Archives November 2004

Sermon: Advent Sunday, Year A

Sermon: Advent Sunday, Year A
Texts: Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:26-44

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

New year. New Church Season. Advent Sunday marks the next phase in the Church’s life. After last week’s triumphant proclamation of Christ the King resplendent in Glory, we turn to an altogether darker and foreboding season. The mood of Advent is reflected in the purple vestments and the loss of flowers in Church. They say that it is darkest before the dawn: this tone can only make the glory of the incarnation all the more potent.

Our Scriptures today therefore demand careful study: indeed, you might want to have the texts to hand as we reflect together on God’s Holy Word.

Firstly, in the prophet Isaiah, we read about a political cataclysm in the 8th Century BC, when the kings of Israel had offered to pay tribute for protection from invaders. Isaiah proclaims the vision of a new Israel where tribute will be no more because all kingdoms will come to the “mountain of the Lord’s house.” The time of humiliation will be no more.

And then Isaiah proclaims the vision of universal peace where “they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” No one will learn war anymore. Anyone reading a daily newspaper would agree we are far from that vision today. But this vision has given people hope. A few years ago one organization provided people with lapel badges made of metal from a scrapped bomber, moulded into the shape of a ploughshare as a reminder of that vision from Isaiah.

In order of time, the next passage we need to focus on is the Gospel, an apocalyptic pericope from Matthew where Jesus addresses people’s concerns about the end. He does this, incidentally, from the Mount of Olives where he is about to begin his own arrest, trial, and crucifixion. Jesus was certainly aware of what might happen to him as he spoke. We have a suggestion here of how universal that end will be—it will affect everyone, believer and non-believer alike. People engaged in work, and people partying are two extremes of those who will be caught up in the coming of the Son of Man. We might want to ask ourselves whether we want to be taken or left behind – there is no indication in the text as to which one is better: all we know is that there will be a difference.

Just as now, Our Lord’s audience wanted to know when, who, and what they had to do to be saved. The Saviour doesn’t answer these questions directly. He wants people to live a different way, not be afraid of living altogether.

Now we come to the last written passage that was today’s second lesson from Romans. In it Paul, who also senses the immediacy of Jesus’ return, focuses not on when it will be or what it will be like, but how we should live as expectant people: it is process not outcome that concerns him.

Paul tells us to be awake, lay aside works of darkness, put on the armour of light, and live honourably. He doesn’t have any interest in doomsayers or seers predicting destruction. Paul wants people to behave like disciples, like followers of Christ.

Being a disciple is always a life of tension. Paul says we are supposed to honour the civil authority but not be subject to it when it threatens our freedom. Earlier in Romans he has taught us that we are responsible for the new humanity, a new moral order. But it’s not a morality of just being pure as the driven snow. No, this is a gutsy morality that stands against oppression, injustice, and the diktats of the state. Treating others with respect and dignity is a part of it. Actively seeking peace and justice and refusing to participate in actions that lead to violence are the rest.

Can we, then, as responsible disciples bring in the Kingdom? Can we make the vision of Isaiah come true? No, not if we think we are the only people who can. Rather, our job in Advent is to break down barriers that separate us from others, to find in others, including those not of our faith, the potential new humanity.

Some people think Advent is a time of quiet waiting. It should be a time of active searching! Searching for the spark of Christ in others, repairing and polishing our own armour of light, and looking for hope when people say there isn’t any.

Advent is not about getting ready for Christmas, either. It is a separate, intense season of looking for, and listening for, the hope planted by God within each of us. It is a time of shutting out darkness, refusing to accept it as part of life. Even though it is the darkest part of the year Advent is a time to light the lamps and scatter the darkness, not brood over it.

Every Morning Office – Morning Prayer, or for the doggedly traditional ‘Mattins’ – contains the words of the Benedictus, that great canticle of hope spoken by Zechariah about his Son, John the Baptist and the Messiah he would foretell. In it, Zechariah speaks of the “day that shall dawn from on high, to light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death” (Luke 1:78-79) and each time I say it, I am drawn to glance up the window, at the approaching dawn (more resonant when I was at Mirfield and we said Mattins at 7am each morning), observe the coming day and welcome the light of Christ which dispels the darkness of sin and despair.

There are many references in the Scriptures to “the day.” “Day” should be thought of as floods of light banishing the lies we tell ourselves that keep us from the truth.

• Day should be thought of as light scattering the darkness from before us.
• Day should be thought of as energy, morality, and joy.
• Day should be lived as new behaviour, casting away the works of darkness and finding wonderful things that disciples have always known were there.
• Day should mean letting the light shine into your soul and revealing the things you’ve been hiding there, the things you know displease God and keep you from living as a person of light.
• Day can be cleansing as well are revealing.

The light from Christ’s birth, death and resurrection surrounds us all. This Advent walk in it, live with it and behave in response to it, and your Advent will be one to remember.

