A sermon preached in Fordingbridge at Evensong on 22 Jan 2017 by Mark Ward – God’s new time

What responsibility does being sworn in as the most influential leader of the free world bring with it? What responsibility does being elected as Prime Minister of this country bring with it for that matter?

 

The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes clearly understood that there were times for all things – for peace, for war, for smashing down, for building up, for love for hate. Of course he lived in a time where the person of God was very different to the person of God we now see. That God was a vengeful God, yet a God who then decided to change his nature, to stop fighting with us and set us an example by sending his Son to us, to live amongst us and then to die because the world still didn’t take sufficient notice, but crucially to rise again, triumphant over all that had nailed him there, and from that point on he gave us two simple instructions, love your God and love those around you. His time for war, for tearing down, for hate was over, for all eternity.

 

Unfortunately it appears ours is not. As those of us who were at Burgate this morning heard, the avalanche was not of God, the result of the avalanche affected the world so much because a hotel was built where it was. I have no idea if it was considered a safe place or not and I attach no blame to those who chose to build it there, but if it had not been there the avalanche would have had far less devastating effect and so railing against God is not the answer. But what of the various wars around the world, what about third world debt, what about those who are in poverty in the first world – much of that is down to the people of this world. There is always an alternative to war for the aggressor nation, there is a way to spread wealth better than we do, a way which is controlled by the rich nations of which we are part, and in this country we can and we must look after those who fall on hard times. The question is – do we have the will to tackle those things?

 

But my more immediate question for this evening based on the events of 12 noon Washington D.C. time last Friday is: what time have we now entered? Can one man make such a difference?

 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”

 

That  was published in 1859, but are Dickens’ words any less relevant today? Which way are we going and who controls the way we go? I think he might have had a field day with a character called Donald J Trump and would have had many ways to describe the preposterous hair and the facial and hand gestures.

 

Maybe it is too early for us to know what to expect. What I wasn’t expecting in that sometimes worrying and frankly at times unfeeling speech preached at his predecessors was any reference to God, but towards the end it came:

 

“The Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity. We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable.

 

There should be no fear. We are protected and we will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement. And most importantly, we will be protected by God.”

 

I think Jesus would have agreed about unity, debate, and honesty, even plain speaking for he could speak very plainly to those who he felt had transgressed. He may also have said that a body of Christians united would be unstoppable, but would he suggest that his Father in Heaven would only protect one nation, well he might have done just that before Jesus but certainly not afterwards.

 

Clearly all those of us who love our countries will want the best for that country and for ourselves, but should this be at the expense of others?

 

So I wonder – have we entered a new time? It may be that we have, our own recent experience is certainly a change but I fear we are not agreed as to what we want that change to be – is it about security, is it about prosperity, is it about being sovereign, is it about how we spend the money we have, is it about hatred of those who are not from here? Depending upon who you are it could be any of these and more and of course for many it is about none of them because many didn’t want change. So have we entered a time of confusion?

 

We only have to look across the channel to see the rise of Wilders in Holland and Le Pen in France, two people who appear to be becoming more acceptable as an alternative voice. And what of President Trump – some of his rhetoric isn’t so far from some of theirs when he talks about Mexicans stealing jobs and all Muslims being agents of terror.

 

Have we entered a new time of fear? Well maybe in earthly terms we have –

 

But of course for you and for me, we live in another parallel time – we are in the time of God – not just any time of God but the new time of God – the time of God where we simply have to love him and one another, a time that has been a mere two thousand years set in the timeframe since the world began. How lucky are we to have been born into what so far has been such a small part of time?

 

I’m aware I ask this question a lot – what therefore can we do? Our immediate issue might be – do we give the new president the benefit of the doubt, do we respect the office he has been sworn into and do we trust that he believes in the words written in, not just one bible that he swore on when taking the oath, but two because he also swore on a bible his mother gave him. Do we believe he believes from his reading of or maybe listening to the words of those books, that we live in the new time – the time when with the power he has at his fingers must be used to love the world and fight for its peace, for all humanity?

 

Or do we have to do as many thousands have already done – protest against what we see as his unjust treatment of so many he has railed against over the last two years. I have talked of my admiration of Pope Francis before, I believe him to be a man of wisdom and of God and he has questioned President Trump’s motives of references to faith. From what I have seen of this Godly man, I doubt very much that these were words that were only uttered after great consideration and so I am very tempted to agree with them. How can someone say what they say about others and then suggest that God is with them? Because for God to be with Mr Trump, he has to have submitted to the two commandments. Perhaps the time for protest is too soon, for that itself could be a catalyst for all sorts of issues but the time may come where the Christian community has to say “enough”, not just to Donald Trump, but to others who have a one sided view of the world.

 

I appreciate I am coming from a viewpoint about him that others may not share and again as I have said before, my view is only one opinion, but you know the odd thing is, that even with the view I hold of him, I am called to love him and pray for him, and there for me is the heart of the matter. You and I – we are set apart through our faith because even though we may disagree with someone –  we are called to love them, for we exist in God’s new time, and that is how, I suggest we can, if we have the faith, make this world into the kingdom of God, a time which can be ageless and forever and ever, Amen.

