Thursday, July 29, 2021

Lessons from Lesser Saints

A sermon for Thursday 29th July 2021

Today we mark what the Lectionary calls the ‘Lesser Festival’ of Mary, Martha and Lazarus.  A ‘lesser festival’ is an opportunity to contemplate the lives and the witness of less prominent followers of Jesus, who nevertheless played their own important role in the Kingdom of God.

I find ‘lesser festivals’ quite helpful, personally.  I don’t know about you, but I find that I can sometimes be over-awed by the lives of the greater Saints.  With their miracles and their acts of extreme heroism and commitment, their willingness (often) to die horrible deaths for their faith – they can sometimes leave us ‘normal’ people with a profound sense of failure.  Of course, the tales of the Great Saints are meant to inspire us.  We might not be ready to die in the arena as food for lions, but their example might inspire us to speak up for the Kingdom when we find ourselves in debate about the latest twist of a Government’s policy.

But lesser saints, like Mary, Martha and Lazurus are also meant to inspire us.  Their quieter, less dramatic lives can also serve as sources of wisdom, hope and knowledge – to help us along life’s path.  So what do we know about them?

The gospels describe how Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus gave Jesus hospitality in their home at Bethany outside Jerusalem. Jesus is said to have loved all three. After Lazarus’s death, Jesus wept and was moved by the sisters’ grief: he brought Lazarus back from the dead that the glory of God might be shown. Martha recognized Jesus as the Messiah, while Mary anointed his feet (as we heard in today’s Gospel). 

On another occasion, Jesus commended Mary for her attentiveness to his teaching while Martha served. From this, Mary is an example of the contemplative spiritual life and Martha an example of the active spiritual life.  

We then, are inspired to think about how we practice our own spiritual life.  Are we contemplative, or active?  Or perhaps, with the passing of years, are we moving from one kind of spiritual life into another?  I can certainly identify with that thought.  When I was young, I worked tirelessly for 18 hour days, running hostels for refugees and youth work projects for inner-city kids.  But now, I find, that God is drawing me towards a more reflective, contemplative period of my life.

There are some other observations we might make too.  We might notice, for example, that the three siblings, Mary Martha and Lazurus, lived together.  None of them appeared to be married – which would have been a very unusual circumstance at the time.  We might notice that Jesus, however, embraced this unusual family.  He loved them, and received love from them – despite the way that they lived outside of society’s norms at the time.  

We, then, might be inspired to think about those whom we encounter who live different lives to ours.  How, for example, do we respond to gypsies and travellers?  How do we treat fellow humans who want to live ‘off the grid’?  How do we respond to families that are not ‘nuclear’ in their make-up?

Another noticeable feature is that Jesus’ encounters with Mary, Martha and Lazurus are always in a domestic setting.  He visits them, eats with them, and teaches them in their homes.  

We then, might be inspired to think about the extent to which we also invite Jesus into our homes.  Is he worshipped in our homes?  Or do we only give him a thought when we come to church?  Do we learn from him, through the pages of the Gospels, in our homes?  Or do we only encounter Jesus through the sometimes-fevered meanderings of the preacher?!

There is eternal hope in the story of these three lesser saints, too.  Lazurus was raised from the dead by Jesus – before Jesus himself was resurrected.  Technically, theologians point to a fundamental difference between these two ‘raisings’ from the dead.  Lazurus’ raising was a ‘re-animation’ of his earthly body, and it was temporary.  (He would still go on to die again, later in life, in the normal way).  Jesus, on the other hand, was raised with a new ‘resurrection’ body – an eternal body in which he ascended to the Father, promising to make a place for us in God’s ‘many mansions’.

But Lazurus’ raising offers us the hope that life beyond death is certainly within the gift, capability and power of God.  Lazurus was raised to life not because of anything he did, but only because of Jesus’ love for him.  We, then, can hold on to what the Scriptures call a ‘sure and reasonable’ hope....hope that beyond the sufferings of this world, Jesus waits to raise us to new life too.

So, Mary, Martha and Lazurus may not have been great ‘teachers of the faith’, or martyrs, but from their every-day, ‘lesser’ lives (much like our own, I suspect), there is much from which we can draw hope, inspiration and challenge. 

