Freemasonry in the Community: sermon of the Dean of St Paul's Cathedral

Tuesday, 01 October 2002

You have faith and I have works

Sermon of the Dean of St Paul's Cathedral, the Very Reverend Dr John Moses, at the Service of Celebration and Thanksgiving for the United Grand Lodge of England, 18 June 2002

Some one will say, "You have faith and I have works". Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith". (James ii 18) 

Faith and works: these are the two words that lie at the heart of this verse as surely as they lie at the heart of Freemasonry. Faith and works: Yes they are words that beg many questions, words that can so easily be misunderstood; but words that are absolutely basic to our lives as human beings. Faith: Some will say that the long centuries of faith are receding fast, at least in the western world. We live in a secular age in which some of the most basic religious assumptions can no longer be taken for granted.

The idea of God; the idea of sin, of judgement, of accountability; the values by which we live: all these things are called in question at a philosophical and - no less importantly - at a practical level.

And yet I am far from being pessimistic that faith religious faith - belongs merely to our past. There is in many people some sense of God and of all that that word represents.

I can only speak as a Christian priest, but my experience suggests to me that there are large numbers of people who may not be in church every Sunday, but who want the church to be there, and who want it to hold certain priorities, certain values.

The dialogue is not easily achieved between those who live by faith and those who live - or appear to live - without faith. But let there be no doubt concerning the hunger - the spiritual hunger - that is to be found wherever we turn.

And if it is the case in some areas of life that faith is receding, then it will certainly come to pass - as surely as night follows day - that the gods, the pagan aberrations of all that we mean by God, will move quickly into the vacuum we create.

And we can say that with confidence, because we are not made to live our lives as self-sufficient, autonomous, pleasure-seeking human beings.

We cannot live - certainly we cannot live for long without some kind of relationship with the God who is the beginning and the end of all life, the God in whose image we are made, the God for whom our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.

And that is why as we come to this Service of Celebration and Thanksgiving I am so grateful for the fundamental belief that unites all Freemasons in a Supreme Being. We may come from different traditions of faith, but let this be our starting point that the God in whom we live and move and have our being is the One in whom alone we can find our direction, our meaning, our destiny.

But it is not enough to rest there. And if faith religious faith - is looked upon by so many people today with indifference, with scepticism, it is because all too often faith appears to have no cash value.

What does it mean in practice? Does it still have the power to convert, to transform, to give a new sense of identity, of purpose? I shall never forget some twenty years ago listening to a young African priest from Kenya, speaking in one of our English cathedrals about the phenomenal growth of the church in his country.

When he had finished speaking, someone asked him: 'Why is it that in your country the church is advancing by leaps and bounds, but here we seem to be running flat out in order to stay in the same place?'

He hesitated for a moment, and then he said: 'I think that perhaps in my country people are not yet tired of Christianity:

I was always grateful for that answer, and I think I know what he meant. Again: whatever our tradition of faith, it is all too easy for faith to become just that - a tradition, a culture, a convention.

We think we can take it for granted. We think we know what it means for us and for other people; but unless faith is renewed in every age, unless the wellsprings of faith are renewed in us, it becomes tired and all too easily disposable.

The only thing that has to happen for evil to triumph is for good people - good men, good women - to do nothing. Works that are not rooted in faith can so easily become an end in themselves.

But faith that does not issue in works is not faith. Faith - like love - must overflow and give itself away. And that is why as we come to this Service of Celebration and Thanksgiving I am so grateful for the emphasis that I find in Freemasonry upon Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth.

Brotherly Love, because whether we acknowledge it or not we are all deeply bound up in one another, we are all profoundly interconnected. Every man is my brother, and my brother is every man. Relief, because life does not deal an equal hand to every one of us. Accident, tragedy, human failing - people will be touched by these things at any time. And there is a responsibility upon those of us who can help to ensure that those who are in need are properly assisted.

Truth, because at the end of the day what we are is deeply bound up with questions of integrity, of value. What are the things in which we believe?

What are the things for which we live and - yes - for which in some circumstances we are prepared to die? And for me - drawn as we are from different traditions of faith - truth is to be found not in books, not in ideas, not even in rituals, but in a person - in people - in whom we dare to believe we see the ultimate truth about God and man.

Some one will say, "You have faith and I have works". Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith".

Freemasonry in the Community Week speaks of your attempts to share with the wider public the meaning of Freemasonry and the part that it tries to play in community life.

I wish you well in that endeavour. You have an ancient history. Yes, there will be perceptions that need to be corrected; misunderstandings - at times wilful misunderstandings - that need to be better informed.

But if faith and works can be the main thrust of what you have to say, then you cannot fail to make a contribution an all-important contribution to the life of society today.

There has never been a time when we need more urgently men and women of faith, and men and women who are known not just by what they believe but also by what they do.

May God enrich and renew you as you go forward in the work to which you have put your hand.

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