Friday, November 8, 2019

Remembrance Sunday 2019

So...there you are, at home. You're maybe digging the garden. Or preparing the dinner. Or perhaps you're mending your fishing rod for a day on the river...and there comes a knock at the door. On the doorstep is a wandering preacher, who looks straight into your soul and says "Come. Follow me".

What do you do? You've got a family who are relying on you. You've got responsibilities to them, and to your neighbours. You've got an employer who is expecting you to be at work...or a teacher who expects you in class. But there's something about this preacher. There's something inspiring about him.

Of course, you know something about him already. You've heard some of his teachings, and you've heard the rumour that he's out and about looking for followers. But you never expected that he would knock on your door.

So what do you do? Should you simply follow him out of the door? Should you step out on a new adventure...and let all your other responsibilities take care of themselves? Or should you shut the door in the preacher's face?

What do you do?

But you've been intrigued by this preacher's message. You've already heard him, talking about how the 'Kingdom of God'...the new government of coming. You've heard him calling people to turn away from society's normal ways of doing things. You've heard him saying that people need to 'repent' turn away...and to believe that there is good news.

But that's hard, isn't it? Good news. Hmm. Good news for whom? The last time you heard the phrase 'Good News' was when a bunch of soldiers rode through the town. They were proclaiming that there was 'good news' about the Emperor, Caesar. Apparently - according to the soldiers - Caesar had declared himself to be the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings...and this was 'good news'. Apparently.  According to the soldiers, 'there is no other name by which people can be saved than the name of Caesar'.  Considering the amount of taxes you are having to pay to Caesar, and considering the number of soldiers all over the countryside, it doesn't feel much like good news to you.

But this wandering preacher - this Jesus-bloke - he's talking about another kind of good news altogether. Or at least that's what you've been hearing. Apparently, his good news is good news for the poor. And for those who are mourning. And for those who are pure in heart. And for those who are peacemakers. That's a bit different than good news for Caesar, and for business-men and for weapon-makers...

Perhaps Jesus' good news...good news for the poor, and the oppressed, and the meek...perhaps that is worth following. Perhaps that is worth laying aside your family responsibilities for a while.

What do you do? Are you prepared to follow this call to 'Follow me'. Because that's what heroes do. Heroes throughout history are always given a call to follow. Sometimes they resist that call. Like Moses who resisted the call to lead the people out of slavery. Like Jonah who resisted the call to go and tell the people of Nineveh to repent.

Because calls are dangerous. Calls lead us out of our safe, secure lives into lives of adventure, possible danger, and even death. But isn't the case that the best journeys are the ones where there is adventure and challenge along the way?

That's a challenge that many soldiers have followed over the centuries. It's a challenge to stand up and fight for what you believe in. It's a challenge to leave family and home - and to become a peace-maker, often in a foreign land. It's a challenge that will certainly include adventure. It might well end in death.

But's it's a hero's call. It's a call to transform a society - perhaps through fighting, perhaps through diplomacy, perhaps through the transforming power of rendering aid and giving food to starving people. It's a call to stand up against powers of oppression that would seek to dominate an entire population...just like the Romans dominated the Israelites.

So what do you do?

Do you follow this preacher - this Jesus? You don't know where he might lead you. Perhaps he'll lead you on a path to destruction. Perhaps he's trying to put together a rebel army to over-throw the oppressive dictator's army. Or perhaps he's talking about another kind of kingdom altogether...a kingdom of God's rule, which God, and only God can ultimately establish.

And if you follow him on this path, and if you die, will anyone remember you? Will anyone sing laments for your passing? Or will you lie in an unmarked grave on some foreign battle-field?

Wouldn't it just be easier to stay at home. And go fishing tomorrow.

Wouldn't it be easier easier to just settle back in your comfortable chair, tend your garden, dandle your children on your knee, and pretend that everything's alright with the world. Wouldn't it be easier to never give your time, your energy, your skills, or your money to any other living soul?

Yes. It would be easier. But where's the adventure in that? Where's the challenge? Where's the growth? Where's the chance to be changed from glory into glory ever more like the image of God your Creator?

"Come. Follow me. And lay down your life for your friends".

You hear the call. You know something of what it means. It's something about doing things differently. It's something about living for others, not for yourself. It's something about acquiring scars and wounds, instead of the latest stuff from the market. It's something about giving up home and family, and having nowhere to lay your head for the sake of a bigger vision, a better vision. A vision of a new kind of Kingdom.

You've heard the call.

What do you do?

What do you do?

Saturday, November 2, 2019

All Saints 2019

All Saints

Daniel 7.1-3,15-18.  Ephesians 1.11.23 & Luke 6.20-31

So, why do we celebrate All Saints?  If we lived in Southampton, we might be forgiven for thinking that today is a day for celebrating a certain football club.  You see, 'the Saints' started life as the All Saints Church Soccer Team?  Mind you, after their recent 9-0 drubbing, I don’t suppose much celebration is going on at the moment!