COME AND SEE – A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Epiphany

15/I/17, 9.30 a.m., St Mary’s Fordingbridge

I Cor 1:1-9,  John 1:29-42

The Reading we have just heard from St John’s Gospel is one of a sequence given to us during this Epiphany Season.  Last week it was the arrival of the Wise Men, the first non-Jews to visit Jesus.  This week it is the equivalent in John’s Gospel of the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, and we hear John’s testimony, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him’ [Jn 1:32].  The next day John exclaims, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ [Jn1:36], and that leads to the calling of the first disciples.  Next Sunday we shall hear Matthew’s description of the calling of Simon Peter and Andrew, along with James and John, and that will lead us to the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, on January 29th, when we shall hear from Luke’s Gospel the words of the Nunc Dimittis, ‘For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel’ [Lk 2:30-32].  So there is a clear pattern in this Epiphany Season of the presence of Christ, and who he was, being manifested, being shown, more and more in the world.

But this morning, I want to offer a brief meditation on just three words from today’s Gospel – ‘Come and see’ [Jn 1:39] – ‘Come and see’.  And I want to reflect on this in three ways: firstly, Jesus’ invitation to his first disciples; secondly, his invitation to us; and thirdly our invitation to others.

Firstly, Jesus’ invitation to his first disciples.  The words, ‘Come and see’ are part of a strange conversation which I’ll just repeat – you’ve got it in Partners if you want to have a look.  John says, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ 39 He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon [Jn 1:36-39].

It is a curious sequence – John says ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’, and the two disciples follow, which is quite logical.  Jesus turns and asks what they are looking for, and they ask him where he is staying.  He says come and see, and they went and spent the rest of the day with him – and all this happened, curiously, at about four o’clock in the afternoon.  Clearly, something very significant is going on here.

One of the two disciples was Andrew, and he went and fetched his brother, Simon, whom Jesus immediately named as Peter, the rock.  And they stayed with him for the rest of his earthly ministry.

Jesus’ call to his first disciples in John’s Gospel is very invitational – come and see.  ‘John has pointed to me; you’re following me, so, came and see. Come and see what I’m doing, who I am – and by doing that, you may want to follow me always’.

But these words are also words for us – come and see.  Other parts of the Old and New Testaments point to God’s creation of us, to his intimate knowledge of us.

Psalm 139, verse 12 onwards, reads: ‘For you yourself created my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb… My frame was not hidden from you, when I was made in secret and woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes beheld my form, as yet unfinished; already in your book were all my members written, as day by day they were fashioned when as yet there was none of them’.

We are created by God, known by God, loved by God, and invited by him to join the journey of faith by following Jesus – come and see.  Come and walk on the journey of faith, come and commit your life to me and see where it leads.  Come and join me in the dance, and see where we get to.

One of the traditional carols puts it like this:

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day;
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play,
To call my true love to my dance;

Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.

Then was I born of a virgin pure,
Of her I took fleshly substance
Thus was I knit to man’s nature
To call my true love to my dance.

In a manger laid, and wrapped I was
So very poor, this was my chance
Between an ox and a silly poor ass
To call my true love to my dance.

Then afterwards baptized I was;
The Holy Ghost on me did glance,
My Father’s voice heard I from above,
To call my true love to my dance.

Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.

And one of the ways in which we are called to follow, to ‘come and see’, is in the sharing of the Eucharist, in the breaking of bread together.  George Herbert, writing in the seventeenth century, in his famous poem, ‘Love’ puts the invitation to ‘come and see’ like this – we have to imagine a guest arriving at a feast of some sort:

 

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back

Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,

If I lacked any thing.

 

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:

Love said, You shall be he.

I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,

I cannot look on thee.

Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,

Who made the eyes but I?

 

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame

Go where it doth deserve.

And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?

My dear, then I will serve.

You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:

So I did sit and eat.

‘Come and see’ was the call to the first disciples, and ‘come and see’ is the call to us.

But what about us?  Do we have good reason to want to say ‘Come and see’ as well?

Mission, or evangelism, is described in lots of different ways.  But it seems to me that it is essentially about invitation.  There is Good News to share – come and see.  Come and see whether it makes sense of your life.  Come and see whether taking a first step on your walk with God brings you closer to the God who made you, loves and wants you to be with him for ever.  You don’t have to have a clear view of the end of the journey at this point – just come and see.

If we believe that what we do in Church makes a difference to our lives, then we should want to share that Good News with others, to invite them to come and see.

Some will have seen the Diocesan Rule of Life which we distributed and spoke about in November.  It’s called ‘Sharing God’s Life’, and there are copies by the door if you missed them last time – or have lost yours in the Christmas chaos!  There are three headings for reflection: Loving, Living, Serving – and we are all invited to think about our Christian lives in the context of those headings, and to make simple commitments to help us to respond to God’s invitation to come and see, and to offer that invitation to others.  If you’ve not yet had the chance to look at the Rule of Life, the beginning of this New Year, and this Epiphany Season, might be a good time to do so.

I want to finish by reading George Herbert’s poem, ‘Love’ again, followed by a pause for reflection.  Listen to God’s invitation to you to share in his banquet, and reflect on what that might mean for your life in 2017.

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back

Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,

If I lacked any thing.

 

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:

Love said, You shall be he.

I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,

I cannot look on thee.

Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,

Who made the eyes but I?

 

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame

Go where it doth deserve.

And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?

My dear, then I will serve.

You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:

So I did sit and eat.

EVERY MAN REMEMBERED – WWI Commemorations on the centenary of their deaths

WWI Centenary Commemorations-October and November 2017 – Fordingbridge

WWI Centenary Commemorations-October 2017 – Breamore

Come and remember those who died in the First World War on the centenary of their deaths.

All the Services in Fordingbridge are at 11.00a.m., at the Memorial Gates, Fordingbridge Rec, and those at Breamore at 7.00p.m. in the Church.

All very welcome.

If you are attending as a family member, we would be interested to hear from you beforehand.

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