Sunday, December 11, 2011

Preaching on John the Baptist take 5

You would have thought that having preached on John the Baptist no less than four times (which begins too look less than it did when I had been in ministry only five years now I've clocked up nearly ten!) that I would have a John the Baptist sermon for every eventuality but as it transpired the sermon I had forgotten to write for this morning (until yesterday afternoon) was on John the Baptist but NOT on the readings I had preached on before. So it was that the sermon below came into existence in only a couple of hours. I didn't have high hopes for it but in the end was rather pleased with it.

(readings below)
Our readings this morning talk to us a little about the Nature of God but rather more about what the nature of those who are called to follow him should be. This is apt as those words addressed to John the Baptist "What do you say about yourself?"

We heard about the Nature of God as light. As our Gospel reading said, John “came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” 

Light is an important part of Christmas - very much if the lights on one of the houses in my street are anything to go by - but also in the original Christmas story – the star leads the magi, we light a candle each Sunday on our advent wreath and of course, as we heard in the Gospel, Jesus coming into the world is described as light

You might think of that famous painting The Light of the World by William Holman Hunt with the figure of Christ knocking at a door – an old wooden door with no handle and with weeds growing up in front of it. It’s a beautiful painting rich with imagery – a fallen apple at Christ’s feet, his lamp cut with small stars looking much like a Christmas lantern his golden crown also interwoven with thorns. Hunt when asked said of the painting

"The closed door was the obstinately shut mind. The weeds the cumber of daily neglect, the accumulated hindrance of our spiritual idleness. ...It is the door of the human heart, and that can only be opened from the inside." 

Hopefully we are those who have had the courage to open that door and let the light of Christ into our lives. Because our readings today also talk about our role. Like John, We’re NOT the light but we’re here to show the light – a bit like a film or slide projector, projecting light onto the wall. The projector may be a very complicated piece of equipment – it may need special skill to set it up and get it just right but the projector is not the thing we want people to look at but the image it projects.

We, like John, need to testify to the light through our lives. We’re not saying we have to be perfect but the way we Christians live says something about the God we believe in. Paul was writing to the people at Thessalonica about how their lives should be shaped.
“to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.” 

I’ve been leading assemblies this week with our CE secondary school at Wolverley and talked to the students about the importance of peace in our faith and in many faiths – for us Christians it is so important that we make peace with each other every week. As I said to the students, this is because we as Christians don’t think we are perfect and we don’t always get it right but we try to be as good as we can be. And although it reads like Paul is expecting the Thessalonians to be perfect the fact that he also includes the words “Beloved, pray for us.” Shows us that he didn’t think he could manage to live up to his own words without the support of others. I think Paul’s list is one which encourages us to think about our attitude, about the way we look at life. It’s about having a positivity of life. Rather than letting the door to our heart get choked up with the weeds of worry, of bitterness, fear, hatred, anger. Giving in to those strangling weeds would make us like the poor characters in Narnia where it is Always winter but never Christmas. Paul urges us to “be patient... rejoice always... give thanks in all not quench the spirit”. This is a bid for a non cynical attitude, a positive outlook. We might think that there are some circumstances where there is nothing that we can give thanks for. With the world’s finances where they are and personal finances for many people giving concern, we might think it is all pretty bleak – how can there be any cause of thankfulness.

I found this idea challenging when I was in Peru last year. In a place where people had virtually nothing: No running water or sewerage, no prospect of work, little help from the government and yet in the midst of this we sang the Taizé chant Nada te turbe: Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you, God alone is enough We heard a sermon about how perfect love casts out fear and the priest then gave an encouragement for even those in the poorest part of the city to show charity with the words who is so poor that they cannot afford to give their neighbour a cup of tea or help move rocks from outside their house?

This incredibly positive attitude reminded me of a story I once heard in Taizé of a group of Christians in Eastern Europe who were imprisoned in a camp during the communist regime of the USSR. One day they found a blackberry growing through the fence and one of them suggested that the person who counted the most blessings in that day would get the small piece of fruit. The next evening, people in this horrible environment came together with dozens of blessings including moments of wonder at creation and small kindnesses they had been shown by others. These lists of blessings encouraged them all in the toughest time.

I think Paul’s message to the Thessalonians and to us is not that we need to make a great show of our lives. We’re NOT the light but here to testify to the light. We don’t need to do that in a blaze of glory but in our own way. In giving up your seat to someone laden down with bags, to letting a car out at a junction, to smiling at someone, stopping for a cup of tea and a chat with someone who doesn’t get listened to, making a small contribution to St Mary’s breakfast club or to a homeless charity for or buying a gift for the Shuttle’s Christmas Gift Appeal.

What do you say about yourself?

As Desmond Tutu has said:
“Do your little bit of good where you are;
it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world”
So where in all the preparations for Christmas are you letting the light shine through your life?

What little bits of Good can you remember to do so that together we can all overwhelm the world with light?

The readings were:

John 1:6-28 6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But 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. 14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. 19This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said. 24Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 12But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labour among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; 13esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. 15See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. 16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not despise the words of prophets, 21but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22abstain from every form of evil. 23May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. 25Beloved, pray for us. 26Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss. 27I solemnly command you by the Lord that this letter be read to all of them. 28The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

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