Sermons from St
Fr John Reed, Sunday 15th July, 2018
I discovered brick laying late in life, it began with the builders who had just repaired the tower at St. Margaret and All Hallows Orford saying to me, we have some sand cement and leftover bricks, would you like them? After consulting the works of Geoff Hamilton I said yes. And a small retaining wall three bricks high, with a small stone step was planned. Unlike the Prophet Amos who had a plumb line; literally a weight on string, I had the modern equivalent, the spirit level. Both provide a measure of what is truly straight up. My church warden at the time Reg happened to be an experienced brick layer and a retired clerk of works. So one day he inspected the Vicars work, very generously he said that looks good and commented on the grooved joints. But I knew the wall sloped slightly down wards at the end. The spirit level does not lie.
Amos’s literary plumb line asked a question to the people of the northern Kingdom of Israel;” how straight up are you, how honest, how just, how fair, how truly are you living in Gods way. The prophet's eyes and experience told him the great and the good were living at the expense of the poor and they continued to oppress them. Amos was a foreigner from the southern Kingdom, who sold poor figs to poor people. But the chord of the plumb line was literally drawn around the heart of God like a tourniquet,, and Amos felt the anguish of a God who sees his children being abused by those who should have cared for them. So he speaks unwelcome uncomfortable words, words that the high Priest of Bethel did not want to hear.
Herod was on the receiving end of John the Baptist's unwelcome words; his action in taking his brothers Philip's wife Herodias was a public scandal. John the Baptist, a scruffy loud, ascetic prophet who wasn’t interested in wealth or power couldn’t be bought or brought to heel by threats of force so he had to be imprisoned. But Herod couldn’t let it go. We have a picture of Herod being troubled by this total opposite to him, and Herod going again and again to see him in prison. There was a King with a very troubled conscience, who saw his own failings and yet couldn’t or wouldn’t make things right.
His wife Herodias breaks the deadlock by asking the daughter Salome from her first marriage, to dance for him, a very public dance in front of a room full of important people. If Frederico Fellini's film is to be believed it wasn’t like Irish dancing and all seven veils came off. You don’t need to read the English subtitles at that point. After an amazing performance, Herod, in order to appear generous to his guests, foolishly offers Salome anything she wants. After Salome consulted her mother the answer he didn’t want came back. 'The head of John the Baptist on a plate! Herod is torn between his fear and fascination of the impossible man in the gaol whom he just cannot shut out of his mind, and saving face in front of his guests. The plumb line of the demands of God's Kingdom hangs in front of the great and the small. For those with great power, comes great responsibility. The prophets call us back to God's way.
Paul in Ephesians is so in love with God's generous way, which puts our self seeking ways in the shade, he wraps the story of God's love in a prayer of thanksgiving: “blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” who has blessed us…in Christ, like a hand in a glove, in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the highest place. There used to be a children’s chorus that went “the prayers go up and the blessings come down” No need for prayers: the blessings are raining down upon us like a waterfall.
You are blessed, I am blessed, you will be blessed, I will be blessed in ways beyond human comprehension. You are chosen, no need to pass an interview, no requirement to submit a CV of things you have achieved in life…you are chosen. You are adopted as a child of God, you are part of the family, a son or a daughter beloved by the creator, the same one we will call “Our Father” in the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples.
When I was a teenager on a Church Army house party I learnt a spiritual, it goes “I am redeemed” Our Vicar, who was also Diocesan Communication, openly admitted he didn’t approve of the song because it had complicated words that others would not understand. And maybe it is hard to understand that God's only Son died on the cross so that we could know life in its fulness. And when I say we, its worth remembering that includes you. It's worth stopping and pondering that Jesus thought you were worth the pain and rejection of the cross. “Some say that a man is worth nothing till someone is willing to pay.” The rescue of the 12 boys and their coach from the flooded cave last week, was a huge expensive affair in terms of time, equipment, and personnel. And ultimately it cost a diver his life. But no one in all the news coverage raised the question, how much is this costing are the boys and the coach worth all this trouble, because those 13 lives were too valuable to lose. It gives us a window into the heart of God. “Some say that a man is worth nothing till someone is willing to pay.”
You are forgiven, it is part of human nature that we do things wrong and in doing so hurt others and ultimately hurt our loving Father in Heaven. And in the cross we know forgiveness; in God's eyes there is nothing too bad to be forgiven. Think of the worst thing a person can do, and there is a loving God who will always do the better thing and forgive every time.
St. Paul keeps adding more, God gives grace; a free gift. St. John talks of Jesus the word of God being the one in whom we beheld truth and grace. And within blessing upon blessing, grace upon grace we are in a relationship with God through Jesus - the relationship we will know later when we take bread, the body of Christ and when we take wine, the blood of Christ. The relationship that puts us into a family with other children of God, which helps us to negotiate the tension between the plumb line of Gods Kingdom and all the difficult choices it wants us to make, not just for our own good, but for the good of others.
And through our baptisms, leading us through the time of Confirmation when we make the choice of discipleship for ourselves, the Holy Spirit is God's seal on the many gifts we know only in Jesus. The Spirit who gives life to the church.
Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen