Three point sermon for Trinity Sunday 2019

Trinity

Traditionally people are rather scared to preach on Trinity Sunday.

To me it seems a good opportunity to think about what we mean by God – how we experience God – what difference God might be making to the world

I am going to share with you what I have been thinking about God over the last year – a lot of these things have been given shape by the Pilgrim Course which we have just completed at St Andrew’s

Given it is Trinity Sunday – and in the best tradition of Anglican sermons – we can look at this under three headings – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit

1.          God the Father

For me this is God as the Creator of universe – the power, whatever it was, which made all of this stuff which we see around us – including ourselves

Paul in the first chapter of his letter to the Romans says we can learn about God from his creation –

Ever since the creation of the world, His eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things He has made.  (Rom. 1:20)

So what can we learn about God from creation?

Science is the study of the material universe and we have learned a lot about this in the last 100 years recently especially about the very early stages of the development of the universe.

The Big Bang proves the intuition of the wrt=iter of Genesis, that everything came from a single point in space and time.  If we all come from the same place then we are all inter-related – you might say we all have the same father – that is why we say “Our Father” in the Lord’s prayer

Another thing comes from this inter-relatedness: inter dependence

My father is a scientist and as it is Father’s day I thought I would share something he taught me

It is a fact about how the universe is made that every singe electron occupies a slightly different energy state – this means that if you rub your hands together and create some hotter electrons every single electron in the universe has to adjust very slightly – this is the butterfly effect in the extreme – everything we do effects everything else – it makes you frightened to get up in the morning.  Who is your neighbour?  Every single electron in the universe!

 

We think of God as all powerful – because he is the origin of everything.  But the Christian story is that God has given up much of His power.

This began in the act of creation – once the world was made it could not be unmade; once time had begun it could not be wound back.

This giving up of power by God through creation is reflected particularly in the story of the incarnation – the ultimate expression of God’s self-limiting is to become human.  In theology this is called Kenosis (the Greek word for “emptying”) – an expression which is taken from a famous passage in Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God

as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

he humbled himself

and became obedient to the point of death—

even death on a cross. (Phil 2:6-8)

 

2.          God the Son – Jesus Christ

So this brings us on to God the Son.  God’s son, Jesus Christ, is the ultimate expression of God’s love for humanity and involvement in humanity

A son defines a father – you cannot be a father without there being a son

The son is of the father but different

And the son changes the father

My children have changed me – I know more about cage fighting, dinosaurs and musical theatre than I ever imagined or hoped to as a result of my children’s interests

Putting these ideas together we see that God changes

That God suffers through the Son

And so God is not the same as before

This suggests that God can Himself change and evolve – in the way described in our passage from Romans

we glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us  (Rom 5:3-5)

 

3.          Holy Spirit

So let’s talk about the Holy spirit:

In the narrative the Holy Spirit comes after the son

Jesus speaks about the Holy Spirit in the future tense

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth (John 16:13)

The coming of the Holy Spirit marked the birth of the church which we celebrated last week

The Holy spirit stirs things up from that first day of Pentecost to this day

In 1054 the Roman Catholic church wanted to add the words “and the son” to the creed

This was just one word in Latin filioque but it caused the great schism in the church

The Orthodox wanted to keep the Father as superior to the son – the western churches argued for the equality of the Son – based on an understanding that God had given up that superiority by becoming involved in creation as a man.

The western churches thus embraced the idea that God changes and that ideas about God can change

As recently as last week a member of our congregation accepted that kind of radical change into her life and was baptised in the Holy Spirit and you could feel it in the church at St Andrew’s as we all repeated our baptismal vows as part of the service

Change is frightening – but we should embrace it because it is of God

God is the constant and unchanging source of all change

Like the centre of a wheel

All things take their meaning from the centre

And the spokes that link us to the centre?  Why surely these are the Holy Spirit

While in the narrative of Easter / Ascension and Pentecost the Holy Spirit comes last – in the Hebrew tradition, the Holy Spirt comes first – in the book of Genesis the spirit of God hovers over the waters

Moreover, although this is Father’s day, in the traditions of the ancient East wisdom – Sophia – is a woman

Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand;
beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.
The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. 

 For me this means that the relationality of God was established from the outset – as we began with the common point of origin – God the creator

It was reinforced through the incarnation which we celebrate in our Eucharist – when we join with God and one another in sharing the body and blood of his son Jesus Christ, who lived and suffered and dies as one of us.

That relationship is felt and seen and heard in the still acting power of the Holy Spirit as the force of change in the world.

Our task as Christians is to accept the consequences of that common point of origin and have a relationship with it and through it with one another. That is our call as Christians – to have relationship with God – as father, as son and as Holy spirit – and perhaps above all to work on our relationships with one another – father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter – neighbour colleague – all are our neighbours, all are our brothers and sisters in Christ – in knowing that and above all in living with that – is where true wisdom is to be found. Amen

Sermon preaches by Rev Christopher Hancock at St Mary’s Headley, Trinity Sunday, 16th June, 2019

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Saving Private Christian

Private ryan

The readings this week are about encounters with the risen Christ:

Indeed this time of year is all about encounters with the risen Christ

First in the Book of Revelation (Rev 5:11-14):

“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

–we are presented with the lamb of God whom we meet each week in bread and wine – the orthodox call the consecrated eucharist “the lamb”

And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped. 

The four living creatures were the Ox, the Lion, the Eagle and the Man[1] – who have come to represent the four Gospel writers through whose words we meet the risen Christ – all of them were martyred and are numbered among the saints – St Mark’s celebration falling last week

Next we have Paul’s conversion experience in Acts (Acts 9:1-20)– a complete reversal in his life – a volte face arising when he comes into contact with the truth about who Jesus was: the son of God – the incarnation of love. “And the scales fell from his eyes” as a sign of his new sight.

