Sermon for Evensong
Sunday September 18th, 2016
The First and Great Commandment . . .
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. Matthew 22:34-38
Trees have a great deal to teach us. It is perhaps a symptom of the stupidity of our age that we do not attend to them to listen, and so readily cut them own, because they are ‘in our way’ CS Lewis spoke of Dryads, spiritual creatures which inhabited trees and which died as trees were felled, most notably in the sombre, ‘Last Battle’.
I don’t know how well you know our trees? The trees on this section of land, nearly all of them I am glad to say, protected (and how sad that we should have to protect trees . . .) The Beech by the road is especially worthy of contemplation, not least for her wondrous roots, which extend on the surface nearly fifty feet from the trunk. (My apologies (?) for using feet, I have no conception of one 297 millionth of the distance light travels in a second, but I have feet . . .) Her roots are a thing of wonder and there is an incredible solidity to that tree in particular, not as tall as the others, but strangely almost permanent, as if she has been and will be there for ever, and with such wondrous roots, for of course the Life of the tree is utterly dependent upon her roots.
Roots anchor us, fix us in place. It is perhaps no surprise that the mark of the age in which we live with its relentless change and movement, which we assume must be progress, surely ?? . . . the mark of this age is the cutting down of its trees to make way for our own fleeting lives. Rootlessness is a particular feature of modern existence, and of course with so many spending so much time in virtual existence, neither here nor there, not fixed in space or indeed in time, trees are an affront to our unlimited desires – with no suggestion that perhaps Life eternal might perhaps be found just under our feet.
And that rootlessness extends to ideas and words. Take the word ‘Orientation’ which as I have explained has to do with to our standing before God. it is a word about human beings in relation to God, for Churches were ‘Oriented’, pointing East to Jerusalem, in anticipation of the resurrection of the dead. Now the word has lost any external reference, it has become a subjective word, the dimension of the other lost, it has no external reference, it has become uprooted. Or the phrase, ‘Image of God’. A phrase which is lazily thrown around in the church having lost all connection with its original meaning, that is ‘the one to whom is given Dominion under God’, the One whose life is fruitful and multiplies, finding its source in God, and its fullest expression in Jesus whom the Apostle Paul tells us is ‘The Image of the Invisible God’. For Christians ‘Image of God’ means Jesus, the one who has been given Dominion and all authority in heaven and earth. It is only descriptive of us insofar as we are by grace through faith included in Christ by the Sacrament of Baptism, and then only in our life submitted to him in obedience. It is a phrase which can only be understood in terms of the person whose life is oriented towards God, who is Jesus. And unsurprisingly therefore, we might note how rootless our use of the name of Jesus has become.
Finding this first Century Palestinian Jew somewhat of an embarrassment. He comes from such a primitive time! We know so much more nowadays. His Historical Rootedness becomes something we avoid or get around – as we redefine him to suit our own image. Subtly ‘killing him’ . . . and the crowds answered him saying ‘you have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?’ We are as befuddled as Jesus’ first hearers at the accusation that by our trying to redefine him, we are ‘seeking to kill him’. As someone said a few years ago now on reading one of the Gospels, ‘Oh My Jesus would never say such a thing . . .’ So, we do away with Jesus
So we make a new Jesus, in our own image and thus become self oriented having lost touch with our roots . . . our deepest roots, and of course when the Church loses touch with her deepest roots, she withers and dies – for in truth, the church has no life apart from her Lord.
And thus we ourselves, losing touch with The Human become ourselves dehumanised. For all the talk that the Diocese is its people and clergy, the papers for our Synod were I think most telling, for the Diocese as Institution was fully on show if close to death, but as far as the life of the parishes?? A set of statistics on the back page. Having lost touch with The Human, even the Church becomes radically dehumanised – something which we have to manage – a set of accounts, some committees – and its people?? A set of statistics . . . all in the name of one who on the last and great day of the feast stood up in the temple precincts and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Whoever is thirsty, let him come to me and drink! He who believes in me, as the scriptures have declared, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.