May you know the power of welcoming Jesus into your home.  May you know, with clarity, the calling on your Spiritual life – whether it is contemplative or active.  May you experience the grace of Jesus, which embraced and loved others who live unusual lives in our society.  And may you nurture and lean expectantly upon the ‘sure and reasonable’ hope of life beyond life on earth.  Amen.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

England's Green and Pleasant Land

 Texts:  Ephesians 2.11-22 and Mark 6.30–34,53–56

In England’s green and pleasant land….

This will be my last Sunday sermon for a while.  After 16 months of preaching twice a week, almost every week, I’ve decided that you’ve heard enough from me, for a while at least!  So over the next few weeks, a fine array of alternative and doubtless better preachers than me will grace this lectern, including Bishop John, the Rev’d Judy Henning, and, I’m very proud to say, our daughter Emily.  I’ll be sneaking off, from time to time, for some rest and refreshment, in the hope that I’ll return with new insights to share.

Today’s final sermon – for a while – is entitled ‘England’s Green and Pleasant Land’. 

Those of you who have thumbed today’s service sheet to the end, will know that I’ve chosen that great anthem of Englishness, ‘Jerusalem’ as our final hymn.  And we started our service with ‘Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken, Zion City of our God’.  It will not surprise you, then, to hear that today, I’d like to invite us to contemplate the theme of ‘nationalism’.

I am an Englishman.  There have been times in my life when I have identified with other nations too.  Being an Honorary Canon of two cathedrals in Africa, for example, gives me a somewhat unique perspective (and a sense of belonging to a wider human family).  But ultimately, at my core, I’m an Englishman.  My heart swells with pride at the sight of the Cross of St George flying on our church Tower (even if St George himself never set foot here in England).  I did shed a little tear at the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, and I was sad when we failed to win a certain football match last weekend.  Not as sad, however, as I was at the awful racism which followed our defeat. 

I glory in Gilbert and Sullivan’s epic song “For he is an Englishman”.  For he himself has said it, and its greatly to his credit, that he is an Englishman:  he i……………..s an Englishman”!

The word ‘English’ derives from the tribe of Angles, the Germanic-speaking ‘Northmen’ who colonised much of the British Isles after the Romans had abandoned us to our fate, while Rome itself burned.  ‘England’ is really ‘Angland’ – the newly acquired land of the Angles.  But my great grandparents came from Ireland and from Wales (which perhaps goes some way to explaining my love of singing).  The plain fact is that I’m actually a Celt, or a Briton, not an Englishman at all.

Well, OK then.  At least I can say with some certainty that I am British.  Can’t I?  Well, no actually. DNA research into all human ancestry leads to a scientific conclusion that all of us are descended from Africans – and that the Great Rift Valley of Africa is the birthplace of modern humanity.  After their migration from there, humans inter-bred with other hominoid species, like Neanderthals.  On average, all modern humans have between 1% and 4% Neanderthal DNA.

So, I’m part Celt, descended from Africans, with up to 4% Neanderthal DNA, living in a country which has only been called England for about 1000 years.  But I’m an Englishman!  And an African.  And a Neanderthal.  Oh it’s all very confusing, isn’t it?

The problem we face is that most human beings have a deep desire to belong somewhere, either as the ‘owner’ of land, or (as with many aboriginal peoples) being owned by the land.  The Jewish people held on to the promise that a certain portion of land was theirs for almost 2000 years.  So strong was their belief, and so persuasive their argument, that the modern state of Israel was created out of what had been, for centuries before, Palestine. 

However complicated is the truth of our messy ancestry, we also feel a strong call to bind ourselves to those around us.  We form tribes – partly out of a sense of shared endeavour, and partly to protect ourselves against other tribes who might want to take our land, or our stuff.  Our tribalism is at the same time formed out of need to build something with other people, but is it also defined by our opposition to other groups of people.

This embedded tribalism expresses itself in different ways.  For some, it produces an allegiance to a Country.  For others, there’s a greater allegiance to a way of living – perhaps as a Football fan, or a member of a political party, or the fan of a popular music band.  Many of these ‘tribes’ set themselves up in opposition to others.  Football tribes hate other football tribes, for example.  Political tribes are entirely deaf to the wisdom which any other political tribe may possess, believing that for good or ill, only their tribe has all the answers.

