Bishop Michael has certainly raised the bar for those of us in the preaching trade. I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me over the weekend why all preachers can’t preach like that. And, for that, I read – why can’t YOU always preach like that?
The reason Bishop Michael’s sermon was so powerful was, of course, that it came from the heart. And not just from any old heart, but from a heart that truly believes what was being said. A heart that belonged to a man who not only believes in God but knows God.
In the Bible, we see Jesus praying and teaching about God. We see him talking about God as his Father and calling disciples to follow him and live their lives in accordance with the will of God.
But Jesus was more than a wise teacher who spoke with authority and strongly believed in God. He was a man you might describe as a ‘holy man,’ or a ‘spirit person.’ He was someone who had an incredible experience of the sacred, who recognised that the Spirit of God was upon him. He was a person who knew God.
As I chatted to people on Saturday at the lovely Royal Wedding garden party at St Paul’s Church Grove Park, many said how uplifting they had found Bishop Michael’s sermon to be. Even though, as they put it, they were atheists.
So why was that?
I tried to answer this question. And tried to persuade them to give their local church a go. The preaching might not be quite as passionate as we’d heard in St George’s Chapel that day. But they would find out more about who God is and what has inspired Bishop Michael and others to give their lives to Christ.
But one man was having none of this. Why do I need to go to Church, he said. Why can’t I just be a good person? Why should I make myself a hypocrite by going along and saying lots of things I don’t believe?
And these are valid questions that I went away puzzling over.
It is true that we can be ‘good’ without going to Church. Getting people to be good is not really what Church is all about. And we don’t want people to say things they don’t believe – which is why non-believers are welcome and no one minds if people choose to stay silent in some hymns or prayers.
But Church is a place where we can and we do find some people like Bishop Michael. People who do believe.
People who believe not so much in a set of doctrinal statements. But in the spiritual reality that is God. The spiritual reality that we see so powerfully manifested in Jesus Christ. People who have had and continue to have a strong experience of the sacred – that sets their hearts on fire – and enables them to speak with passion of the power of love.
The power of love not just to make us good people. But the power of love to risk all for others. The self-sacrificing power of the love that we see modelled on the Cross. The transformative power of love that we see when Jesus’s disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit and can then carry out healings, mighty works and acts of extraordinary courage and compassion – in God’s name.
This is why we should seek out our local church. Not necessarily to discover a charismatic preacher like Bishop Michael. But to find people who are authentically living their lives in relationship with the spiritual reality that is God. And to see what a difference this makes to their lives and the world around them.
We might see this in a young person new to faith, even a child. We might see it in a deeply prayerful person in their eighties. Whenever we do see it, however, whatever our position on matters of faith, we all react the way we reacted on Saturday. Atheist and believer together, we see something extraordinary when we see the power of love at work in another human being. Because we see that something truly amazing and undeniable is happening in front of our eyes. Something good that is far beyond ‘being good.’
And that is because there truly is a spiritual dimension to life. There is a spiritual reality. God is real.
And we are so missing out, the longer we take to know this and to experience it ourselves.