Preacher: The Venerable Peter Lock, Archdeacon (2001-2009)
29 April 2007, 10:30 (Easter 4)
Bible Refs Acts 9.36-end; Rev 7.9-end; John 10.22-30 Lit Yr C ; Easter 4
I like David Tennant as Dr Who! He has a diffidence about the character he creates and yet still manages to convey the old sense of foreboding about the Daleks which used to send the children and me to shelter behind the back of the sofa. And of course, Dr Who is a ‘Time Lord’ one who travels through space and time.
Yesterday’s episode saw him clinging to the top of the Empire State building in New York at the time of it being built, and talking the full force of, was it, gamma rays? - so as to save the people on earth. At least I think that was the gist of it because I got in late to see this particular episode. And there was even the sub theme of one of the Daleks who had seen the error of the ways of Daleks who wanted to preserve the Daleks like human beings. The Daleks of course wanted to continue to exterminate everyone. Their reformed leader paid the inevitable price.
So it comes down to the old story of the hero who saves the world. It’s interesting how that sort of picture occurs regularly in our literature and programmes. The idea of personal sacrifice, the risking of one’s life for another, runs strong in our literature and stories – even from the past. I am reminded of Charles Dickens’ ‘Tale of Two Cities’ where, dramatically, Sydney Carton takes the place of his friend at the guillotine. These are of course powerful stories forged from a powerful idea of sacrifice which has made its impact on new as well as ancient literature. It runs very close to our gospel, and the story of the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For greater love has no one than he lays down his life for his friends.
I am reminded too of those service men and women who are risking their lives in the real world of Iraq and Afghanistan so that people from other countries might also be freed to enjoy life in all its fullness.
Well, our readings today bring a number of these themes together to emphasise not only the concept of sacrifice but the sacrificial love of God and how this releases a group of dispirited people into a powerful witness and agency for his kingdom. There is sacrifice but for a reason – transformation and new life. And this act of sacrifice is the act of God. For in Jesus Christ we see God’s moment, God’s time.
Take, for instance, today’s reading in John’s Gospel (John 10.22-30).
The first thing that strikes me is the reference to the date. It’s not in the usual way that you and I might record it (the year, day and month) but it has a deliberate marker of time. John says this little episode took place on the Feast of the Dedication. Subtly throughout his gospel he has been setting scenes within the timing of the Jewish liturgical year of Feasts and Festivals. He starts with the Feast of Tabernacles – a harvest celebration which was the reminder to all Jewish people of their nomadic roots and especially when they escaped from the slavery under the Egyptians and they wandered in the desert for forty years. This begins a few chapters earlier. Then we come to this particular festival in our reading this morning, the Festival of the Dedication - or Hanukah as we might know it - which commemorates the freeing of Jerusalem from its Syrian oppressor and the re-dedication of the temple in the time of the Macabees in the 2nd century BC after its desecration by Antiochus Epiphanies. In the chapters which follow is the Festival of Passover which commemorated the escape of the people of Israel from the bondage of Egypt and the slaughtering of the Passover lambs whose blood was sprinkled on the door posts of the homes of the people so that the angel of death passed over them. Now all of these festivals are linked with great moments of deliverance for the people of Israel, all are demonstrations of God’s activity with his people – God’s moments.
John takes these liturgical festivals, markers of time in their own way, and makes them the backcloth for his story about the life of Jesus as he takes us from harvest (Tabernacles), to winter (Hanukah) and then to spring (Passover) in the sequence he sets before us. He also wants us to see that in Jesus we see not only the Good Shepherd but also the Passover Lamb – the one who is sacrificed for us all, so that we can join the Exodus story of the resurrection, the journey away from selfishness into the path of self-giving. This is a profound switch of images from shepherd to lamb.
But what is so heartening is the Jewish people’s recognition of God’s moments, the times he was present and seemed to steer them towards safety. And this was not as if there had not been a lot of suffering on the way, and that the people were always faithful. Not a bit of it. But these festivals and the way John took hold of them are ways of saying that God’s moment is recognised. I don’t believe the stories were just folk-lore or wishful thinking. These moments happened. And now the story of the Jewish people are seen to played out in the life of one man, Jesus Christ, who represents the people of God and who takes on the full mantle of God. John sums it up in the ringing sentence of Jesus: The Father and I are one.
This is the uniqueness of the Christian Faith in its proclamation which is unlike any other world religion. The Father and I are one. It became the central part of the early discussions and formations of the creed, for what exactly does it mean? Is the Jesus the same or similar to God? Is he like a son might resemble a father – a chip of the old block, as we might say? Well in our creed the expression finally became God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God.........
God’s moment is Jesus Christ. But it would be salutary to think about those moments in our lives when we have felt that God has had a very direct effect, a moment when his presence has affected our lives or indeed the life of our nation and other nations. These may have been major turning points, or they might be quiet moments of revelation which have led to growth and the re-shaping of hearts and minds.
This Sunday has been set aside for thinking about vocations – the calling of God of people to ordained and lay ministry. I would want to put this into the context of the calling of God first and foremost of a people to follow him. For, before any of us were called into any special ministry we were called to follow him, to be his people - his Laos. And that calling I believe goes back to the calling of the disciples and the calling of the ancient people of God.
All Christian already have a vocation and have responded through their baptism. Here is God’s moment for each person, a sign of his love for them as we are sunk into the deep waters of baptism and through the death of Christ are made one with him.
But some are called to specific witness through the ordained or authorised and licensed ministry in the church. It is a matter of recognising God’s moments in human life and time whereby he nudges us into reflecting more about how we can respond to his call, to sacrifice your time for others and for God.