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

I thought I would spend a few minutes reflecting on two topics; reality and certainty.

Reality is in some ways easier to deal with. We are all here today because our feelings are very real. We know how we feel.

I think that the two bible passages – both well known and much loved passages – deal with reality and certainty, although such is the beauty of the language that these themes can get strangely lost.

Let’s start with the 23rd Psalm. The psalmist pulls no punches in suggesting that we are all going to walk through ‘the valley of the shadow of death.’ In fact the Psalm realistically depicts life as an accompanied progression into and beyond death, finishing as it does, with its great conclusion: ‘and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.’

For people of faith this is part of the great certainty.

St. Paul in his most famous of anthems also offers is something which we can hold as an unfathomable truth.

‘Now faith, hope and love abide, and the greatest is of these is love.’

Many of you, I hope all of you, know this to be true. You know the power of love. You know that you have loved, and continue to love, those closest to you who you see no more. It is unfathomable because you can’t prove it, but you do know it. You know it because you have and continue to experience it.

And here is the really good news:

If the Psalmist is correct, you and I will continue to be enriched through the power of love, when we come to the place where we will dwell forever. If St. Paul is also correct we will know love even more fully than we do now. In fact we will abide in love forever. And because love exists in relationship with others we can dare to hope that we will be with those who have gone before us.

I frequently end my funeral homilies by saying I can offer only two certainties: that the person who has died loved you, and you loved them, and that it is this level of certainty that allows us to truly join in with the words of the Nunc Dimitus: ‘now let your servant depart in peace according to your word.’ And, the word that we are referring to is of course love.

Love is both real and certain.

Love is, and must always be, the last word.

 

Amen.

 

Rev. Andrew Lightbown

 

When I was a small boy I had a wall chart which told the story of British history. My dad occasionally used to read to me before bed, from my wall chart. I went to sleep having heard about some of the great figures in early English history, people like Alfred the Great, who the Church remembered last Monday and, Edward the Confessor whose life the Church of England celebrated on the 13th October. I remember being captivated by such figures. Not all of the Saints departed are as famous as Alfred or Edward or, indeed the biblical saints; the apostles and disciples. Over the course of the next few days the Church will remember several lesser known characters: Winifred, Malachy, Martin of Porres, Cybi and Illtud.

Some may ask ‘why bother?’ Why bother remembering the Saints? I would like to suggest three reasons:

First, they have the ability to captivate us, or enliven us. They bring the Christian story to life. For the most part the Saints are men and women who have taken the gospel at face value and applied it to their daily life. Often applying it to their daily life has involved taking a stand against the prevailing political, religious and social norms of the day. Think of our own Patron Saint, Laurence who refused to bow to the demands of a fat and bloated Roman elite and insisted that wealth should be used to serve the needs of the poor and needy and, not the rich and powerful. In recent times think of Bonheoffer – not an official Saint - who stood up to Hitler or Desmond Tutu – also not an official saint - who refused to accept the legitimacy of apartheid. Bonhoeffer’s commitment cost him mortal life, Tutu’s resistance could easily have done so, but thankfully didn’t.

Secondly, the saints challenge us to ask ourselves ‘what and who do you prize and value.’ The Saints, it appears to me, constantly remind us to go back to the beginning, to Genesis and, in particular Genesis 1 verse 26 in which we are told that God made humankind in the Divine image. All true Saints recognise that all men and all women are made in the image of God and, that this has implications for how we live our lives. In God’s economy there should be no second class citizens. Laurence knew this, as did Bonhoeffer and Tutu. Do we?

Thirdly, the Saints can help strengthen faith and alleviate doubt. If some of the greatest and bravest figures in history can believe in and seek to live a life moulded by Jesus then why shouldn’t I? Why, shouldn’t you? If some of the brightest minds in history can believe in the resurrection what is there to prevent you, or me, from believing in the resurrection?

The ‘saints’ that I have referred to are famous, but not all saints are famous and this leads me to suggest that true saints also possess one further quality; humility. Saints know that their job is to serve and not be served. They know that the one they serve is Jesus and they also know that Jesus is served through the way we respond to others. Saints don’t look for earthy glory, they may in time be remembered by the Church but that can never be part of the saints’ motive. True Saints also know that they are not perfect, far from it; they just like us are in need of forgiveness. I suspect many of the saints would be highly embarrassed to know that they are remembered and celebrated by name.

It is right that we remember the saints, and it is also right that we aspire to one day be counted amongst the saints. When I die I hope that I will join the communion of saints, I hope that the same is true for you. But in the meantime let us open ourselves up to the mercy and forgiveness of God. Let us carry ourselves with humility. Let us learn to value all people as created in the image of God. Let us take a stand for gospel values even when it inconveniences us to do so. And let us live as people who believe in the power of the Resurrection. Then one day, he Jesus, might say to us: ‘come in and take your place in the Communion of Saints,’ Amen.

 

Rev. Andrew Lightbown