Thursday, 11 September 2008

Holy Cross Day Sermon.

Processional cross at Bere Regis Parish Church, Dorset.

For those of you who find interest in the strangest places, here is a copy of my sermon for this Sunday. We seem to be back to random typefaces again, fear not, we at Anglican Wanderings will not be changing the blog layout, at least, not until we find one with scratch and sniff panels.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

I inadvisably joined a wine club a few years ago to take advantage of their new member’s offer of a case of wine for forty pounds. Once I had paid my ‘club membership’ which seemed to entitle me to buy more wine and provided me with a steady supply of leaflets and telephone calls offering me more to drink and once I had paid the shipping and handling charges, the cost was considerably more than forty pounds, however I was still looking forward to getting the wine as the offer made it clear that this was a Great Bargain of the style which Paddington Bear would certainly not have passed over and nor was I. Many of the bottles had won numerous awards, mainly given out in Cairo and other world centres of wine consumption I was later to find. One particularly well dressed bottle had won a bronze medal in the Baghdad wine exposition 2001. The excitement was palpable! Almost all of them had fancy labels and golden chicken wire around them, so how could they be bad! The first bottle I opened was an old Spanish wine, lavishly decorated and with a picture of the Monastery of Tentudia on the front. It tasted of vinegar but was worth the money for the story on the back.

The back label explained that when the moors were attacking the monastery in the Middle Ages, the monks were about to be defeated when the Abbot lifted their statue of the Virgin Mary and the crucifix from the Abbey Church over the battlements of the Abbey, the sun went in and the moors fled. So far so good. The monastery is saved and to this day makes undrinkable wine, but it hardly explains the saving power of the cross unless you would like a practical demonstration in your own besieged Abbey.

A similar story is documented in the history books about the Emperor Constantine. This most interesting of Roman Emperors who only converted to Christianity on his death bed, even though he made the faith the state religion thus ending the farcical burning of incense before the Emperor and effectively promoting a new Christian elite to government was fighting a battle, as Emperors do, which later became known as the battle of Milvian Bridge. During this battle which, like the monks above, they were loosing, the Emperor saw a sign in the sky. There are conflicting accounts of what he saw, one contemporary historian said that he claimed to see a representation of a roman deity but most accounts say that he saw the cross and a banner blazoned beneath it saying ‘in this sign conquer!’, rather like those aeroplanes which one can hire to fly around with ‘happy 40th bubbles’ spelt out behind them. Anyhow, this vision inspired his Mother to go and look for the true cross which she found and all is well.

Whatever we think of signs and symbols, they are important to our faith. The first reading today tells of the serpent on a staff which Moses carried in the desert and later was put into the Temple in Jerusalem. It was a pious custom to burn incense before it until Hezekiah had it destroyed along with other items which he believed to be incompatible with the Jewish faith. How easily we destroy our heritage! But of course, Hezekiah was preparing the way for the Lord as the Jewish people had always done in the way he thought best. What is comfortable for him and his people had to go in a continual process of reinvention before the Lord.

The inevitable consequence of Moses’ staff and Hezekiah’s reforms and the inevitable consequence of anyone waiting for the Lord is faith and the necessity to act on that faith. The looked for coming of the Messiah came in the form of a man who had enjoyed a divine state of being. This is what Paul means in his letter to his friends in Philippi in today’s second reading. His state was divine, which to the Jews meant immunity from death, but he emptied himself, became powerless, as a slave, into the condition of unredeemed humanity, a slave to material powers which had to end in death as all who are enslaved to the world must die. He chose to die, though, in a most remarkable way and he chose to live in a most remarkable way, not wasting a moment he had on arguments or gossiping. He died fully human and totally obedient to God, this is the inevitable consequence of obedience to God, to live your life for other people in the hopes that they may live theirs for you. His ultimate goal was the reclaiming of the entire world to Gods sovereignty and glory and Christ made Himself subordinate to that so that we might live, so that we might have life and have it to the full. Paul asks his friends in Philippi to live their lives, in this great hymn of a passage from his letter, in a selfless way, to live in Christ and be caught up in the rhythm of the ultimate victory of the Divine Plan. This is what he calls you to as well, to emulate Christ, to take strength and succour from te cross which is the symbol and the reality and the promise of the redemption and salvation of all humanity. By this sign, he has set you free from death and bought you new life. In this sign the faith will conquer, ever through the sinful rubbish being spouted by some in our communion now. Have faith; do not be afraid, your redemption has been assured through the blood soaked wood of the cross. But be faithful. This is all that is asked of you. Do for each other what He did for you.

John, in the Gospel we just heard echoes this in telling us that Jesus was the first person to ascend to Heaven, therefore he is our only source of knowledge about the heavenly world. His example is the only one we can follow and we will make the connection that John made between believing and inheriting eternal life. The Son of Man was sent to give life to the world through the cross, through the only possible outcome of a man who came that we might live, he died for us and gave us life. Those who follow Him, those who ‘do the truth’ will come into the light and that light is the light of all them that believe. In the beginning was the word and the word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us and we had in His time among us such sight of His glory, which he gives to us all through this holy cross, the foundation and axis of the world is a piece of wood on which is staked all truth and all hope. Today, be not afraid, you are redeemed and you have the hope of seeing His glory, if you be faithful to the light and keep it shining when all around is darkness and sin. Do not waver and do not fall, look up and bear witness to the light so that through Him, the world might be saved.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.