Sermons & services

Sermon for Advent 1

Published Sunday 28th Nov. 2021, at 1:38 p.m.

So I have some bad news for you. Don’t worry it’s not really bad news. But the bad news is that your Rector and Parish Priest has been away on a study day about mission and church growth. It was attended by various priests from parishes under the Bishop of Fulham and we’d all been asked to read a book called Divine Renovation. The basis of the book is very simple: if churches are not just to survive, but are to thrive, they have to move from a position of maintenance to mission. In other words, it’s not enough just to keep things going: what we are asked to be is missional. Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all people, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. It was a good day, all in all, and if there was one truth that really sprang out at me from this day and this book, it was this: if we are to be more missional, if we are to make disciples of all people, it starts with you and me. You and me. There is a truth we really need to think about. We won’t make disciples of anyone, if we are not committed disciples ourselves. If we are not committed and devoted followers of Jesus – if we are not in love with Jesus – then the chances of us bringing others to Jesus are not high. Because remember that is what we are about as a community. We are not about a particular churchmanship. We are not about a particular liturgy. We are not about a church building. These things are important, but they are not the core of what we are about. The core of what we are about is to be devoted and committed followers of Jesus, who want to bring others to Jesus. Everything else follows from that. During this season of Advent, the church traditionally reads the Book of Revelation at morning and evening prayer. It’s a crazy book: like a picture by Picasso or Salvador Dali. It seems to make no sense and seems to have no order or coherence. It begins with a series of warnings to some of the earliest Christian churches. One is to the church in Laodicea where the Spirit says through John: I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! You are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold. I think that can define quite a lot of us, quite a lot of the time. And yet to be disciples of Jesus, and to be mission minded, means constantly – or at least trying constantly – to renew our love and devotion to Jesus. And I mention all this because today – the first day of Advent and so of a new church year – is a day to make resolutions. Just as people will make New Year’s Resolutions on New Year’s Day, so too our Church New Year’s Day is an opportunity for us to make resolutions about our faith. To make resolutions which will deepen our love and devotion to Jesus; and so make us better disciples; and so make us want to tell others about Jesus. So what kind of resolutions? Well here’s a few to think about. One. St. Jerome is unequivocal about this: “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Though I don’t hold to many of the results of the Reformation, one of the blessings was to encourage people to read Sacred Scripture. And the Prayer Book enables us to do this every day. So dust off that Bible, pick it up, and read it every day. Or maybe commit to reading the whole bible over the course of the next year: there are loads of ways to do it online – and they’re free. Remember: this is God’s word to you! Two. Read something worthwhile. Pick up a book on the faith and study it. It can be a classic of spirituality – The Interior Castle by Theresa of Avila, The Cloud of Unknowing, The Imitation of Christ. I mean the list is enormous. How about getting to know the saints? The lives of the saints are a good place to be because they’re proof that God can take ordinary people like you and me and do extraordinary things with us. So books like St Augustine’s Confessions, or The Story of a Soul by Therese of Lisieux, are also really worth reading. Or pick one of the early teachers of the Christian faith – a Church father – and make a study of them and their teaching. St Ignatius of Antioch. St Irenaeus of Lyons. St Augustine – again. And you can find their writings online and, again, free! Three. Our Lord asks us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the prisoners, bury the dead, and give alms to the poor—and to do so as if each person we serve were Christ Himself. So why not think about doing something to help a neighbour or stranger in need? Either practically or financially. The City is running a programme at the moment to help Afghan refugees who escaped from the Taliban earlier this year. Why not think about doing something to help them? Four. Prayer. Why not make a commitment to daily prayer? If you don’t already, try to carve out some time in the day, either to say morning or evening prayer – preferably both – or just spending ten minutes a day in silence with the Lord? And why not try changing what you watch or listen to? Rather than bingeing on the latest Netflix drama, why not listen to some religious podcasts or programmes on Christian faith on YouTube? There is loads of good stuff out there: but check to make sure it’s orthodox! Those are just some of the things we can all do. But we all know that resolutions are notoriously difficult to keep. So set yourself a reminder for Ash Wednesday to see how your resolution is going. If you’ve let the resolution lapse, you can pick it up again for Lent. Then check again at Easter. And so on. All these things are to help us to become better disciples, better followers of Jesus. In the words of St Richard of Chichester, we need to do this stuff so that we may Know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, day by day. Because if we become closer disciples of Jesus, we will want to become more missional: we will want to tell others about Jesus and his love for us. We will want, like St Andrew, to bring others to the feet of Jesus. We will want to bring others to the crib and to the infant saviour of the world. The early Christians used to love saying how long before Mary bore Jesus in her womb, she bore him in her heart. In this holy season of Advent, as we prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas, may we open our hearts to receive Jesus, the Lord of life, so that we may bring others to him. Amen.