Time to be brave (like Andrew)

walk of witness

 

Reading:  John 12. 20 – 33

My heart always leaps when I see the name Andrew in the Gospel passage – there are not many but they are all important:

  • Introducing Simon Peter to Jesus
  • Finding the boy with the five loaves and two fish; and here
  • Introducing the Greeks (the gentiles)

His role is as intermediary – bringing people to see Jesus

The fact that it is Greeks is significant because the Greeks represent the whole world which was not Jewish – these were the uncircumcised, the uninitiated – in the language of our time, the ‘unchurched’

So the role of Andrew in bring people to see Jesus is a very significant one for us as so many are now unchurched

A role which we all have as Christian disciples

So what does it mean To “see” him  – to see Jesus?

First it can mean to literally see – to catch sight of – I saw the Queen – I saw the rubgy (sadly).  This is a statement of fact but not in itself a life changing encounter

Secondly, it can mean to interact, to have a conversation – I went to see the doctor, the headmaster, my parents.  This is starting to be more meaningful – something has changed here, there has been an interaction.

Thirdly, if we ‘see’ things we understand – I see what you mean – my understanding, my view of the world has changed

And it is surely this last sense in which we most want people to ‘see Jesus’

It we use another mode of perception then I think we can explore this further.

For example hearing – what if we want to introduce someone to the work of a composer?

I would like to introduce you to Bach

I would like you to hear Bach so you can understand why I love him

So how do we help people to hear the music, to hear Bach?

First, we might invite them to come and listen to the music – that would be a bit like inviting someone to church

You would want to be confident that the performance was going to be good, that it was going to be representative of what Bach was about – perhaps go for the famous Toccata and Fugue in D mInor .

If that went well, and the person was interested, then you might open up the repertoire of Bach – say the St John Passion or the B Minor Mass

Better still read copy of the musical score and start to understand how it works musically, structurally, how the harmony and the counterpoint combine to create the music.

That would be like encouraging someone to start reading the Bible to find the story of Jesus – the narrative of the Gospels, the interpretation of the Epistles and the backstory of the Old Testament

But best of all we would participate in the music and invite others to do the same – to create new music, to live through it

If you loved Bach you would do that wouldn’t you?

So why wouldn’t you do that for the person who through his life and death and resurrection changed the world forever?

It involves taking a risk doesn’t it

We heard today

Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies it remains only one
But if it dies then it bears much fruit

It is not for nothing that the name Andrew, the great introducer, means brave in Greek.

I encourage you to be brave and take a risk

We are going to take some risks this Easter

On Palm Sunday with our Palm Sunday procession

On Good Friday with our Walk of Witness across the heath

People might laugh at us

But if we believe that the life and death and resurrection of this man truly changed the world then what is the risk?

The risk is that people live and die in ignorance of that

The risk is that we are the generation that was too chicken to get our children to come to church and to speak to our neighbours about what Jesus means to us – to help them see

We are looking to reverse these trends and to grow our church

You will be hearing a lot more about that in the following weeks and months following our Parish’s attendance at a LYCIG (Leading Your Church into Growth) event arranged recently by the Diocese of Guildford.

What does growth mean?

Growth can be in three dimensions

  • Numbers/wealth/resources
  • Spirituality / discipleship
  • Mission and outreach

We need to be brave to do that and we are going to ask for God’s help in prayer.

We start by acknowledging that  God alone brings growth to the church

Growth comes from the energy that comes from God being allowed to work in the relationships which we all have

We pray that God will Send your Holy Spirit

 We tap into the energy of the Holy Spirit and we do that through prayer – so let us pray now the LYCIG prayer:

God of Mission Who alone brings growth to your Church,
Send your Holy Spirit to give Vision to our planning,
Wisdom to our actions,
And power to our witness.
Help our church to grow in numbers,
In spiritual commitment to you,
And in service to our local community,
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev Christopher Hancock at St Mary’s Headley, 18th March, 2018

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Looking back and looking forward with the Blind Man in John

Siloa Pool

 Readings

Jeremiah 16.10-17.4

John 9.1-17

 

Sermon

It is a pleasure to be here in Charterhouse school

Last time I was here I was being ordained Deacon

I am not sure which is the more frightening – The Bishop of Guildford and the Holy Spirit or Dr John Verity and the Prayer Book Society.

The last time I saw John he was wielding a scalpel over me to perform a ‘minor operation’ – it seemed that ‘minor operation’ was code for ‘without anesthetic’.

I wonder whether there might be some significance in being called here to Charterhouse School today

As you may know I have been trying to get a Guildford Branch heat of the Cranmer Awards going but it has come to nothing to date and as I stand here I wonder whether perhaps we should hold it here…

Thomas Cranmer is one of my great Heroes.

At University in Oxford, the martyr’s memorial made a great impression on me – walking daily past the spot on Broad Street where Cranmer was burned at the stake, thrusting his offending hand into the fire and repeating the words of Stephen, the first martyr: “Lord Jesus receive my spirit”.

Powerful stuff for an impressionable young man

Another lasting impression of Oxford was the discovery of Choral Evensong and the slightly arcane words which surrounded it.

As a classicist I loved the archaisms – we are “Dearly beloved brethren” and “miserable offenders” speaking of “the lowliness of His handmaiden”  and using a different version of the Lord’s prayer to catch out the uninitiated and make one feel superior in saying with extra emphasis “as we forgive them that trespass against us”.

And so when I came to be ordained I already knew and loved the Book of Common Prayer.

