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Sermon: Choral Mattins - 19 July 2015

Sunday 19th July 2015
Choral Mattins
Deuteronomy 30: 1-10
1 Peter 3: 8-18
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What was the novel that shaped your childhood or your adolescence? For me, there was Black Beauty, Watership Down, Jane Eyre to name but a few.  Such stories have the power to help us make sense of the complexity of emotion and human decision making. The intimacy of a book, means we can't remain detached;  we learn through the lives of characters. We find inspiration in their endurance and are informed by the social vision they strive for and defend.

Fiction's capacity to connect us emotionally with human ideals is revealed in the reactions to the publication of Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman. Perhaps you encountered  Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird as a teenager; perhaps like me you only discovered him as an adult.  We admired him and he shaped our value system. He's someone who defended a black man and stood out as a champion of civil rights; his daughter's hero and his town's moral compass.

But in fiction as in life, it is more complicated than that. The moral hero has feet of clay.  We feel betrayed. The one whose goodness stood at the heart of a tale about racial justice was actually a character entangled in the fear and violence which undergirded a white-supremacist society. Watchman is uncomfortable. We see the world through adult eyes. Atticus' daughter is reappears, no longer the tomboy "Scout" of Mockingbird but the adult Jean Louise. She has to grow up; and she makes us grow up too. We are forced to confront inequality and injustice.

If we are dismayed to discover that fictional character does not bear our ideals but reveals our flaws, might we find hope in power of story to jolt us out of complacency?

If a novelist can tease out human failings and nudge us to a greater appreciation of virtue and empathy, how much more does attention to our biblical texts challenge and shape us?  When we read ancient texts like Deuteronomy or Peter's letter to an early Christian community, we are confronted by the frailty of our human condition and by God's desire to bless and transform us.  God is faithful to us; it is we who waver. Yet God's response is to continue to reach out to us with compassion.

Today's passage from Deuteronomy begins with a call to remember - to examine the blessings and challenges of life; and in that context to return to the Lord. That substance of that 'return' involves all that we are. We are to obey God with every fibre of our being: with mind, body, emotion and soul. We are to love with our whole self. For the people of Israel, loyalty and devotion to God was reflected not just in the physical marker of outward circumcision but in a change of heart. God is to be the main thing in our lives.

[If God is the focus of all that we are, all that we do reflects his love.  Aligning ourselves with his will in love shapes the way in which we walk in the world.]  God delights in his creation; we become fruitful when we live fully in relation to the one who gives us life. It isn't that simple though. Like Atticus, our characters aren't always consistent; our judgments don't always reflect the compassionate love of God.  That's what we mean by sin - our fractured relationships, our tendency to be selfish or preoccupied with our own desires. 

Our hearts are restless and we try to satisfy our longings in what we own or control, in our status and all that we place centre stage. Yet within us there is a deeper desire; a remembrance that we find our rest in God. In our worship we call to mind all that we are - our joys and disappointments - and give thanks that our frailty isn't the last word in this story. In Jesus Christ, God meets us where we are.

As we hear in our epistle: For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, in order to bring you to God.  God's love made manifest in Jesus brings healing to our humanity.  The fragmented and dislocated parts of our lives are restored; by the power of his Spirit we continue to grow into the people God calls us to be.  Peter, in his final exhortations, speaks of this unity in the Spirit reshaping our lives.  We grow in our sympathies and love for the other, our hearts are opened and minds humbled.

His words continue to challenge us: we may not face suffering for our faith, but moment by moment we have to ask if our speech reflects the love of God and the values of God's Kingdom. We are to be channels of blessing - refusing to repay evil for evil. If we seek the peace of God - at the very heart of our lives - we are to pursue in our dealings with others.  If Christ is honoured in our hearts, we must honour him in our actions and in our words. In that way we give an account of the hope that is within us.

The hope that God is in Jesus Christ drawing all things to himself; that the power of the Spirit at work in us, and in God's world, continues that work of reconciliation. God's desire is to bless his creation; our calling in Christ is to directed towards others, that they may be drawn back into fellowship with God through Christ; strengthen by the Spirit we share in witness, compassion and worship.

We may have feet of clay, but we are blessed and called to be a blessing to others. In world where so many are consumed by work to survive or to acquire wealth; where many are lonely and relationships fracture, we are to live lives that reflect God's desire for us. We are to delight in God as God delights in us. We are to reveal the glory of God as we relate to each other and our world: with sympathy, love, humility and tender hearts.

A prayer of Theresa of Avila:

Trust in God
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you;
All things pass:
God never changes.
Patience achieves
all it strives for.
He who has God
Finds he lacks nothing.
God alone suffices