Repent! Seek His Face!

Sermon for Epiphany 3

Repentance – Seeking God’s Face

My Heart says ‘Come! Seek His Face’

Your Face Lord do I seek

Ps 27:8

There is perhaps nothing more awe inspiring than a new born baby. It is a profoundly sacred moment -bringing Life into the World.

But new born babies are not as some would have it, blank slates. One of the ways the contemplation of new birth stops me In my tracks is the simple fact that we are born into this world seeking a face, and more, not only are we born looking for a face, within 3 days of birth we are looking for a face which according to our particular culture is thought to be beautiful . . . and we hadn’t even had time to learn how to use tik-tok or other social media to learn the stereotypes . . . We are born looking for a beautiful face . . . but then something happens to our sight.

Rather like the shepherd with his sheep, or the woman with the coin, we are born into the world looking for something we have lost . . . and then we forget . . . We think we learn to see, but increasingly our seeing blinds us.

We find ourselves as a family in the flood season of family birthdays. Our three babies hit the one year mark, Miriam is 3, Ella, Megan, Sam and myself also have birthdays around this time. And birthdays bring presents, and rather like the teddy bears I introduced you to last week there are a multiplicity, which seems to blind.

 To this day I am almost haunted by a memory of Sam being given a small model helicopter – possibly at age 2 – and how his sisters just wanted to ply him with lots of other presents. Yet he was absorbed in turning this one thing over and over in his hand. As we get older we get trained out of the wonder of seeing things as they are and thinking we see and know . . . and seeking a face?

It’s curious, but from the face seeking  of infancy we start to actively hide from faces. Even, tragically those of our own children – Paediatricians note how there is a huge increase in children at 6months who don’t smile – for their parents aren’t seeking their face . . . and again, have you noticed how you might be in a social context, say a café, and there are people whom you don’t know. You are absently mindedly gazing towards someone and then they look in your direction – we seem to know we’re being looked at – and immediately you look away. ‘Don’t stare, it’s rude!’ we’re told in our childhood and we learn not to see.  Bizarrely, the more we are given to look at – Look Here! Look There! The less we see . . . The more faces, the more we look away.

I always remember one of my mentors, a man of much missionary experience saying how odd it was for him to return to England where people asked, ‘how are you?’ without of course being remotely interested in the answer. He compared this with his experience in Africa, where the standard greeting was ‘I see you’. We seem predisposed in our culture to flee from the connection of the gaze . . .

Last week we heard from our own St John’s gospel of how Jesus starts his mission, which is  ‘to draw all men to’ himself, and Seeing is front and centre. How it begins John the Baptist crying out – Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Behold! – Open the eye of your heart . . .

Sin as I’ve been saying is disconnection. Disconnection brought about by blindness – we are groping for something, but in the wrong place. This is picked up in Jesus first recorded words in the Gospel of John. He turns, sees the disciples following and asks ‘what are you looking for?’ You might well say that ‘sinners’, those whom Jesus comes for, are those looking for something in the wrong place. ‘What ARE you looking for?’ What a question.

But first Jesus sees them – He is also looking . . . we’ll return to this shortly.

They said to him, ‘Where do you abide?’ to translate more literally – interestingly we are looking in the wrong place, and they ask Jesus to show them the place where he is staying -resting, abiding – and he invites them to ‘Come and See’ – and they came and saw where he abided, and abided with him . . .

This week from Matthew, we hear how Jesus, the light spoken of by the prophet, shining by the Sea of Galilee in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali opens his ministry with the words – ‘Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand . . .’ It’s near – it’s so close, just a breath away, if you simply repented, you would see it . . .

John in his gospel never uses the word ‘Repent’ – rather his language is of Seeing and Knowing, seeing and knowing God what is more . . . As Jesus says to the disciples – If you know me, you will know my father also. From now on you know him and have seen him . . .

Repent. A much abused word . . . This is not about ‘saying sorry’. In fact you will have to scour the scriptures to find this. Yes, there is sorrow for our sins, after all if you are missing the mark, looking in the wrong place, then you are also missing out on Life . . .

The word in Greek is metanoia – which we tend to translate as ‘change your mind’ – so influenced are we by the idea that what makes us special is our rational mind. But the Noia which we must meta – the nous which we must change – is the eye of the heart – redirect your sight

Redirect our sight towards the source of our life. The Lord is my light . . .

This is repentance – turning to seek the face of God.

The Psalmist hears his heart speaking to him, saying ‘Seek His face’ – this is the deepest voice within us, the voice of the heart – ‘what are you looking for?’ An answer comes from within our heart, seek His Face . . .

