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Sermon: Choral Mattins - 3 July 2016

Sunday 3rd July 2016
Choral Mattins
II Samuel 15: 17-21
John 11:1-16
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O Saviour of the world, who by thy Cross and precious Blood hast redeemed us, Save us, save us and help us, we humbly beseech thee, O Lord.

Strengthen ye the weak hands - William Henry Harris.

On Friday, more than a thousand volunteer actors loitered in military uniform in stations and mingled with commuters in public squares. If spoken to, they remained silent; offering instead a card bearing the name, date of birth and rank of a man killed on the first day of the Somme. Periodically they broke into a song sang in the Trenches: we're here because we're here because we're here because we're here....

A tribute to the fallen. 
A piece of performance art. 
A making present of the past. 
A reminder that death impinges on life.

Archbishop Justin described WWI as a 'catastrophic political failure' and cited 'complacency about peace' as the biggest disaster we could have.  We face a turbulent time in our national life. When regions, families and generations are divided, it seems as if we are strangers to one another; yet in the condemnation of racism, we declare we are one flesh; we called to demonstrate love which casts out fear and reflects God's faithfulness.

Amidst disruption, we remember the ApostleThomas: pigeonholed as 'doubting' yet the one who made the bold declaration of faith, 'my Lord and my God'. This morning, we are plunged into two stories  which seem utterly unrelated to each other, disconnected to the Thomas we think we know, and apparently incomplete in themselves; we're left with cliff hanger moments.

Neither episode has an auspicious beginning:

David leaves Jerusalem.
Lazarus is gravely ill.

The first reading hints at some sort of political upheaval; it raises questions of belonging and loyalty. John meanwhile draws us into a moment of family crisis; Jesus words arouse our curiosity about love and death. In the midst of memories and experiences of uncertainty, perhaps these texts open up the possibility of self-examination and renewed hope.

The previous chapters of 2 Samuel have recounted political intrigue beyond anything we're likely to read about in the Sunday papers: betrayal, rape, division, violence, exile and espionage.  David's is usurped by his own son, Absalom, who successfully wins the hearts of the people with promises of justice.

In the face of such rebellion, King David pauses mid-flight and watches his officials and others pass by. It's a poignant moment:  looking back at Jerusalem, the seat of his power; looking towards the wilderness, an uncertain future. 

In the face of his son's disloyalty, who can he trust? Has he lost divine favour, will those marching past remain with him?

David encounters Ittai: a professional Philistine soldier, known to him. Perhaps this foreigner is more loyal than his own kin.  He addresses him saying, why are you here? Go back, a foreigner has no obligation to be with us; Go back, take your family, rest in the city; why wander about with a fleeing King?

Ittai offers unwavering loyalty. It is the outsider who sets aside self-interest; he exemplifies faithfulness and truth; he becomes a sign of assurance and comfort to a grieving king. He commits to being David's servant; dwelling with him, journeying alongside him; remaining steadfast in life and death. The stranger embodies a blessing of love and faithfulness.

Perhaps at this moment of loss and disruption, betrayal and dispossession, one act of human trust invites David to remember that God is with him.  It changes the way we hear those words: we're here because we're here...

In life and death, there's a glimpse of faithfulness.

In John's Gospel, we hear for the first time of Jesus' love for a particular person: Lazarus his friend; the one who is beloved. We hear of this love in the face of crisis: he's sick, his strength is fading. Yet Jesus speaks without alarm - this illness won't lead to death. He loves Lazarus, yet remains with the disciples. He speaks with assurance that the one who sleeps will awake.

What sort of love is this? 

The euphemism of sleep gives way to the unequivocal reality of death: it is love in the face of death; love that brings glory; which sheds light in darkness.

Now Jesus speaks of going to be with Lazarus - in death. Yet to go to him now is to risk losing his own life. In going to Judea, Jesus will weep at Lazarus' grave; he will be moved by the heartrending pain of grief that we know too well. He will also demonstrate his power over death in this particular act of love; and in so doing face his own death. The scandalous power of his love, revealed on the cross, reconciles the whole world to God.

In loving, Jesus embraces death.
This love is vulnerable in its solidarity.
Love that is with us: love that summons us to stand alongside others in their sorrow and fear.
In the words of the psalmist: Love that careth for the stranger.
We're here because we're here because we're here...
And Thomas says: let us go, that we may die with him.

Thomas is fearless; he's without doubt. Thomas speaks boldly not knowing the cost, but following light and love. Thomas stakes a claim to loyalty; he takes the first step towards the cross.

We too are called to walk in that way: we are called to solidarity with the other; called to life in the face of death.  

 Faithfulness to God demands love in the face of transience and turbulence. The way of the cross is an alternative to fearful isolation or intolerant nationalism. Echoing the example of Elie Wiesel, we can't remain silent. He said 'we must always take sides'; we must do this 'whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation'.

Thomas made a decision and so must we. His confession of Christ as Lord is ours too. 

We are called to love not indifference; to remain faithful in despair; to hold on to life in the face of death. Even in darkness, light shines.  By the power of the Spirit, may embrace the scandalous and vulnerable love of Christ; as God's pilgrim people, amongst commuters and in public spaces, we're here because we're here because... we embody that reconciling love, living with the other.