Monday, 19 November 2007

Sermon preached in Hanmer Anglican Church Yesterday

Sermon at Hanmer Anglican Church Nov 18th
Luke 21: 5-19

May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight oh God our strength and our redeemer.
When I was invited by the Diocesan Ministry Adviser to preach here today I would have to say I felt rather honoured, then I read the title of today’s Gospel “Signs of the End of the Age” great! Here was a sign one that said very clearly “Be careful what you wish for”.

In Luke Jesus’ tells his disciples of his departure and of the chaos and persecution that will follow. He talks of portents and signs, of destruction and betrayal. Of bejeweled temples rendered as to dust, of false prophets and persecution. I often wonder what a stranger who following the signs to church today would make of this text:

"Nation rising against nation, great earthquakes (5.4on the Richter scale here in the last fortnight), famines, pestilence, fearful events and great signs from heaven.
If that isn’t scary enough, for those contemplating Christianity Jesus then says about his followers (that’s us by the way.)

They will persecute you, deliver you to prisons, you will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death.

Not exactly the fluffy message of hope for those contemplating Christianity. Advertising campaigns entitled “Come join the family of Christ and be persecuted” generally don’t tend to get the Fair Goes Commercial of the Year Award.

Such persecution was then, and indeed still is in many parts of the world, very much a reality. If we let them, these first destruction filled passages can overwhelm us, leave us afraid, and in times when our own worlds fall apart, leave us fearful of a personal, communal, or global end of times. We are after all, a people of signs, we use them unconsciously every day, and at times of great suffering we seek them out like never before.

Luke was just such a seeker of signs; he after all lived at a time of great persecution. Luke the gentile, the physician, the seeker, was a man passionate about discovery, a man desperate to understand this Christ, who had entered his heart and refused to let go. A man who not only understood signs but also at times how these signs can overshadow the message.

And to be honest I myself, at times of stress, am no different. I too seek signs. This church has become very much a sign for me. A year ago after a when my mother and father in law nearly died, God being God, decided I didn’t have enough stress in my life and placed before me the possibility of ordination. Did I leave my relative comfort for a life dedicated to the service of the church? With so many questions buzzing around my head, I came, here in the middle of winter for a weeklong silent retreat.

The signs as far as I could tell were actually pointing in all directions. I needed the time to clear my head, to dedicate my time, to listen to God. Actually what I really wanted was a reason, a direction, I wanted a decision an encounter with God to me through the madness.

When you come on such a retreat there’s a time of settling into silence, of getting into a routine. The Reverend Boss with all her tenderness and care guided me on this retreat; we met here in church, four times a day in prayer and for Eucharist.
And this was good; I’d have to say it wasn’t long before I began to feel rather holy. I could do this; I had the look, it must be a sign...

It was the second night when sitting here in semi darkness the church door flew open and a man stumbled in. As I practicing being particularly holy at this moment kept my eyes firmly on the Gospel (least I miss a sign) as this man, who was weary, wild, hungry and homeless and pretty ripe, stumbled up the isle and joined us in prayer.

Settling back into silence our calm was once more disrupted when his cell phone rang loudly through the church to the tune of “I’m too sexy for my shirt”. About this time any shred of piety went out the window.

The man shared with us that he had come here because once many years ago he had been in rehabilitation at Queen Mary hospital and with it gone he had looked for a reference point, a sign- for him a steeple. You see he knew that where there was a church, this church, there would be church people who would take care of him until he’d recovered enough to carry on with his journey.

His turning up presented your vicar with a bit of a dilemma. The bed she would normally give him to sleep in was taken by me. In the end she gave him her nursing sister look – a look she told me she had used to drop a junior Dr at 50 paces. She told him he was welcome to sleep in the church but that “nothing what so ever was to be damaged or taken or there could very well be hell to pay”. And then she opened her heart, she fed him, made him warm, and we made him up a bed down there at the back of the church.

In the days that followed in the midst of my own inner turmoil, this man would join us through the day, sometimes in the early hours still in his sleeping bag he would hop his way up the isle to join us in morning prayer. Always reading a little slower a little more carefully than us, I remember his Amen would echo just that little bit later through this church.
I came to value his presence; one of the things I loved was that all his uncoordinated messiness that spilled everywhere around him on the outside, pretty much reflected how I felt on the inside.

Yet In the middle of his own life traumas (that were extensive), this mans faith and expectation that he would be cared for, and fed by,
the body of the Church,
by Christ’s body,
by us,
was a gift.

Half way through my stay he left, heading off up north to find some friends who would give him a bed for winter. The day he went I walked him to the place where he hoped to hitch a lift.
“You don’t say much” he said to me.
I smiled, I was after all on a silent retreat.
“Sign of a listener”

On returning here to this church that evening I found Anne sitting as she had every day as she journeyed with me on this retreat. She told me with tears in her eyes how the man whose name I can not to this day recall, as he left had handed her a till receipt from your local supermarket. She had given him money for a feed but both of us had feared the very real possibility that the money would be spent on alcohol or drugs. He had given it to her as he left so that she would see that he had been trustworthy, to show her that he had spent the money on food.

We sat here the two of us that night in silence, humbled and blessed by a simple sign, a piece of paper from a man who understood what it was to have to embody the second part of our Gospel reading where Jesus not only speaks about the destruction and mayhem we will all live through, but gives us a message, a sign of hope that in him we can live through such times in faith.

Make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. Not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life. In the original Greek by standing firm you will gain sozo -breath, Life, salvation, .Body, mind and spirit by. staying the course experiencing the sorrow and the joy you are delivered lifted above trouble
In a till receipt, in an unguarded moment, in times of desolation and turbulence, Christ offers us his hand as a sign of peace,
We need merely reach out and take it.

No comments: