Easter 5 Evening
Revelation 3. 1-13
I have been away on retreat this week - to a place called Launde
Abbey, which is situated between Market Harborough and Leicester
- over in the East Midlands. It is a lovely spot. An old manor
house - parts of it very old. And originally an Augustinian Abbey.
Today it is run as a shared resource between the dioceses of
Leicester and Peterborough, and a very good place it is too.
If you are ever over in that part of the world I can recommend
it for morning coffee or afternoon tea!
There were nearly 20 of us
gathered, from all over the country. Mostly Anglicans but with
a few other denominations mixed in. Most were not ordained -
some were. And we met with the theme of Faith and Faultlines
- under the guidance of John Bell - he too was a visitor like
us, because his real home is Glasgow and he is famous for being
one of the leaders of the Iona Community and for his wonderful
hymns that he writes with his colleague Graham Maule.
John is now in his mid sixties
and I don't know how he copes with his life which is one of nomadic
wandering. He expects to spend 9.5 months of any year travelling
- such is the demand for him as a speaker at religious conferences
and seminars and music days, both in this country and overseas.
You may have heard his lovely Scottish tones on Radio 4's "Thought
for the Day" from time to time.
John was brought up in Kilmarnock
and ordained into the Church of Scotland - although he will tell
you this was just an accident of birth. Temperamentally he admits
to being more of an Episcopalian (that's what they tend to call
Anglicans north of the border!), than a Presbyterian - and of
course the Iona community is an ecumenical movement anyway -
so our church labels don't really matter.
He is a passionate advocate
for social justice and has a wonderful way of using homely and
usually funny stories drawn from his life and the people he meets
around the world to illustrate his arguments.
I can guess too that if confronted
with our readings tonight, John would want to remind us that
in the prophets like Isaiah, we are continually presented with
a reality that is not yet - but which could be. That is the point
of having a vision.
A vision whether personal or
for a community - or even for a church congregation - is not
something ethereal and beyond our reach. Not something to which
we may never aspire. Neither is it a description of what we have
already achieved. And visions are also for peoples who are living
in a state of oppression. Whether that is oppression brought
about by foreign invaders - as was the case in Isaiah's time
- or whether the oppression is that brought about by poverty,
illness or addiction - which perhaps rings more true for us today.
And John would also remind
us that God chooses the most unlikely people to fulfil his purposes.
Almost perversely he chooses those who seem, on the face of it,
least likely to be able to succeed. God risks everything on those
who are weak, who are less than articulate, who are not particularly
learned. But God seeks those with the potential for kindness,
for listening to his word, for compassion and for patience. To
those people, God promises the earth and the heavens. All we
have to do is hold fast to our belief in his name and trust him.
When Christianity first came
to this land, the early missionaries - long before Augustine
of Canterbury, found the Celtic people generally quite receptive
to their message. They had absolutely no problem identifying
with a Trinitarian God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit- for this
mapped quite neatly onto some of their existing pagan beliefs.
What really impressed them however was the notion that God would
choose - freely choose - to incarnate himself and come among
us as one of us. To share our human condition with all its pain
and joy and uncertainty - that God would choose to take that
risk... being born at a time when 1 in 3 babies died at or soon
after birth. When one in 4 women died giving birth (no Lindo
Wing for our Lord!) that Jesus would run the risk of being killed
several times in the Gospel accounts before ever he got to the
cross. That he would risk contamination by touching untouchables.
That he risked his credibility by associating with the marginalised
- the less than savoury characters he meets along his way. That
he would choose as his disciples an unruly, quarrelsome, ignorant
bunch of fishermen, peasants and corrupt tax officials. And why?
Out of love for the world - not the church - not for this faction
or that - not for one group of people above any other, but for
That was what impressed them
and led them to adopt Christianity as their religion. That was
what led monks like Chad to travel all over the Midlands and
North of England spreading the message of God's love.
Of course, they were not perfect
any more than we are. Our works may not be perfect - any more
than were those of the church of Sardis.... but then what God
creates is known to be good - not perfect. And we need only
strive to be 'good enough' - to try - to cling to our faith and
not to deny him. Then our place in his temple is assured and
as solid as the pillars in this place here tonight. Amen.