No one dare suggest that the Church is in the state she is, because she has lost touch with her Roots, her source of Life . . . where is that living water?? Well Jesus gives us our answer – ‘He who believes in me, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water . . .’
So, let us attend to Jesus – let us cry out to him, ‘Lord I believe, have mercy on us and help thou our unbelief’ let us come back to the Lord and learn from him – and ponder two questions with which our reading from our beloved patron St John, is concerned
Firstly – ‘where does all his teaching come from?’
About the middle of the festival Jesus went up into the temple and began to teach. The Jews were astonished at it, saying, ‘How does this man have such learning, when he has never been taught?’ Let us remember that this is not the first time that Jesus has astounded people in the Temple, even at the age of 12 he is found in the Temple Courts – you will remember the story – everyone sets of back to Nazareth and after a days journey . . . Mary and Joseph realise that he isn’t with the party and go back to look for him “After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’”
‘all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers, and then again in our reading ‘The Jews were astonished at it, saying, ‘How does this man have such learning, when he has never been taught?’ This unlearned wandering teacher – there is no record of anyone ever teaching him anything – he is not known as the disciple of anyone, but from his youth, he know that he must be in his fathers house – ‘I must be in my Father’s house’ And we have our answer ‘ ‘My teaching is not mine but his who sent me. Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own. Those who speak on their own seek their own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and there is nothing false in him. . . . ‘Father glorify you name . . . and a voice came from heaven saying, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again’
Jesus’ teaching comes from the Father, and he seeks only the glory of the Father – and anyone who resolves to do the will of God will discover the truth of this – Jesus speaks the Words of God and living in obedience to these words of Jesus is the source of Life.
So his teaching comes from God – you will remember perhaps the little incident when Jesus’ opponents try to catch him by asking him ‘by what authority he does his miracles’ Jesus said to them, ‘I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.’ They argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say, “Why then did you not believe him?” But shall we say, “Of human origin”?’—they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’ If Jesus’ teaching is from heaven, from God the Father . . . clearly only one course is open to us, and it is not for us to pick and choose
Secondly Given that his teaching comes from God the Father – where does Jesus come from – ‘Now some of the people of Jerusalem were saying, ‘Is not this the man whom they are trying to kill? And here he is, speaking openly, but they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Messiah? Yet we know where this man is from; but when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.’ Then Jesus cried out as he was teaching in the temple, ‘You know me, and you know where I am from. I have not come on my own. But the one who sent me is true, and you do not know him. I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.’ Then they tried to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come.
Jesus himself comes from God the Father – according to the flesh it is known from whence he comes, he is the son of Mary and Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth – an unlearned man – whose teaching comes from God the Father, from whom according to his divinity he comes – he proceeds from the Father – His Life is rooted in the very being of the Life of God and so he becomes the source of the Living Water of the Holy Spirit to all who believe in Him. And his humanity and his divinity are in perfect harmony in Him. So he is The Human who perfectly loves the Father with all his heart and soul and mind and strength, even from his youth he has been sinking his roots deep deep into the Life of God His Father. He Is the righteous one of Psalm 1 who does not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; for even from his youth his delight has been in the life giving law of the Lord, and on his law he has meditated day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.
Jesus loves the Lord his God with all his heart and soul and mind – and thus and only thus becomes the one who loves his neighbour as himself, even the neighbour who is his enemy, even the one who would have him killed – loving us more than he loves his own life.
We call such a person Holy – Their Life is in deeply rooted in God – anchored deep in God – and from Him flows streams of Living Water.
We live in a spiritual wasteland – wandering in the wilderness far from those springs of living water – we have chosen life on our own terms. The Church, separated from her roots is now withering and dying. Like the chaff, it is blown away – As the money in which it had trusted in for so long runs dry, it becomes clear where her life really was.
Yet, the Church that is deeply rooted in the life of God in Jesus can neither wither nor perish, it may like any tree suffer the gales and storms of this life, it may, indeed it will suffer the wounds and the hatred of the World, but it Will bear fruit, and it will inherit eternal life