Abridged sermon by The Revd D. de Verny on Sunday 8th September 2019
When reading our New Testament reading today, Paul’s letter to Philemon, I was struck by its moral depth and beauty. Paul’s demand to treat Onesimus, a slave, socially “the lowest of the low”, as a brother, reminded me of Emanuel Kant’s “Categorical Imperative”.
Kant’s book “The Metaphysics of Morals” introduced this philosophical concept to the discussion on what is meant by “morals” and how we re/evaluate our actions.
For Kant the “Categorical Imperative” IS the Natural Law, the true and real Morality, well above and totally different from our subjective needs and self-serving every-day “morality”. Kant’s imperative morality is universal, true anywhere and always, absolute and unconditional.
What are examples of this true and objective morality? Persistent charity to others, using our gifts to the best of our ability for others, no lying or deception or mental reservation (take heed, oh ye politicians!), no cruelty to animals… These are just some but enough to mull over on a rainy Sunday morning!
Our Christian Moral Imperatives fit easily with Kant’s and include:
often despised or oppressed members of society (women; ethnic, sexual, physical minorities; children; foreigners; asylum seekers; people of different religions or denominations,..) ARE our brothers and sisters;
breaking religious or societal rules to bring healing and wholeness;
all are free and loved and all are children of God.
All of us are Onesimus and Philemon at the same time.
It does sometimes take a bone-dry professor of Philosophy in a remote Eastern town of Europe to remind us starkly of the truth and the demands of the Gospel.
A good Moral Imperative to you all.