Sermon preached by Archdeacon Trevor Harrison at the Midnight Mass of the Nativity 25 December 2019 It’s a marvellous, wonderful,... read more
Micah 4.1-5; John 15.12-17
What a week this has been. Donald Trump is to be the next President of the United States, and leader of what we call the Free World. I don't think at this stage I need to add to the commentary that is abounding around the world and what this says about our moral compass, which seems to have been reversed and our values turned up on their heads. There is much to reflect on in what has happened in these months of the US election campaign, much that is mirrored in other nations, in the UK with its Brexit, in Europe as the very moral fabric of civilised life is challenged in how the refugees and migrants are dealt with, and of course in the middle east, in the root causes which brought ISIS to birth. Much to reflect on. We question the validity and trustworthiness of our leaders. There is a deepening cynicism and lack of trust in our political systems themselves and true democracy is under threat. There is a huge amount of work to do to strive for the re establishment of the values that are at the heart of our Christian Gospel, and indeed of all the great faiths in the world, to rebuild trust in our political institutions. The political leaders of our world need to reflect deeply on where we find ourselves in a world that feels so much that we are stepping deeper and deeper into tragedy.
The words of the Burma Star ode burn into my heart and into my very being. 'When you go home tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow we gave our today.'
We must not lose the vision which drives us for a world built on peace with justice. Against all the odds we will believe that death does not have the victory, that life and love will triumph in this world of ours so seemingly bent on destruction. I remember Gay and I talking very seriously some 40 years ago as to whether or not we would have a family, bring new lives into this world of ours. And we decided yes, we decided yes because we have a faith in the ultimate triumph of good over evil and that all that separates and injures and destroys will be overcome by all that unites and heals and creates. Yes I believe that.
I'm glad we heard the familiar words of faith in God in the 23rd psalm as our OT reading today. I want though to focus on this Remembrance service on another well known reading from Micah Chapter 4, verses 1-5. It neatly and poetically catchers the sense of those who genuinely seek to make a difference for good
In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised up above the hills.
Peoples shall stream to it,
and many nations shall come and say:
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.
For all the peoples walk,
each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God
for ever and ever.
When we strip away all the dross and rhetoric which we the Church surround the message of the risen Christ, I am left with the statement of faith I so regularly repeat in my sermons– love is stronger than hate; life is stronger than death. For me it is both simple and profound, and excruciatingly difficult faith statement to live out.
There has to be a vision, there has to be a dream, there has to be a persistent hope and trust that things can be better. The world as God’s love would have it be, can and will be achieved. There is exhilaration and a joy in such a hope. Life is worth living with this dream to hang on to. Such a faith indeed is the source of abundant life. That is why we are working to refurbish our cathedral church. That is why we are building our vision for the future of what our cathedral and our cathedral community can be for our Church and for our city and province, engaging with the issues and the lives and yearning of this city and province and its peoples and working for a community and world of love and reconciliation and life or all. That is why I rejoice at the commitment we have to walk alongside the people of Parihaka towards reconciliation and a true partnership between us. It is beautiful, it is heart felt, it is of a love such as Christ has for us, and his command that we love as he loves.
Micah has this great vision. In the first three chapters of the book named after him, we hear a litany of condemnation of the all the injustice and greed and exploitation that has been perpetrated by the people of power and influence in Israel, the nation the prophet saw as being chosen amongst all nations. Probably written in a time of exile, following the destruction of Jerusalem, Micah lifts up the heads of the people to a new hope with a vision which speaks to all of us. This beautiful oracle speaks of a time when all the people of the world live in peace and harmony. They will recognise the one true God, for me a God of many names, the lover of all peoples. They will seek to learn what God expects from them, and no longer pursue war as a means of settling disputes. All people will be able to live in contentment and peace, secure and safe.
Jesus, we know, took time out. Surely it must have become almost too much for him. ‘Take this cup away’ we hear him plead in desperate agony and bloody sweat in the Garden of Gethsemane….’yet not my will but yours be done’, he prayed. And his hope and vision and faith in Love was not to be defeated, as we know.
Jesus who in the washing of the feet of his disciples offers the model for our acts of love. Jesus the one who will die for his friends. You know our English word ‘friends’ doesn’t fully convey the presence of love that undergirds the notion of love expressed in John’s Gospel and letters. What is meant by ‘friends’ is ‘those who are loved’, and in his giving of his life on the cross, Jesus demonstrates to all that they are no longer servants, but those who are loved, utterly, totally, and unconditionally. Such is God’s love.
And we are commanded to love as Jesus loved. ‘Go and bear fruit, fruit that will last’ he tells us. That is ‘go and do works of love, works that will last for they attest and point to the abiding presence of the God of love in reality of our world’. And by our fruits shall we be known.
Today, on this Remembrance Sunday, we remember all those who gave their lives in war. Caught in the hopeless, futility, the hostility and greed which has been in existence as long as human beings have lived on this planet, countless thousands gave their lives, countless thousands laid down their lives for their friends, and in hope for a better way.
As we survey the present state of our world, it is hardly surprising that those who work to bring peace and justice into this world, whether at the level of families, neighbourhoods, or nations, feel discouraged and ready to abandon their efforts. They have good reason to!
This Cathedral Church, like all our churches, stands however to encourage and embolden the faint hearted, to remind us of the abiding love of God, and the ultimate victory of God’s love. The vision of the world as God’s love would have it be, as we read in Micah, can refresh us. The love that Jesus loved, will not be denied. Those who gave their lives in the hope of a better way will not have given their lives in vain.
When you go home tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow we gave our today. May the sacrifice of these men and women, caught in the maelstrom of war be a fire to burn our hearts, of whatever age we may be, to pray, oh to pray so earnestly, and to be all that we can be as people of peace, to work for peace, For I am convinced that every little step we take for peace contributes to the universal yearning and establishment of peace, and every step we take that denies this peace, denies the faith we hold to.
You know God is blessing us. God is inspiring us. God is calling and touching us. And God does not force us. But we know that if we want to be truly alive, truly know love and meaning and fulfilment and the joy which is so much deeper than mere sensual satisfaction, we cannot resist this pushing within us to be all that we can be, to become the people God created us to be.