Our reading from John (John 21:1-19) is in many ways a recapitulation of the key themes of that Gospel – it reminds of us of some of the things we have seen

It takes us back to the sea of Tiberias (that is Galilee) where the teaching began

Here were gathered many of the key players in the narrative which has preceded:

Simon Peter: who had denied Christ

Thomas called the Twin:  who had doubted the risen Christ

Nathaniel of Cana in Galilee:  who had questioned whether anything good could come from Nazareth (Jn 1:45).  (NB Cana the site of the first miracle)

All of these had slow revelations of the identity of Jesus

When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the lake.

Who in the Bible put on clothes because they were naked? Adam and Eve – that puts us in the book of Genesis

Who also puts on clothes?  The Jews who eat the Passover wearing their clothes ready to make the dash from Egypt at the point of their salvation (Ex 12:11)[2]

Who else puts on clothes and jumps into water?  The baptised: water which represents the chaos which existed at the beginning of creation in Genesis 1:1

Then from that water of chaos there is an abundant catch of fish – Peter who is to become a fisher of men needs to align himself with the power of God in order to reap a great catch – we hear same story earlier in Luke’s Gospel but John puts this story at the end – perhaps because the fishing for men is about to start?

How many fish?  153.

Why?

The number 153 was known to be special in the ancient world – its square root is  12.37 which is the precise number of lunar months in a calendar year

The special word for God (YAHWEH) appears 153 times in the book of Genesis

But also:

Number of Persons in the trinity = 3  =>   3 squared =9

Disciples = 12  => 12 squared = 144

9 + 144 = 153 !

153 is the 17th triangular number  (1,3,6,10,15,21,28,36,45,55,66,78,91,105,120,136,153)

The 10 commandments + 7 gifts of the spirit = 17!!

There are several others which you can look up on Wikipedia

 

It has caught people’s attention more recently: St Paul’s School was founded in 1512 (ie 153) by John Colet to teach 153 pupils – the foundation scholars – each of whom is entitled to wear a badge in the shape of … of course, a fish.

Then we have a meal of bread and fish reminding us of the feeding of the 5,000

For cooking we have a fire of charcoal (in Greek ἀνθρακιὰ – like anthracite) We have this word on only one other occasion in the NT – when Peter is in the courtyard warming himself before the fire about to deny Jesus. (Jn 18:18)

It is to that same Peter that Jesus is now handing over the keys to the church

Jesus, the good shepherd, is handing it over to Peter to feed the sheep.  He will fasten his belt now – again like the Jews escaping the Egyptians – but the time will come for him too to stretch out his hands on the cross and be crucified.

We have all come a long way from that first meeting by the waters of the river Jordan …

This technique of recalling at the end things which were not understood at the beginning is familiar to story tellers and cinematographers

A great example of this is the film Saving Private Ryan

It begins with an elderly man followed by his family walking through an American military cemetery in Normandy

When he gets to a certain grave he falls down on his knees.

Do you remember the scene?

Do you remember why he is there?

You have to go through the whole film to understand it

The grave is the grave of Captain John H Miller, US Ranger – who is tasked with finding a Private James Ryan whose three other brothers have all been killed and the authorities want to save this final Private Ryan and send him home to his family.

Unfortunately, Private Ryan is with an advanced group and they are taking the brunt of a German counter-attack.

The film shows the scale of sacrifice involved in the second world war –in particular on and immediately following D-day – and questions whether one person’s life can ever be worth the sacrifice of others

Captain Miller finds Ryan. After a dramatic “divine intervention” from the US Air Force, with Ryan saved and having fulfilled his mission, Miller lies dying.  He pulls Ryan towards him and whispers his last words “earn it”.

And so that is how we find ourselves at the end of the film

Ryan finds the grave of Captain Miller and falls to his knees

Not in prayer

Not in fear

But because emotion has gripped him

The emotion is the acknowledgement that someone thought that he was special enough to die for

And he is humbled by it

We get this feeling when we know we are loved

When we know we are home

When we know who we are

It has been called the power of recognition

I have felt it

Here in this church when I looked down on this spot where I was married almost 25 years ago

In a hotel room in Zurich when considering ordination and I read in the Bible from the prophesy of Isaiah “I have called you by name you are mine” (Is 43:1)

Whenever I begin a funeral service:  “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son  that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jn 3:16)

As Private Ryan questions whether his life has been worth the sacrifice – we should consider the same

Brothers and sisters, we are surrounded by the white army of martyrs, the cloud of witnesses who have died so that we might have religious freedom and in particular that we might have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, the son of a carpenter from Nazareth, who was himself the ultimate martyr – the ultimate witness to the truth that God is love.

And so the question for us is the same as it was for Private Ryan – what should we do to earn it ?  Amen

Collect for St Philip and St James:

O ALMIGHTY God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us perfectly to know thy Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life; that, following the steps of thy holy Apostles, Saint Philip and Saint James, we may stedfastly walk in the way that leadeth to eternal life; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

[1] As for the appearance of their faces: the four had the face of a human being, the face of a lion on the right side, the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle; 11 such were their faces. (Ezekiel 1:10-11)

[2] This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover. (Ex 12:11)

 

Sermon Preached by Christopher Hancock at St Mary’s Headley, 5th May, 2019

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Peace be with you

CHi Rho

Text:  John 20:19-31

Picture the scene:  The disciples are locked in for fear of the Jews

Jerusalem is in a frenzy

They have executed a leading religious leader and celebrated Passover – the Romans are nervous about the crowds

The disciples are profoundly upset about what has happened

Their leader has been publicly humiliated and has died an excruciating death before their eyes – those who had the courage to watch

Now his body has disappeared and there are rumours, tales, stories of women that they have seen him

They don’t know what is going on

It’s like one of those experiences when the rug is pulled from under your feet – losing your job or being told you’re got a life threatening disease or that your partner is leaving you – everything which seemed certain and reliable is now gone and the world is all doubt and fear

And then suddenly, into that distress, Jesus appears among them – miraculously

And he says “Peace be with you”.