This copy [red BCP book] was given to me by the Prayer Book Society at the beginning of my training – Your money is not wasted!

Not only that but it is used for a term by those studying on the Local Ministry Programme course in Guildford – I can not speak for Ridley Hall, Cuddesdon and other such places but here in Guildford it is honoured if not quite universally loved and I think that far from dying out we are starting to see a resurgence of interest in the Prayer Book – not least among the young who, brought up on a diet of Harry Potter are not frightened of strange words full of mystery and hidden power.  We look forward with hope.

Looking back and looking forward

At this point we are half way through Lent – we look forward and we look back – we can look back to all of our broken promises – the rules we made for ourselves but have not kept: the books unread, the gym membership unused (I speak for myself you understand) and look forward to the new hope, the fresh start of Easter.

Our two readings mirror this

We look back in the Old testament to the prophesy of Jeremiah which itself looks back to the law of Moses which the Israelites have broken and so stand to be punished

They have worshipped other gods and so broken the law which was written on tablets of stone by the finger of God

And the LORD delivered unto me two tables of stone written with the finger of God; and on them was written according to all the words, which the LORD spake with you (Dt 9:10)

Jeremiah references these ‘tables of stone’ in our passage

The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is graven upon the table of their heart, and upon the horns of your altars;

And the law is clear that the punishment for transgressions which will be meted out on future generations

for I, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me, (Ex 20:4-5)

So it is with this back story that Jesus meets the blind man.

 

The healing of the blind man is one of those rare stories which appears in all four testaments[1] and indeed twice in the Gospel of Mark – once in the The healing of Bartmaeus (Mk 10:46-52), and then in the story of the Blind man of Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26) which is most similar to John’s.

Then He came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him. 23 So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything.

And he looked up and said, “I see men like trees, walking.”

The synoptic stories all make play of the irony of the blind man who can see what the scribes and the Pharisees, for all their learning, cannot.

But John, as so often, takes the story to another level.

First John asks us to look back – this man was blind from birth – so who sinned?  Remember the OT.  Jeremiah asks

Wherefore hath the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us? or what is our iniquity? or what is our sin that we have committed against the Lord our God?

Bad things must have causes.  Who sinned?  It reminds us of the companions of Job.  What did you do to bring God’s anger upon you?

Jesus heals him using the spit of Mark’s story and the mud from the ground

In the previous chapter Jesus had drawn in the ground with his finger as they asked him to condemn the woman taken in adultery

The finger of God which wrote on the tables of stone is now redrawing the law in the dust of human existence

For the mud is dust – it is the dust of Adam – so is it Adam’s sin?

All of us who are born of Adam and of the flesh are flawed – or at least in need of perfecting.

If so who can undo that?  Who can perfect us?

Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.  I must work the works of Him who sent Me

Jesus says that the reason for pain is to make visible the glory of God. The perfection which is available through the relationship with God and one another through the example of Christ

The whole reason for life is to struggle for healing against the chaos of the world – establishing healing out of chaos is to build the glory of God.

Our response to human suffering is not to look for the sin from which it originates – to blame someone – but rather to glorify God – in Mary’s words to ‘magnify the Lord’ – in healing it

This was the work which Jesus did

I must work the works of him that sent me

And it is the work which he has left us to do

As my father has sent me, even so I am sending you (Jn 20:21)

 

Hidden depths

Jesus is asked to judge the blind man (They ask, “whose sin is this?”) – but instead he heals him and he heals him in a particular way which I think we can all recognise

Jesus heals physically through touch – he anoints him (epichrisen) – he makes him one of the anointed – a messiah – a Christ – in short, he Christens him!

He heals him psychologically through a remodelling of his clay self – not as originally sinful but as originally of God, which Jesus remodells and perfects –  and so he makes him new

Finally, he heals him Symbolically through water

Water which is so important in John’s Gospel

Washing feet – turning water into wine –  meeting a woman at the well

Here it is ‘Siloa’s brook’ which Milton noted ‘flow’d Fast by the Oracle of God’[2] – the spring used for the rites of purification in the Festival of Tabernacles – the water we know as the water of baptism

And as a final touch, we are told that Siloa means “sent” – in Latin we might say missa est.  I’m not sure what Thomas Cranmer would make of that, but it seems significant as ‘sending’ is such an important concept in John’s Gospel.

It seems, therefore, that John is recording here the story of baptism

For we are all born blind – literally of course as new-borns we cannot see

Metaphorically, we are all catechumens who need to learn to see the light

We are then all sent to perform ‘the works of him who sent us’.

 

Conclusion

The Old law was written with a diamond tipped chisel

The new law is in spit and mud, in flesh and blood, in bread and wine

It is grounded, human, accessible

It is an incarnational message from one who “knows whereof we are made – that we are but dust” (Ps 103)

It is also a model of what we should do in nurturing disciples

  • Getting close to people
  • Blessing them and teaching them that they are the people of God
  • Leading them to the rituals of the Christian church
  • And sending them out into the world to do the same for others.

and that is the message looking into the future – for our children and our children’s children.

Amen

Sermon preached for the Guildford Branch of the Prayer Book Society, Charterhouse School, 10th March, 2018

 

Words from Psalm 103

For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
12 As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father pities his children,
So the Lord pities those who fear Him.
14 For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust.

15 As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
16 For the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
And its place remembers it no more.[a]
17 But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
On those who fear Him,
And His righteousness to children’s children

[1] See also Mt 20:29-34 and Lk 18:35-43

[2] Milton: Paradise Lost Book 1:11