It is the season of the political party conferences. A time when we hear the party leaders make speeches and media correspondents pose all manner of questions to trip them up. Many questions are asked but few are answered.
The strategies to avoid a question are varied: deflect the question and hope that the questioner will go somewhere else; avoid the question by pretending to answer it, but actually talk about something else; or shrug it off by saying ‘what a good job we’re doing and look how much we are spending’.
The political correspondent usually goes away, does a few sums, and later appears on television to report the misleading facts.
Jesus, we read in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 21, had another strategy: ask a question back. His reputation as a religious teacher in the provinces had reached Jerusalem. Now he faced the Temple authorities who asked by what authority he spoke about God, forgave sins or healed the sick.
Jesus replied with not only a question but a trick question at that. He asked the learned teachers in the temple about the identity and authority of John the Baptist. John was regarded by many people as a prophet and a martyr, but he was an embarrassment to the priests. The result was to put the officials on the back foot. If they said, “from God”, they were condemning themselves. If they said, “from himself” there would have been a riot.
Jesus concluded the discussion by saying to the officials that since they had not answered his question, he would not answer theirs. If we read on in the Gospels, Jesus actually has quite a lot to say about where his own authority comes from. From God, His Father!
This year sees the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his theses to a church door. He had asked 95 questions of the established church and invited a debate among theologians and scholars on matters of faith – not least on the matter of selling indulgences (paying money to the Pope to shorten one’s time in purgatory).
The events that followed October 31, 1517, did not really attempt to answer any questions at all. If Luther had a plan, events did not follow it. Rather than start a debate, Luther had started what became known as the Reformation. Needless to say, his questions went unanswered, Luther being summoned to a court to answer the charges put against him and providing a source of amusement for English students down the ages: the diet of worms (mispronounced and capital letters removed for effect).
So where do we go for reliable answers to our questions? Luther made the answer crystal clear – The Bible. As for our path to heaven – only by the grace of God, as recorded in the bible.
And finally, while political leaders vie for popularity, our God is our firm foundation, and He keeps the promises He makes.
Littlehampton United Church
Hello from new priest
As the new Roman Catholic parish priest of Littlehampton with Rustington, I very much welcome the opportunity of saying hello to readers and introducing myself.
I was born in Brighton and, apart from a few years spent in London and Surrey, I have spent my life in this county. On leaving school I became a civil servant for a few years and then went to college to study for ordination in the Church of England. I was in due course ordained Deacon in Chichester Cathedral and priest in Horsham.
In 1993, at the age of 40, I was received into Full Communion with the Roman Catholic Church and the following year returned to full-time studies for ordination to the Roman Catholic priesthood. Since then my duties have taken me to Horsham, Brighton and Hove, Billingshurst and now to Littlehampton and Rustington. I have always been happy in my work and have counted it a most wonderful privilege to be a priest. I have always received far more than I have ever given. I am therefore fully confident that I shall be happy in Littlehampton where I have already found the people warm, friendly and courteous. I wish every blessing to all who read the Gazette, and if any of you should come across me in the town, please do not hesitate to stop me to say hello.
Fr Carl Davies