Sermon for the Third Sunday before Lent
17th Feb 2019
Sermon for the Third Sunday before Lent
The Collect for this morning:
O Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men and women: Grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
When Christians speak of the heart they are never romantic. The heart for the Christian is the place of decision making, of conversion. The heart is the centre of our personal gravity as it finds that true centre in God. But our Old Testament ready has the human heart as “devious above all else” The so-called beatitudes, blessings given to the ones who come close to God in actions that proceed from a deep roots.
Today’s collect asks that we may be given grace to love what God commands and to desire what God promises. This is no romantic or idealised love but the willing response to the love of God in which ‘true joys are to be found’. It is in communion with God that we find our true selves and the true meaning of our lives. Amid the many ‘changes and chances of this fleeting world’, the collect continues in the hope that we may find our true rest in His ‘eternal changelessness’. This teaching calls us to attention. It is a deeply spiritual teaching. It calls for a relationship with God which is profoundly rooted and committed. This is a far cry from the romantic love which is as we say ‘away with the fairies’.
In the call to rooted and grounded love. Scripture reminds us to be persevering and steadfast. Paul reminds the Corinthians that beyond their petty factions, their personal vanity and their worldliness they are, nonetheless ‘God’s field; God’s building.’ (1 Cor 3.9) They are his creation and part of his plan. God has made them and the love for his own creatures never ceases, even though they are ‘still of the flesh’. But strong hope lies in the people themselves and in the solemn pledge of their perseverance in the Christian Way.
“Spiritual life grows as love finds its centre beyond ourselves. Faithful and committed relationships offer a door into the mystery of spiritual life in which we discover that the more we give of self, the richer we become in soul; the more we go beyond ourselves in love, the more we become our true selves and our spiritual beauty may be more fully revealed. It is of course very hard to wean ourselves away from self-centredness. And people can only dream of doing such a thing. For this hope to be fulfilled it is necessary that a solemn decision be made by us - whatever the difficulties, we are committed to the way of generous love.”
The Rt. Rev’d. Dr. Richard Chartres, former Bishop of London.
It is more important than ever, when public debate over serious issues like Brexit is overrun by personalities bearing opinions that are ill conceived and ill-advised or that are charged with more heat than light, that we need to keep our heads. Christians are not airy-fairy thinkers. Our view of life is tempered by the message of Christ which is God’s love for this world and his care for every part of it. For what we are being called to this morning is none other than the complete Christian spiritual life which will always be tested by the world we inhabit.
It is to help us, then that Jesus does not speak of God’s love without his own strong vision of a world transformed by that love. Above all he sees human love as God’s transforming agent. He turns the expected order upside down. His beatitudes’ are reserved for the poor, the persecuted and the suffering. Shockingly, Jesus cites the lives of the Old Testament prophets in their cause. They were persecuted and even put to death for the cause of right. Consequently the people of human consequence, serving their own needs before the needs of others are remembered as they have always been looked up to, even in the time of the prophets. In speaking as a prophet himself, Jesus job is to point the way, to describe a world in which God’s Kingdom, which is not quite of this world, is to come into being.
The Bishop of London’s Visitation last month concluded at 5 pm with a final meeting in which she echoed the view that the future existence of the Christian Church – its heart - would be more than ever informed and determined by the voices, the stories and the lives of the poor. The poor of this great city of London: economic migrants, coupled with the great diversity of religious, ethnic and social backgrounds and languages bids us in the twenty-first century to love diversity and difference not as a tidy piece of political correctness but as the acceptance of the challenge to love with more heart and more imagination than we ever have before.