Each morning especially at this time of year, I like to get some early morning Sun. God blesses is in the Sun which is an agent of his life giving purposes as is all else in Creation. The Sun is sustained by God’s goodness, and so as we look towards the Sun in a real sense we see the goodness of God streaming towards us – we See his Goodness.

If we truly see, then we see the image of God walking towards us in every person. We see in  our food, God’s Goodness coming towards us.

Yet, we grow up in a world of fishing nets, where we are told that it is our work that sustains things, and the curse of the secular age, a bitter poison drunk by so many in the church is that all things are held up by our hard work – but they’re not. Everything is sustained – held in being by God.

Then we think that all we have we have because we worked hard. We are not seeing right. Everything comes from you O Lord, and of your own do we give you . . .  the words of the Eucharist.

All good things come from God – Look! Open your eyes 

Let me give you a simple personal illustration. Did I acquire Sarah? Funnily enough when we got married this was part of the story. Because I worked two summers for her father, putting up marquees, and at the wedding I joked that I’d got off lightly as Jacob had had to work seven years for Rachel, and fortunately I went on, Derek only had one daughter!

But of course that was nonsense. I didn’t work for Sarah, I didn’t earn her.

So, what was the story. Back in 1982 a travelling preacher came to town. Luis Palau from Argentina. Well one night I came far more alive in Christ -woke up to what all this church business had been about, and straight afterwards I saw an apparition – a young woman in a blue dufflecoat and yellow wellies ran up and gave me a hug . . . God’s gift coming to me . . .

And the more I meditated on this, and all the goodness that has flowed from that, none of which I had much of a hand in – and then you see the Sun, and feel the warmth, and you realise that the world is alive with the goodness of God . . . always coming towards you . . . sheer Gift

It’s all Gift.  The Life is continually coming from above – we look to The Sun, the source of Life – listening to the voice of the heart which says, seek his face – and THEN we start to grow up from the earth, to be lifted up. Not making a life for ourself, but receiving Life and Goodness from God. For the disciples, fishing had been their life, it was how they ‘made their living’, but leaving their nets revealed that Life didn’t come from their efforts . . .

When Jesus tells the disciples I will make you fish for men, he is invoking something made clear in John’s gospel. There, Jesus says – ‘when I am lifted up from the earth, I will drag all people to myself’ – it’s exactly the same verb used for the hauling of the nets full of fish out of the water when Jesus meets the disciples after his resurrection on the shore of Galilee. The more we grow up towards the source of Life, the more our lives become Life giving, and draw those around us in the same direction.

I started out speaking of two of Jesus’ three parables of the lost. The coin, the sheep, but then there’s the prodigal. The parable of repentance. And the prodigal starts home – looking for where his father lives, because he remembers it as a place of blessing, of life, where food came from – and he thinks it is all about him ‘Saying Sorry’ . . . that’s what he thinks repentance is, and perhaps you do too? It’s a toxic thought. I think we project our own sinful desire for those who have wronged us to come grovelling back onto God . . .

But The Father isn’t interested in our ‘how sorry we are speeches’ – he just wants us home. That is repentance – turning to see Him as the source of all goodness – for everything that is wrong in the world today can be traced to our not trusting God to be Good, not seeing, tryig to take it all into our own hands . . .

You see, Repentance is not about God looking for your apology – he is not looking for your apologies – he’s looking for your face . . . And deep within us, where he abides, in our heart a voice is saying ‘Seek my face’.

Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Sermon for the second Sunday after The Epiphany, 2023

Year A

John 1:29-42

‘The Glory of God is a human being fully alive . . . the Glory of a Man is the Vision of God’

St Irenaeus of Lyon

            From around the middle of the fourth century to this present day, visiting the Holy Land has been a thriving trade . . . come and see where Jesus walked . . . pretty much all of the traditions about where and what happened were established in that time. Perhaps it was because now Christianity was established as ‘a respectable and legitimate part of Empire’ it became possible to earn a little money from folk who ‘wanted to see’.

In a sense this trade speaks to a deeper desire or thought. ‘Seeing’ we think, ‘is believing’. How many of us might have pondered ‘Oh if only I had seen Jesus . . .’, or indeed ‘if only I’d seen a miracle’. Yet the gospels are careful to dissuade us from such thoughts. For the gospels, ‘Seeing is not believing’. After all if we can in our imaginations place ourselves on those ‘dusty roads of Palestine’ we might imagine the huge crowds who followed Jesus, who saw him, and who saw his miracles, and yet at the end cried Crucify.

