Sermon at Evensong on the Ninth Sunday after Trinity

Throughout the year, at Morning Prayer and at Evensong, we hear readings read from both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

The Venerable David Stanton Canon in Residence

Sunday, 29th July 2018 at 3.00 PM

Throughout the year, at Morning Prayer and at Evensong, we hear readings read from both the Old Testament and the New Testament. For most of the year, the same pattern also follows at the daily Eucharist, except during Easter-time, when we hear more of the Acts of the Apostles read.

Although the Old Testament can at times be a little dry and cumbersome, we must remember that its writers were in the process of growing in their understanding of God.

One compelling reason for reading the Old Testament is the extensive use that Jesus made of it in his ministry. Indeed in the Old Testament we find stories of jealousy and pride as well as of courage and leadership, and that’s not much different to the world in which we live today.

For both Judaism and Christianity the Bible is so much more than just an historical document to be preserved or a classic of literature to be cherished and admired;

its recognised as the unique record of God’s dealings with his people over hundreds and hundreds of years.

The Old Testament sets forth the call of a special people to enter into a covenant, a special relation with our God of justice and steadfast love, and to bring God’s law to all the nations on earth.

The New Testament, in a wonderful and unique way, records both the life and work of Jesus Christ, the one in whom ‘the Word became flesh,’ and the rise and spread of the early Christian Church.

The Bible carries its full message, not to those who simply regard it as wonderful literature or those who wish to use it to enhance political purposes, but rather to all people and communities who read it so they may discern and understand what God is saying to them.

Our New Testament reading this afternoon (Hebrews 8) makes special reference to this new covenant.

‘This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people’.

The writer to the Hebrews stresses that the old covenant is done away with and that Jesus has brought us into a new relationship with God. Christianity, just like the Jewish faith out of which it sprang, is a revealed religion.

At its heart is God’s self-disclosure in the history of a particular people which culminates in the single human life of Jesus of Nazareth, in which God identifies himself completely with us, taking our nature upon him, coming down in his suffering and death to the lowest part of our human need.

To be a Christian is to find in the life and teaching of Jesus the clue to our human life. But its not simply a teaching to be followed; the Easter victory of the Resurrection flows out in what is no less than a new creation, energised by the life-giving Spirit in the church and in the world. ‘The secret is this’ wrote St Paul, ‘Christ in you the hope of glory’.

In other words, Christianity is all about grace, about a divine life, which redeems, renews and transfigures our human life. For this reason if for no other, Christianity is true spirituality.

We don’t have to look to ‘New Age’ spirituality, or towards Eastern religions, to find something Christianity lacks. Its already there at the heart of the Christian faith and in the language we find in St John and St Paul about ‘Christ in us’ and about our life ‘in Christ’.

Its also important to say that the Christian spiritual tradition is not a specialist interest for the select few but is the very core of the Christian life. Here in England, the English religious tradition includes many outstanding witnesses to this reality.

In the middle Ages, Julian of Norwich and the anonymous author of ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’; Bishop Lancelot Andrewes and the poet-priest Thomas Traherne in the 17th century; The Wesley’s in the 18th century; John Keble and Edward Pusey in the 19th; and Evelyn Underhill, who wrote so profoundly on the Christian mystical tradition in the 20th century. There are many more.

Its also important to note that Christian spirituality is not about giving rein to our feelings or our individualist concerns, which can so easily degenerate into sentimentality.

On the contrary, they are about allowing our lives to be questioned, changed, transformed and challenged by the love of God made visible in Christ so that we may grow up in all things into him.

As Cardinal Basil Hume put it: When does the love of God begin to take over the mastery of our lives? It is surely when we recognise the power and intimacy of God’s love for us.

It may be in a sudden realisation, or it may be the result of years of faithful prayer and obedience to God. But note, above all, that it was love which was the reason for Christ coming among us:

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3.16)

Do you sometimes wonder whether indeed you have love for God in your mind and heart? Don’t fret about that, just remember the simple truth: God is in love with you.

That is an astonishing thought.

If that thought now begins to be part of your thinking, then you will change and so will your life. You will find that peace which nothing can take away from you.