All Saints is a time for remembering the great Saints of the church.  For example, have you ever heard of St Ronald of  Buckingham?  Apparently, he was born into the world like any normal baby, and immediately preached an amazing sermon....before promptly dying.  Then there's St Theophilus the Myrrh-Gusher.  Its a great name isn't it?  It refers to the belief that the bodies of certain martyred saints have the ability to ooze a sweet smelling liquid from their wounds.

I've got a few other favourites...there is St Drogo, the patron saint of unattractive people - though there's no-one around here who would benefit from his prayers!.  There's St Isodore, who in the 1980s was designated the patron saint of the Internet, because he was well known as a scholar and compiler of information.  Can you imagine the scene in Heaven when God told Isodore that the Church has just designated him as the patron of the internet?  "I'm the Patron Saint of WHAT?!"

Personally, I'm particularly drawn to St Anthony of Padua...who is the patron saint of lost causes!  And then there's the number one weird saint of all time...the Patron Saint of finding a parking place - Saint Mother Cabrini.  Apparently, in New York, car drivers circling a block can be heard muttering this prayer:  "Mother Cabrini, Mother Cabrini - find me a space for my driving machiny."

Whilst all these Saints might be jolly good fun for us, there is a grain of truth in many of them.  Sometimes, saints become patron saints because of the terrible things they were made to suffer for their faith in Christ.  So, for example, St Apollonia is the patron saint of Dentists, because she had all her teeth extracted as a punishment for believing in Jesus.  

And then of course there’s our own St Faith...roasted alive on a griddle-iron, for refusing to give up her Lord.  I could tell you a lot more horror stories...but its a bit early in the morning for that!

All Saints is a good time to be reminded of the Saints who now ’from their labours rest’ - as we shall sing at the Offertory.   But it is a reminder to us that we are members of a church which is both here on earth, and also in heaven.  The Bible refers to all Christian believers as Saints, as we’ve seen in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians just now.  Paul congratulates the Ephesians for their ‘love towards all the saints’.  He’s talking about faithful holy people who are alive, because at the time Paul was writing, there were yet very few dead saints.

The word Saint comes from the Latin words Sanctus - meaning simply Holy.  The word holy  means ’set apart’  or devoted to the work and worship of God.  It’s a startling thought, that by God’s grace, and with God’s help, any of us - you or me - have the potential to be ‘holy’.   If our lives, and the way we live them, bear the hallmarks of being set apart for the service, work and worship of God, then we too may claim, in all humility to be ‘holy’.

This is God’s work, not ours.  At the end of a week in which we have commemorated Martin Luther, the great protestant Saint, its important to bear in mind his primary message to the Church.  Martin Luther passionately believed that there was nothing that any of us can do to win God’s favour, and nothing we can do in our own strength to be holy.  Salvation and sanctification are only achieved through God’s grace.  We have a part to play, of course.  We need to be open to the to letting the Spirit of God work in us.  Open to listen to the teaching of Jesus , such as that we heard in the Gospel for today.  ‘Love your enemies.  Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you’  and so on.

There’s been a thought winging its way around social media recently.  Those of you who use Facebook may have seen it.  It’s one of those ‘feel good’ sayings that we all encounter from time to time, which gets lots of people clicking ‘Like’.  This particular one goes something like…

“I don’t care if you are black or white,  gay or straight, rich or poor.  If you are good to me, I’ll be good to you”.

I’ve no doubt that the person who wrote this little ‘meme’ (as such things are called) had the very best of motives.  They wanted to communicate that it really doesn’t matter who we are, our race, gender, economic worth and so on.  All that matters is how we treat each other.   It’s a nice thing to have said.  But its not a Christian thing to have said.  Because Jesus calls his followers beyond human nice-ness.  He calls us to extraordinary charity, in the pursuit of holiness. 

If Jesus had written that ’meme’, he might have said - ’It doesn’t matter if you are black or white, gay or straight, rich or poor, or even how you treat me.  Even when you insult me, or beat me, or kill me...I will still love you’

Of course, that kind of holiness is beyond human norms.  It’s super-human, in fact.  It’s not something I would find easy to do, on my own.  But, with God’s help, and by God’s grace, maybe I could love someone that much.  Maybe I too could be considered a saint.  Hmm...St Tom of Havant....has a bit of ring to it….

The Church has always taught that we are members of not just a world-wide church, but a Universal one.  We, here on earth are known as the Church Militant, and those Saints who have died and now live with God are called the Church Triumphant.  

In the rather strange reading from Daniel we heard just now, Daniel dreams of four great beasts (which most interpreters agree stand for four great empires of the world which would rise to stamp on the people of God).  But Daniel holds on to the promise, which is ours as well, that ‘the holy ones - the Saints - of the Most High shall receive the Kingdom, and possess it for ever and ever.

So today, we the Church Militant, give thanks for the lives of the Church Triumphant.  While they feast with the Most High in heaven, we foreshadow their feast with the Eucharist here on earth. 

And if we are open to it, we take up the challenge to become Holy ones, Saints, ourselves.