Amen


Sermon: Remembrance Sunday 2004

Sermon: Remembrance Sunday
Text: John 15:9-17

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

• Look at presentation on our walls
• Thoughts collected from Adults and Children
• “This is my commandment – that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”
• The call to love is harder than the call to hate
• It is easy to pick on someone else
o who may be weaker than you
o who may be a bit different
o who may have a different colour skin
o who may have a different religion or even way of worshipping as a Christian
o It’s easy to hate those who you are fighting, whether it was in those terrible wars of the past or currently in Iraq and other places around the world
• It is much harder to do what Christ commands us to.
o harder to forgive
o harder to rebuild friendships and respect
o harder to move outside our comfort and reach out to those who are different, or strange, or lonely
• All those who gave their lives, and continue to give their lives, gave their lives for us
• Winning wars is not what is was about
• For after the war is won, the real challenge is in keeping the peace
• It was for peace that these names appear on our wall
• It was with the goal of peace, loyalty and duty that they gave their lives for the sake of others
• It is because they “loved one another as Christ loved us” that we remember them
• It is possibly the hardest thing to do – to do what Christ asks us.
• He asked them and he asks us. Here. Today
• Love one another, as I have loved you.

Amen


Sermon: All Saints Day, Year C

Sermon: All Saints Day, Year C
Text: Luke 6:20-31

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Euro-Heaven is where the police are British, the cooks are French, the mechanics German, the lovers Italian and it’s all organised by the Swiss.

Euro-Hell is where the chefs are British, the mechanics French, the lover’s Swiss, the police German and it’s all organised by the Italians.

When we think of heaven, we might imagine clouds and angels, harps and halos; meeting once again our loved ones in some ethereal place. But Holy Scripture does not describe this. The book of Revelation, for example, shows that it will be filled with people wearing white robes praising God, praising and worshipping freely and gladly.

It is perhaps difficult to imagine oneself in such a context. It has the same effect, in a way, as those stained glass window depictions of people who look very holy and have soup plates behind their heads. It’s difficult to think that perhaps one day, we ourselves will be depicted in a stained glass window.

Paul, writing to the Ephesians uses the word “saint” to describe all Christian people, for Sainthood is the goal, what we are called to, not necessarily how we are.

Today’s Gospel reading is the Beatitudes: Our Lord and Saviour identifies experiences such as poverty, hunger, grief, and persecution as marks of the blessed, and wealth, plenty, happiness, and being thought well of as marks of those who are not pleasing to God.

This makes it a difficult reading for us to hear, for these are they very things that Society, and probably by extension, we ourselves strive to achieve.

At our Baptism we are called to be and to become Saints. If we concentrate on the idea that saints are very, very good people, nearly perfect, then we will miss the point: Many saints have been very bad, while becoming rather good: think of Saint Francis of Assisi – a rich, profligate, idle young man with a penchant for war and its spoils, who became by the grace of God, a most humble, Christ-centred and gentle example of faith; think of Saint Augustine of Hippo, a womanising heretic who became by the grace of God one of the Church’s greatest thinkers and influences. His book Confessions, I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who ever (and we all do) has struggled with their faith and their past and needs to understand a little more of God’s wonderful grace.

I have been looking this week through a book describing the lives of great Christians of the 20th Century. Few of them will actually be canonised by Holy Mother Church (although St Padre Pio was canonised recently and Mother Theresa of Calcutta has been recently beatified, a major step towards canonisation), but their lives and their witness can be an example to us all, whether we think of Thomas Merton, the Cistercian Monk whose writing reveals a closeness to the mystery of God, or Jackie Pullinger who worked tirelessly with the Drug Addicted in Hong Kong, Dr Martin Luther King, who was not only a beacon for the American Civil Rights Movement, but a powerful preacher or Bishop Desmond Tutu, whose gentle humour and powerful faith stood against the tide of Apartheid.

These are truly great examples of Christian inspiration to us all, but however positive we may feel about ourselves, however strong our “self-esteem,” few of us would think we are good enough to be saints.

This is a wrong assumption.

Saints are made by God, they are a reflection of his handiwork, of his choosing, not ours.

We ask whether we are good enough to be saints, when we should be asking whether we are open to God enough to be saints. God will give each and every one of us the opportunity for Sainthood.

God’s grace is there for us to grow into our calling to be saints. This does not necessarily mean major miracles or feats of huge daring for the faith, but God is also the God of small things. God will not call everyone to martyrdom, but he will call each and every one of us to stand up for our faith: to witness to Christ when asked at work, in the playground or in the pub; God will not ask everyone to travel to far off lands to preach the Gospel, but he will ask each and every one of us to provide the kindly word and the warm smile to the neighbour or the marginalised.

There is some saintly ministry in this church or in this community just waiting for you, personally, to become saintly about.

Sainthood is therefore not about sinlessness, for there was only one who was truly sinless, but about openness to God. None of those people I described earlier were sinless paragons of virtue, but were real life human beings who experienced the grace of God.

Everything we attempt, we attempt in Christ, is aided by the prayers and fellowship of all those known and unknown saints who always surround us in love. In this company, we have security to do for Jesus the things we fear to do or even object to doing. We know that the Saints are praying for us, that they now reside in heaven (wherever that may be) engaged in worship and in intercession.

We never do God’s work on our own, but we carry with us what the unknown writer of the letter to the Hebrews called the cloud of witnesses, the Saints in glory. And you too, are part of that Glory.

Amen