Sermon preached at Eucharist on the Birth of John the Baptist (24 June 2018) by Revd Helen O'Sullivan, Chaplain
The Chaplain reflects on the immersive power of God's love, and asks, following the example of John the Baptist, "what commitment can we make today to follow in the footsteps of the one who pointed to Christ".
It seems entirely appropriate to be celebrating the feast of the Birth of John the Baptist, with all the imagery of immersion that Baptism calls to
mind, with the first of our orchestral masses, which offer us an exceptional experience of total emersion in worship.
Of course worship should always be an immersive experience but the added dimension of the orchestra stimulates (in me at least) a very particular physiological response - as I am swept away by one voice and one instrument after another.
Add to that the extraordinary environment we find ourselves in under Wren’s dome, with its often astonishing surround sound, and the best analogy I can come up with would be of putting on one of those virtual reality headsets and finding ourselves in an alternative reality. I’ve never tried that - but I imagine it to be just a little bit like this!
Here we are in this moment, in this Eucharist, plugged into an alternative reality, in which we understand ourselves to be in the presence of the living God, in word and in sacrament, through which we are recreated reconstituted - by being reminded that we have been reconciled to God in Christ, and welcomed to share his risen life in bread and wine. We are, if this is working for us, at one, one with the whole company of heaven, one body, as we share one bread. Of course it won’t always feel that way for us, that real for us, but not infrequently here, we find ourselves submerged in the beauty of holiness.
The Dominical sacraments - those instituted by Christ - the Eucharist we celebrate and Baptism - which is recalled by association with this feast of John the Baptist and in our first reading from Galatians - and all the sacraments are simply (!) and most wonderfully a representation of the way things really are. So if this is how things really are, then as we leave here today how will this reality of being immersed in the divine life, find expression in our everyday lives. Do we have that same sense of communion, of connectedness that we sometimes if not always glimpse in sacred space, out there.
Perhaps too often we find ourselves day to day feeling disconnected, rather than at one with. How often do we find ourselves on the outside looking in, unsure of where we fit in, if we fit in, if we belong, where we belong.
Lonely, confused, uncertain about the future, fearful or anxious about our relationships or our work? Not able to trust ourselves, and others.
And if we happen to be lucky enough to be in a wonderful period of at one ness in our lives - how do reach those around us who we can see are struggling with dis-ease.
By faith. By faith.
And by faith I definitely don’t mean a set of beliefs, I think statements of faith often get in the way of faith, by faith I mean a naive trust in God’s love for us.
Day to day we put our trust quite readily in so many things that are self-evidently untrustworthy;
• our senses which deceive us,
• another’s distorted opinion of ourselves or of others,
• believing that whatever is top news or trending really is the most important thing happening in the world today.
Why then, when we are so open to suggestion - is faith in God’s love for us a challenge too far for us?
Faith was such a challenge for Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father who served as a priest in the temple, that he was struck dumb by the revelation of God’s love for him, and for his wife Elizabeth.
Faith is a challenge because God’s ways are not our ways. Our human scheme is deserving and undeserving, more deserving or less deserving, punishment and reward, in every way - conditional.
God’s gratuitous unconditional giving to us is, for many, just too good to be true and yet the comprehension of this gift in the birth of his son, is what enabled Zechariah to have faith in the vision of an angel and name the child John - it might seem a small thing to us but it signalled a radical departure from tradition and expectation. Zechariah and Elizabeth’s future was going to be different from their past.
Is mine, is yours? Is this revelation of God’s love for us here today going to help us to comprehend our lives, ourselves, our potential, and other’s - differently - without the limits of our human perspective.
What would having a divine view of reality, of ourselves and others look like?
The letter to the Galatians speaks of our being clothed with Christ in Baptism. This is my favourite bit of the Baptism service, proclaiming to those who have been Baptised that they have put on Christ. But whether or not you have been Baptised, Christ’s sharing of our humanity infuses it all, with his divinity.
The sacraments are simply a sign of what already is, true and real, not virtual or alternative but actual, concrete, in the fabric of our being.
In our last adult learning event which you’ll find online, we looked at paradoxes in our faith and this is perhaps the most intriguing for me that the more we put on Christ the more truly ourselves we become.
In a few moments we will hear the Credo from today’s Grosse Credomesse, so called because of its repetition of Credo Credo, I believe, I believe. Faith doesn’t need to be a complicated set of propositions; it can be simple, although it is - inevitably - demanding.
As we are immersed in the beauty of sound and space may we know ourselves to be clothed with Christ and consider where in our lives to which we will shortly return, we are hesitant, or struggling to connect, where do we need to have faith, and how we might begin to comprehend the divine perspective of what is possible for us and for others in these situations.
Where do we find ourselves lost for words as Zechariah was and how might God open our mouths and free our tongues. And after the example of John the Baptist, what commitment can we make today to follow in the footsteps of the one who pointed to Christ.