Sunday, January 21, 2007

Here's the more later

At the end of my last post i said i would probably say more later - so here it is! Actually, here is the sermon i preached this morning at the early communion service.

Readings for this Sunday

Epiphany 3 (2007) Year C RCL Principal

Agendas

The idea of agendas is something of a preoccupation with our society. We constantly hear in the news that ‘The Government has placed such and such at the top of the political agenda’, or that ‘Mr Blair has the general election as his only agenda’, or that people have hidden agendas, that there is a ‘globalisation agenda’ operated by some multinational companies. The word and the idea of ‘agendas’ is bandied about constantly.

It’s not a bad idea, it gives an idea that there some reasoning behind the actions of those in authority. It has negative connotations when it is associated with secrecy or conspiracy, a way of manipulating and deceiving.

Well, the Church has an agenda too. It’s not hidden, it’s not devious and it’s not complicated. That agenda is to show the love of God to the world in which we live and to make Christ known.

And in our readings today there is a clarity about what is really important in the Christian Faith. It’s a sort of ‘no-frills’ stripped down approach to Christianity – and as such it’s appropriate to start with Jesus’ statement of intent made to the synagogue in Nazareth at the beginning of his public ministry – as recorded in Luke’s Gospel.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” says Jesus, reading from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. This is an echo of the Baptism of Christ which we celebrated just two weeks ago, where the Spirit of God descended upon Christ and showed God’s blessing on him. That same Spirit had led Jesus into the wilderness and sustained him through the temptations. The same spirit is mentioned at the very beginning of today’s reading – “Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee.” Luke tells us. This repetition of the same phrase is a constant reminder firstly that God’s blessing was upon Jesus, and that he did nothing apart from the sustenance and guidance that His Heavenly Father provided.

Jesus continues with the Prophet Isaiah’s message saying that
“…he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

It is a simple message, and one that draws us back to the foundation of all that Christian Faith is about – but at the same time it works on two levels.

Firstly Jesus did indeed bring good news, release, recovery of sight, freedom – he performed healings and miracles that were signs of God’s kingdom. He proclaimed a message of justice and righteousness that moved beyond simple religious observance to an everyday faith that was to affect all that his followers did and said. This Good News is about the way we live our lives, about making real the values of God’s reign – about helping the poor, caring for those who are in need, working to free the oppressed.

On another level Jesus came to bring Good News to those who are impoverished in Spirit, release to those who are bound by sin and captives to the way of the world, to bring new vision to those who are spiritually blinded or blinkered, and to free those who are oppressed by the evil that exists in our world.

It’s a double message, one of practical action and spiritual hope. It sums up the ministry of Jesus – a man who was unafraid to speak out and act against that which bound people physically and spiritually. It reminds us as Christians that the very basis of our faith is found in lives of faith and action, of being Christians who put their words into deeds.

And that leads us on to the life of the Church. Jesus left the disciples with a message to go to all the world and proclaim this message. Just a matter of weeks after he left his disciples the Church began, and was meant to be the model of how this message could be made real. The Church is called to be an example of these principals spelt out at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

But how does this begin? How does the Church make this real?

Well it starts with community, with loving one another. The reason the Christian Church grew and grew can perhaps be summed up in this phrase – look how these Christians love one another!

St Paul is keen to stress this. He uses the intimate illustration of the Church being a body, bound together, knit together, as closely as the parts of any body are. This body, he says, has one head, and that is Christ himself. But within that body every single part is essential – not one part lower than any other.

For St Paul this message is paramount, that Faith in Christ, the Faith of Christ, makes a new community, a community of love and of shared Faith. This community is to be without division, it is to respect each and every member, it is to be filled with those who rely on one another, who trust one another and who love one another. There is to be no division based on race, or background or status – all are equally valued, all are equally needed.

And this offers us food for thought regarding the Church today – and indeed the Church in our Villages, in the Papworth Team. It should make us think about our unity, and whether we are truly living out the ideals which are meant to characterise the body of Christ.

This has implications for our worshipping life, for our social action, for our social interaction, for our life in these villages, for our relationships with other denominations, for our prayers, for every part of our Christian life.

We have been called to be a body, not distinct entities who just happen to turn up in a Church building once a week or so. So we must start considering what that might mean for us. Is there any way in which we can make the ideals set out by Jesus and by St Paul any more real in our lives? Is there any way in which we need to move forward in order to achieve the standards which are set before us?

I am constantly pleased to find the amount of commitment that many have to the life of these villages communities and to the place of the Church within that life. I am constantly cheered by the goodwill that exists towards the Church in these villages – but we need to think about what we should be doing next. How can we reach out? How can we draw people in? How can we be a genuinely Christian Community?

It will begin with us here, committing ourselves to each other and to the message that we began with. It will start with a love that is genuine – and then we will be able to speak without embarrassment about the faith which is the foundation of this community.

We don’t need to be ashamed of our faith, we have a Gospel to proclaim – Gospel, meaning of course ‘good news’ – why should we be worried about how people might react to that? Let’s be bold about our faith, and honest about our hopes and fears, and move forward together in the faith which binds us together in love. Let us ask for that anointing of God’s Spirit that will allow us to do all that God calls us to do, and to be all that God longs for us to be.

And let us, in our own lives and in the life of our parish Church, become the answer to the prayer we pray whenever we gather, and one which we pray constantly ourselves.
“Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
It is only through us, the body of Christ, that we are going to
“…bring good news to the poor…
proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
… let the oppressed go free,”
and
“…proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

That’s the agenda of the Christian Faith…

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