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Sermon at Evensong on the Seventh Sunday after Trinity

The Venerable David Stanton Canon in Residence

Sunday, 4th August 2019 at 3.00 PM

The Collect set for today (Trinity 7) speaks of grafting in our hearts the love of thy name, and our New Testament Lesson from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians speaks of pursuing love and striving for spiritual gifts.(I Cor. 14.1)

During his earthly life St Paul encountered and experienced much political and social tension around the Mediterranean world: The Roman Empire mixed sophistication with brutality and could suddenly lurch from civilization, strength and power to terror, tyranny and greed. In those days one in every four people on earth lived and died under Roman law. 

If we compare life then with life today we see unnerving parallels concerning protest, persecution, struggle for power and survival.

Today we see protesters continuing to gather in Hong Kong (for the ninth weekend in a row) amid mounting tensions with the authorities.

Over recent months we have continued to witness the decades long persecution of the Rohingya, with this ever worsening conflict putting already-vulnerable people in even more danger. 

On the continent of Africa we see both in Sudan the military and pro-democracy movements locked in a tussle for power with mass protests and killings; and in the Democratic Republic of Congo, still only about 50% of cases of Ebola currently being identified.

In terms of Global warming, July was the hottest month ever recorded on earth and the period 2015-19 is on track to be the hottest ever 5 years.

Throughout the history of the Church, love and care for God’s creation, the distressed, the weak and vulnerable has been at the heart of the gospel.

This great message of Christian love that was proclaimed during the formative years of the faith, is the same message given to our world today: that ‘loving your neighbour as yourself’ sums up the whole network of mutual dependence which is what human life is all about.

In such loyalty to Christ and each other we discover that God really is love. Not just that God loves, but that God is, at the very core of his being, love. When we love, we share in the very life of God.

We also know instinctively that loyalty is the one thing that creates security. Loyalty forgives to seventy times seven, loyalty knows how to speak the truth in love, loyalty which trusts enough to let others be themselves.

But there is one thing that its very easy to forget. There are three beings we are commanded to love, not two: Not just our neighbour and ourself, but also God.

He too, he above all, is to be the object of our loyalty, our acceptance, our trust. This is not an easy command to keep.

There is enough ugliness, evil and pain in the world to shake our trust, to snap our loyalty, to choke off our acceptance and so make us doubt the existence of a God worthy of the name.

There is only one thing, as far as I can see, that could make it possible to keep this command; and that is that God himself, without ceasing to be God, should truly and authentically have shared our struggle with pain, evil, ugliness and death.

For me, if God has not done this, then there is no God. But in Jesus, as I believe, he has done it. There the infinite love has set us free to love him and to trust steadfastly in the ultimate rightness of things.

This is the very love which transfigures our own loving and all our everyday ordinary loving is marked with this mystery.

It is a fertile love, overflowing beyond itself. It draws us into unity with each other and with God, overthrowing divisions between nations, saints and sinners, the living and the dead.

In two days time (next Tuesday) we shall celebrate the great feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord. Here we recall how God's love is revealed as light in the face of Moses and in Jesus' encounter with God on the mountain.

This loving light transforms them and all those who witness it. It shows God's constant reaching out to us and God's power to change us all.

We know that God continually reaches out to us and prepares us for the path ahead. It’s so powerful that it gives us light to show the way.  And it gives us the strength and assurance that we need to follow God’s call. 

This is the light which Peter and James and John saw in Jesus when he was transfigured before them; and the light which blinded Saul on the road to Damascus.

This too is the sharp brilliance under which the world is judged, which pierces the darkness and reveals all things and all people for what they are, which makes all things new, which gives illumination to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death and guides our feet into the way of peace.

The Transfiguration of Christ is a great mystery to us, but the greater mystery is how we are to live the transfiguration out for this world.  

May we all recognize the light of God’s love when we are in its presence.  May we all pursue love and graft in our hearts the love of God’s name, and gain strength from that love to follow the call he has given each of us.

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