And then of course, there are the tribes of different philosophies and religions.  Religious tribes tend to transcend national borders.  To call one’s country a ‘Christian country’, or an ‘Islamic country’, or a ‘Buddhist country’ is to lay claim to membership of a much wider, broader, deeper tribe than mere national identity alone, or to the small vision of special interest tribes.  The best religions have the power to call nations beyond the narrow confines of ‘national interest’, and into shared endeavour with people all over the world.

Which is why St Paul, writing to the Ephesians in this morning’s Epistle, was so keen to assure non-Jews (that is ‘Gentiles’ as they were known) that Jesus brings all nations and identities into one new Kingdom, with Jesus as the cornerstone of a new living Temple to God.  Paul’s vision is lofty and powerful.  He says: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.”

Naturally enough, as we would surely expect, Jesus also got this.  He didn’t only preach the Kingdom of God to Jews.  He spent time in places like Tyre, Sidon, Gabardine, and (as we heard in this morning’s Gospel) Genessaret.  These were places where Jews and Gentiles mixed freely together.  There were even pigs being farmed in the land of the Gabardines – despite pigs being outlawed for Jews.  Jesus preached to Canaanite, Philistines, Samaritans and Romans as much as he did Jews, and he healed their sick too.   Later, before Ascending into Heaven, Jesus told his disciples to preach his Gospel message to all the nations.  One of those nations, without a doubt, was England.

So, when I think of England, I think of a country which at least in principle, has the capacity and the potential to be part of the great Christian ideal – a truly Christian Kingdom.  So bring me my bow of burning gold.  Bring me my arrows of desire.  Help me to battle for a Christian England in which strangers and aliens, Jews and Gentiles, and people of all races are welcome and cherished;

Bring me my chariot of fire, to race towards a Christian England in which workers in dark satanic mills are freed (from the slavery of profit-driven-exploitation);

O clouds unfold on a Christian England in which Christ’s example of offering healing for all is not sub-contracted out for profit; 

Bring me my spear to fight for a Christian England which offers charity and aid to all who need it, without counting the cost in percentages of national income; 

I dream of a green and pleasant land in which, in the words of the prophet Micah, we truly know what it means to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God.

Now that’s an England of which I could be truly proud.


Thursday, July 8, 2021

Sodomy - a surprising twist...

Text: Matthew 10.7–15 & Genesis 19.1-11

As you’ll probably know, it’s my policy to preach as often as possible from the published Lectionary – that is the list of readings provided by the Church.  I do so because over the cycles of years, the Lectionary is designed to give us access to all the key biblical texts – the foundations of our faith.  But once in a while, the Lectionary throws me a curve-ball, like today!  The Gospel reading of today is almost exactly the same as the Gospel reading for Sunday.  It is in fact Matthew’s account of the same story told by Mark…the story of Jesus sending out his disciples, very simply equipped, to spread the good news of the Kingdom.

So, if you want to know what main message of that story, at least in my opinion, then I invite you to read last Sunday’s sermon.  Essentially, I argued that Jesus sent his disciples out without possessions, so that they (and therefore we) could learn how to travel lightly in the world.  But, as with all Biblical texts, there is often more than one meaning to be discovered. 

Matthew, in fact, offers us some extra emphasis (compared to Mark) on one very important matter:  and it’s this…  After telling his disciples to shake the dust from their feet against any town which refuses to welcome them, Jesus proffers a dire warning against the people of such a town.  “Truly I tell you,” he says,  “it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgement than for that town.”

Notice, that here, Jesus explicitly links the concept of ‘welcome’ and hospitality with the sin of Sodom & Gomorrah.

“Wait a minute!”  (I hear some cry).  “Surely the sin of Sodom & Gomorrah was something else entirely?  That’s why we call it Sodomy, isn’t it?”

Well perhaps not.  Perhaps our historical obsession with the subject of same-sex attraction has put a particular gloss onto the ancient story.  Let’s consider, for a moment, what happens...

Three ‘angels’ – messengers of God – arrive at Sodom, where they are given hospitality by Lot.  They have come to see whether there are any righteous people in the City.  But before they turn in for the night, an angry mob gathers outside the house – demanding that these troublesome inquisitors should be brought out of the house – so that the crowd can ‘know’ them (to use the subtle phrase of the King James Bible).

