Sermons & services

Sermon for Advent 3

Published Sunday 12th Dec. 2021, at 5:06 p.m.

I remember once, the Archdeacon of London visited the church and suggested that when we were re-ordering and redecorating the church maybe we could think about putting up overhead projectors. Ah how I laughed. Inside, anyway. But just for a moment, imagine screens not just up at the front but all around the church. And rather bringing up the words of the hymns or the liturgy, imagine that everything action you’d ever done, every thought you’d ever thought, every word you’d ever spoken, was projected on to that screen. In front of everyone else!!! The writer, Somerset Maughan, once wrote, “If I wrote down every thought I have ever thought and every deed I have ever done, men would call me a monster of depravity.” Bad enough if it was written down, but projected for everyone to see? Sends a shiver down your spine, doesn’t it? Or perhaps should. All of us put on masks: pretending to the world that we are not the people that we really are. We project the image of ourselves we want the world to see: an image of the person we want the world to believe us to be. We don’t really want other people to see the real me: after all, it’s often not a pretty sight! Last week, Fr Daniel spoke about the four traditional themes of Advent. There’s one he didn’t mention. Heaven. Hell. Death. And Judgement have also been traditional themes and today’s readings point us to the theme of judgement. To that time “when the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts”. Judgement Day. The moment when everything we have ever done, ever said, ever thought will be made known. Now of course, it’s already known by God. But it will be known by us and by all. Jesus himself tell us this: “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.” There is this sense that, at the end, when God will be all in all, when we step into God’s time – which is all time – only then will we see all our actions, our words, or thoughts and the impact they had on others. And when we truly see the impact on us of the words and actions of others. After all, at the moment, we see in a mirror dimly, or we see through a glass darkly, as the Authorised Version memorably puts it. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known, as Paul tells the Christians in Corinth. We can never truly know the effects of our words and deeds on others: how can we? Which is, by the way, that I always a problem with a modern morality that says we can do whatever we want so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone: how are we to know? Which has a couple of implications. Firstly, that only God knows the full story and so can only be the final Judge through his Son, Jesus Christ, because His judgement is “righteous, because [He does] not seek [His] own will but the will of the Father who sent [Him]” (John 5.27). Which means that our judgements on our sisters and brothers must be provisional, measured, and tempered with mercy, as God’s is with us. We know this to be true because Jesus told us so: Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. 37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” Remember we who gather here are an assembly of sinners, without competence or entitlement to judge anyone for anything. We must never cast the first stone. Second implication: that I am known by God. God knows me and you better than we know ourselves. As the psalmist tells us: O Lord, you have searched me out and known me;
you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You mark out my journeys and my resting place: and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but you, O Lord, know it altogether.

And rather than being a cause for alarm at the thought of being judged by the Judge who knows us better than we know ourselves, this should actually be a cause for comfort. Because only God can see the motives and forces that impelled us to speak and do the things we have done during our earthly sojourn. Yes, we have free will, but that free will is pressed upon by all sorts of external forces. But absolutely nothing is hidden from God. God is not deaf or blind, he cannot be bribed, cannot be manipulated and cannot be fooled. As the Prayer Book reminds us: we cannot dissemble or cloak our sins before the face of Almighty God. Which brings me to the last point: repentance. Our lives as Christians are ones of constantly turning back to God, again and again and again. Turning away from sin and death to the source of life. To the God whose care, as Jesus tells us, is so great that the very hairs of our head are numbered. And only when we fully grasp and understand that fact will we be able to rest in God and be still: still enough to allow God’s will and divine loving providence to reign in our lives and that of the world. In other words, we can learn to trust in the God who is Judge, but who is also mercy and compassion and love beyond anything we can ever imagine. We must learn to trust. To let go. To let go our ego’s and God knows our business. God knows what He is about. As the hymn writer Arthur Campbell Ainger aptly says it…… God is working his purpose out, as year succeeds to year, God is working his purpose out, and the time is drawing near; nearer and nearer draws the time, the time that shall surely be, when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.