            Matthew’s gospel ends with the disciples on the Mountain of Ascension and we are told ‘When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted’ and Jesus says that it is a wicked and adulterous generation that asks for a sign, and says those who believe and have not seen, are those who are blessed.

Because we don’t see what is in front of our nose end. Imagine you are driving – most of the time you are actually not actively watching, you may well have your mind on other things and are not paying attention. Or, again and on a slightly different tack, you are in a conversation but you are not paying attention to what the other person is saying, you are itching for the opportunity to have your say. Despite the fact we can see the person or the road in front of us, our attention is elsewhere. So we say for example we know people, and yet rarely do we pay the deep attention to begin to justify our judgements of them.

Ironically, the more things we give our attention to, the less we see of any one thing. Our attention becomes thinner, and so do we . . . we become scattered – our thoughts in a million different places unable to rest . . . rather like ghosts

Think of a small child, who if you leave them to it, will play happily for hours with nothing more than a few scraps of paper, or a wooden spoon. I was pondering this the other day, how now we ruin our children’s attention – I still have my teddy – I have my Mother’s teddy – Sarah has the very worn rabbit that had belonged to her father and then to her . . . but my children’s children have a multiplicity of such things, and none are worn through by affection now, or indeed are likely ever to be so. We ruin children’s most precious capacity, that of attention by heaping things on them.

We turn them into hapless Martha’s with her ADHD and ‘many things’ because we cannot allow them to pay attention to just one thing. For Jesus is in the house, and she sees him, but she is blind . . . and our sight, our Seeing is central to our problem, for as Jesus says to the Pharisees, ‘if you were blind you would have no sin, but now you say you see, your sin remains’.

This takes us back to what the old prayer book calls, ‘the days of man’s infancy’, that is those opening chapters of Genesis, and John of course in his gospel, would draw our attention there too . . . Once we have heard the prologue ‘In the beginning was the word . . .’ John carries on ‘on the next day, on the next day and so on . . .’ And the emphasis is on Seeing, and healing of our sight . . . For the Baptist commands his disciples, ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the Sin of the World’

In that Genesis story there is a little detail which is often missed, not least because we think we see, so it doesn’t make sense, so we pay it no attention. But when the snake talks to the woman in the garden about the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil he tempts her saying God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened . . .

Right at the beginning our ‘Seeing’ is named as our problem. By the way, did you notice, although the woman’s eyes were not yet opened, she saw? We don’t notice that it is only here that the eyes of the man and the woman are opened . . . and yet they had given names ot all the animals, and the man knew his wife as flesh of his flesh and bone of his bones – and they perceived God, they heard him. But when they see they hide from his presence. God becomes ‘Other’, Alien, Not them . . . I wonder also had it ever occurred to them that they were not like God?

It is the visual sense which gives us a sense of separation form things around us – of being divided – of not being one with, other people and the creation . . . and Separation is the essence of Sin. Sin is that which separates. And as we have pondered these past few weeks, through Christmas and Epiphany and the Baptism of Christ – the Gospel is that All things are one in Christ. Heaven is woven into Earth – The Word, The Spirit, becomes Flesh, matter if you will. Woven together, in Mary, In the Baptism of Jesus – John Sees Jesus as the one on whom the Spirit rests – the Word becoming flesh – the one in whom is life – the Life of God, with which we are told he also will baptise – weaving us together into The Life of Heaven – enabling us to See the Kingdom of God . . .

Behold the Lamb of God – Behold. Don’t merely judge by what your eye sees, this Galilean on Palestine’s disty roads. No! Open once more the centre of your attention, the eye of your heart, to Behold the One who makes all things New, the One in whom all things are joined together – for he takes away the sin of the world . . .

John twice makes this announcement and two of his disciples follow Jesus. He turns and Sees them . . . oh to be seen by Jesus . . .and asks them, ‘what do you seek?’. Teacher, where do you abide . . . Jesus of course rests in God, and God in Him . . . and Jesus replies to them ‘Come and See’

We rush through our days oblivious to the transcendent Beauty, the Glory . . . but the witness of the Evangelist is that we have seen his glory . . .

One of the very first witnesses to the gospel was St Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyon – a disciple of St Poly carp who was himself a disciple of St John the Evangelist – and he said this of Seeing

The Glory of God is a Fully Alive Human being, and the Glory of the Human Being, is the Vision of God.

