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3rd May 2015 - Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs

Sermon for Easter 5 Evening
Isaiah 60.1-14
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 the World.

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.