Sermon preached at Eucharist on the Fourth Sunday of Epiphany (28 January 2018) by the Revd Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor

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7:30am Morning Prayer
8:00am Eucharist
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12:30pm Eucharist
4:00pm Last entry for sightseeing
5:00pm Choral Evensong

Sermon preached at Eucharist on the Fourth Sunday of Epiphany (28 January 2018) by the Revd Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor

The Precentor calls us to recognise that "Giving in to Christ is not about being childish and it’s certainly not being spineless. It is about capturing and releasing the power of the imagination to let God’s people flourish and grow."


Who is this woman in the passage from Revelation which we’ve heard this morning?

During this season of Epiphany, it would be reasonable for our minds to fly to the Virgin Mary and the birth of the Messiah and certainly one of the sources which the writer of Revelation uses to construct his visions has manipulated an old Greco-Roman myth into a narrative of the birth of the Messiah.

But this woman has also been interpreted as the heavenly Jerusalem, wisdom personified, or indeed the Church.

Or, if we leap across the centuries, her crown of twelve stars has an intriguing parallel in the flag of the European Union and the flag’s designer, Arsene Heitz, has acknowledged that this passage from the Book of Revelation inspired him in its design – which, given the anxieties over the UK’s possible exit from the EU and the politicians in the blast of Brexit ire, lends a grim new interpretation to the image of the dragon whose tail sweeps down a third of the stars of heaven.

The rich symbolism of the Book of Revelation allows our minds to wander into the byways of our imagination where the gap between reality and possibility disappears and the power of creative thought and action can produce effects that are to be wondered at – the meaning of the word miracle.

Indeed, it has been suggested that it is through the imagination that we mere mortals come closest to creation out of nothing.

So, I want to stay with that dragon for a moment and consider what it symbolises. We don’t hear of its fate in the passage we read this morning but only a few verses later it is defeated and no longer has any place in heaven. Indeed, a hymn is sung by a loud voice in heaven proclaiming that this dragon has been the accuser of God’s people and the opponent of God’s will.

And this is the figure we meet, in a very different guise, in today’s gospel reading: there, the unclean spirit symbolises opposition to God’s will – opposition which, in the presence of God, caves in.

These two highly symbolic accounts of divine activity overcoming destructive activity need careful consideration and prayerful thought. It would be easy for us to treat them merely at a superficial level and either become obsessed with the miraculous nature of the two accounts or to dismiss them as implausible and therefore perhaps irrelevant in the three-dimensional reality of our world.

But let’s wander back for a moment along those byways of our imagination where, I suggested, the gap between reality and possibility disappears.

Even if we’re not comfortable with the language of dragons and unclean spirits, we don’t have to venture far into the internet or our newspapers to be clear about the reality of evil and the possibility of harmony.

Even at a domestic level, tribalism, difficult relationships, tension, and intransigent behaviour are perhaps the stuff of modern-day unclean spirits and they are mirrored at a political and national level in so many ways. Those gold stars against a blue background come back into my mind.

And I often think that it is a lack of imagination which gives rise to the unclean spirits of today. I hope that doesn’t sound too dramatic but, if I’m right, then of course there is every possibility that the reality of evil can be overcome by imaginative and creative thinking, discourse and activity.

One of my early mentors used to talk about ‘mutually worked out compromise’. It’s a dirty expression in many avenues of life: it’s not competitive enough; it’s spineless; it’s not sufficiently partisan; it’s disloyal. But, in reality, isn’t it always the case that people sitting round a table trying to fund solutions instead of problems, exercise the power of their imagination and usually leave the room feeling good and positive? After all, the world is too big and complicated for it only to be about you.

Thanks to the power of the imagination, the gap between reality and possibility disappears. And, in our tense and tricky world, we shouldn’t be afraid to call these moments little miracles because they can be wonderful.

Dragons and unclean spirits are the opponents of the will of the God who in Christ said, ‘Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’ A call, surely, to recapture that child-like wonder at the possibility of the world that otherwise becomes so dead in the busy and frustrated mind of the adult.

Giving in to Christ is not about being childish and it’s certainly not being spineless. It is about capturing and releasing the power of the imagination to let God’s people flourish and grow.