Sermon - Sunday 6th December. Advent 2: Micah 3, 1-4, Philippians 1, 3-11 & Luke 3, 1-6

Have you ever had the experience of being asked to do something that you really, really, didn’t want to do? I have. I remember going on a ‘leadership course’ in the mid 1990’s near Hereford and being ‘made’ to go potholing. I cannot tell you how terrifying I found it. In the early 1990’s, 1993 I think, I did what was then the world’s highest bungee jump: 111 metres off the bridge over the Zambezi between Zimbabwe and Zambia. I didn’t find it exhilarating and I didn’t enjoy waiting two and half hours to do it. I only did it because Sallyanne wanted to!

 Often the Church asks us to do things we would prefer not to. I am not talking about things like selling yet more raffle tickets, but deep, and scary things, things like a commitment to ‘holiness’ and ‘evangelism.’ Despite the scariness inherent in the words themselves there can be little doubt that growth in holiness and, yes, numbers must be part of our collective rationale. We know this because today’s Advent readings tell us so.

Micah calls us to holiness: ‘for he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.’ John the Baptist, reminds us of the need to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, to be evangelists, and to baptise new members into the Church.  Proclaiming the good news is not an optional Christian extra. It is obligatory. We can discuss how the good news is best proclaimed, but we cannot duck the imperative to do so.

Compared to my potholing and bungee jumping experiences are the pursuits of growth in holiness and numbers exercises in Christian heroism? Are they matters of mind over matter or will power? I think not, and I also think that the prophet Micah and St. Paul show us a better, less self-centred way.

Paul refers to the fact that he constantly prays with joy for the Christian community in Philippi. And what is he praying for? Holiness: ‘and this is my prayer that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced – and this is a key phrase – the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.’ So let’s make sure we pray, because prayer works! It is through prayer that we grow in first holiness and then in numbers as our love for each other and the world becomes contagious. If we don’t accept that prayer changes initially us, and then the world around us, why bother with it? Micah stresses this point; let’s look at the passage I have already read but with a different emphasis:

He is like refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap; he will sit as refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.’ In our prayers we need to open the door to God and allow him to transform us from deep within; that’s all!

So let me finish with a question: ‘could we this Advent, through prayer, invite God to come amongst us as a ‘refiner’s fire,’ because if we can it will produce an unquantifiable harvest of righteousness, and that is an absolute promise.  Amen.

Rev. Andrew Lightbown

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