September 27, 2017
By Maxwell Grant.
Scripture: Philippians 2:12 (NRSV)
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;
Over the weekend, I found myself thinking about Eric Liddell, the Scottish Congregationalist whose story as an athlete was told in the 1981 movie, “Chariots of Fire.”
If you’ve seen the movie, you might remember how Liddell’s profound religious faith meant he could not, as a matter of conscience, run in his expected Olympic event, which happened to fall on a Sunday.
As we might expect, this causes him some unpleasantness with the British Olympic officials (who eventually find a work-around), but the larger point is one of character. Or, to put it in another way: the larger point is that Eric Liddell sees a larger point. He knows that what truly matters is bigger than just one race, one medal, or one nation’s Olympic glory—that his call as a person of faith is to live in ways that honor and glorify God. This is his purpose.
Would Eric Liddell have taken a knee this weekend? Or would he have made a point of standing and singing the national anthem?
Either has a valid claim to be an act of conscience.
That’s why it is so disheartening to hear so many voices raised in summary opposition, not only to those on bended knee, but to their very temerity for having seen fit to protest at all--as if it’s simple rudeness, not conscience that compels such an act.
Can’t we just play football?
And yet, time and time again, we are reminded that the moral questions of these days demand a principled response from each of us.
It’s this conversation that I wish we were finding a way to have--an open, searching exploration of what we ought to stand for, which is always less about what than whom.
Either way, "not to answer" is, of course, not only very much an answer, but an all-too-familiar one: one that sides passively with the silence around what matters to us.
These days, I find myself more and more convinced that we can’t escape the call to acknowledge the larger points that loom over everything we do. Like Liddell, we are challenged as people of faith to live in ways that honor and glorify God—and to work out what that looks like…with fear and trembling.
Lord God, help us to hear the voice of conscience, and grant us the courage to stand up for what is right with humility and conviction, bravery and openness, that in our living we might honor and glorify, not ourselves, but you. Amen.
Rev. Max Grant is Senior Minister of the Second Congregational Church UCC in Greenwich, Connecticut.
September 27, 2017