Sermons from St
Fr John Reed, Sunday 24th June, 2018
“The hunters will always win, until the lions write the history” goes an African proverb often quoted in connection with the study of history and theology. It records the truth that the writers of history are committed to their own deeply held truths. Luke’s version of Paul’s sermon in the synagogue in Antioch gives us a whirlwind tour of the Old Testament History. A history that begins with God’s people, the Jews multiplying in Egypt, the fact they were slaves was not important. A people that gave God a hard time in the wilderness for 40 years. A people rules by Judges, charismatic individuals who didn’t always lead exemplary lives but who led Gods people in times of crisis, they were not hereditary kings. The book of Judges tells of God delivering his people from neighbouring tribes through heroes, numbered amongst the heroes were Deborah and Barak, Gideon, Samson, and then the people slipping back again into a wilful indifference towards God. And the greatest Judge of all, the Prophet Samuel. Samuel gives the people their first king Saul, and after Saul, David the first hereditary King, the greatest King, but again someone who didn’t always do the right thing, and finally for Luke and Paul the history of a peoples faith marches towards, and is completed by Jesus, the promised Saviour.
The prophet John the Baptist was sent with a Baptism of repentance to proclaim the coming of Jesus. Johns preaching spoke to the complacent; the powerfully complacent, the religiously complacent and those comfortable in their ancestry and complacent towards God. “Prepare the way of the Lord”, it starts here and now with you! Despite having his own followers John was clear, he was there like a sign post to point the way towards Jesus. And we all know a true sign post never points to itself. And he made the point that he was of little importance compared to Jesus.
The prophet Isaiah or second Isaiah as scholars know him was speaking to a people who had lived in exile for a generation, a people who had built houses, had learned to live in the multi ethnic city of Babylon and had raised a new generation. The city of Jerusalem with its temple and walls had been left as a ruin a whole generation earlier. The people had found comfort in exile, they had learned to get by in the belief that God had abandoned them. They were complacently comfortable. The prophet speaks in words of poetry of Gods comfort, of Gods forgiveness. He speaks too of a road through the wilderness home, where mountains are levelled to make the route easy to walk. It is a long way from the journey in their parents memory, with captives being forced to march behind a conquering army. And no doubt many captives never reached Babylon.
The judging, punishing God who had turned away from his people was now the shepherd who fed the sheep, who carried the lambs in his bosom, and gently led the mother sheep to pasture. And despite the fickleness of human nature, God would deliver. The prophet was the herald of this. John the Baptist was the herald for Jesus crying out in the wilderness. But are we heeding the words of the prophets?
At the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Bishop Michael Curry preached a rousing sermon. He spoke to an audience of the powerful and the famous, as the BBC reporter said, to the heart of the British establishment and through TV to many people across the world. He spoke about love and justice, in a passionate way you would not expect from a UK Bishop or Archbishop. And for a few days it became a big talking point. Some welcomed his words, some were found who didn’t like them, but as a recent online poll suggests many were and are indifferent to his message.
And that is the difficulty prophets encounter today, some will react passionately and live changed lives, others will react against, but many will not leave their own comfortable existences and remain indifferent to words. That polite; “nice sermon Vicar” comment which says very little to the preacher on the way out of church, sometimes speaks volumes. The prophets were passionate about what they had to say from God, they knew the false comfort that their listeners wallowed in, and they understood something of Gods passionate love for people that they just could not keep quiet about.
And if we hear and feel the passion, then we are moved….. but too often we enjoy the spectacle and then move onto other entertainments.
Lord of the misfit,
whose prophets came
like weeds to an ordered garden
shaking all that deadens your love:
Give us faith in your kingdom's growth;
unruly and exuberant and let it be a shelter
wide enough for all.
through Jesus Christ our teacher