And he shows them his wounds – the pain and death are real

And yet he says again “Peace be with you”

And he breaths on them – breathes on them the holy spirit – which of course itself means breath, life, new life

And he sends them out to continue his work – “as the Father sent me so I am sending you”

And a week later – on the next Sunday – he is with them again – miraculously for again the doors were shut

And again he says, “Peace be with you”

 

Do you seen how much of this is the basis of our service here today?

Each week we gather on Sunday – the first day of the week

And we summon Jesus to be with us – miraculously in word and sacrament, in our bible reading and in our ritual of bread and wine

We repeat his words – “peace be with you”

And we are sent by him out into the world to continue his work

“Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”

And there is more …

“He breathed on them the Holy Spirit” – what in the other gospels has to wait for Pentecost (9th June this year), the festival when the holy spirit descends on the disciples – comes here in John on the first Sunday, on Easter day itself

We receive that gift of the holy spirit at our confirmation

When the bishop says to the candidates:

“Let your Holy Spirit rest upon them:
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and inward strength
the spirit of knowledge and true godliness
and let their delight be in the fear of the Lord”

And then wearing the mitre which is itself the sign of the gift of the Holy Spirit, representing the tongues of flame from Pentecost, the Bishop says:

“Confirm, O Lord, your servant [name] with the Holy Spirit”

[as an aside, anyone wants to be confirmed should join our Pilgrim course (“Turning to Christ”) which begins at St Andrew’s at 8:00pm starting on 9th May]

And there is more …

The traditional Christian greeting is pax vobiscum  (peace be with you)

The Latin PAX contained the Greek characters Chi (X) and Rho (P) which were the first letters of the Greek word “Christ” – it was thus a code for the Peace of Christ

The original response was et cum spiritu tuo  (and with thy spirit) – which recalls this scene here in John’s Gosp

“the Lord be with you  – And with thy spirit” recalls this scene in the upper room in Jerusalem when Jesus brought peace and the gift of the Holy Spirit

So what of us, now?

In the daily lectionary we have been following Moses and his people in the escape from Egypt

Easter mirrors Exodus – an act of salvation leads immediately on to a journey

In Luke two men are on a journey – to Emmaus – they meet with a man who tells them about the bible – they share a meal and they know him – their journey continues

Today we meet Jesus in word and sacrament and our journey continues from here

What is our mission?  To follow in the steps of Christ and do as he did

  • Sharing meals – offering and receiving hospitality – ultimately sharing in Holy Communion
  • Living life in the Spirit – acknowledging the continuing revelation of God through his Holy Spirit – being open to its leading
  • Healing – working on our relationships – at home, with our friends, neighbours and colleagues – especially those who feel that the rug has been pulled form under their lives
  • Above all, being a part of the search for Peace – being instrumental in spreading the Peace of Christ throughout the world

With that intention in mind, let us end with the ultimate prayer for peace

Prayer of Saint Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.  Amen

Sermon preached by Christopher Hancock at St Mary’s Headley, Low Sunday (28th April, 2019)

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Witnesses to the resurrection – Sermon for Easter Day

Notre Dame

Have you ever done jury service?  If you have then you may have had the challenge of trying to work out who is telling the truth – of navigating conflicting accounts.

Did you spot the difference between the two Gospel accounts we have just heard?  The first from St John at the beginning of the service and the second from St Luke just now.

In fact the resurrection accounts are notoriously inconsistent

In Mark’s account – which is probably the oldest – Mary Magdalene, Salome, and Mary the mother of James find the stone has already been rolled away – they are then met by one man dressed in white who tells them “Do not be afraid”.  The women then run away frightened and the Gospel ends!

In Matthew’s Gospel it is Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” but there is not a man but an angel who descends from heaven and there is an earthquake and they see the stone rolled away.  This is a macho Gospel: fewer women and more action.

Here in Luke it is Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and now Joanna (not Salome) and there are now not one angel but two men dressed in white – Luke always adds a bit extra to the tradition

Peter does not believe the women with their “idle talk” and has to check himself (a bit of a “mansplainer” Peter)

In the accounts of Mark and Luke there is no Jesus – he is missing – In Luke’s Gospel the disciples do not meet Jesus in Jerusalem but in Galilee on the road to Emmaus

In John’s Gospel it was just Mary Magdalene (one woman alone) and she actually saw Jesus – what would Peter have made of that?

A policeman who trained for the priesthood with me used to say how when he was interrogating multiple suspects or witnesses he was always very suspicious if their stories agreed absolutely – because no one’s memory is perfect and everyone sees things from a different perspective.  So differences per se should not concern us but these do seem quite substantial.

Given there is so much disagreement between the earliest writings we have on the subject, it is perhaps not surprising that a ComRes poll of 2,042 British adults, carried out last month for the BBC and published last Sunday, found that only 46 per cent respondents who identified as Christians agreed with this statement:

“Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected at Easter so that you can be forgiven for your sins”.

Well what do we think?  How would you, members of the jury, have voted on this sentence?

Let’s split the statement down into its elements to try to understand what is being said.

  1. Jesus Died in the Cross

I think we are on reasonably solid ground here – this is about as well attested as anything in the ancient world – all 4 gospels agree and this testimony is supported by St Paul who was alive at the time and also by near contemporary Roman historians

A man called Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee, was crucified by the Romans for sedition while Pontius Pilate was Governor around 33 AD.  So far so good.

  1. And was resurrected at Easter

That’s where it gets a bit more difficult – it depends what you mean by “resurrection”.

Whatever this was, it was not a simple resuscitation or even a kind of Frankenstein’s monster jump start with a giant dose of divine electrical spark – it was transformative.

The Gospel accounts speak of Jesus as being transformed such that the disciples do not recognise him physically but only spiritually – in Luke’s Gospel when he breaks bread with them near Emmaus – in John’s Gospel when he calls Mary by name

It tells us that there is more to life than the physical and, in particular, that love transcends the physical world, that love never dies.

