Chariots of Fire and sustaining the revolution

Some of you might not, but I remember the movie Chariots of Fire well.
It came out in 1981 and told the story of two runners in the 1924 Olympics.
There were lots of moving parts of the story,
but one of the significant (true) parts of the story about Eric Liddell
is that he refused to run in one of his Olympic races,
because it was on a Sunday – the “Christian Sabbath day”.

Let’s leave aside for a moment the idea of Sunday as a “Christian Sabbath”.
I wonder if more fundamentally than that, Eric Liddell got it wrong.
I think there is a pretty good argument that he did – at least according to Mark 7.

I also reckon there is a pretty good chance that I’ll get comments at the end of the service
or maybe via email or phone calls,
or maybe people wont say things to me, but in small groups this week,
people will work out why Eric was right and Gordon was wrong (as usual).

But work with me for a bit.

Firstly – let me check with you that we are comfortable with the fact
that this passage is not actually about food hygiene and health standards
It’s one of those passages that only fully makes sense when you are inside the context.
But REALLY briefly, it’s about religious impurity or uncleanliness
and whether or not food was healthy,
if you took a really particular interpretation of the laws of Leviticus
you would have to wash your hands in a very particular way and order
so that you didn’t contaminate the food and the other people at the dinner
with religious impurity.

The way that Mark puts the gospel together and tells this story,
he has absolutely no time for this at all.
He sits with the early church’s movement that this is all gone.
He sits with Peter’s statement in Acts that all things have been made clean.
He sits with Paul’s statement that the distinctions have been done away with.

And so Mark’s gospel tells this story in a way
that has Jesus having no time for all of this “clean and unclean” stuff.
Mark’s summary in v 19 “In saying this Jesus declared all foods clean”

Mark’s gospel, you might be aware, was the first one written.
It was probably somewhere between 10 & 20 years earlier than Matthew & Luke
And Matthew and Luke had Mark’s gospel when they were putting together their own.

When Matthew writes his gospel this story gets watered down
and it is told in a way that is not primarily about a revolutionary change
but about Jewish practices of following scripture
Luke’s gospel doesn’t have it at all.

A revolution is hard to maintain.

Even in that simple movement across the gospels,
I think we can see lived out a pattern
that people of faith have been replicating for thousands of years.

There is the radical, revolutionary step of grace that is present in the way of Jesus
and we find it hard to keep up
and it simply becomes easier to apply rules instead.

Earlier this week, in a conversation I was having with some people
I argued my case for something by quoting a Bible verse.
And the response came back
“So … it’s from the Bible: Pretty sure you can get away with a lot “from the bible” ”

He was right – how easy is it to jump back to rules, or trump cards from the Bible.

That’s where – as moving as it is, and as inspirational a movie as it may be
and as great a 1980’s electronic sound track as it has,
I wonder if Chariots of Fire misses the message of Mark 7.

As people of faith and grace,
we don’t do stuff because just because supposedly “God commanded it”
we do it because it reflects the grace, love and character
of a generous compassionate and inclusive God

And we are going to have to keep our values turned on
our discernment and wisdom turned on
and our brains turned on.

It’s so much easier to quote the Bible and to follow a law
everything is defined and people can be moved out of the way into the background.

We have learnt this quite slowly in the life of the church over the years:
it became apparent about slavery well over a thousand years after Jesus
it became apparent about women closer to two thousand years after Jesus
(though we’re still not there yet)
and maybe it is becoming apparent about other ways that we consider people these days

May the grace of our Lord Jesus
and the Love of God
and the friendship, the community of the Spirit be with us all

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