely attempted to define British values, but little came of it.

Worthwhile values are not vague aspirations, but hard won and enduring moral and ethical principles which shape national policies and personal behaviour.

The truth which needs to be told, and of which politicians of all hues fight shy, is that the origin of the United Kingdom’s moral direction is grounded in the Bible.

It has its roots in the Old Testament, which came to fruition in the New Testament. Because of a misplaced sensitivity towards citizens of other faiths and of no religion, there is a conspiracy to keep silent about our living past. That’s the equivalent of patricide and matricide in the world of ideas.

Recently, I edited the book On Rock or Sand? Firm Foundations for Britain’s Future. The title was deliberately taken from a passage in the Bible, at the end of a collection of Christ’s teaching.

He concluded: “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

That’s some claim to originality and followers of Jesus Christ believe, to divinity, because of the sheer authority and integrity of Christ’s life: Teaching, Death and Resurrection.

I dare say that Jesus of Nazareth’s code or body of moral principles would have ended up on the library shelf along with the utterances of other great teachers, had not something inexplicable happened to Christ after his crucifixion. He was alive again. We call it resurrection. His followers, whose hopes had been shattered when he was executed, were convinced that he was more alive than ever.

This was God’s eternal guarantee of the authenticity and indelibility of everything He had said and done before death.

More still, His death itself had crucial significance for humanity past, present and future.

It was, and is, the public exposure of what happens when the extremes of human depravity are met by the inexhaustible and transforming love of God.

There is now nothing more we can do, nowhere we can go, to escape the everlasting love of God.

This Easter we shall begin our church services with the proclamation, “Christ is Risen”, to which the congregation will shout in reply: “He is risen indeed.”

Try it for yourself. Who knows, you might become like the Early Christians of whom it was said that they were charged with turning the world upside down. They shouted: “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also….” (Acts 17.6).

May God draw you to Himself this Eastertide and give you his blessing.

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