We have seen this in action recently in the destructive fire which devastated out sister church of Notre Dame in Paris.  In Holy Week that building has been crucified by fire but love for it will see it rebuilt, reborn, resurrected from the ashes.  Love never dies.

 

  1. So that you may be forgiven for your sins

Well here we are into the explanation of St Paul, the first theologian of the Christian church, for these events.  What we have inherited from him is his theory of understanding Christ’s death on the cross – technically this is called a theory of atonement.  As an observant Jew at the turn of the millennium he was strongly influenced by three ideas:

  • The need to keep the law of Moses and in particular the need to make sacrifices to be forgiven his sins
  • The prospect of the coming of the Messiah foretold by Isaiah who might liberate Israel from the yoke of Roman oppression or at the very least usher in a new age
  • Finally, the idea of resurrection from the dead and the prospect of eternal life which the Jews were learning from the Greco-Romans

Put these three ideas together and you have something of what we have inherited of Jesus from the Pauline tradition.  The death of a Messiah who would save us from sin and deliver us into eternal life.

But notice that even in our creed which we shall say shortly it does not say that Jesus died to save us from our sins – but rather he died for our salvation and that may mean a great many things

What exactly was meant by Jesus’s death is part of the greater mystery of the incarnation by which God shares in our earthly life and which we in every generation have to understand afresh.  There is no credal statement and there is no official church doctrine of atonement – rather each of us has to find our own explanation.

So what can we know?

We can know that Jesus died

But also that it did not end there

That his message of forgiveness, love and renewal transcended his earthly life

Moreover, we can know him now and so continue to have a relationship with God’s love

 

Jesus lived as a man on earth – we have this week been tracing his earthly life

His life and death tells us that God is involved in mankind – there is nothing more physical than death on a cross

But over the course of this Easter weekend that which was physical has been transformed into that which is transcendent – that which is beyond the physical

That is why we now use symbols – of candles, of water, of bread and wine to represent that which is beyond the physical

And importantly we are all witnesses to these things:  not jurors but witnesses

As such we are like Peter who tells us in the sermon from Acts which was our first reading

They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.

That, brothers and sisters, is us.

We are the witnesses

We shall eat and drink with him – as he shared with the disciples in the upper room before his death and then again on the road to Emmaus after his death on the cross

And we shall disagree as the Gospels do on how this works and what this means because we will each have our own unique experience of the creator of the universe who made contact with us in Jesus Christ.

We will each have our own perspective on the man from Nazareth who taught us to love one another and to forgive one another – but that, brothers and sisters, is how we are saved – that is “our salvation”.

 

I was lucky enough to meet the poet Malcolm Guite at a clergy conference last year.  Poetry pours out of him.  This is what he wrote to sum up the mystery of the events of this Easter weekend.

See, as they strip the robe from off his back
And spread his arms and nail them to the cross,
The dark nails pierce him and the sky turns black,
And love is firmly fastened onto loss.
But here a pure change happens. On this tree
Loss becomes gain, death opens into birth.
Here wounding heals and fastening makes free
Earth breathes in heaven, heaven roots in earth.
And here we see the length, the breadth, the height
Where love and hatred meet and love stays true
Where sin meets grace and darkness turns to light
We see what love can bear and be and do,
And here our saviour calls us to his side
His love is free, his arms are open wide.[1]

Amen

Sermon preached by Revd Christopher Hancock, St Mary’s Headley, 21st April, 2019

[1] Malcolm Guite:  Sonnets on the stations of the cross  XI  Crucfixion.  https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/good-friday-the-stations-of-the-cross/

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THE END IS NIGH – Sermon on the Tower of Siloam (Lent 3C)

The shard

Text: Luke 13:1-9

Sermon

This is a strange reading

Jesus is arguing about catastrophes in a passage that comes in the context of people being judged at the end of life.  Observant Galilean Jews have been killed while in the act of sacrificing: what can we conclude from that about what the debaters are debating with Jesus?

Perhaps they are suggesting that those who died in this way – despite their apparent piety in sacrificing – must have done something wrong.  This is the idea of Eudaimonism which is at the heart of Jewish theology in the Old Testament.  If you are good then good things happen to you.  The corollary being: if bad things happen to you it is because you have done something wrong.

Human beings are rationalising creatures – we look for reasons in things – in everything – even in random things – we don’t like the idea of chance

Do you remember the famous Russian Roulette scene in the “Deer Hunter”?  It is so distressing to watch people randomly blowing their brains out

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wv2K3J__X0

There is no reason in Russian Routlette – it is the proof of a lack of a necessary link between being good and being alive.   Whether it is Russian roulette in a Vietcong prisoner of war camp, or being chosen for the gas chamber at Auschwitz or crossing the road when a drunk driver hits you  – it is just luck

But for the Jews, these country Galileans were killed and so they must have done something wrong

Now remember Jesus is himself a Galilean and he seems to take this personally (remember the insult “can anything good come out of Nazareth?”) because he retorts, “the death of these poor Galileans is no different than the death of these Jerusalemites who died when the tower of Siloam collapsed (for tower of Siloam imagine the Shard, or perhaps the Twin Towers) and they were no worse than any other people who live in Jerusalem.

Not only that, but you are all going to die and you are all doomed, he says, unless you repent.

“We are all doomed”,  said Frazer from Dad’s Army. “Repent for the end is nigh” is a sign that used to be seen in Oxford street – apparently some millionaire who just liked frightening people paid for a man to carry the placard

But Jesus agrees – unless we repent, we are doomed

What is it to repent?

In Greek it is metanoia – to change your mind, change how you look at things

The prospect of death does have that effect on us – or at least it does on me

We are all going to die.  Becoming a priest has brought that home to me: giving the last rites and taking funerals had brought me closer to death more often than the average person.

