Lent IV ~ SMC, 22 March 2020
How would you describe Jesus? Think about it with someone else. What words describe Him?
I hope you used words like: Lord, God, Love, Man, Son, Priest, Shepherd, Light of the World. I hope there might even be one of these two words which mean the same thing: Messiah and Christ. Messiah is Hebrew and Christ is Greek for “anointed.” Last Sunday, when Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman in John 4, she proclaimed, “I know that Messiah - that is Christ - is coming; and when He comes he will tell us everything.” “I who am speaking to you,” said Jesus, “I am He.”
When Jesus goes into the synagogue in Nazareth in Luke 4, He reads the scroll from Isaiah 61:1 and says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” The Holy Spirit anoints for a purpose. We see this also in that first reading we heard from I Samuel 16 where Samuel is sent to anoint David. David is so forgettable that Jesse doesn’t even both to present him to Samuel when he asks to see his sons. But David is chosen by God and anointed to be King.
In our sermon series on who’s in the Church, today we celebrate the fact that we are in the Church with all God’s people on earth. St Peter describes us in glorious terms in his first letter: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of Him who called you” (I Peter 2:9). I want us to celebrate this identity that we have and to be glad in it! When we are baptised, we are anointed with the Oil of Chrism, as the priest says, “God the Father has welcomed you into His Holy People … As Christ was anointed Priest and Prophet and King, so may you I’ve always as a member of His Body, sharing everlasting life.”
The identity of Jesus is impressed upon us. Those words we thought of to describe Him are also used to inform us about who we are, not individually priests or kings or lords or gods, but communally we are a priestly people, a holy people, a royal nation. Supremely Jesus is loved by God the Father. At His own Baptism, we hear the Spirit announce, This is my Son, the Beloved,” (Matthew 3:17). God is love (I John 4:16) and God sending His Son, His only Son, reveals what that love looks like. We are a chosen race in that God chooses in His love to bestow virtues and graces and favours upon us. The people of God in the Old Testament are reminded that their victories and their prosperity is a sign of God’s gracious ennoblement of them. This is to be true of us too. We count our blessings and all those things we have to be grateful for not only because it means we are giving God the thanks that is His due, nor just as a tonic to the depressing news around us, but because we’re to realise that God gives these blessings to us because He loves and so that others may know that love.
Next Sunday, we’ll think about about what priests are and what they do but when St Peter writes we are priestly people it’s a reminder that we all have duties when it comes to worship. Public worship is currently suspended throughout most of Europe and many other countries and it is quite right that we are saddened by this. Maybe one good thing to come out of this will be a renewed appreciation of the joy of worship. Reading the Bible, serving our neighbour, praying for people, being kind are all great things to do but they’re not the same as worship, which is our supreme privilege here on earth because it is what we will carry on doing in Heaven, as described in the Revelation to St John. Worship is about offering and praising, sacrificing ourselves, offering the sacrifice of Jesus. No one else can do it apart from us Christians.
The good news Christ came to bring meant He was to be a prophet. He feel particularly this element of His ministry when He is rejected in Nazareth and reflects, “A prophet is never without dishonour…” (Mark 6:4). What is it to be a prophet but to speak God in to a situation? When we stop ourselves from criticising another Christian, we are witnessing that we are one with them, as the Father and the Lord Jesus are one (John 17:21). When we don’t let ourselves be carried off by the emotions and flighting fancies of our own day, we witness that we have built our house on the cornerstone, rejected by the builders but who is indeed a solid foundation. When we tell others that they need to amend their lives so as to allow room for God, we join a long line of prophets: Jonah, Daniel and Jeremiah among them.
Some of these interactions will be with our family members, many of whom we are failing to make aware of Christ’s love and the identity they have as Christians to worship. The home is where the faith is to be taught, often referred to as the domestic church. This too is something we’ve been thinking about in the light of the Corona Virus. Hopefully you’re able to pray as a family and I pray that the resources, both on paper, from email and through videos online, have been useful to help you pray together. If you have family members coming to your home on a Sunday, jolly well insist that they come to church beforehand! We are to be concerned for the Church’s growth, not spectators to the Church’s life believing ourselves to have no responsibility for it. This renewed vision of what the family is for should be part of our prayer on this Mothering Sunday, as we give thanks to God for all those who love us, and especially our mothers.
Part of this identity that we have as a holy nation means we are all equal. St Paul reflects on this a couple of times in his letters. Remember his words to the Galatians 3:28, for example: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” This is something perhaps that we take for granted, but it is a glorious tribute to the God who loves us. God’s love for us, while we are still sinners, is such that He has a radical preferential love for the poor, and those who cry to Him for mercy and compassion. This equality must not be confused with us all doing the same things or being called to the same role: I can’t be a mother; an eight year old can cannot be a grandparent; that doesn’t mean they are any less equal. God loves us individually and has no favourites.
It’s undoubtedly a high calling that we have, of all creation we alone worship God through offering the Body and Blood of Jesus on the altar. God never tests us beyond our means and whatever He calls us to do, He gives us the strength to do. Those prophetic words we need to speak, that witnessing to His love and generosity, this equal dignity we all share, all this we bear not in our own strength, but in the strength of Him who in these forty days of Lent went without food and water and was assaulted by the devil but who came through victorious. What Jesus says of the man born blind in our Gospel today is true of us all: “He was born so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Let us show them! Amen.