Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away.
It’s hard being a Christian. The days of the Christian faith being a comfortable or respectable refuge from the changes and chances of this fleeting world are long gone. Christianity may possibly once have been opium for some people – as Marx said – but no more. If you don’t want to be constantly reminded about duty, responsibility, stewardship of the environment and creation, right use of gifts and talents and resources, then I would recommend that you should actively run away from religions, from the Christian church and from our message.
You see Jesus is a difficult person to live with – he’s not at all comforting. He says things which most people do not want to hear. He tells us to forgive– even to forgive people who really don’t deserve to be forgiven, he tells us to welcome people, even if we don’t want to, and he tells us to turn the other cheek – and then rather counter-culturally – and it was even more so then than it is now – Jesus reminds us that our responsibility is not limited to family only but are to extend to the whole human race – the international family. Jesus reminds us that money is worthless if we are looking for real meaning in our lives. And he even goes on to tell us that people will hate us because of what we are.
There will be distress, fear and foreboding – not a happy prospect either – no, the days of comfortable Christian faith are long gone – it is instead a difficult choice which you have made..
Each one of us is here because we have made that choice – we have chosen this path – however tenuously – and because mysteriously this path has chosen us – or rather, has been chosen for us by God. You did not choose me, but I chose you.
You could have opted this morning for a lovely family celebration of American Thanksgiving –instead we have chosen to come here, to be challenged by hymns, by readings, by this sermon, and by the Body and Blood of Christ, broken and shared in the Eucharist – an odd, inexplicable, some would say anachronistic thing- and yet timeless and universal across the world. People really do not get it, they do not understand why we are here – they talk of church in terms of entertainment or comfort – I hope you find it comforting – or it was very beautiful – they talk of enjoyment or of sentiment –it was so lovely – and yet we talk of something else – we talk of vocation, we talk of commitment to a higher world vision, we talk of boldly going where others shy away – boldly going into an un-comfortable faith.
And this great Cathedral all around us built by our forebears – is more than just an architectural gem on St Catherine’s Street, more than just a national heritage treasure to look at – this is a living challenge to everything the world of commerce around us holds dear. We are open day after day and we give what we have free of charge. It makes no sense. People use us and abuse us on our porch and in our pews and we allow it to happen and we forgive and welcome again.
We gather in these pews where the rich and the poor, the healthy and sick, the strong and the broken stand side by side – because all of us are just equal before God –– we are all one body.
The world prefers to keep everyone separate, to keep the poor and the sick and the broken at arms length. We choose to kneel at one altar and share from one cup with each other. It makes no sense at all. It is a deliberate and uncomfortable choice, and we make it deliberately.
We offer beauty and music and awe and wonder to people who can pay for it and to people who can pay nothing for it, to people who can appreciate it and to people who do not appreciate it.
Whereas to people who are searching for escapism, for fantasy and for comfort and above all to know that they are right, we offer the very opposite, challenge and discomfort, and the constant and irritating words to leave our comfort zones behind and be asked to change our minds again – will it never stop.
We offer the paradoxical Good news that our leader gasped for his final breath, his body torn to shreds on an executioner’s cross and then we say that – we have the audacity to say that we want to follow him. No wonder that the world does not understand – Everything in this Gospel is countercultural – counter materialism, counter capitalism, counter self-preservation, counter society. The reign of God is not and cannot be a reign of this earth, for we followers of Christ are shocking in our flagrant generosity, our self-less self-giving, – dying to self that others may life – our endless spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation not just seven times which is hard enough – but seventy times seven – as St Paul put it : We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
Jesus says when you see all these things – stand up and raise your head high. Our modern Western secular society may be one of the hardest places in which to be a Christian disciple – but raise you head high – that challenge is the greatest blessing we can hope for, for it is pushes us to be truer and more faithful disciples of Christ in spite of what the world says to us. Stand up, and raise your heads, because your redemption is near. Be bold, be confident in God.
You see in spite of the gloom and doom and misery – wars and rumours of wars, earthquakes, despair, disaster, the collapse of earth and heaven which is all around us and always has been, but look again at this Good News : Jesus is not being gloomy at all – he is strikingly positive – look at the fig tree he says : or as we might say, listen to the birds when they return. The snow is still on the ground, it is still winter and the skies are grey and our hearts are heavy – but the birds know that Spring is just around the corner – hold your head up high –says Jesus – rejoice for Spring is most definitely on its way. And so – The world may well look as if it is falling apart all around us, but still hold your heads up high – that is what we do – that is what we are called to do – because we are those who have seen and who have believed. We have seen the sign of hope and power and glory which Jesus has given us. We hold on to a vision for this world which can be, which must be, which surely will be – if God is God, as God surely is.
Heaven and earth will pass away – says Jesus , – and it will – but my words will not pass away. That is a beautiful promise, a solemn vow from the mouth of Jesus, a divine revelation not a threat. Nations may fight each other and people may wantonly and wickedly kill each other but these words of Jesus –– words of justice, of love, of resurrection, of reconciliation – words which we choose every day to live by – these words will never pass away. They will grow again from the nuclear or environmental or social or religious ashes we humans make for ourselves. These words will live for ever.
And so – yes – this great cathedral stands with its elegant spire pointing upwards to remind the great commercial skyscrapers all around us that our human vision must be raised on high and must not earthbound on our balance sheets. And you and I are living stones in this temple – not any old temple – not a hypothetical temple – but this temple. We gather this morning when we could be staying in bed or doing countless other things because staying in bed or doing countless other things is meaningless whereas turning to God in the midst of this life is the only truly meaningful thing to do – and because we are called and because we have Good News to to proclaim and live.
The generation of people who lived 2000 years ago in Palestine were blessed enough to stand in the very presence of Jesus and were able to see and hear that his speak those words – the Good News Gospel. This generation will not pass away without it all these things taking place – said Jesus – and of course they began and have not yet finished. But like today only a minority understood what they were seeing and hearing – and only a minority acted upon what they could see and hear.
We are a different generation but we are called to bear witness to what they saw and what they did not believe. Heaven and earth will pass away – but Good News will remain for ever. My words will never pass away – said Jesus. why? Because you are here to proclaim it – his words will never pass away because they are in your heart and you hold them. What an extraordinary vocation – to be the people called to hold those words in this generation.
You will have had a leaflet in your bulletin this morning about financial giving. It is not because money is everything – no – you are everything, we are everything, – the living stones. But money is necessary if what we do here is to thrive and flourish. I hope you will feel able to pledge your support this place and the mission of living the words of Jesus. Because this is the place to which we have been called –This is the city where we are called to bear witness to the words of Jesus. It is, as I began, not an easy calling – but it is a high calling, a good calling, a noble calling – it is our calling, it belongs to none other.
Our peculiar welcoming, inclusive, thoughtful, caring Anglican witness is life giving, essential, and crucial in every sense of that word, – a cross-roads, a challenge, a crucifixion – for the life of the whole city. And – oddly – our witness together, the witness of this cathedral is – I think – more necessary here in our western and secular society where it is hard than it is in many other places where faith in God is still strong.
You see, this is our sacrificial giving, – it might or might not be the sacrifice you would have chosen for yourself – and this is also our true joy, the lifting up of our heads and the knowledge that the reign of God is near and that we have a part to play.
So : Be alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to stand before the Son of Man.