It has meant that I am not frightened of death.  But I am very frightened of not using life properly.  Of not seeing things the right way.

In the synoptic gospels Jesus encounters fig trees

Figs are symbols of fruitful life – they are the archetypal fruit – they are the fruit of the tree of life – in the Garden of Eden

(But it’s an apple you say – but it does not say apple in Genesis.  It says fruit of the tree

And why do we say fig then?  Because what leaves did they cover themselves with?

First in the synoptics, Matthew and Mark, we have the story of the Barren Fig Tree – Jesus sees a fig tree which is barren and curses it and it dies

Here in the Gospel of Luke (which I have increasing confidence in seeing as later and evolved from the others) the message of the fig tree is more nuanced: yes the fig tree will be uprooted if it fails to deliver after three years of failure, but not yet:  it has a second chance, as it is kept for a fourth year

And the vineyard keeper (who is God in other parables of the vineyard), says – “I will dig around it and fertilise it” – the Greek says throw dung – I will give it the very best chance

 

In Walton I took a funeral for a family …

They had buried the ashes of their father under a fruit tree in their garden which had never borne fruit.  The addition of the nutrients from their father’s ashes made all the difference and the tree bore fruit – just once.

This seemed a great metaphor to me – we have one life – how are we to use it?

Time is running out

Like the fig tree, God gives us a new chance every day – but you never know if today may be your last

In the funeral service I read a prayer which comes from a section in Common Worship entitled:  “Prayers for readiness to live in the light of eternity”

Loving Father, you are tender towards your children
And your mercy is over all your works
Heal the memories of our faults and failures
Give us wisdom and grace to use aright
The time that is left to us here on earth
To turn to the example of Christ
And to follow in his footsteps
In the way that leads to everlasting life.
Amen

Sermon delivered by Chris Hancock at St. Andrew’s Box Hill, 24th March 2019

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Next Year in Jerusalem – a sermon for Lent 2C

1199px-Palestine-2013(2)-Aerial-Jerusalem-Temple_Mount-_(south_exposure)

 

This year we follow the Gospel of Luke and in it we have frequent references to Jerusalem.  So frequent that Jerusalem can be seen as a character in Luke with 32 references in Luke’s Gospel and a further 62 in Acts (by the same writer)

Jesus is first seen in Jerusalem as a child meeting Simeon and Anna (LK 2:22ff) and then again as a youth when he is lost by his parents and fund in the temple debating with the teachers (Lk 2:41 ff)

Last week, in the final temptation, Satan took Jesus up to the pinnacle of that same temple in Jerusalem and invited him to jump (Lk 4:9)

At the transfiguration, Moses and Elijah speak of the Jesus’s departure (his Exodus) which is to be fulfilled at Jerusalem (Lk 9:31

And so Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem (Lk 9:51)

By Chapter 13 Jesus is seen teaching his way through the towns and villages as he makes his way to Jerusalem (Lk 13:22)

In the chapters which follows he gets nearer and nearer until he finally arrives on Palm Sunday in Chapter 19

And people will be heard shouting – Blessed Is the one who comes in the name of the Lord – Hosanna in the highest

And we know what happens then

Jesus cleanses the Temple – makes it holy and sows the seed of his own death

In our passage here Jesus brings these signposts together

He predicts his end:  “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets”

Jesus knew that he would find death in Jerusalem

He would not be the first and he would not Be the last

 

In our collect we prayed to follow Jesus, in the way of Christ

Almighty God,
by the prayer and discipline of Lent
may we enter into the mystery of Christ’s sufferings,
and by following in his Way
come to share in his glory;

How might we do that?

What does it mean for us to go to Jerusalem?

What does Jerusalem mean to you?

For me growing up it was the epicentre of the struggle between Israel and Palestine, the Judaeo-Christians and the Arabs, the West and the East

As I grew up I learned about the, the conquest of Jerusalem by the Assyrians under Sennacherib, Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar , the Persians under Cyrus, the Greeks under Alexander, the Romans under Pompey – the muslins under Caliph Umar in 637, by a combined army of Christians summoned by Pope Urban II – the First Crusade – in 1099, before being taken by Saladin in 1187 then the Mongols, then the Ottomans,  the British in 1917,  the Zionists in 1948 leading to fighting between Jordan, Egypt Syria and Israel culminating in the 6 day war in 1967 and so it goes on

In course of its history the city has been fought over sixteen times destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times…Jerusalem of course means city of peace –Jeru shalom!

Transliterated into Greek however it becomes Hierosalem – which can mean Holy city

And perhaps this is where the problem comes – for Jerusalem has always been Holy  – it is a place ser apart – not for its strategic value – but for its proximity to God

For Jews and Christians and Muslims it is the place where God is

In the OT it is the place where Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac:

And God said: “Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah [Jerusalem]; and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains [Temple Mount] which I will tell thee of.” (Gen 22:”)

After the Exodus from Egypt, the Ark of the Covenant is placed there – the symbol of the covenant between Abraham and God redefined by Moses .  It is where Solomon builds his temple

It is where Jesus dies

It is the place where heaven meets earth

At the other end of time it also becomes the place of the apocalypse – the end of the word – the day of reckoning

At the end of the Book of Revelation

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 

As such it is a place of conflict between the creator and the forces of darkness – sin, death and the devil

It is a place of sacrifice and change

It is a place of endless possibility

It is a place of new life, of renewal – as for Abraham:

He brought him outside and said, ‘Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

But it is also a place of failure and defeat – the place where the fox, Herod, has his palace

It speaks of Growth
Of Magnificence
And Collapse

So it is a metaphor for our own lives which constantly need to be rebuilt

Through these days of Lent we pray for this renewal – to put aside the things which cause our collapse and destruction and to focus on the things which build us up and transform us more and more into the image of Christ

As Paul wrote to the Philippians – and it sounds as if he was writing in Lent:

Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of his glory.

