Sermon: Christ the King 2015. John 18, 28-38.

I wonder if you were asked to describe yourself what you might say.

I would probably talk about the fact that I am a Lancastrian by birth, but educated in the West Country. I might refer to my academic qualifications, and the fact that I am married with two mostly wonderful children. I could talk to you about Milo – the Sound Hound – or my enjoyment of rugby, cycling and skiing. If pushed I could give you some indication about my theological, political, philosophical and educational convictions. In describing myself in these terms I would be both telling the truth and giving you some clues about my identity, or identities.

Of course, if love doesn’t sit at the heart of all of these self-descriptors all I would really be doing is telling you about the roles I play and, the functions I fulfil. Without love we are left with a pretty hollowed out form of identity, a form of identity measured solely in functional, factual or empirical terms.

Today’s Gospel reading is concerned with truth and identity. It asks us the most challenging of all religious questions: how do you define yourself and, where do your true – or truthful – allegiances lie?

The narrative is highly charged. Two parties the Jewish religious elite and the Pilate, Rome’s political representative, are faced with a man, Jesus, who challenges their very, narrowly defined identity and status. Throughout His ministry he has sought to turn their preconceived, pre-packaged, world upside down. He has tried to get them to think beyond their narrowly defined boundaries. He has encouraged them to think in Kingdom terms. He has claimed that the Kingdom of God transcends the superficiality of humanly constructed identity markers. This fact is the answer to Pilate’s final question: ‘what is truth?’

The truth is Jesus himself; truth is not ‘a what’ it transpires, but a person, or God made real in a person. Jesus is the ‘way, the truth and the life.’ Jesus is the ‘true vine.’ St. John is extremely keen to let us know that truth = Jesus. If you want to know all about truth look lovingly at Jesus. And the truth Jesus wants proclaims goes way beyond the superficial. For Jesus truth is peace, justice and joy in the Holy Spirit. For Jesus truth is found in humility, mercy, service, love and above all forgiveness.  The Jewish religious elite, alongside the Roman officials, are concerned with form, function and outward appearances. Jesus says it is what it is inside you that are important and transformative.

If we are to proclaim our faith in any meaningful way we need to own our real, truthful, identity. We need to say with confidence that our real identity is ‘In Christ.’ Like Jesus we need to be more concerned with Kingdom values than with protecting any preconceived ideas we may have about how the world should function. Jesus faced with the worst that religion and politics could throw at him said this: ‘My kingdom is not from this world.’

This short sentence changes everything. In it Jesus does two things: he acknowledges that he is a King and he rejects any idea that kingship should be limited to ruling over narrowly defined spheres of influence.  Just before he was sentenced to death on the cross Jesus was asked to reveal his true identity and to lift the veil on all that masquerades as truth.

And, this I suggest is our missionary challenge. Amen.

Rev. Andrew Lightbown

 

Homily - Remembrance Sunday

 

War is always brutal. War is sometimes necessary, or just, but by its very nature it brings havoc and horror. War, as we have just been reminded costs and shortens lives. There is nothing glamorous about war.

I often wonder what it must have been like during the war years to be a parish priest in a place such as this.

And, in all honesty I often wonder how reassuring words such as the ones we have heard from St. John’s Gospel really were to the families of those who lost sons, grandsons, fiancés, husbands, brothers, nephews and cousins.

No one brings up a child to die in war. Perhaps this is a message the world needs to constantly re-learn?

Such is the horror of war, and such is the magnitude of the sacrifice paid by the soldiers who lost their lives, a sacrifice also born by their loved ones, that is right that we remember them by name.

I also think it is appropriate that we give all who paid the ultimate price one last rank or title and, because there is equality in death, the title conferred should be common to all: FRIEND.

To willingly sacrifice one’s own life for the benefit of others, especially when there is no certainty of a beneficial outcome is the ultimate act of friendship. So today let us not just recall the names of those who lost their lives in war, but let us also say thank you, you were a true friend, now rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen.

 

Rev. Andrew Lightbown

 

Sermon: 3rd Sunday before Advent: Jonah 3, 1-5 &10, Hebrews 9, 24-end and Mark 1, 14-20

 

On Friday I was looking through the jobs page of the Church Times – don’t worry I am not looking for a job – but simply to see if I could find some material for this homily. And, I could! It seems that there are a lot of churches looking for leaders – inspiring leaders. READ ADVERTS

But not many churches are looking for followers. And, given that the first word that Jesus speaks to the apostles is ‘follow me,’ this is a bit strange. Maybe.

So here is a question: ‘which is harder leading or following?’

I think it is always harder to be a follower. The composer Leonard Bernstein was once asked ‘what is the most difficult instrument in the orchestra to play?’ Quick as a flash he replied ‘second fiddle.’  The problem with playing second fiddle is that it takes real humility.

We also have plenty of biblical evidence that people of faith find it difficult to be obedient followers: Jonah has to hear the Lord telling him to go to Nineveh for a ‘second time.’  James and John later in the Gospels get their mum to ask Jesus to elevate them to senior positions; one on the right hand of God and one on the left. Peter is to struggle with both John, the beloved disciple, and St. Paul. Following, playing second fiddle, it seems doesn’t for many folk come entirely naturally!

But as Christians it is undoubtedly the case that our first calling is to play second fiddle. Jesus, not us, is the head of the Church and, the Holy Spirit is our guide. Following, as Jonah was to learn, has comprises listening to the Word of God and then doing as he was told; listening, humility and obedience are the skills and virtues to be developed by the true follower of God. Do we listen, are we obedient?

One final thought: Jesus immediately after calling Andrew and Simon invites James and John to join his band of brothers. There is some suggestion that James and John were cousins to Andrew and Simon. In Luke’s Gospel we are told that they were business partners. We don’t know if their venture was successful, we don’t even know whether they got on. But we do know that they were all to be given a new identity as Disciples of Christ, or as ‘fishers of men.’ Andrew and Simon didn’t chose James and John; Jesus did. Sometimes in the life of the Church we simply have to accept that Jesus invites people to become followers who we might not intuitively warm to, and so we have to trust; trust that God knows what he is doing, that he sees things in other people that we fail to see. That his judgement is infinitely superior to ours.

So there you have it one skill – listening – and three virtues – humility, obedience and trust that are necessary for all who truly aspire to be a follower of Jesus. 

So here is my final question, or challenge: Are you prepared to play second fiddle? It’s an important question because if we can all answer in the affirmative then we will fulfil our shared vocation to become fishers of people.

Amen.

 

Rev. Andrew Lightbown