Cheatneutral.com and the Fruit of the Spirit
Preacher: The Very Revd Adrian Newman, Dean (2005-2011)
1 July 2007, 10:30 (Trinity 4)
This time next week, hundreds of the world's elite cyclists will be fast approaching Rochester Cathedral. Not, unfortunately, clambering to be allowed into the morning Eucharist but intent on speeding past in the race to wear the famous yellow jersey.
International cycling has been going through a hard time lately. For years there have been persistent rumours of the wide-spread use of performance-enhancing drugs at the top of the sport and, in the last twelve months, these rumours have proved well-founded, with former Tour-de-France winners admitting that they were using drugs when they won. And a host of other riders, recognising the writing on the wall, are now owning up to indiscretions with the use of performance-enhancing drugs over the past ten years.
All of this devalues the achievements of the athletes and undermines the sport itself. But, strangely, it won't stop thousands of us turning out next week, to line the streets and cheer them all on. We will still enjoy the spectacle and marvel at their sheer athleticism.
Despite our intolerance of cheating it is in our human psyche to make all sorts of allowances for people's bad behaviour. There is a dynamic at work inside us that seems to want to find a way to point out people's faults and failures, but then to overlook them. Which leads me to cheatneutral.com.
Cheatneutral.com is a new website that describes its role as “helping you because you can't help yourself”. It goes on. "We at Cheatneutral are committed to saving relationships, promoting fidelity and making people feel good about themselves".
On the front page of their website they tell the story of Steve and Lisa who met whilst on holiday in Spain, and quickly fell head over heels for each other. That Christmas at his office party, Steve got drunk and, unavoidably, repeatedly cheated on Lisa with Cherie, a co-worker. He paid Cheatneutral just £2.50 and they invested his money in Alex, a single man with no prospect of finding a partner. In return for the payments Alex agreed to remain single. Thanks to Cheatneutral Steve was able to come clean about his cheating to Lisa and when he presented her with the Cheatneutral certificate they realised they wanted to get married. Their wedding is taking place in the summer.
Steve continues regularly to cheat on Lisa and Cheatneutral continues to fund projects like Alex with his offset payments. Cheatneutral explains its actions like this. "Jealousy and heartbreak are a natural part of modern life and sometimes, no matter how hard we try, it's just not possible to be faithful. At Cheatneutral we believe that we should all try to reduce the amount we cheat on our partners, but we also realise that fidelity isn't always possible. That's why we help you neutralise your cheating. Your actions are offset by a global network of fidelity, developed by us. When you use Cheatneutral we will email you a Cheatneutral offset certificate so you can prove to your loved one that your playing away has been successfully offset. Then you and your partner are both happy, a broken heart is mended and you can feel good about yourself again. All thanks to Cheatneutral. And, when you need to cheat again, we'll be here for you".
Just in case you are wondering what madness the world is now coming to I am sure you will, by now, have realised that this website has its tongue firmly in its cheek. It was set up to have a dig about two things in modern life.
The first of which is more obvious, but less interesting. They are having a dig at the idea of carbon offsetting, the notion that you can make up for regularly ravishing or ravaging the environment by planting the odd tree.
More importantly, the creators of this website are having an ironic dig about the notion that how you live does not really matter and can simply be offset in some way by another type of behaviour.
And although we may laugh at the idea, it is a very common and much adopted approach to ethics and morality. A sort of "weigh it up in the scales" idea. So long as the good outweighs the bad in our lives, the bad doesn't really matter. It is offset by the good.
We may chuckle at websites like this but I would wager that most people's sense of morality and ethics in this country is not too far away from the offsetting model of Cheatneutral.com. By which I mean most of us have a mental pair of scales on which we weigh up those parts of us which we are ashamed of and those bits of us we think are OK. So long as the good bits outweigh the bad, we feel alright about ourselves.
No wonder Jesus is so irritating. Because he simply won't let us get away with a sinneutral.com approach to life. Look at today's Gospel reading. Luke Chapter 9:51 to the end.
These people, on the receiving end of Jesus' lashing tongue, are good people. They are genuinely wanting to try and follow Christ, but he lays into them in spectacular fashion. "Half-hearted discipleship is not worth the effort. All or nothing" he says. You cannot offset one action with another.
And then Paul in Galatians Chapter 5 isn't much better. "You have been set free by Christ", he says "in order to use your freedom for good". "The forces of good and evil within us compete", says Paul, "they don't balance each other. They don't offset each other".
The two lists that Paul produces are interesting. Perhaps they are most interesting for what they omit, rather than for what they include. If you run down the works of the flesh in Galatians Chapter 5, what's the big omission from this list? It's pride. If you run through the fruit of the spirit, this glorious list of the dynamic of a spirit-filled life, what is the big omission from this list? It is humility.
The point is surely this: That humility lies behind each and every fruit of God's spirit in the same way that pride lies underneath each and every vice.
Pride is the magnetic human tendency to put our own desires first in life. Humility is the divine dynamic that loves God first and our neighbours as ourselves.
Much as we would like to feel our way through life with these two dynamics offsetting each other, or balancing each other out, that is not the way it works, according to Jesus and according to Paul. These things compete within us. The Christian life is not about balancing up the evil within us by actions which are good, but rather about overcoming evil with good.
Such a vision for a fully developed Christian life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control may seem beyond us, but it is surely infinitely preferable to an easy acceptance of half- hearted discipleship.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are not abstract concepts or impossible ideals, they translate into every relationship we nurture, every situation we face, every decision we will make, this day and every day.
Like fruit, the growth of these qualities in our lives is organic. It doesn't arrive fully-fashioned, but as we place the seed of our lives into the soil of God's presence day by day, these things will grow within us.
So enjoy the Tour de France. Ignore the sleaze and the steroids. Simply appreciate the spectacle and the excitement. But as those riders speed past you on their way to Canterbury, make the link back to today. The good in our lives does not balance out the bad, it competes with it. Which is why God longs for us to place ourselves in a position where we can be changed and renewed day by day, growing the fruit of His Spirit in our lives to propel us around the velodrome of life. Enjoy the race.