Third Sunday before Advent: Amos 5, 18-24, 1 Thessalonians 4, 13-end & Matthew 25, 1-13
Has anyone ever accused you of being blunt: perhaps even a bit too blunt? Well, I suspect we could accuse the writers of today’s readings, especially Amos and Matthew, of being blunt, stark and to the point. And, their subject matter is not a nice wishy washy one for what they are talking about is judgement, ultimate judgement.
In the parable of the Ten Bridesmaids it is made clear that not everyone will be welcomed to the eternal banquet; not even those who say ‘Lord, Lord.’ In the reading from the prophet Amos we hear that God ‘despises’ the people’s religious ‘festivals’ and ‘solemn assemblies.’ These are hard words, blunt words. It is an incredible thought, is it not, that God may despise our worship? We need to unpack this because worship is an integral part of our life and witness as a church. We are a church because we are a worshipping community.
So, what on earth are these passages about? I think that they are about God’s priorities and about learning the art of Godly living. They are about integrity and the throwing off hypocrisy. They are about the values that we bring to worship; values that are tried and tested not in church but through our daily living. And of course the values that we should prize above all others are God’s values, or kingdom values. We do after all pray the words ‘thy kingdom come on earth as in heaven.’ So what values are we talking about?
For the prophet Amos, justice was the biggy. Amongst the prophets Amos towers as the defender of the downtrodden and poor. He also accuses the powerful and rich of using God’s very name to legitimize their sin. In many ways Amos is an angry prophet. But his anger in the face of the abuse of power is both righteous and just. Maybe we, as a church, should appropriate a little of Amos’ anger?
Jesus always exercised compassion towards the poor, the sick, and the excluded. He always sought out the outsider and integrated them. There is an absolute consistency between the prophetic words of Amos and the life of Jesus. You would expect there to be given that Jesus is the ‘the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets.’
If we are serious about holiness, we the church need to offer the hand of friendship and love to all. We need to be fired up by notions of justice. We need to be as angry as Amos in the face of injustice. We need to be seen to be deeply committed to God’s values.
In 1991 the then Bishop of Kingston, Peter Selby, challenged the church with this question: ‘What is the shape of the community of women and men that you long for, and for which the Church is a preparation? ‘ He was writing just ahead of the vote to opening up the priesthood to men and women alike. But, his question can also be used more generally. We must always ask ourselves what should the church look like in this town especially to the poor and the marginalised? What values are we living out? And we should do so in the sure and certain knowledge that the church here on earth, is nothing other than a preparation for the church perfect in heaven. Saying ‘Lord, Lord’ is never enough. Seeking to live lives of holiness animated through a commitment to the rules of love, justice, hospitality and equality, by contrast, will always be enough. Amen.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown
In Loving Memory: Psalm 23, 1 Corinthians 13
You are all here today because you have lost someone dear to you. Someone you cared about and loved. That person is of course no longer here with you, at least in the physical sense. And, of course, that is both sad and painful. Today is an opportunity to own and hold that pain.
But, it is also an opportunity to reflect and remember. All lives are a gift from God and all lives leave us with a gift. We are nurtured and matured partly through other people. We learn to love because we have been loved. We learn of those wonderful and divine qualities that the 23rd Psalm recounts: loving-mercy, goodness, restoration of the soul because we have experienced them through those who have loved us. We learn to live and live well because others have lived and lived well, and that’s what makes death so painful.
However although death is painful we must also learn the arts of remembrance and thanksgiving. It is through remembering that we keep the spirit of our loved ones alive within us and it is through thanksgiving that we keep love alive within us.
The reading from 1 Corinthians 13 comes to the most amazing conclusion: ‘and now faith, hope and love, these three abide and the greatest of these is love. What this one short verse is saying is simply this: that love cannot be extinguished. Love always has the last word. Love wins out.
I would like to finish by offering you two certainties and one hope. The certainties are that you loved the person you have come here to remember today and that they loved you. Let the certainty of love be enough. Let the certainty of love sustain you and keep you moving ahead. The hope is that death is not the end of the story, even if and when it feels like it. Take to heart the last words of the Psalm:
‘and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever,’
All Saints: 1 John 3, 1-3 & Matthew 5, 1-12
Has anyone here got a favourite saint? Well, I have two favourite saints - Andrew and of course Laurence. I had to say that didn’t I? But I also like some of the more unusual or bizarre saints, people like St. Jacqueline who decided that she was called to live in a tree from where she regularly rebuked Pope Innocent III for his wickedness, or St Sithney who believed that God had asked him if he’d mind being the patron saint of dogs and spent the rest of his life dressed up as a dog.
But seriously, why bother? Why bother celebrating and remembering the Saints? Well apart from the fact that some of them are really amusing they help bring the Christian story to life. Saints are animators of the gospel. Yes, I know we have the official saints whose status is granted by the Pope after a period of beatification, but we also have the broader ‘communion of saints', those inhabitants of heaven who have helped nurture and shape the life of faith. Saints are people who inspired by the gospel stories and the person of Jesus leave their mark. Saints are people who incorporate God’s story into their own life story. Saints are people who contemplate the gospel truths, exercise compassion towards others and act with courage.
We all have the opportunity to become saints but more importantly we all have the opportunity to shape an earthly communion of saints; a communion which provides an effective witness to our Christian faith. That’s one of the reasons I like the concept of ‘All Saints’; it reminds us that our witness is to be collective as well as personal.
So how do we mature towards sainthood? I would like to suggest that it is through opening ourselves up to the work of the Holy Spirit within us and by praying, in the words of the reading from 1 John, that we may one day ‘be like him;’ Jesus. And, it is also through contemplating the words of Scripture, perhaps especially the words of the Beatitudes, that we have heard in the reading from Matthew’s gospel. These are verses that Bishop Steven would like the diocese to contemplate and digest. He believes, and I agree with him, that if we can take the beatitudes to heart we will become a more Christlike church. We will become a more holy, or saintly, church. And, it is through sharing in the Eucharist. It is through sharing in the Eucharist that we become one body.
Prayer, scripture, Eucharist. As I said last week these three are our spiritual nutrients. If we engage with these three with open hearts and minds we will grow into the likeness of Jesus. That’s the genius of Christianity. We need to be as Saints in the world today. The future of the church depends on ordinary people just like you and me opening ourselves up the work of the Holy Spirit within us.
Can I ask you to take the pew sheet home with you and reflect on today’s readings each and every day and take them to heart? These readings are too precious just to be Sunday readings. They point us in the direction of becoming a more Christlike church, and that, in a nutshell is our mission.
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