Sermon 8 May 2016

Sermon Sunday 8 May 2016, Westbourne Church

Easter 7 2016    Acts 16:16-34    Rev 22:12-14,16-17,20-end    John 17:20-end

The opening words from this portion of the revelation to John are frightening, “to repay according to everyone’s work.”  At first sight they cut across all that we believe and hope for in the free grace of God. The grace we believe to have been given at the point of crucifixion and resurrection. If we believe that the action of God at the cross was to deal with all the sinfulness of humanity what is John talking about when he says “according to everyone’s work?” That sounds like a judgment and perhaps it is but maybe it is perhaps a judgment we make upon ourselves. 

Perhaps it’s to do with free will. We do not have to follow God or God’s action in Jesus Christ, it is a matter of our own will or choice.  We hear much about choice these days.  Our politicians like the word because it makes systems sound human and a bit cuddly but the truth is rather different, choice is very limited in things like education and health or housing or location, limited in scope and limited by opportunity. Turning to God or not is very much a matter of choice and if it is the response to love it has to be free. We can be, if we wish, in the words of the Book of Common Prayer, “a notorious evil liver.” Though any advantage to not being so is difficult to see and you could say there is no advantage to virtue. No part of life is automatically given or withheld when we sign on the dotted line as a Christian person. Life will bring joys and sorrows in just the same old way. 

The slave girl who met Paul would remain a slave girl whatever she did or did not do to respond to God. What did happen was that she appealed to those around her to listen to her, that what she had to say would be heard.  We have come a long way since those days if not yet far enough in listening to people. With that came the realisation of her masters that she was not as valuable as she would have been had she not raised the issues of slavery among those on the street. It is a dangerous thing. The world today records many who have raised their voices only to be silenced and the world today holds many who do not listen. And slavery is not yet a thing of the past.

“Everyone’s work” as St. John puts it is about release. It probably begins with the release from self, the slavery we put ourselves under. It has many forms ranging from culture to convention to addiction to the need for acceptance, fashion, many things. To stand before God and the world without the weight of other people’s expectations is well-nigh impossible. To stand against the flow can be suicidal in terms of society and well-being as it all careers on. But it can be earth-shaking and where the earth is shaking the only way forward is rebuilding to make free those who are still bound.

Jesus’ prayer is that we may all be one. In its history the Church has sometimes interpreted that as all the same, uniform, but being one in purpose is nearer the mark. Moving from the binding of our humanity to the freedom of being known and forgiven is for individuals and for the world. How many times do we sit listening to a politician being interviewed and failing the answer a question or not saying sorry, I got it wrong?  We are always exasperated by the reluctance to step back and have another go but at the same time tend to deny the opportunity.

The repayment due following everyone’s work is to be forgiven.  It’s not a willy nilly wiping away because the scars remain but a loving forgiveness where the misdemeanour is remembered but not taken account of.  It has to be remembered in order to be forgiven and for the miscreant to be healed of it.  We are all one in the recognition of our need of that forgiveness and the human mutuality of it. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved wretch like me.” That saved me pressing the self-destruct button and made me understand what being loved means. Perhaps an Ascensiontide resolution might be to love the world a little more by engaging with some of those who are not loved and whose lives reflect that non-love to the world.


© 2016 Frank Wright

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