My number came up to preach on the parable of the Good Samaritan last weekend, which is a tough one: what more is there to say? But what struck me is that we normally concentrate on the social barriers which the story describes being overcome, and use it implicitly to congratulate ourselves on our liberal-mindedness. We pay less attention to the inconvenience, expense and risk to which the Samaritan in the story exposes himself in order to help a total stranger. The old allegorical reading of the parable, which saw the Samaritan as a type of Christ and the robbers' victim as ourselves, was obviously problematic, but it did at least get that point.
I was reminded, though, of a recent episode of the delightful BBC statistics programme, More or Less, which featured a young man who had decided to donate one of his kidneys to a total stranger - not even a particular stranger, just into the donor pool. He was very matter-of-fact about it, but I was struck by the Samaritanish, which is to say, the Christlike magnitude of this. It made me ashamed still to be in full possession of two kidneys. Will think about that one.
And this made me reflect - which was part of the burden of my sermon - on the churches in modern Britain and their public image: an image of, let us be clear, a shrinking, ageing and largely incomprehensibly weird community, which is widely seen irrelevant, self-serving and
self-righteously hypocritical. 'Moral authority' is not the phrase that comes to mind.
My personal theory is that the Church of England in particular never regained that authority after the First World War, when it was widely seen as complicit in a slaughter which is now generally seen as merely pointless. (Whether either of those perceptions is correct is a different argument.) I don't think that England has forgiven the C of E for that yet, nor am I sure that the C of E has earned it. (Is one of the reasons the USA is much less secularised than Europe the fact that it stayed out of the war until 1917?)
Still, we have an anniversary coming up. It would not be a bad thing if the Church of England used it to become known as a community of people who give blood (or indeed kidneys) rather than cheerfully sending other people to shed theirs - or, indeed, arguing about sex the whole time.
... On which note, I am going off-grid for a couple of weeks.