Sermon for January 30th, 2022

Living God, in Christ you make all things new. Transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace, and in the renewal of our lives make known your glory. Amen

Just a month after we arrived in Canada, 22 years ago this week, Christine was asked to provide short-term cover for St Thomas in Vancouver; a congregation well known amongst some in our parish. The first Sunday I sat with my mother-in-law in the main body of the Church but my kids (then aged 12, 10 and 6) went off to sit with some other kids in the side aisle. Just before the service a woman tapped me on the shoulder and in a half-empty Church (maybe it was half full) explained that I was sitting in her seat. We moved much to the dismay of some in the congregation who thought this wasn’t the best start for their new priest with her husband and mother asked to move on their first Sunday visit to the parish.   

The second reading today is perhaps of the best known and most widely used from the Bible. At weddings, at funerals and on other occasions 1st Corinthians 13 often fills the bill.

Yet behind its overuse is a superb and deeply meaningful reading. Take the first words:  in essence whatever we do in following Christ, whatever gifts we think we have, unless we have love we are noisy gongs and clanging cymbals. All the knowledge in the world, all the skills and abilities, all the material possessions we could ever want or need, without love, are worth nothing. 

In this context, the passage speaks of the love of God which is unlimited and steadfast.  God was there before the beginning, God will be there after the end, and God will always be with us and there for us, in spite of anything and everything.  

And this is why we come to Church, this is why we worship God, because, in spite of the limitations of our best friends, or those closest to us in life, who sometimes let us down, God will never let us down. We come to be part of the body of Christ, as vulnerable human beings who often mess up, but who aim to do better and seek God’s grace as we move forward in our lives. So at confession (before the Peace), we have the opportunity to be realistic with ourselves so that we might be honest with God. 

As the reading from the Hebrew scripture suggests, God knows us before we are born and God has plans for our lives. Our role is to be faithful, to respond and figure out exactly what God has in mind. It is a life-long project. 

The gospel passage continues where it ended last Sunday. When Jesus spoke to those in the synagogue, after reading the passage from Isaiah which we heard last week, it caused a problem. For when he said ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’, then the tongues started wagging, with people saying ‘is this not Joseph’s son’. Jesus countered with these words:  ‘no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town’.

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus speaks of himself as the Messiah: the one who would save the people. Later people realised that this would not be in the way that some hoped for, a leader who would repel the Roman army of occupation, instead someone who would re-establish the relationship between God and the people. 

As one commentator, (Haslam), describes it: the words of Jesus are God’s words of grace, given without condition. For God promised through Jesus new life and new hope for all who believed in him.

Jesus was then ejected from the synagogue because his words were too hard for people to take. The source of that rage, was perhaps, not so much that Jesus claimed to offer new hope, not even that he claimed to be the Messiah, but that God was there for Gentiles as well as Jews. Jesus was led to the edge of a cliff, but managed to escape, for his time had not yet come.

Following Jesus then isn’t about leading an easy life. We don’t get short cuts or privileges, we aren’t immune to ill-health, despair or regret, because we follow Christ. But God, through Christ, gives us purpose and direction for our lives. As individuals, as part of the body of Christ (the Church), we can always find a way forward.

What God asks of us isn’t always what we want for ourselves. It may not be plain sailing; it may involve risk and putting our necks on the line. But God promises to be with us always. More importantly, God offers to us faith, hope and love. So the question to ask ourselves is: do we have faith in God? Do we have hope in God? And lastly, do we accept, enjoy and want to share God’s love.

Henri Nouwen speaks in a number of his books about the Flying Rodleighs whom he says ‘are trapeze artists who perform in the German circus’ He continues ...

‘One day, I was sitting with Rodleigh, the leader of the troupe, in his caravan, talking about flying. He said, 'As a flyer, I must have complete trust in my catcher. He has to be there for me with split-second precision and grab me out of the air as I come to him in the long jump.' 'How does it work?' I asked. 'The secret,' Rodleigh said, 'is that the flyer does nothing and the catcher does everything. When I fly to Joe, I have simply to stretch out my arms and hands and wait for him to catch me and pull me safely over the apron behind the catch bar.’ 

For Nouwen, this describes our relationship with God. We have to be prepared to jump (or step) out in faith believing that God will catch us. The process, the act of faith on our part, is that God will be there and will not let us down. In reality, this is the only way to live our lives, starting today, starting now. For being in relationship with God means living in faith, which means we sometimes have doubts. Being in relationship with God means we need to have hope, for where will we be without hope. Being in relationship with God means being in love, with God, with one another and most difficult in love with ourselves. For unless we love ourselves and other people how can we ever expect to love God?

God calls us, ordinary people to do extraordinary things. This is our calling as individuals; this is our calling as the Church. May we together continue to do extraordinary things for God: in faith, hope and love.