Lot refuses.  He has granted hospitality to these messengers, and they are now, by the ancient code, under his protection.  He is SO convinced of his responsibility that he even offers his young daughters to the baying mob outside.

Looking at this story, and especially the way that Jesus himself uses it as an example, we are confronted with some very challenging questions.  The first question is whether ‘Sodomy’ actually has anything to do with what we general think it does.  This fresh interpretation, and remembering Jesus’ stern warning, suggests that the failure to offer and secure a welcome to strangers is a far greater sin.

The second question is, of course, ‘why did the crowd want to (cough) ‘know’ the angels’?  The answer is that the crowd wanted to punish the angels for coming to judge them.  They wanted to scare them and send them on their way – and they proposed to use rape as their weapon.  Rape of any kind is a heinous crime, and a terrible offence against any notion of hospitality and welcome.  But it has nothing to do with committed, faithful, loving relationships between consenting adults.

When referring to the same story, Jesus, we notice, says nothing about same-sex attraction.  He invites us to think instead about the whole notion of hospitality, and welcome.  And if the welcome of strangers was such a big issue for him, how much more so should it be for us?

A few verses later, after today’s reading, Jesus says ‘Whoever welcomes you also welcomes me, and the one who sent me’.  What kind of welcome do we offer to people who come to us?  Do we welcome them with the same extravagant love for the stranger that God requires?

The word ‘welcome’ is ‘an expression of joy towards someone whose coming is pleasing’.  “It is well (or good) that you have come!”  Jesus teaches us that the failure to provide hospitality really was the greatest sin of Sodom and Gomorrah.  And that fact leaves us with a challenge.  How shall we, as a church, as a nation, and individuals and as a community, live up to the immense challenge of being those who truly welcome others in Jesus’ name?



Sunday, July 4, 2021

Treading Lightly upon the Earth

Text:  Mark 6.1-13

To watch this sermon, as delivered, please click here:

I’m about to have a bit of stress introduced into my peaceful existence.  In about nine days time, Clare and I are expecting a team of builders from the Diocese to arrive at our Rectory.  Following a surveyor’s inspection, the builders have instructions, from the Diocese, to rip out our 30 year old kitchen, machine-gun all the tiles off the wall, and install a new kitchen.  This process is likely to take a month a more, because of the time it will take for newly plastered walls and ceilings to dry.  In the meantime, Clare and I will be confined to our living room, surrounded by the contents of our kitchen and dining room, and living out of a microwave.  Now would be a good time to buy shares in any of the local fast-food delivery services!

And that’s not all.  We are also to have a flat roof replaced, new carpets fitted to the hall, stairs and landing, walls painted, holes in the driveway filled in, and some new fencing erected.  Doors and wood-work are due to be painted too, and a new smoke detection system will be fitted throughout the house.  Clare and I will continue to do our work throughout this chaos – but we hope you will forgive us if we arrive in public with plaster in our hair, or panic in our eyes.

All this work will take place because there is an expectation upon the Diocese, as a landlord, to maintain clergy properties to a reasonable standard – which is, of course, what anyone would expect.  The things we own, or the things we steward, need to be taken care of, don’t they? 

Or do they? 

On the front page of the present Corona Chronicle, I was a little bit provocative.  (Which I realise is very unusual, for me!).  I suggested that some of the dramas in the news we’ve been reading are really what are known as ‘first world problems’.  Among them, I listed the tragedy of people getting their cruises cancelled.  Poor things.  Sainsbury’s has run out of pre-packaged bags of salad – meaning that its customers might actually have to cut up and mix their own salads (horror of horrors!).  The costs of garden furniture and other luxury goods is set to rise by 25% or more, thanks either to Brexit or the Pandemic – or both.  “It’s all just awful” was my headline, quoting a comment I read on Facebook one day.

But these are all ‘first world problems’.  80% of the world can only dream of taking a cruise, buying pre-mixed salads in a bag, or purchasing garden furniture.  80% of the world’s clergy would dream of working for a diocese which is capable of renovating their vicarage.  Believe me, I’ve seen the state of third world clergy vicarages, and they make me ashamed.