This is Language which is used at funerals.

The language of renewal, rebirth resurrection

Our church faces East towards Jerusalem

In our service we face East to say the creed – we look to the place where it all began

I will go up to the altar for the Eucharistic prayer – up the steps which represent the hill up to Jerusalem

We all go up to Jerusalem to receive communion – to share in the uncommon meal which is Christ’s unique gift to us

When we do so we ask to be made anew

In the language of Revelation

And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ … ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ 

‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. 

To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.  Those who conquer will inherit these things, they will be my children and I will be their God.

Being a conqueror in God’s creation is not about fighting and control but rather being willing to sacrifice of oneself for others.

In order to be children of God, we go to Jerusalem not in the way of Saladin and the Crusaders but in the way of Abraham and Jesus Christ and it will be reckoned to us as righteousness.

As the Jews say at the end of every Passover meal – “Next year in Jerusalem.”  Amen

Sermon preached by Reverend Christopher Hancock at St Mary’s Headley, 17th March, 2019 

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Becoming God’s Shiny, Happy People – the message of the Transfiguration

You know what it’s like when someone looks different

They’re beaming – their face is shining

They are like the “Shiny, Happy People” from REM’s 1991 pop song

Perhaps they’ve had good news

Perhaps they’re Pregnant

Perhaps they are in love

Perhaps both …

 

We also get this change of expression at those “aha” moments

The Eureka moment – when, if we were in a cartoon, a light bulb would appear over our heads

Moments when we see clearly

When the veil is lifted, when the scales fall from our eyes

So it was when Moses met God on Mount Sinai

He met God, he had great insight, he received the 10 Commandments

Moses was so changed that his face shone – and afterwards he hid his face with a veil

Why?  Because he didn’t want others to know?  Because it frightened them?  Or because he looked so pleased with himself that it annoyed people?

Whatever the reason, when he met with God he removed the veil – like a bride lifting her veil before her husband.  The relationship with God was personal but exclusive and private

 

Fast forward then to the New Testament – to the “aha” moment when the disciples realise that Jesus is the messiah, the Christ, the chosen one, the son of God.

Peter has voiced his belief in Jesus as the Messiah and a week later, as evidence and confirmation of his suspicion, Jesus is transfigured on a mountain in a clear parallel to Moses in Exodus.

In the passage from Luke, Jesus’s faces shines in the presence of God – he is close to God – he shares the same intimacy as Moses before him.

In the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke this episode follows the Sermons where Jesus expounds his Gospel and sets out what is different from what has gone before.  Jesus is like the lawgiver Moses but he is bringing a new law, the New Covenant, the Gospel of God’s love for all and his teaching of forgiveness and redemption.

In our reading from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians we have Paul’s, own twist on the story.  Criticising the Jews who have allowed the law of Moses to be a veil separating them from God he says:  “Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, only through Christ is the veil set aside”

Paul describes how, as Christians, we enjoy a direct relationship with God – recalling words from his first letter to the Corinthians where he describes how Christians will see God “not through a glass darkly” but face to face so here our very faces reflect the Glory of God.

This is strong stuff.  Paul says that we have direct access to God.  This is both a great honour and a great responsibility.  We cannot hide behind a priesthood responsible for dealing with God.  Nor can we hide behind a set of rules as the Jews did the law of Moses.  Instead we have to answer directly to God for our actions and our inactions.

So do we dare to look upon God face to face?  Or do we hide behind the veil of the Church, behind hymns and prayer books, alms and oblations, our Lent book …

What is it to look on the face of God?

What does it mean to us to confront the truth taught by Jesus Christ that we are loved and should love in return.

We should not run or hide from it but bathe in the power of this truth for the glory of God is his underlying love for all creation.  The formative and re-generative power that imbues all life, the source of all joy and hope – the source of all blessing.

We are about to enter the season of Lent.  This is a time to be honest with ourselves before God.  A time to set aside things in our lives which separate us from the people that we were meant to be

To remove the veils so that we are better able to receive the blessing of the risen Christ at Easter.

It is perhaps fitting that the words of the ancient Jewish Blessing are based on the transfigured and transfiguring face of God which has the power if we only allow it to makes us all Shiny Happy People

The Lord bless you, and keep you;
The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you;
The Lord lift up the light of His countenance upon you,
And give you His peace.

I pray this peace for you this Lent.  May you all be transfigured into God’s “shiny, happy people”.  Amen

Sermon preached by Christopher Hancock at St Mary’s, Headley 3rd March, 2019

 

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Blessed are those who come (in)to church – Proper 2C 2019

Bishop Jo blessing

Texts

Luke 6:17-26

Jeremiah 17:5-10

1 Corinthians 15:12-20

It upsets me that people are frightened of going to church – but it seems to be the case.

At a recent funeral the attendees were literally waiting at the gate of the Churchyard apparently frightened to cross the threshold

I notice too that when I am wearing A dog collar – People in street don’t meet my eye

Women of a certain age may smile, but those with babies sometimes cross the road – men routinely avert their eyes

Why is this?

A sense of guilt?  Of unworthiness?  Do they feel they will be held to a high standard of behaviour to gain entry?  Thank goodness we are not.

Nor should they feel that they will be judged when they enter – though some of our congregants may be guilty of doing this.

Personally, I think it is a fear that by entering into a church, into an engagement with God they are beginning a rigorous examination of their own lives and decisions for which they do not want to think about let alone give account.

Whatever, the reason, it saddens me greatly

 

Because to me Church is a Haven

It is a place that I have sought when in the depths of despair

When made redundant

When I feared I was losing my marriage

When I realised the full implications of George Osbourne’s tax regime for my retirement planning!

