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Sermon preached on the second Sunday of Lent (4 March 2012) by The Reverend Canon Michael Hampel
The Reverend Canon Michael Hampel discovers the strength of prophecy when combined with humility and how those of us who have faith in Christ Jesus should all ultimately be prophets.
Isaiah 51: 1-11 Galatians 3: 1-9, 23-end
This season of Lent is the liturgical equivalent of the forty days and forty nights which Jesus spent in the wilderness putting himself to the test. This was God, in flesh and blood, experiencing – in reality and not in theory – the harsh, arid, and dark side of life so that, in rescuing people from the wilderness of their lives, he knew what he was talking about.
Lent is known – both inside and outside religious circles – as a time for giving things up. In religious terms, this is a symbolic way of denying oneself and taking up one’s cross which Jesus in the Gospels encourages us to do in order to signify ourselves as his disciples. And the talk is usually of giving up alcohol or chocolate – although more probably as a half-hearted attempt at healthy living than as a symbol of our discipleship.
In Michael Wilcox’s brilliant but little-known play ‘Lent’, Mrs Blake tells her grandson that she is giving up Dickens for Lent. The little boy reckons he’ll do the same, to which his grandmother replies, "It’s not the same for you".
The stirring and moving servant song of Isaiah which was our first reading this morning is rich in reassurance for hard-pressed and vulnerable people and it’s punctuated by the call ‘Listen to me’: a call to listen to the prophet; to listen to one who has himself listened – listened to the teaching of God; a call to listen to a fellow disciple – one who learns as well as teaches; a call to listen to one who is a servant.
It’s easy to mistake the role of prophets – to forget that prophecy, talking inspiringly about God, is more true and more valuable when it comes from those who recognise themselves as disciples of God and as servants of God.
In that reading from Isaiah, the prophet addresses God’s people by reminding them of their ancestry, of their heritage, of the rock from which they were hewn.
I sometimes think that we’re not very good at recognising the debt we owe to our forebears and the way in which they have shaped us.
Pliny the Younger questioned whether we are necessarily wiser than our ancestors and the recognition that we may not be is itself an act of humility that can remind prophets that they are as much disciples as prophets, as much inheritors of faith as purveyors of faith, as much servants of their material as masters of it.
Prophecy is the more eloquent if it is clothed with humility but, more than that, prophecy gains greater credence if it is expressed with humility. How often is ‘quiet wisdom’ cited as a greater virtue than clever journalese.
Perhaps something of Isaiah’s servant song should encourage us on a Lenten quest for humility.
Humility is itself testing and its garments are of the same weave as those of discipline and servility. To express an opinion in all humility adds lustre to debate. To pose a question in all humility enhances wisdom. To make a correction in all humility tempers community.
That’s how to do Christian prophecy. That’s how to be a prophet rather than a disciplinarian. That’s how to be children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
Those of us who have faith in Christ Jesus should all ultimately be prophets, not necessarily of the Isaiah or John the Baptist type but people who, inspired by God, can talk inspiringly about God – and, if not with words, then perhaps with actions, and certainly Lenten discipline can be an eloquent expression of faith.
But let that Lenten discipline be a search for humility. You will speak the more inspiringly – and the more prophetically – of God.
Let us pray. A prayer of Thomas Cranmer:
O thou who in almighty power wast weak, and in perfect excellency wast lowly, grant unto us the same mind. All that we have which is our own is naught; if we have any good in us it is wholly thy gift. O Saviour, since thou, the Lord of heaven and earth, didst humble thyself, grant unto us true humility, and make us like thyself; and then, in thine infinite goodness, raise us to thine everlasting glory; who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost be with us all evermore. Amen.