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Sermon: Christ Church, Esher

Sunday 12th October 2014
Christ Church, Esher
Proverbs 3:1-18
1 John 3: 1-15

I suppose we must ask of ourselves... two fundamental questions: 1) Are you happy with things the way they are? And 2) Do you believe that things could be better?


Perhaps those are questions we mull over from time to time - when we consider our working lives or the challenges facing the communities within which we live worship.  Perhaps they are questions we as we celebrate the vitality of our churches - as we seek to be a blessing, by weaving together the stuff of life with the story of God.

Those 'fundamental' questions are posed by Russell Brand in his latest book Revolution.  Some of you may recall Brand's heated interview with Jeremy Paxman last year in which he called for protest against the ruling elite; he believes that capitalism is kaput because it will only increase inequality; he wants people to be informed and activated to think about the 'what next?'

In interviews, we catch a glimpse of Russell Brand as someone who has had to change his beliefs.  He is no longer enamoured of what he describes as the 'glistening spectacle' of fame and wealth; he is using his six-figure book advance to pursue systemic change through projects run by those in recovery from addiction.  The change he seeks isn't just revolutionary politics; it is politics mixed with faith; a spiritual revolution. 

His language is passionate - characterised by Dickensian hyperbole; his rhetoric is challenging.  He explores the way in which co-operation is inhibited by materialism; he weighs the cost of privilege in terms of poverty and an absence of meaning. He's accused of being just another celebrity unable to offer an alternative.  But with his YouTube clips of what he calls "Trews" or true news are seen by 100,000s he is having an impact on a generation.  

Almost 500 sixth formers, the Russell Brand generation if you like, filled Guildford Cathedral on Friday for a Question Time event. Judging from the quality of the questions and their articulate, challenging and imaginative responses to our panel, those young people are not happy with the way things are; but they clearly believe that things can be better.

Whereas Brand encourages them to disengage from the existing democratic systems, they were passionate about wanting to vote at 16. They discussed equal marriage, happiness and human flourishing; they sought a wise and compassionate approach to political and ethical challenges. They confronted the cost of working towards a more equitably and peaceable society. 

Brand doesn't have all the answers; nor does he have a monopoly on a vision for the common good.  We, as brothers and sisters in Christ, inhabit a story of God's ways with the world; but we also abide in the world in all its complexity.  We have a calling rooted in love; we have a commitment to the pursuit of wisdom; a longing for reconciled relationships. 

In your common life, you acknowledge that things could be better: you are committed to helping people to endure and transcend their situations; knowing that resilience enables to be more compassionate and altruistic.  You recognise that things can be better, seeking to restore people to wholeness and offering guidance in living well. Your longing and your hope, worked out in human lives, is profoundly rooted in God; in his reconciling love.

Tonight's readings confront us with the hope of our calling.  The offer us assurance in God's purposes; they challenge us to pay attention to God and world. As we celebrate 160 of witness in this parish, the call to love and wisdom is our inspiration, our identity and our raison d'être. Love and wisdom are God's gifts to us; the very well spring of our life. They equip us to be the body of Christ - committed to the work of reconciling, sustaining, healing and guiding.

Proverbs roots wisdom in God: it is not something we find within ourselves; it is not something we can attain by intellectual effort or study. The pursuit of wisdom is an invitation into a practical relationship of trust. The image of a child captures the intimacy and dependency of that. Wisdom is about the whole person; it should be made manifest in all that we do. 

We are called to trust in God; to walk in the way of his commandments; placing his creative, redeeming & sustaining love at the heart of our lives.  That centring of our lives on God is reflected in our shared corporate practices. The fact that we gather in worship is an example of that deep and loving attention to God in praise and thanksgiving; bringing all our longings and fears to him; receiving forgiveness & hope. We are called to a pattern of holy living - practicing those habits of love in the ordinary things.

That isn't always a comfortable place to be: it disrupts our priorities and expectations.  It might mean bearing patiently with the person who frustrates us, or who finds us difficult. Yet those incremental shifts in virtue shape us and our relationships; as we ourselves are shaped by receiving the love of God - the abundance of his compassion, forgiveness and mercy.  We attend to God who is entirely generous to us; in order that we might take the risks he demands of us.

God is the source of wisdom: the foundation of the world and source of life.  In worship we attend to the intensity of that divine light as it refines, inspires and illumines our thoughts and actions.  Yet that light is also refracted in the world too.  Just as a strangely beautiful band of colour is glimpsed when light shines through a prism.  We are called to attend to God in that spectrum of yellows, greens and violets; we are pursue the Spirit's gift of wisdom with as we engage with art, politics and science; as we collaborate with those of faith and good will in our communities.  To acknowledge that we are not wise in our own sight extends and liberates our curiosity. Wisdom is measured by love of God: the one who stills our restlessness.

Such is the breadth and depth of that love, that we are called children of God.   The message we have from the beginning is to abide in that love; and to love one another. The first epistle of John sets out the challenge of that in a series of binaries. 

We are caught between the now and the not yet; between the messy complexity of life in the world and the time when God will draw all things to himself.  We know the fragility of our human nature - our human propensity to make mistakes, to wound others with our selfishness or pride; but we also have the assurance of the hope that is within us, of our Christ-likeness which is a process of becoming more fully who we are called to be.

Are you happy with how things are? Do you think things could be better? Our epistle perhaps prompts us to say 'no' and 'yes'.  John writes both of that common sense realism; perhaps akin a Archbishop Justin's recognition of the untidiness of the church. John also writes of the high spiritual expectations of the community of faith; aligned perhaps with the priorities Justin has set for us - renewal of prayer, commitment to reconciliation and witness. Christ has overcome sin and death: that is our ultimate reality.  We will be like him. That is our hope & assurance.

Last year, Brand wrote in the New Statesman:  ‘what does it matter if 2,000 years ago Christ died on the cross and was resurrected if we are not constantly resurrected to the truth, anew, moment to moment?’  Tonight, let's reclaim that hope; let's embody that calling.

What does it matter, if Christ lived, died and rose again – if that power isn’t living an active in us, his body, day by day; decision by decision?  To live as people rooted in God; we pay attention to the needs of the world.  Wisdom flows from obedience to God; wisdom is revealed in our love of the other.

That is a spiritual revolution with practical consequences. Here in prayer and praise our vision is renewed and our lives are reshaped; here we are equipped to fulfil God’s purposes in the world.  Here in this place, you offer a warm welcome; space for fun and flourishing; you are alert to the potential for transformation, wrought in us by God's Spirit, for the good of the community you serve and for the sake of his Kingdom. In power of spirit, may we witness, across our Diocese, to the generous love of God, revealed in Jesus Christ. Amen.