When I have messed up

And I have found comfort because God does turn things around

In fact, God turns things upside down – perhaps more often than we would like

 

This is what Jesus is saying this in Luke’s Gospel

In so doing Luke is putting his own spin on Matthew’s Beatitudes

There is almost a deliberate differentiation from the story in Matthew which comes as part of the Story of the Sermon on the Mount

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.  He said:

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.[1]

 

But this is Luke and it is different

For a start, Jesus is not on a mountain – the traditional place for encounters with God – he is on a plain (and so Luke’s account is known as “The Sermon on the Plain”) In Genesis, the cities of the plain were the dens of iniquity which included Sodom and Gomorrah[2].  More generally in the ancient world, the plain was the traditional place for warfare, for battles

Here there is a battle between two ways of looking at the world

Luke puts Matthew’s beatitudes into a binary structure – there is an opposition between the four blessings and four woes

Looking at his disciples, he said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.
‘Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

‘But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

 

God can be seen to be leveling things out

Our Christian faith is that things will get better – that there is reversal from misfortune, there is new life

Ultimately. there is resurrection which is fundamental to the way that we as Christians look at the world – as Paul reminds us:

If there is no resurrection, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.

But what about people who are already wealthy, well-fed, laughing and spoken well-of.  Are they doomed?

That depends on what is making them happy.

For this reason it is important to understand what is meant by blessed

It is a word we use a lot both inside and outside church

The Greek here makarios means happy – in a state of bliss (in Latin beatus)

It is clearly striking and oxymoronic – the wretched are in a state of bliss

But we know that our happiness lies substantially within us – the wealthiest, healthiest. luckiest person can be the most miserable.

It is about how you see yourself that matters

 

Importantly, there is another sense of blessing which means speaking well of and this is the sense in which we are blessed by God (in Latin: Benedictus)

This is blessing that God gave to Abraham

‘I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.[3]

The same blessing that Isaac in turn gave to Jacob[4],

When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said,
‘Ah, the smell of my son
    is like the smell of a field
    that the Lord has blessed.
May God give you heaven’s dew
    and earth’s richness –
    an abundance of grain and new wine.
May nations serve you
    and peoples bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers,
    and may the sons of your mother bow down to you.
May those who curse you be cursed
    and those who bless you be blessed.’

 

that was the blessing given to Jesus at his baptism,

And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

the blessing which we were in turn received at our baptisms, confirmations, ordination and marriages

The blessing which we will remember in our Eucharistic prayer when Jesus blessed bread and wine in words of thanksgiving before blessing us by his presence in them

Finally, the blessing that we will receive at the end of this service

The blessing that is God saying to us:  you are loved, you are unique, I have special work for you to do

I came into this church at my lowest ebbs because church is the place that reminds me that I am loved, that I am special, that I am blessed.

It is a place where we come to give thanks – to count our blessings

To pray for and to bless others

And so become a blessing to them

 

It is a place into which we should routinely invite others – so that they can know that however poor, hungry, miserable, discredited they may feel, or indeed they may be, they are also loved, special, blessed and can be a blessing to others.

It is not being wealthy which makes us happy, it is knowing and believing that we are blessed

In the words by Jeremiah – probably the most miserable of all the prophets

blessed are they who trust in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
 They will be like trees planted by the water
    that send out their roots into the stream.

May we be trees such as these

Amen

Sermon given by Christopher Hancock at St Mary’s Headley, 17th February, 2019. 

 

[1] Matthew 5

[2] “Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.”  Gen 13:12

[3] Genesis 12

[4] Gen 27

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Cana revisited: Transforming Church – Transforming Lives

70_litre-black dustbin

Readings:

Isaiah 62:1-51 Corinthians 12:1-11, John 2:1-11

 

Sermon:

I don’t know how often you get to Guildford Cathedral

I was there last Sunday evening for the “Epiphany Procession”

It is a special service which focuses through readings, music and sacred objects on the Gospels for the first three Sundays of Epiphany

  1. Epiphany itself – the wise men following the star – they bring the gospel to the Gentiles – they offer him gold and frankincense and myrrh – we use frankincense in incense which represents prayer

 

  1. Baptism of Jesus – recalls our own baptism and the reception of the holy spirit –  represented in the renewing of vows and the sprinking of water on the people of God – happy new year!

 

  1. The Wedding at Cana – the transformation of water for ceremonial washing into the wine of celebration at a wedding

 

Today we focus on the last of these.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus has just received the holy spirit at his baptism (which was celebrated last week)

John gave this testimony: ‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptise with water told me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.” I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.’  (Jn 1:32-34)

We know from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that the gifts of the spirit include the working of miracles: “the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7)

In this story we see something revealed about the nature of God’s miraculous working through his spirit

First there is its abundance:

“Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from two to three measures.”

A measure was c.40 litres

2 to 3 measures = 80-120 litres

Six of these = 480 to 720 litres

To visualise this – imagine that a typical dustbin is 80 litres – so at least 6 dustbins full of wine  or up to 1,000 bottles

 

Secondly, there is its quality

“Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now”

The transformation which comes from the reception of the word of God is of greater abundance and quality than the best luxuries which man can conceive

 

Thirdly there are the hidden and revealed layers of meaning in God’s working

In all of this there is more hidden than there is which is obvious

John teaches us to look for signs:  “This was the first of his signs which he did in Cana of Galilee”

A. The wedding is not just a wedding

A wedding is the union of two people through the exchange of promises (covenants) to make something new – something which can in turn create new life

  • Christ makes all things new (today’s Collect)
  • This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you. (Lk 22:20)

Marriage as a sign of God’s union with his people – it is a familiar metaphor for the relationship between God and his people

As we heard in Isaiah:

you will be called by a new name [just as when married]
that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.
You will be a crown of splendour in the Lord’s hand,
a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
No longer will they call you Deserted,
or name your land Desolate…
for the Lord will take delight in you,
and your land will be married.
As a young man marries a young woman,
so will your Builder marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
so will your God rejoice over you.

Marriage is transformative and born of love

A wedding is the most exciting day of one’s life!

