Sermon preached at Mattins on the Second Sunday of Advent (9 December 2018) by the Very Revd David Ison, Dean

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12:00pm Doors open for sightseeing
12:30pm Eucharist
4:00pm Last entry for sightseeing
5:00pm Evening Prayer
5:30pm Cathedral closes

Sermon preached at Mattins on the Second Sunday of Advent (9 December 2018) by the Very Revd David Ison, Dean

Giving thanks for the prophets of God on the second Sunday of Advent, the Dean asks "Who among us has the courage to turn to God and face the truth?"

Who among us has the courage to face the truth?

The courage of a man who at last admits that he’s an alcoholic who needs help.

The courage of a woman who finally accepts that she’s in an abusive relationship.

The courage of a boy who seeks help to overcome his insecurities and to stop being a bully.

The courage of a girl who asks for help to deal with her eating disorder.

The courage of a community which admits its racism and divisions and starts to do something about it.

The courage of a church which takes responsibility for its failures and the exploitation of the vulnerable in its midst.

The courage of anyone who accepts that they are far from God and decides to do something about it...

And who is there to help people have the courage to face the truth?

Today, the second Sunday of Advent, we give thanks for the prophets of God, for those who name the truth and encourage us to confront what is true about ourselves and true in God, and to change in response to God’s truth.

Our New Testament reading this morning is about John the Baptist, who asks whether Jesus is the Messiah or not. 

John’s prophetic ministry had been to confront people with their need for repentance, and call them to return to God’s service. It’s a classic prophetic ministry, of announcing judgement on sin, on the thoughts and actions which turn us away from God, from love and truth; and like other prophets, John sets out a vision of repentance and renewed life with God. 

And that’s also what you see in the reading from Isaiah on p.7 of the service booklet (Isaiah 64.1-7). The context is of the people of God living in exile, lamenting the devastation of their land, and the way that they and their ancestors have turned away from God. The prophet in Isaiah calls on God to come down and act, and yet acknowledges the awful truth that the people of God have ended up in a mess because they’ve turned away from loving God. The prophet moves between hope in God and despair in human beings: and yet as prophet, his or her role is to bring hope and despair together, to encourage and lead people to walk again alongside God in faith and hope and love…

Running through the Bible is the theme of the prophet calling God’s people to confront the truth. And also running through the Bible and through history is the theme of people who refuse to acknowledge the truth, refuse to see the connection between their own lack of faith and love, and the mess that they’ve got themselves and the world into.

There’s a haunting image in this passage from Isaiah, one that’s only too suitable for today, at the end of autumn and the beginning of winter. As you leave this cathedral, you’ll see the last of the leaves blown by the wind from the trees; and the prophet compares each of us to a faded leaf, blown away by our sins, having turned away and lost touch with the tree of God’s life that should sustain us. There on the ground lie our faded hopes and dreams, our illusions and our delusions, torn away by what separates us from the truth and love of God.

Who among us has the courage to face the truth?

The truth that this country has got itself in a political mess because of the pride of the powerful and the anger of those who feel left behind.

The truth that our not only our government but also us taxpayers would prefer to make tax revenues out of gambling and allow people’s lives to be destroyed in the process, than protect the vulnerable and raise direct taxes instead. 

The truth that children are dying from knife crime, and people in work live in poverty, as youth services and living standards are reduced while income tax allowances are raised for the better off.

The truth that very few of us, whether as individuals or communities or countries or across the world, are willing to settle for less than we have, in order to take the drastic steps needed to save our environment for our grandchildren.

Prophets are there to call out the truth of who we are and what we’ve become. But prophets are also there to re-call us to where we always needed to begin: to come to God, and acknowledge the truth of how we try to live without God, and the truth that God longs for us to turn from what separates us from God and neighbour, to accept the gift of new life in Jesus, the Messiah who John was looking for, Jesus who had the courage to name the truth about humanity and its hatreds, and who came through the cross to the new life of the resurrection.

Prophets are still with us. Some speak in the name of faith, and many speak in the name of truth. In the Philippines in April this year, Roman Catholic priest Father Mark Ventura was gunned down in front of parishioners after celebrating Mass, one of at least three priests killed in that country in the last year; priests and peasants are being murdered for speaking up for the poor in their communities. In 2018 at least 123 activists and community leaders in Colombia alone have been killed by criminal gangs wanting to exploit others. In many parts of the world today, brave people face death for speaking up prophetically for the poor and oppressed, following in the footsteps of John the Baptist and Isaiah.

The truth is that most of us prefer to fade like leaves and be blown away, than to face the uncomfortable truth and be re-connected to God, the source of our life and our hope.

The prophets of old still have much to say to us about truth. And the successors of the prophets are still to be found in the world, there to be heard by those of us who will listen.

Who among us has the courage to turn to God and face the truth?