Sermon for ALL SAINTS 2014 – Year A
1 John 3:1-3
Uncomfortable clothes . . .
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God;
and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
1 John 3:1
For those of you who are following its progress, the beard has got to the itchy stage. 🙂
I’m informed that this is the stage at which a lot of men give up – we don’t like discomfort!! But discomfort is at once a non-negotiable aspect of the Christian life, and one which is intensified in this present age.
We will all have seen comedy films where a boat is sat by a deck and someone tries to get into the boat, but as they do, they have a foot on the deck and a foot in the boat – I will allow your imagination to fill in the details 🙂
But in this age, that is also a profound illustration of how we experience our lives a Christians. For large parts of the lives of most of us, we have lived in the long shadow of Christendom. There was a sense that most people amongst whom we lived had some inkling of the Christian story, and after all didn’t we share the same set of moral values?? And after all, wasn’t that what it was all about???
Wasn’t it? Yet there is a sense of drifting apart – The church often tries to fix this – to ‘try to be relevant’ as if the answer was to be found in chasing after the world – we don’t like the discomfort.
I wonder how many of us have known a profound discomfort upon plucking up the courage to try and give witness to our faith. Our children I suspect know this far better than most of us as adults. We tell someone ‘I am a Christian’ – ad quick as a flash the rejoinder comes back ‘I live a good life’, or ‘I don’t need such things, my life is very fulfilling’ And we are uncomfortable . . . where do we go from here? Is that all there is? A vacuous sameness? A comfortable nothingness?
Come back to that boat – let’s call it our Waka. For many years, to our eyes it has sat by the dock, but now it seems to be drifting off, or is it? Is it not that the dock is drifting away? We thought our ‘values’ were somehow universal. If we could at least live in a world where we shared values, then we could be comfortable. But who said that the Christian Life was about values??
This is not what Jesus tells us ‘you must be born again – unless you are born again you cannot see the Kingdom of God’. St Paul when berating the Galatians tells them with regard to their conflicts on circumcision – ‘What counts, is a new Creation!’ We might say ‘Values?? What counts is a New Creation!’ And our own St John speaks these words to us – to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. – And again in the epistle this morning ‘See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.’ These words are to say the least ‘uncomfortable’ especially when we have grown up in a culture where we have been told over and over : ‘we are all God’s children! That is why we have these universal shared values, that is why it isn’t essential to be Christian, that is why we shouldn’t try and share our faith – because let’s face it we have nothing particularly distinct to share, and after all, trying to share our faith does makes us very uncomfortable’ We find great comfort in the crowd, however illusory it is . . . yet, as the world abandons its pretense of Christian faith, One calls us to be with Him . . .
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; (Jesus walks away from the crowds – indeed he is often doing this) and after he sat down, his disciples came to him . . . Jesus is in the Waka – the disciples step off the dock. They are called apart . . . and that ‘called apartness’ is Essential to what it means to be Christian – those who are called Apart – this is the root of the word Saint!!
Next time you pluck up the courage to have that conversation about our faith, try and use a better word than Christian – a more helpful word – a word that won’t have folks telling you what good people they are – a word that has less unhelpful cultural baggage – a word that won’t have people thinking ‘well so am I’ – a word which might find you mocked and ridiculed . . . try telling them the Truth – ‘I am a Saint’
Of course, immediately we are confronted with seems to be a similar problem . . . but perhaps a more truthful one . . . that while we are comfortable calling ourselves Christian, after all for much of our lives that was not a contentious thing to do, referring to ourselves as Saints feels very uncomfortable to us . . .
It is not only our illusions about the world which are called into question – our Christian imagination is also in need of serious remedial attention. Following the death and resurrection of Jesus, nowhere are his brothers and sisters called sinners . . . something we would be comfortable with, indeed we are. If I were to say ‘you are a Saint!’ you might blush and demur – or you might say, no I’m just a common or garden sinner . . . but to be called apart – called to be with Jesus is to find ourselves in the company of those who are either called Saints, or ‘those called to be Saints’ . . . But how might we understand this? So infected is our imagination by images of ‘Christian heroes’ whose lives seem to glow with the Life of Jesus in a way we cannot see in ourselves. Well firstly of course we have to say that our vision is defective, in that we are Always looking at ourselves!
During the early part of the middle ages there was the great controversy over Ikons – they were being smashed left right and centre – Iconoclasm . . . and we have replaced them with mirrors . . . but a child, that constant ideal Jesus holds up to us his disciples, a child is absorbed in this powerfully sensate world . . . like a Saint – paying attention to what is Real
To understand what a Saint is, come back with me to last week and this photo I shared with you. I invited you to put yourself in the place of the child – whose whole imagination is taken up with God. Our Psalm today expressed it thus The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him. O fear the Lord, you his holy ones, for those who fear him have no want.
those who fear him have no want – to fear the Lord is to have ones life set on a completely different course – as Moses is described in the letter to the Hebrews who ‘persevered as if he saw him who is invisible’. Jesus calls us to himself, like Martha’s sister Mary to be utterly attentive to him – and this means we are called out and this feels uncomfortable.
One of the reasons my school days weren’t the happiest of my life was because my parents elected to send me not to the local Grammar school, but to one ten miles away. Everyone in my village went to either the local Grammar, or the local Secondary Modern as it was called, based on the results of the 11+ exam. So I was the only child in my village to wear the Blue blazer of Heversham Grammar, rather than the Green of Queen Elizabeth’s or the Black of Milnthorpe. Many was the time I could have happily disappeared, but my blazer marked me out as different. And of course dressing differently continues to this day 🙂 But as we have been at pains to remind ourselves these past weeks, my priesthood is merely a visual reminder of the priesthood of us all – those called out – to be bearers of the Glory of God in the World which God loves. Called to be Saints
That as Jesus tells his disciples is a blessing – in these words addressed to those who have stepped out from the crowd – who have stepped off the dock and into the Waka. Blessed are the poor in Spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the peacemakers, those persecuted for the sake of Righteousness . . . A strange blessing – a powerful symbol of being set apart – not a blessing which finds much resonance in the world . . . surely these blessings of Jesus explode any illusion we might have about ‘a shared set of values’. Who is blessed in the world? Who is blessed in the Waka of the Kingdom of God?
And if this feels uncomfortable? Well I ask you to cast your mind back to The First Story – The Creation – How does God bring Life into the world? By setting apart. Day from night, Water above the earth from water upon the Earth, . . . Darkness from Light – First there is the formless and void primeval chaos, so like the modern world in which we live – incoherent, directionless, shapeless – but then God says ‘let there be light’ – and there was light.
St Paul – ‘What counts is a New Creation’
Jesus calls his disciples out from the crowd, to know their life in him. Now they see the crowd, the crowd see them – they are set apart – and, thus set apart Jesus says the most extraordinary thing to them: he blesses them with these strange blessings, so unlike the deceitful blessings of the world – the Poor, Mourning, Meek, Hungry and Thirsty, The Merciful, Peacemaking, Persecuted and Crucified One breathes his Creative Word, his very being upon this group of his disciples – making them his sisters and brothers – making them children of God and announcing this new creation of those called to be with Him in these words “You are the light of the world.” “You are the light of the world.” Saints.
To the Glory of God the Father
Let us pray
We bow our knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. We pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that we may be strengthened in our inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith, as we are being rooted and grounded in love. We pray that we may have the power to comprehend, together with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that we may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.