Sermon: Listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches

 
Preacher:
Julie Gittoes
Date:
Sunday 25th November 2012
Service:
Mattins
Readings:
Isaiah 32:1-8
Revelation 3: 7-end

Recently, this imperative has echoed in my mind not so much as a command, but a question. What is the Spirit saying to the churches?

In Revelation, the words addressed to the seven named churches are particular – rooted in the challenges, opportunities, delights and failings of their own context.  The words are also universal – for in all cases we are reminded of God’s faithfulness to us in the complexity of our own context.

Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King: on the last Sunday of the church’s year, we give thanks for the hope that is in us as his love rules in our hearts.  Such kingship is revealed in the mystery of God’s loved revealed in a speechless infant; a love articulated in the words and deeds of Jesus’ ministry; a love that cries out for us on the cross; a love that calls us by name in the resurrection; a love that ignites us with the gift of power from on high. 

That word “love” is so familiar; and yet so difficult.   It’s a practical discipline. And it’s costly, and inconvenient.  It means choosing what not to say; it finds meaning in the unpredictable act of compassion.

Revelation reminds us that even in our powerlessness and vulnerability, God knows that we endeavour to keep his name.  In the midst of patient endurance, God calls us by name.

In moments of relief or embarrassment, anger or loss, God is still God. His faithfulness to his creation endures forever, leaving open a door for us.  When we waiver and lack trust, Jesus remains the Lord of all.  When we despair and wonder if we have strength to continue, the Holy Spirit still kindles in us the fire of his love.

God loves us.  In baptism ministry we are given a new name and ministry  is entrusted to us. We are called to give all that we are – in body, mind and spirit – in love in order that the world might know Jesus.  Men and women, young and old, strong and weak are called into that service.  We are different. We disagree.  The question is how do we handle difference? How do we live through disagreement?  We are brothers and sisters; we should not condemn nor despise. 

We are to love.  We are to differ in amity not enmity as Bishop Justin put it.

There have been words of anger and sadness this week. Our Archbishop has spoken of wilful blindness and unintelligibility. The Prime Minister calls for the church to be given a ‘sharp prod’ and journalists are quick to undermine. Many are bewildered, others are relieved.  The world looks on and moves on. 

Listen!

What do we hear when we stay with hurt and failure?  When it feels as if our consciences break, what do we hear?  When we wait in silence, what do we hear?   

The faint echo of love?

Earlier this week, Rowan Williams reflected St John of the Cross saying:  Where there is no love, put love and you will find love. Such words are echoed in a poem by Michael Leunig posted on facebook by our Canon Theologian Paula Gooder:

Love is born
With a dark and troubled face
When hope is dead
And in the most unlikely place,
Love is born
Love is always born.

 Love is born in the most unlikely of places: in a stable, on a stormy lake, amongst tax collectors and prostitutes, on a cross, in a tomb, amongst tears of grief and betrayal.  Then and there and now, our Lord asks “do we love?”

Love is born. Where there is no love, put love and you will find love.  Love  becomes the ground of hope,  trust generosity of spirit and mutual affection.  When we have a dark and troubled face, for the sake of our brothers and sisters, listen, quietly.  For love.

We celebrate a King who died and was raised. He stands alongside in places of pain and loss; he waits for us in reconciliation and healing.  That is the narrative of our redemption: a story which has the capacity to transform our stories in this present moment; a King who brings out of our past a new vision and a renewed discipleship.

Listen! The spirit is calling the churches to be agents of peace and reconciliation. We are to seek a Kingdom of justice and righteousness; a place of shelter, shade and abundant refreshment.  Such is the vision of the Kingdom set out by Isaiah. 

At a Cathedral Church we are called to welcome and inspire tourists, pilgrims and worshipers, we are called to encourage parishes across this diocese, we are called to support our Bishops in engagement with the world. Our baptism vocation is for the sake of the other; for the sake of the Kingdom; for the sake of building the new Jerusalem.

It is a demanding task.  It means listening.  It means being before God as we are, in the hope that his love will be born in us.   In attentiveness and patient endurance, we cultivate a Christ like character. We are called to speak from that place, said Rowan, so that the world might look at us and see Christ.

The challenge to do this in the midst of difference demands the kind of patience few of us have, or even understand. Such patience flows from loving recognition.  A Quaker theolgian and friend of mine, Rachel Muers, wrote in her blog today about: recognition of ‘a neighbour with whom one is obliged to live, into the future, as part of one’s own calling... finds a difference and is prepared to wait, if need be indefinitely, for it to become a gift.  Is confidence enough to see past the fear of being wrong... taking the puzzling negotiation of intractable differences one step at a time’.

Listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.
And in the most unlikely place
Love is born.

Amen.