Through word and Sacrament and the ongoing ministrations of the Church, may our vision be fully healed, that we might See heaven opened, Behold the Glory of God in Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the Sin of the World.


The Baptism of Christ – Heaven opened!

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Matthew 3:13-17 ‘and behold! The heavens were opened to him and he saw . . .’ On Friday, we celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany, one of the church’s most important feasts. For on that day we remember the coming of the Magi to worship the infant Jesus, and we see that He is born to be the Saviour of all people, not just God’s ancient people, the Jews. Nations will come to worship him. In that we see that God is joining together two peoples, the Jews and we Gentiles, the two are becoming One in Christ – and that theme of two becoming one is at the heart of the message of Christmas, The Epiphany and indeed the entirety of our faith. I shall return to this shortly.  The Magi we remember were ‘guided by a star’. They lived in a world in which they understood that The Creation spoke spiritual truths, unlike these days when we, conveniently for us anyway, if not for the creation, separate out spiritual and material truths and indeed worlds. Heaven is ‘somewhere else’. One cannot like the Psalmist ask spiritual questions by considering the stars . . . I wonder if they’d have made it in these days, days in which we have to try and protect even the night sky from the predation of human beings. In most large cities, and in these days the vast majority of human beings live in cities, people live lives all but unaware of stars. And their eyes look down, usually to their phones.So it is no surprise that people speak so readily of ‘the secular world’, a world from which heavenly light has been eradicated. We do not see the heavens, and we certainly do not see Heaven! Heaven is for when we die. We don’t quite know where it is. But we believe that Jesus died so that we can go there when we die . . . but for now we have to get on with ‘our lives’ . . . Bad so called ‘Christian’ theology is actually what creates the secular world. We have no expectation of seeing heaven, except one we build, or one we go to when we die,  Except, that is not what the scriptures say. As St Paul puts it, ‘So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.’ Except, for everyone here, I guess, that has already happened . . . at least according to Scripture . . . for the message of Scripture is clear and unambiguous. The Death of Jesus is our Death, His Resurrection is our Resurrection, and this is revealed over and again, and today most clearly as we remember his Baptism. St Paul often uses the phrase to describe the Christian life as ‘In Christ’ – you are ‘In Christ’ – you are included in him. His death is your death, his Resurrection is your resurrection, you are included in him at Baptism where your baptism is your inclusion in his baptism, the one baptism which fulfils all righteousness. As St John tries to prevent Jesus from being baptized, Jesus says to him ‘Let it be so, now!’ Don’t get in my way! ‘For it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness’. All Righteousness is fulfilled – the entire purposes of God – in Baptism. He goes down into the waters, the realm of chaos and death – this is why in Revelation we are told ‘there is no more sea’, no more death – Jesus goes down into the realm of Death, Hades, and is Raised to newness of Life. And the Spirit of God descends upon him – and a voice from heaven said ‘this is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. He dies and is raised to newness of Life, you cannot separate his Baptism from the Cross. Listen to St Paul at the opening to the epistle to the Romans . . . Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord . . . In his Baptism he unites himself to humanity – it is the same story as his birth – God joining himself to humanity – Heaven and Earth joined in Him. And goes into the deep waters of death, to be raised and declared God’s Son. And thus joined to humanity when he goes to the cross, he takes us there . . . Jesus does not die ‘in our place’ . . . and destroys death. Then the Holy Spirit descends upon his body, the Church at Pentecost. These two stories are one story. Baptism is death and Resurrection – And it is the opening of Heaven . . . And behold! The heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon him . . . Jesus opens the door of heaven – the Kingdom of God – and for those with eyes to see, the whole earth is full of his glory . . . for those with eyes to see.  For those with eyes to see, the journey of our faith is from death towards Life. It is not so much horizontal in time, but vertical – growing up into the fulness of Christ, who is our life. We are by baptism children of our father in heaven, Fully Alive in Him. Let our eyes therefore be fixed upwards towards our life in him, and so be full of the Light of Life. Not those whose eyes are downcast and so only full of darkness . . . but those who to use St Paul’s words again ‘All of us, with unveiled faces, contemplating the Glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image . . .’ Heaven is open – lift up your eyes and See! For as St Irenaeus tells us – The Glory of a human being is The Vision of God . . .Amen

Sermon for New Year’s Day

The Naming and Circumcision of Jesus

Galatians 4:4-7

[Phil 2:5-13]

Luke 2:15-21


Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

So by a quirk of the church calendar – the eighth day of Christmas is New Year’s Day, the day when Jesus is circumcised and named. A day for giving thanks for New Life, New Beginnings. Those of us fortunate to have children of course might hear in these words from St Luke, an echo of the baptism of our own children. Certainly in days gone by, when life was in many regards more precarious than it has been for us, you didn’t hang around for a baptism. I was baptized within two months of my birth.

