Sermons from St Faith's     

'The Hope that is in you'
Revd Sue Lucas, Sunday, May 25th, 2014
You might know the Groucho Marx joke about not wanting to belong to any club that would have him as a member…well, the great William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, preacher of the Social Gospel and one of the architects of the National Health Service once in a sermon – I believe preached from the pulpit of Liverpool Parish Church – claimed just the opposite – ‘the Church is the only organisation that exists for the benefit of those who do not belong to it.’

And this is deeply true – it is true in a very particular way of the Church of England, for we are a Parish Church – we are not Congregationalists, but we belong to those we are given to in our parish boundaries – there is nowhere in England that is not prayed for, that is not the pastoral responsibility of somebody – and we of course are given to them.  There is a benign kind of arbitrariness to parish ministry.

But it is true of the Church of God, not just the Church of England – for we are the body of Christ – the sacrament of Christ, just as Christ is the sacrament of God; WE are the crucified and risen body of Christ – by one Spirit we were all baptised into this one body, this sacramental body, this active sign of faith and hope and love.

As we move towards the end of the Easter Season – Ascension Day on Thursday and the great completion of Pentecost ten days later- there is a move from the Christ event to the event of the Church - and our readings begin to focus on the Easter events as they form us into the Church – for the risen Christ must ascend, must leave us, to his Father and our Father, but will not leave us orphaned – but form us into the Church, the body of Christ; as Teresa of Avila puts it, ‘Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but your to do his work; no feet but yours to go his way; yours are the eyes through which he sees the world, and the ears through which he hears.’

Today’s readings give us a sense of what shape, as it were, the body of Christ has; for to be the sacramental body of Christ is to be a community shaped by faith, hope and love.

Faith, for ‘faith is trust in things or which we are not certain and assurance of things not seen.’  Paul makes this clear – in an incredibly nuanced bit of philosophical theology, in front of the Arepagus, the birthplace, if you like, of the polis, the political, the secular state; Greek philosophy insists on an unknown God, and in this, they are not wrong; for knowledge is power, and what we know, we control; a God we could know like this would truly be an idol.  But in another way, of course, God makes himself known with astonishing directness and generosity in the life and witness and death and resurrection of Jesus – as gift and not given, as the one who unmasks idolatrous power in weakness.  This, then is the shape of our faith in Jesus.

And to be shaped by faith is, indeed, to ‘give an account of the hope that is in us.’  An Emily Dickinson poem begins, ‘Hope is the thing with feathers.’  It is beautifully satirized by Woody Allen who says, ‘the thing with feathers has in fact proved to be my nephew, but he has gone to a specialist in Zurich and appears to be recovering.’  The Dickinson poem suggests hope is a fragile thing, a delicate thing; and perhaps at times it is – yet also it is substantial, perhaps in a way something very concrete and material; for it is hope that gives substance to our faith.  Hope has the shape not of facile optimism – no, for true hope – the hope of the Gospel – is clear-eyed that life can at times be very hard and difficult and bitter; do not forget that Christ’s resurrection body takes the marks of the wounds of the crucifixion into the very heart of the Godhead.  Yet, at the same time it insists that the hurt and bitterness never have the last word, for in Christ, God goes on making us his new creation; by hope, we reinterpret the past, live in the present, and represent the future selves we do not yet know.

For the greatest of all, of course, is love – the love of which our Gospel speaks – the relentless love that God has for each one of us, the relentless love that never lets us go; the relentless love that paid humanity the ultimate compliment of sharing our life; the love that did not turn away from the death of the cross, the love by whose power Christ was raised from the dead.  It is this love that forms us in faith and builds us up in hope; and it is love into which we are called by our baptismal promises.  First, to know that God loves us – relentlessly, committedly – whatever we do; for there is nothing we can do that makes God loves us more and nothing we can do that makes God love us less.  Being the church is our response to God’s love – we express it in every sacrament – and we are called in turn to mediate, to represent that love to the world – to love those we dislike and despise, those we hate and fear, those who have hurt us, those the world despises and marginalises, the great unwashed as well as the great and the good, the awkward, and the bloody minded.  Can we do it?  Dare we?  How can we begin to love those we can’t like?  Well – a starting point is to pray for them – for in that we begin to see them as as much the subjects of God’s relentless, committed love as we ourselves are. Not easy – but our baptismal vocation.

And we do not do it alone, of course – for we are promised the great gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit by whose power bread and wine become the Real Presence of our Lord and Saviour – and by whose power we become what we eat – the resurrected Body of Christ.  And when we do we become the sacrament of Christ as he is the sacrament of God – effective living signs of God’s relentless love – not just for one another, but for those in our parish – and for the life of the world.  Amen.

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