B. The wine is not just wine

Water for washing – the ritual purification demanded by the law of Moses – is replaced by the best wine

Purification through obedience to the law is replaced by a joyous loving communion – a wedding feast

The wine is the wine of the Eucharist – the blood of Christ which was spilled in such abundance that it could overcome all the sins of the world – you have only to receive it

“Jesus’ mother was there”:  just as she will be there at the foot of the cross

The wine comes from stone jars – jars like a tomb

The wine is gloriously transformed – as Christ was gloriously transformed through his resurrection so that we can known him today – in word and sacrament

“On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee.”

All of this happens, ON THE THIRD DAY

 

Jesus transformed the Church in order that he might transform our lives

So in this story we are invited to receive the good news of Jesus Christ – that we are close to a God who loves us – who is intimately involved in our lives – and shares with us our joys and to rejoice in that as on the happiest days of our lives.

In Epiphany we are invited:

  • To hear the Gospel
  • To Receive the Gospel
  • To Celebrate the transformational power of that Gospel

 

Collect for the 2nd Sunday of Epiphany

Almighty God,
in Christ you make all things new:
transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace,
and in the renewal of our lives
make known your heavenly glory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen

Sermon given by Rev Christopher Hancock at St Mary’s Headley, 20th January, 2019

If you liked this see also: Unveiling the Wedding at Cana

 

 

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On the trail of the ‘Unsearchable Riches of Christ’ (Epiphany Year C)

Ephesians 3:1-12

Matthew 2:1-12

 

light in the cave

Today is the feast of Epiphany and Epiphany is all about light!

The Greek root – epiphaino – literally means to bring to light

We are used to the many metaphorical uses of light

To ‘shed light on something’ is to make it clear

When something ‘comes to light’ – it becomes known, evident, manifestly obvious

Hence the Latinate name for the season – the manifestation to the Gentiles

The richness of the metaphor may in part be because of the fundamental importance of light to modern humankind.

We can not see in the dark and so it is frightening to us, the night is a time when we cannot do anything productive but rather it is to be feared.

Thus kindling a flame is the primary skill from which all our sense of safety and comfort flows – providing heat and light it is the fundamental building block from which all our technology flows

It was after all the Promethean gift which made us the rivals of the Gods in Greek mythology

Fire is the basis of cooking and manufacturing but light is the basis of our leisure – it enables us to use the night hours to read and write, to tell stories and to paint – from the earliest cave dwelling artists deep in the darkness of their  caves

Moreover, light tells us the future – the morning star tells of the coming of day

And so it is emotional –the light that drives out darkness

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. (Is 9:10)

 

In this extended metaphor of Epiphany with its prophesies and its star, what is that light which lights the world?

John tells us in his remarkable first chapter that it is the Word which was source of all life and all light

In him was life; and the life was the light of men.  And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (Jn 1:4-5)

Jesus is the light of the world – The word made flesh – God with us – Emmanuel

There is a paradox in that the star – the light which leads to the light – threatens to betray Jesus right at the start

Like a bad soldier lighting a match in the trenches – the star betrays the position of the Christ-child

But this light cannot be extinguished

Not even by death which overhangs all of Jesus life.

The message of the gift of myrrh which prefigures the crucifixion is that God is with us – in our darkest places, in our darkest hours – even in the darkness of death

 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.   And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

The light returns as the symbol of resurrection in the Pascal candle lit on Easter morning.

Revealed at Christmas an Easter in the light of Christ – the Easter Candle

This story of the importance of light at the beginning of our lives and at their end is the basis of John Keble’s poem on the Sunday of Epiphany from his poetry collection – The Christian Year.  It traces the morning star which becomes the evening star through the course of our lives.

Star of the East, how sweet art Thou,
   Seen in life’s early morning sky,
Ere yet a cloud has dimmed the brow,
   While yet we gaze with childish eye;

When father, mother, nursing friend,
   Most dearly loved, and loving best,
First bid us from their arms ascend,
   Pointing to Thee, in Thy sure rest.

Too soon the glare of earthly day
   Buries, to us, Thy brightness keen,
And we are left to find our way
   By faith and hope in Thee unseen.

What matter? if the waymarks sure
   On every side are round us set,
Soon overleaped, but not obscure?
   ’Tis ours to mark them or forget.

What matter? if in calm old age
   Our childhood’s star again arise,
Crowning our lonely pilgrimage
   With all that cheers a wanderer’s eyes?

Ne’er may we lose it from our sight,
   Till all our hopes and thoughts are led
To where it stays its lucid flight
   Over our Saviour’s lowly bed.

The Latinate word for Epiphany, manifestation, suggests like Keble that this light cannot long be hidden – like the light which can not be hidden under a bushel

And he said unto them, Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick?  For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad. (Mk 4:21-22)

The Gospels are full of these images of light

Acts and the Pauline letters like our reading from Ephesians are full of encouragement to share the Gospel – to announce to the nations

τὸ ἀνεξιχνίαστον πλοῦτος τοῦ Χριστοῦ (Eph 3:8)

The NRSV translates this as: “announce to the nations the good news of the boundless riches of Christ”

The KJV renders it more poetically as: ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ’;

But actually the Greek means untraceable / that which cannot be tracked or followed

And so it is a particular irony for those who set out to follow the star that the riches of Christ are no more to be found in an earthly treasury than gold is found at the foot of a rainbow.

This is a warning to us that if we think we have no more to learn from Christmas and Epiphany – if we think we have comprehended the light – then we too are mistaken and no better than Herod.

Instead we must look to the light and continue to follow the star in faith and in company with the wisemen and so join as Paul encourages us

the fellowship of the mystery which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:  (Eph 3:9)

Our job is to help expound that mystery and bring others to share in its light – and so to make it manifest to the next generation of Gentiles.  Amen

 

Sermon delivered by Chris Hancock at St. Mary’s Headley, Feast of The Epiphany
(6th January, 2019)

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