Years later, the first baptism I performed in my own parish was of a four year old boy . . . that is one I most certainly will not forget . . . I saw that child grow up and wondered often, ‘I’m not sure that that one took . . .’

Well there are parallels between baptism and circumcision, both traditionally have the element of naming – but this week we are concerned with the naming and circumcision of Jesus, and circumcision was a sign of ‘belonging’, belonging to a people. And in the time of Jesus it was associated with The Law of Moses. Circumcision had another older, much deeper meaning to which we shall return, but in the time of Jesus you were as St Paul puts it to the Galatians, born to a woman, born under the Law. Keeping the Law of God was seen as essential to being Jewish, and as we are aware, there were those, the Scribes and Pharisees who particularly saw it as their role to remind people . . .

But there’s a problem . . .

Many years ago when I would go out to visit a girlfriend, my mother would often call after me ‘be good and if you can’t be good, be careful!’. I must admit, I was a pretty naïve young man – I had No idea what she was talking about. I think I may have finally got it figured out . . .

But here’s the problem – try as we might, Being Good does not come naturally to us. And all the law, the rules do is act as a kind of fence in the mind, meant to keep us in the paddock of the Good, and out of trouble. Keeping the Law does not make you good . . . the Law as St Paul reminds us was like a school teacher, put there to restrain us . . . and this problem persists to this day. You can’t legislate for goodness, and the essence of Goodness is  . . .?

I want to suggest that it is Sharing. Everything that is wrong in the world seems to spring from this. Imagine if you will for a minute a society in which everyone shared whatever they had with those in need. So there would be no homeless for people would share their homes, and no hungry for people would share their food . . . and so on.

Now imagine for a moment that someone came into that society who didn’t share what they had . . . imagine the horror! Imagine again a society in which people looked after No 1. In which the rule was accumulation etc etc. And someone came to live in that society who became known for sharing what they had – that person would be held up as a Saint . . .

I won’t insult your intelligence by asking you to figure out which is the society we live in . . . and this is the reason also for wars – nation states are like people, accumulating more not living for others . . . and so on and so forth, on goes the weary story. Few people share what they have . . . and that I suggest is the essence of Sin.

For when we do not share we cut ourselves off from one another, and God – and that is the meaning of Sin – that which misses the mark – that which fails to connect. Cut off from one another and God we are cut off from Life, the flow of Goodness which is the heartbeat of creation. Just look at creation – how it is all in motion, like a great river. From the tiniest particles, to great galaxies, everything is in a state of flow. Leaves fall from the trees and into the ground where their life is taken up to help feed the birds and  . . . and on and on and on it goes, and then we humans try a stop it!

We try and accumulate. We try and build lives on our own terms – we don’t see how everything we do affects everything and everyone around us. We are blind to our connectedness, to Life itself . . . This is why the scriptures say ‘the wages of sin is death’ – disconnection from what is around us . . . out of tune with creation and one another, for as St Paul reminds us, the Law was powerless to bring life. Only The Living one brings Life

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. He was named Jesus, for he would save his people from their sins . . .

Much at Christmas time we think of those words of our own St John the Evangelist – and the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us. The Word – the Life Principle of Existence and Reality – in Him was Life, and that Life was the Light of all people. And as St Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, he emptied himself, poured himself out. Life flows.

The Word became flesh, and we think ‘he came to share in our life’, but more, much much more – he Shared his Life with Us. This is the remedy for Sin. It is not that God reconnected to humanity, God in his Covenant promise never disconnected, that was the deeper meaning of circumcision, a sign of God’s faithfulness to the children of Abraham. But our disconnection left us  . . . well dead. Jesus saves us from our sins by connecting us to Life – by pouring out his Life into us. And that Life is flow – it is dynamic – it is participating in all that is, it is not turning our back on those in need, for we realize that there is only one life – the Life of God which sustains all things, when we disconnect from one another we disconnect from Life.

This is the Good News the angels proclaimed – it came as Light in the darkness of the World, it comes as Light and Life to us.

So as we step into a New Year, let us also continue to live more deeply into the Life of God. Let the same mind be amongst us as was in Jesus Christ – the Living one, pouring himself out as the Revelation of The Life of God, the Light in the Darkness in this Sin weary world