What I didn’t have space to reflect on, in my article, was the extent to which we, in the West, are effectively owned by the things we think we own.  Every possession we ‘own’ requires stewarding, by us.  I have a car.  An old car.  And this month it will require at least a couple of new tyres to scrape through another MOT.  I have a swing in my garden, for my grandson.  And this year, all the ropes will need replacing for health and safety reasons….lest my little boy lands with a bump.  Clare dug a fish-pond last summer, as regular readers of the Chronicle will know.  Well, this week, we had to entirely replace our stock of goldfish, and buy a net to stop the local heron from snacking on the new ones!

Do you see what I’m getting at?  Everything we own requires effort, time and often money to maintain.  Computers have to be updated, windows have to be washed, lawns have to be cut, motorbikes (like mine) have to polished and preened.  Ornaments need dusting and polishing, or housing in glass cases.  We don’t own these things: rather, we are slaves to them.  We spend considerable portions of our lives just looking after stuff.

But Jesus didn’t.

When he sent out his disciples with the message of the Kingdom, he told them to take ‘nothing for their journey, except a walking staff.  No bread, no bag, no money, and no second tunic’.  In doing so, Jesus did no more than ask his disciples to live as he lived.  ‘Foxes have holes, and birds have their nests’, he said, ‘But the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’.

Jesus gave up all possessions, all property, all stuff, in order to be as free as possible from the shackles of such possessions.  As he sent out his disciples with a Gospel to proclaim, he asked them to do the same.  Without such stuff, encumbering their journey, the disciples would be free to give themselves wholly and completely to the task of the Gospel.  Jesus taught his disciples the principle of ‘Living Lightly’ – and I genuinely believe he calls us to do the same.

It is a challenge to us, though, isn’t it?  We have become skilled at justifying to ourselves every one of the possessions we own.  I justify my motorbike, because it’s easy to park, it gets me efficiently to meetings, and costs less to run than a car, and its kinder to the planet.  But, let’s be honest with each other, I don’t really need one, do I?  The Diocese justifies the enormous amount of money it’s about to spend on the Rectory, because we don’t know who the next Rector will be when I one day move on…and we don’t want the decaying state of the Rectory to put anyone off applying for the job.

So, let me point a finger at you, this morning – fully conscious that three fingers are pointing right back at me.  Let me invite you to conduct a bit of an audit of your home, and your possessions this week.  Look around your home, and ask which of your possessions takes up time, energy or money to maintain.  Ask yourself which of them you could let go, in order to have either more time for the work of the Kingdom, or more money to give to the Kingdom.  What do we own, what do we buy which is wasteful of the wealth God has given us?  What do we own, what do we buy which does no good for the planet we steward for the next generations?

The disciples found that when they followed Jesus’ instructions to tread lightly upon the planet, they cast out many demons, and cured many who were sick.  I wonder what blessings could be ours, if we truly followed the call of our Master to live lightly on God’s green earth.


Thursday, July 1, 2021

Abraham and Isaac - the sacrifice of a child?!

Genesis 22.1-19 - Abraham goes to sacrifice Isaac.

To watch this sermon, please click here        

        Once upon time there was a cave woman, who lived in cave-women did in those days. Outside her cave was a tree. And verily, it came to pass, that Cave-woman noticed that when it rained, the tree seemed to come alive. She also noticed that at certain times of the year, if conditions were just right, the tree produced delicious fruit that she could gather for food.

Now Cave-Woman had a cave-husband - who wasn't especially interested in fruit. He preferred his food to have been running around before he killed it and ate it, fresh. Cave-husband used to go off with his mates to hunt animals. Sometimes they would be gone for days at a time...and when they returned home, they would talk about the hunt, around the campfire. They wondered why each hunt was so different. Could it be that someone, or something, was affecting how each hunt went?  Cave-woman would listen to these stories around the campfire. She saw similarities between the hunters' talk about the hunt, and her own observations about her tree.

One night, Cave-woman said to Cave-husband, "I wonder whether there are forces that interfere in some way with my tree, and your hunt". "Hmm," replied Cave-husband, "perhaps you are right." That would explain why every hunt is different. I wonder if there is a way to persuade these forces to do what we want them to do for us?"  Cave-woman thought for a moment. "Where do you think these forces might be?" she asked. "Well," replied Cave-husband, "I reckon they must be up in the sky...looking down on us. After all, that's where the big burning yellow thing is. And that's where the rain comes from. They must be sent by these forces".

