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Sermon preached on the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity (23 August 2015) by the Reverend Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor
The Reverend Canon Michael Hampel looks at Jesus as the 'Son of Man' and says "it’s ordinary human faithfulness and endeavour which defeat tyranny and death".
Jonah 2; Revelation 1
The first chapter of the Book of Revelation is like a three act grand opera with stunning set and larger than life characters. The language is poetic – metaphysical even – and the setting implies a broad spectrum of colour that would enthuse and inspire the costume designers and the scene painters.
And here we are in latter day St Paul’s Cathedral in busy summer London somewhere on the far edge of what used to be the Roman Empire, off from here to continue our holiday plans or to get ready to go back to work tomorrow.
But somehow we have to pause and consider golden lampstands, long robes and golden sashes, hair as white as wool, eyes like flames of fire, feet like burnished bronze, and a voice like the sound of many waters; seven stars, a two-edged sword, and a face like the sun shining with full force. The Ring Cycle has nothing on this scenario.
Now, it’s not for me to criticise St John the Divine who wrote this passage of Revelation which we have just heard but, by mesmerising us with this terrific stage set, we might miss the essence of its central figure – the figure whom John describes as ‘one like the Son of Man’. This is a description of Jesus Christ which is used in the gospel accounts and which is used, especially in Mark, as an antidote to the more dramatic almost rebel-like title of ‘Messiah’.
It’s a name for Jesus which does exactly what it says on the can – despite whole libraries of books having been written about what it means. It means ‘one like a human being’ – an ordinary person – one subject to the same vicissitudes of this world to which we fellow human beings are subject: pain, suffering and death, as well as joy, triumph and life in all its fullness.
Now, of course, to be fair to John, in the reading we’ve just heard we encounter this Son of Man in his glory, in the world beyond this one, where he is seated at the right hand of God in majesty and therefore – quite rightly – John uses dramatic imagery to give us some impression at least of the reality of a place which we will not know in this world but must await with faithful anticipation until the time when we will enter into the presence of God at our deaths.
But the fact remains that, right now, we must hear this passage of scripture and still return to the daily ordinariness of our lives in this world where those of who have faith believe the Son of Man is just as active as the figure in the reading we have just heard but perhaps without seven stars and a two edged sword and a face like the sun shining with full force.
We can turn to the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament to help us here. There the Son of Man appears in the shape of a dream where four great nightmare beasts who represent everything which stands in opposition to the love of God are defeated by a solitary human figure – the Son of Man – who represents the saints: those who live the love of God by the way they live their lives and who thereby defeat cruelty and horror.
And the lesson we learn from this dream is that ordinary human faithfulness, epitomised by Jesus’s life and teaching and example – as well as by his suffering and death – will be vindicated in the place which John describes for us in this morning’s second reading, despite everything which the great nightmare beasts – whom God knows are still with us today – may throw at us.
Think of the sons of men and the daughters of women, mere human beings, whom we hear about day after day: the train passengers who overcame a terrorist on a train in France on Friday, the Syrian Christians led off by IS last week to detention and God knows what else in Raqqa, the Syrian archaeologist beheaded because he refused to reveal the location of artefacts from his country’s heritage, the desperate parents trying to get their children to safety across borders in Calais and Kos and Macedonia, the aid workers who risk death from ebola by going to care for the sick and dying in Guinea and Sierra Leone, and so one could go on – and that’s just a fraction of last week’s news. What about the week before and the years before that?
It’s a dramatic scene in the Book of Revelation this morning but it’s ordinary human faithfulness and endeavour which defeat tyranny and death. That’s what lies at the heart of the Christian gospel. It’s what brings us here this morning to worship Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, now come in his glory and making us one with him. With that image and that promise and that example, could we do anything other than participate actively in the million acts of, at one extreme, mere kindness, and, at another, sheer heroism, to deliver God’s people from evil and bring us all – with them – to the kingdom prepared for us before the world began?
Let us pray:
O God, our Leader and our Master and our Friend, forgive our imperfections and our little motives. Take us and make us one with thy great purpose; use us and do not reject us; make us all servants of thy kingdom; weave our lives into thy struggle to conquer and to bring peace and union to the world. We are small and feeble creatures; we are feeble in speech, feebler still in action. Nevertheless, let but thy light shine upon us, and there is not one of us who cannot be lit by thy fire and who cannot lose themselves in thy salvation. Take us into thy purposes, O God, and let thy kingdom come into our hearts and into this world.
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.