Sermon preached on the Second Sunday of Epiphany (19 January 2014) by the Reverend Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor

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Sermon preached on the Second Sunday of Epiphany (19 January 2014) by the Reverend Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor

The Reverend Canon Michael Hampel looks at truth and revelation and concludes 'God has been in the business of revelation from the beginning of the world'.

I Corinthians 1: 1-9 John 1: 29-42

The Elizabethan theatregoers over the river loved conundrum in rather the same way that we in our own day love detective stories. They loved plays in which everything was topsy turvy until someone sorted it all out so that, by the end of the play, everything was resolved which, at the beginning of the play, had been unresolved.

And what they particularly enjoyed, as members of the audience, was the business of being privy to more information than certain characters in the play had access to. These sorts of plays are typified by the plays of William Shakespeare which we call comedies. A Shakespearean comedy isn’t so much a play with a plot line that makes us laugh all the way through – although they often have amusing characters and situations which are indeed hilarious – but they are chiefly defined by having at their heart a problem or a conundrum which is resolved by the end of the play.

And disguise is the principal device by which the conundrum is resolved.

So, in ‘As You Like It’, we the audience know that the young man called Ganymede who takes Celia and Touchstone into the Forest of Arden to search for the much wronged Duke Senior, is actually Rosalind – Duke Senior’s daughter.

In ‘The Merchant of Venice’, we know that the young lawyer whose brilliant advocacy saves Antonio’s life is really Portia whose fiancé Bassanio is responsible for the plight in which Antonio finds himself.

And, in ‘Measure for Measure’, we know that the Friar who watches at close range the corruption of the state at the hands of Angelo, the acting ruler, is actually the Duke himself for whom Angelo is supposed to be deputising.

In other words, we in the audience know the truth. We also know that the identity of the protagonist will ultimately be revealed and that the conundrum or problem at the heart of the plot will eventually be resolved so that everyone can live – to coin a phrase – ‘happily ever after’.

This is what Shakespearean comedy means and it means, if you think about it, that comedy is about redemption.

And possession of the truth by us the audience encourages us to know that, ultimately – even in the face of the darkest of conundrums and the most extreme of problems – all will be well. Because revelation will lead to resolution which will lead to redemption.

Something similar happens in the modern detective novel where the reader is presented with all of the evidence needed to work out whodunnit. The challenge for the reader is to try and work it out before the detective reveals who the murderer is. And, even if we can’t work it out, we can nevertheless admire the way in which the detective reveals the truth.

And, although in this case, the truth isn’t presented to us in quite the same way as it is in a Shakespearean comedy, the fact remains that we the readers are presented by the novelist with all of the evidence necessary to solve the case so that the murderer can be revealed and the crime be resolved.

So, two different literary devices by which truth is revealed: one of which has us in possession of the truth so that we can watch how other people react to it and the other of which tests us to work out what the truth might mean.

And that’s a pretty neat summary of what it means to be possessors of Christian truth in the 21st century. The identity of Christ has been revealed to us by faith and yet our proclamation of the truth can only ever be read by people outside our communities of faith like the pages of a detective novel – awaiting the moment of revelation for them which is yet to come.

When John, the writer of this morning’s gospel lesson, has John the Baptist state quite clearly at the very beginning of his gospel: ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!’, he is categorically revealing the identity of Jesus in the light of which the whole of the rest of his gospel is read.

When we in our own day say to people who stand on the edges of faith or who have no faith, ‘Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (and the priest will say these words later in this service), we are presenting the truth as it has been revealed to us but, for some people, that truth is still veiled and awaits revelation when, like the denouement of a Shakespeare play or a detective novel, the mask is lifted and suddenly it all makes sense.

It’s important to remember that John the Baptist knew Jesus long before the moment of revelation occurred in the River Jordan when the Spirit descended and remained on him. He knew Jesus but he didn’t know that he was the Messiah until that point.

Those of us who possess faith, to whom the identity of Jesus has been revealed, who possess the truth: have had our moment of revelation. We may not have been aware of it; it may have been gradual; it may have been a dramatic moment (and please note that all three of those experiences are equally valid – despite what some of our more excitable fellow Christians might claim).

But others haven’t. And, although there’s plenty of time – remember: God waits to be gracious to us, the Church nevertheless needs great leaders and teachers and inspirers to be the detectives who reveal to other people what John the Baptist told Andrew which Andrew told his brother: that Jesus is the Son of God and that we have found the Messiah.

It won’t be sorted out as easily as the case of the body in the library but the truth is laid out before us: in the pages of scripture; in the lives of the saints; in the teaching of the Church; in the face of friend and stranger; and indeed in the conundrums and problems of this world. And God is the author of this drama. The conundrum at the heart of it was resolved on the cross and, although the process of revelation is ongoing, God has been in the business of revelation from the beginning of the world and, from I can tell, the Holy Spirit is as active as ever.