"I know!" said Cave-woman "What if we were to put some of my fruit, and some of your last hunt up on the top of that hill...and maybe set fire to it? Then the forces will smell the smoke from our food, and will know that we are grateful to them, and sorry for anything we’ve done wrong.  Maybe then they will help us to find more food?" "Great idea," said Cave-husband. "Let's do it!"

And so burnt offerings were made to the forces in the sky...forces that came to be known as 'the gods'. There were gods for everything. Gods of fruit, gods of rain, gods of the hunt, gods of the lake. One of my favourites is the god of beer!

But, over time, people began to puzzle over why the gods didn't always respond to their offerings and prayers.  Larger and greater sacrifices were offered, but the gods seemed deaf.  Then, around the camp-fire, some bright spark suggested “Perhaps we have to sacrifice one of our very own children?" There was initial horror at this suggestion, of course. But still the rain didn't come. Eventually, one family, unwillingly, desperately, for the good of the people, agreed to let one of their children be sacrificed.

And the day after, the rains came. That did it. That unhappy co-incidence meant that now people thought they understood what the gods wanted. And so all sorts of horrific sacrifices began...human sacrifices, child sacrifices.  Children's bodies were built into the walls of houses - to protect the house from evil. Children were carried up to mountain-tops, at key points of the year, and sacrificed to bring the Spring.

Into that kind of world, the Bible tells us that Abraham came. He was a traveller. He explored the world around him and as he travelled, he became convinced that all these small gods were, at best, pale manifestations of one Supreme Being who bound the universe together.  For a while, however, he still imagined that this one God had the same bloodlust as all the small gods. And so when, in great old age, he unexpectedly became a dad, he thought that his duty was to sacrifice his new son to God.  So, he set off for a nearby mountain-top, to carry out his duty.

But when he got to the mountain-top, he had a mountain-top experience!  "Why," he thought, "would God give me the wonderful gift of this son, just to have me kill him as a sacrifice? It doesn't make any sense. Surely there is another reason why I have been given a son at such a great age?"  At that moment, he noticed a ram, with its horns caught in the bushes on the side of the mountain. He saw this as a sign...a sign from God that indeed, the sacrifice of children was not what God wanted. Joyfully, he caught hold of the ram...and sacrificed it instead, as a substitute for his son. A new day had dawned in the world's understanding of God.

Over the centuries that followed, Abraham's descendants slowly began to change the world's understanding of what God was like. Abraham's many-times great grandson, Moses, wrote a book of laws that limited the sacrifices to something rather more reasonable. A dove, a sheep, a bull - a simple transaction that enabled the penitent sinner to walk away, assured of forgiveness.  

However, even this limit on sacrifice wasn’t enough for God. He sent prophets to the people who said, "Don't bother any more with your sacrifices of animals. God isn't interested in you trying to earn his love...he loves you anyway.  Learn his wisdom and follow his ways.  Just ask for God’s forgiveness and favour, and it will flow!"  Their words were written down for us...we can read their frustrated cries in the pages of the Hebrew Bible. But, they were still ignored. After all, the leaders of the people had grown very wealthy on the system of sacrificing. Until, that is another man entered human history...

Jesus of Nazareth was a man like no other. He talked to God in a startlingly new and intimate a heavenly Father.  Instead of demanding blood sacrifices of the people, this Jesus offered his own life as an ultimate sacrifice for the whole world.  God didn’t want human sacrifices; and to prove it, God was willing to sacrifice himself instead! The writer to the Hebrews makes this clear, in chapter 9, when he explains that after all the centuries of blood sacrifices, Christ “appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself”.

Then something wonderful happened.  Somehow, the sacrificed Jesus came back to life. He appeared again to his followers, and promised them that he would always be with them, in Spirit...leading them ever onwards into a deeper and deeper understanding of who God is, and who they are as his children. 

That in a nutshell, my brothers and sisters is the history of our religion.  We worship the God who leads us across the ages from ignorance towards wisdom, from fear towards love, from the blood sacrifice of animals (and even children!) towards the willing, living sacrifice of our own lives.  Amen.