08 February 2015: Second Sunday before Lent
10.30 Sung Eucharist
Canon Sam Corley
Colossians 1. 15-20; John 1. 1-14
In my previous parish, one of my predecessors moved every three years: eight appointments in 24 years.
I assumed he just enjoyed the whole process of moving and exploring new places as each different role was in a contrasting and different context to the one before.
The verger had another view: ‘He’s only got three years’ worth of sermons that’s the problem; when he runs out he moves’.
Little did that verger know that three years’ worth is a fair few more sermons than some clergy I have met!
Well, however many sermons you have, turning over the pages of the lectionary to discover the text of today’s gospel reading will have brought either despair or delight to most clergy and lay readers this week: ‘Oh good, that’s an easy one, I can rehash December’s sermon’; or ‘O dear, really? Not again? What else can I say about this passage?’ Or perhaps…for those who plan well….like your Rector…. ‘Thank goodness it’s a visiting preacher this week!’
Because we have heard this before haven’t we. Ad although we’re now well into February and the beginning of Lent is only ten days away, it wasn’t all that long ago that the Prologue of John was being read amidst candles and duffle coats in various carol services as we awaiting the coming of the Christ-child; or maybe we heard it proclaimed as part of the Christmas liturgy itself:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Perhaps hearing it again today – at this pivot point between journeying away from Bethlehem before we begin the journey to the cross and the empty tomb of Jerusalem – perhaps it serves to remind us that the truth of the Incarnation – God made flesh; God coming to live among us – is the lens through which we must view the story of what now lies before us: the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus; over the coming weeks, as we meditate and reflect upon all that is to come, in order to fully understand, we have to keep reminding ourselves of the identity of the main actor. We saw how Paul keeps that together in our Epistle to the Colossians – Colossae like Bradford – famous for its wool, but a town eclipsed by the places around it – as Paul writes to the Church there, he underlines the supremacy of who the Messiah is and the sufficiency of what he has done; how he unites the actions of Jesus with the identity of the Christ, the Messiah:
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, (identity) and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. (action)
And as in our Epistle, so in our Gospel:
In the beginning was…
Echoes of Genesis, but not this time:
God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep.
Instead we have a person; an identity:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God.
And we have action:
All things came into being through him ….What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. And the Word became flesh and lived among us.
God in Christ comes to live among us, to make his dwelling on earth, to pitch his tent in the centre of our community, to tabernacle here with us.
And we have a challenge and an invitation:
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
What will our response be as Christ comes to us? Rejection? Or will we accept him and receive the light and life that he has come to bring? So that we might share in his identity – in his relationship with the Father – and so become children of God?
Will this be the lens through which we will view God, ourselves and the world?
And if we do, what will we see?
Stephen Fry has hit the headlines again in recent days – not for his marriage or because he is about to present the BAFTAs tonight. Rather, because of his views about God – a God he doesn’t believe in: Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain? That’s what I would say.
Stephen Fry doesn’t believe in God. But he’s furious with him. His God is an “utter maniac” who, despite being “all seeing, all wise, all kind, all beneficent”, sits by while children die of bone cancer.
Strong words that provoked a strong reaction. So much so that the ABC, in a speech at the launch of a new Religious Liberty Commission insisted that Fry had a God-given right to express his beliefs and should not be abused by Christians for doing so.
I have to confess that I don’t believe in God either. At least not the God that Fry is rejecting. Because Christ reveals God as something completely different …… in and through Christ we are given a lens that allows us to glimpse the glory of God….and as we peer through that lens…..so the identity and action of God himself is revealed to us…and we see is not capriciousness, mean-mindedness, stupidity, or anger, disinterest and unpredictability….but rather grace and truth held together and held out to us.
And as we look through this lens at God, we find also the strength and courage to turn with this lens and to view ourselves and the world – past, present and future through it – and as we do so, so we discover hope that casts out fear.
So, to go back to my friendly Verger’s comments about my predecessor…maybe, actually, all of us only have one sermon to preach and respond to because, maybe, as John reminds us, all of our sermons, our meditations and our conversations, at their heart, are about this lens that anchors us in the light that has come into the world.
- may we receive afresh the light and life that Christ brings as we are reminded in word and sacrament of the identity and action of God in Christ;
- as we see and receive his glory, may we be receive anew the gift of our identity as beloved children of God;
- and may we have the courage, like John the Baptist, to testify to all that we have seen and received so ‘that all might believe through him’ – the one who comes, overflowing with grace and truth.