Sermon preached on the Third Sunday of Epiphany (26 January 2014) by the Reverend Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor

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Sermon preached on the Third Sunday of Epiphany (26 January 2014) by the Reverend Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor

The Reverend Canon Michael Hampel looks at prophecy and testimony and concludes that they are the 'vehicles whereby divine and human encounter one another'.

Amos 3: 1-8 1 John 1: 1-4

Our two short readings from scripture this morning present us with prophecy and testimony.

In the case of our first reading from Amos, we hear a rather defensive prophet using a whole series of images to convince his listeners that, if it weren’t absolutely the case that God had told him to say the sorts of things he is saying, he wouldn’t be saying them.

It’s interesting to consider that, when people say that today, we advise them to seek medical assistance.

But Amos was speaking 2800 years ago and the passage of time always seems to impress us so that venerable becomes sacred which becomes divine. As to whether it was divine in the first place, we only have Amos’s word for it.

And then, in our second reading from John, we hear the voice of one who testifies to having seen Jesus, literally with his eyes. And, if it is true that this letter was written by the author of the fourth gospel, then we can be fairly confident that what he says is indeed true – but only if the author of the fourth gospel is the same John whom we understand to be the beloved disciple who lay against Jesus’s breast at the Last Supper. And we only have his word for that.

So: the prophecy of Amos and the testimony of John – is one more convincing than the other? Do they both stand the passage of time? How objective can they really be?

Well, the simple answers to those questions are, of course, No, Yes, and Very – because they are canonical writings of the Old and New Testaments and have an inalienable and unquestionable place in the sacred scriptures of the Christian Church.

That’s true – although one can but reflect on the what ifs of all of that: What if the minutes of the Synod of Hippo Regius in North Africa of 393 when the current contents of the Bible appear to have been accepted for the first time had not been lost? What if the list of contents agreed at that Synod differed from that reported to the Councils of Carthage in 397 and 419? What if St Augustine under whose authority those Councils met had not regarded the canon as being already closed? And so one could go on.

After all, the Eastern Church took till the sixth century to agree to include the Book of Revelation in the canon and, in the sixteenth century, Martin Luther wanted to remove Hebrews, Jude, James and Revelation from the canon partly because they didn’t quite fit protestant doctrine. He didn’t succeed.

It’s fascinating stuff and worth remembering when someone next tries to bash you with his Bible.

But I want to go back to Amos and John for a moment. I am inspired by their writings and I am drawn closer to God by their writings.

And I am so because I learn that Amos was a sheep farmer and cultivated mulberry figs and was passionate about folk religion because he was close to the earth and knew the seasons and the festivals that punctuated life in the harsh rural climate just south of the border between Israel and Judah. His book is about social justice and judgement on those who fail to show mercy towards the outcast and the downtrodden so that, taken as a whole – the man, his background, his experience, his context, his sayings and their survival – I hear prophecy and I hear divine prophecy.

And so with John: whether this was the man who lay against the breast of Jesus that last night or not, I hear the poetry of a man writing in the shadow of Jesus whose immediate community believe or want to believe that they have indeed seen with their eyes and touched with their hands the truth – and I am transported to my first visit to Rome to see the sites of Christian pilgrimage and remember the wise words of my guide that, even if they are not the physical truth, they are drenched with the prayers – not to mention the hopes and fears – of the faithful and what God would not pitch his tent where prayer has been valid?

And so prophecy and testimony – as part of the divine revelation which we celebrate at Epiphany – are not a litmus test of faith (leave that to the Pharisees – and there are plenty of them around) but rather the vehicles whereby divine and human encounter one another and we discover that we stand on holy ground, surrounded by Amos and John and angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. And we hear Christ’s words: There am I in the midst of you.

Let us pray:

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth. Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your holy presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore. Amen.