January 31, 2021
Categorised in: Sermons
Mark 1: 21 – 28
I’m going to read a rhyme, I’m sure you’ll recognise it, but it’s been updated for this year, by poet Brian Bilson[i]:
Thirty days has September, April, June and November,
Unless a leap year is its fate, February has twenty eight
but all the rest have three days more,
Excepting January, which has six thousand, one hundred and eighty-four.
Well we are nearly at the end of a very long, January 2021. We continue with lockdown and the challenge of keeping on keeping on. How are you doing? Most of us, it seems to me, are feeling the strain. So, as the cathedral begins its focus on stewardship, and our giving back to God, I want us to reflect on something fundamental to our human flourishing. I want to reflect on truth.
During last year a new virus spread out across the whole world, and at the same time as the new virus spread to new strains of misinformation spread too. With the development and roll out of vaccines again we see misinformation affecting choices and behaviours. And during last year a divisive election took place in the United States and with a fiercely contested result. Conflicts around the world provoked misinformation, fake news and in all this the rise and spread of conspiracy theories[ii].
The internet has the potential to open up the world so that we can hear many voices, but we can also chose to only listen to people like ourselves, people who reinforce our existing opinions and prejudices and to block or ignore anyone else. We may become less understanding, less tolerant.
Yet communities and nations need trust and truth in order to flourish. Now, when facts and authority are contested, conspiracies abound, we need to know, what is ‘trustworthy and true’.
In our gospel reading this morning, from St Mark, we see Jesus at the beginning of his ministry enter a synagogue in Capernaum and begin to teach. He astonishes people with his authority. He is different to their usual teachers. Jesus teaches and heals with authority.
This is profound public beginning. St Mark is showing us who Jesus is.
Jesus is a leader whose words and actions have complete integrity. They express the truth and reality of who he is. Jesus speaks with directness, often with challenge, always with compassion. Jesus never sets out to be popular, to say what people want to hear, but he speaks of Gods Kingdom in ways that are utterly compelling even when they are challenging. His authority is loving. And ‘his fame spreads’.
In St Johns Gospel Jesus says, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life[iii]’. In St Mark’s gospel this is revealed rather than said. We see Jesus giving people life, enhancing lives, restoring lives, even raising people from death. If you want to know what God is like, then look at Jesus.
So this authority of Jesus, comes from his participation in the divine truth, the divine reality of God that lies within and behind the whole of creation. And the abiding truth that God wants to be with us, so that we can be more and more like him.
Jesus puts us in touch with the reality of God, who is truth.
Now, being put in touch with any kind of reality can be painful. Learning the truth about ourselves can be hard, as Eliott said, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality[iv].” In this past year when we’ve been thrown back on our own resources, the truth of that observation strikes me forcibly, perhaps it does you too.
It takes courage to turn to God and to live more and more in his truth, under his authority. It’s natural to resist but God is trustworthy and true.
So how are you doing? In this long year past we’ve all faced challenge and loss in different ways. And for many of us, there has been a fresh experience of the central significance of faith. That in the storm Christ gave us hope. In the darkness Christ was light. When thing were really bad, with Christ we were able to hang on, and on. Jesus Christ is, ‘the way, the truth and the life’.
The truths we receive in Christianity are strong and resilient, we can depend on them. They come to us in scripture and tradition, in community and prayer, in in science, poetry, imagination and in loving service. And somehow places like this and the life and worship that spills out from here, these speak to us about the truth and reality of God and the most important things in life.
So, as we ask you to consider your response to God, and your giving to Gods church, including giving money, I’m confident that we understand more than ever, this year, the significance of this place as a reminder of the living God, trustworthy and true, amidst his people. I’m confident that we know afresh the importance of the worship, teaching and healing that spills out from here, in Christs name, and I’m confident that you will want to share this blessing and pass this on to future generations.
Thank you, please think about these things prayerfully and carefully.
I close with words of Thomas Aquinas, translated by Gerald Manley Hopkins:
‘What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth himself speaks truly, or there’s nothing true[v].’
[i] Brian Bilson, ‘Alexa, What is there to know about love?’ 2021
[ii] For short briefing see BBC News web-site
[iii] Gospel according to John 14:6
[iv] TS Eliott Four Quartets
[v] From a hymn about the Eucharist, translation of Thomas Aquinas’ (1227) hymn ADORO TE DEVOTE, by Jesuit Gerald Manley Hopkins SJ (1844-1889).