November 26, 2017
Categorised in: Sermons
Preached by Canon Roly Riem, using 2 Samuel 23.1-7; Matt 28.16-20 at Mattins on Sunday 26th November 2017, the Sunday next before Advent.
‘One who rules over his people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of the morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.’
The seventieth wedding anniversary of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh has been a tonic to the nation. We recognise and appreciate the blessings of their mutual service, and even those who aren’t card-carrying royalists are fascinated by the hidden dynamics of a relationship which has enabled them to fulfil an unremitting public role. We are all curious to know what makes a good and just ruler – to look into their heart and soul.
The words I quoted a moment ago from our first reading are the last recorded words of King David. Last words can be specially revealing of the secrets of the heart. David was remembered as a great king, the one who had ushered in a golden age in the nation’s history. Despite his faults and failings, David possessed a great inner strength, which was the dangerous but necessary foundation for his whole life and work. He knew himself to be One anointed by God.
In the first main initial of our Winchester Bible you see this very act depicted: the boy David stands centre-stage, facing front. Samuel the prophet stands by him. He pours oil from a flask over David’s head with one hand as he holds a large crown over him with his other hand. David is anointed king of Israel, which is to say more than that he was made king by being anointed; it is to say that his anointing made him fit to rule.
This is why David in his very last words sums himself up as ‘the man whom God raised up, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the favourite of the Strong One of Israel’. Dangerous talk, as we know, to claim that you are God’s favourite, but that favour stemmed entirely from David’s trust in God – remember him standing against the giant Goliath – and from him being the last and least amongst his brothers. God’s favour can only be invited by humility; it can never be a possession or right.
Let’s take a moment to see just who we are in the light of God. Theological lesson number one is that God is big. Lesson number two is that we are little, even the giants among us. The shepherd boy David understood this, even when the whole army of Israel and King Saul had forgotten it. We ourselves sing, ‘I am weak, but thou art mighty, hold me with thy powerful hand’, but we tend to forget it, too. We have abilities and natural gifts that God can certainly use, but we should keep these in perspective.
Today is the Sunday before Advent and we have used the famous ‘Stir Up’ Collect, the one that reminds us that it is time to stir up our Christmas puddings in preparation for Christmas. As a child the undoubted highlight of this process was scraping the bowl. My father told me that it helped him with the cooking and who was I to question his wisdom. We did not employ what one member of my wider family used to call ‘the unfair spanner’, a spatula; we had the hard work of making sure the bowl was cleaned out using our fingers alone – a labour of love that took real guts!
So God invites us to use our natural gifts and abilities to join in his work, but we would do well not take them too seriously next to the adult power and wisdom of God. He wants us to join in with his work, but not without support and instruction. And this is why anointing is so important, because the task God wants to share with us is daunting. He wants us to be involved in the establishment of His rule on earth.
Only with his anointing upon us, with his spirit perfecting our natural gifts and capacities, do we have a chance of sharing in God’s new dawn, his reign of justice and peace. This was the ideal King David aimed for, even as his eyes dimmed. He saw that: One who rules over his people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of the morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning.’
Anointing makes all the difference. Through anointing God’s power comes into our lives, making us more like him. Theological lesson number three is that there is nothing in our littleness to prevent God fully expressing his life in ours. That is the message of the Incarnation: God becomes Man without compromising his divinity. Jesus’ humanity did not get in the way of God bringing in his rule; in fact he used it to be with us 100%, to be for us 100% and to establish his kingdom.
And so we come to our second reading, the last words of Jesus Christ himself. Christ means anointed. Christ did nothing in his life without the anointing of God and that is the theological reason that every Gospel begins Jesus’ public ministry with John’s baptism and the coming of the Holy Spirit upon him. Our reading, however, took us to the very end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, where we hear his last words to his followers. What do they reveal?
Firstly, that ‘all authority in heaven on earth has been given to me’. This would sound like the words of a megalomaniac were it not for the fruits of his ministry. When Christ taught, he spoke words of wisdom and hope to the poor in spirit. The people of Israel saw him not only as the successor of King David but also of Moses the prophet and lawgiver. He healed. He showed his authority over death by his resurrection. We see in Jesus Christ God’s rule of justice begun.
But I mentioned the Christmas cake earlier, how my father involved his children, with their eager fingers and large appetites, in his bigger plan to make a cake, and maybe in an even bigger plan to bind together a family. Christ at the end takes his followers right into the heart of his rule. He gives them the tasks of continuing to build his family and extend his rule, with the promise that he will always be with them.
Often we feel caught between our hopes and reality: we long to make a difference to the world, we long for a new dawning of justice, but we have a strong sense of our own weakness. Christ’s very last words are of reassurance – he will be with us always, to the end of the age. There will be no time at which and no circumstance in which Christ will abandon us.
And that means that nothing can separate us from a share in Christ’s anointing. He will take up and use all that we are, even our weaknesses, as we seek to live in obedience to his commandments. It doesn’t matter if we can see no further than the cares of the day and the immediate demands upon us; what matters is that we allow and invite him into the inner heart of our lives, the place where his rule is formed in us; for unless we are ruled by him, we certainly can’t reveal that rule to others.
The way to a fruitful life, then, is to let God stir us up, by anointing us to share with Christ in his just and gentle rule. And so today it is right to pray: Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.