December 6, 2020
Categorised in: Sermons
I’m not the Messiah! Advent 2 2020- Evensong Romans 15:4-13, Matthew 11.2–11
Aren’t you ready for a change? Asked canon Mark this morning?
Aren’t you ready for a change?
Whilst Mark spoke chiefly this morning about the public aspect of Regime Change that John foretells
and Jesus Gospel of Forgiveness brings
This evening I want to focus chiefly on the personal regime change That that same prophet foretells
and that Jesus Gospel of forgiveness requires.
Are you ready?
I’ll be honest with you. if we are talking about getting ready for Christs coming at Christmas- 19 days might not be enough time for me
I don’t want to impune your good characters- but for me-
should I have a whole lifetime it would hardly be enough time
to change into the sort of person that the prophet needs me to be.
I take solace, then, from an interview Nelson Mandela gave to Oprah Winfrey in 2000 Where that great man spoke of his own difficulty in getting ready
to be the sort of person that he new the world needed him to be.
“How does a man spend 27 years in prison, put there by an oppressor,
and come out of that experience with not a heart of stone, not a cold heart, but a heart that it is willing to forgive and embrace?” She asked:
((‘How indeed?’- I egged her on… from home))
“Let me say first”, Mandela said,
“It is a great tragedy to spend the best years of your life in prison.
But if I had not been to prison,
I would not have been able to achieve the most difficult task in life, and that is changing yourself.
I had that opportunity because in prison you have the opportunity to sit down and think- “
Did you need 27 years to do that, though?
Couldn’t you have, maybe, taken a few days of vacation
and had some time to think?” Oprah asked him…
A Big laugh from the audience and from Mandela.
“Ah but when you’re me
trying to change yourself is a considerable process”. HMPH
When you’re me- trying to change yourself is a considerable process ((I know the feeling! Don’t we all?))
Its been 265 days since Lockdown 1. And now theres 19 more days to go… Are we ready yet? Are we .. !!
I have been reflecting on this problem of getting ready
and on the difficulties of this process of change for years
and I think the enduring challenge is well summed up
in the wonderful book ‘Eruption to Hope’:
One can imagine that this would have rung true for Mandela during his exile.
I wonder if you recognise this for yourself too?
How to be present to one another when our hearts are so hard?
Changing our hearts wounds so that we might live together in peace?
When we are so insensitive to the suffering of others.
We must pray the Holy Spirit to change our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.
Because deep in our hearts there is a call to live in communion with others, \ to make a church that really speaks in the world…
a call to love, to create, to risk.
But there is also a radical feeling of our poverty
when faced with the needs of others- I want to but I cannot.
There seems to be so many things seem to prevent me from loving and I feel them in my inmost being… so many defences and fears
As I think on them I risk entering entering a world of sadness
and I begin to doubt myself.
Then I have doubts about others.
Then I doubt the value of my presence.
Soon I doubt everything.
This is the human condition.
We want so much but we feel incapable.
‘ When you’re me –
trying to change yourself is a considerable process.’
And yet—despite that hard truth.
Here is the good news.
It means FIRST that we’re all in the same boat- John, Nelson, you and me.
Second- it ALSO means that- despite the challenge-
such change is possible- for anyone.
Mandela, to go back to him,
was an inspiration not because he was a saviour.
But because he was not.
Indeed far from it.
He was only able to forgive in the first place
because he had come to terms with his own radical need for forgiveness.
He found out that FIRST STEP TO ANY REAL CHANGE: To say humbly and happily with St John:
I am not the Messiah!
I am not even my own Messiah!!
And friends- this is a genuinely radical message. In an age of Self empowerment.
Self advancement. Self reliance. Self help.
To accept Christ into our lives is to accept a diagnosis and treatment plan that goes against that flow.
That rages against the machine…
To accept that to grow- we must decrease and he must increase?
It is an unusual kind of empowerment.
To cast all our cares upon another- is a very upside down kind of self-help.
To imagine that key to our personal and communal harmony is not reliant on our ascent to God
but in his descent to us
This is- now more than ever- a radical- wonderful- gospel.
So when Canon mark asked us this morning- Aren’t you ready for something better? The answer – on the surface- is YES ! DEFINITELY.
But if we also ask are YOU ready YOURSELF? The true answer is NO
That we are NOT READY and NEVER WILL BE.
UNLESS – UNLESS- we find our way towards a deep inner acceptance that without being in communion with that God-
who descended to us in undeserv-ed humility
then whether we had 19 days, 265 days, or 27 years
it wouldn’t make any difference at all. We would never get there.
Listen to me now….
the secret to becoming the people we want to be;
the secret to being the change we want to see in the world it isn’t found IN SELF OR IN ISOLATION
Its not even found in a good and proper vision of a better world-
that is the easy bit!
It is found in a conversion of life- as St Benedict put it –
a conversion that starts with a humble admission that we cannot save ourselves.
And an acceptance of that GOSPEL OF FORGIVENESS That God accepts and forgives us our condition.
And forges a way- the only way- out.
Many of us will be familiar with the first conversion story of St. Augustine, Do you remember?
The moment when he left his decadent life of pleasure, riches, influence, and power in pursuit of a life of holiness.
St.Augustine had it all according to the standards of this world but his heart was restless until it rested in God
I suspect though that not many of us are familiar with his second conversion.
The backdrop was very similar to our own.
A very hard year. The world around him falling to bits.
A difficult Christmas was coming.
And despite having left his worldly pleasures behind
and despite having become a priest and then a bishop,
St. Augustine realizes that he still struggles to be ready.
He still found himself lured by the passions of the world, and struggled with all the usual sins- lust, gluttony, comfort, pride, and vanity, escapsism, fear, selfishness…
Strangely enough it was after a long retreat- not dissimilar to our 265 days- That Augustine remembers his DAILY need for God in a fresh way.
With a renewal of his first love
He returns to Carthage in North Africa
and preaches to the people there on Advent Sunday and says:
“Friends- Whoever thinks they can do it on their own,
neither understands themself nor Him whom they seek.” X2
What had happened ? What had changed?
St. Augustine’s second conversion was stimulated by the season. And a meditation on the mystery of God’s descent-
It is startling to see how similar our world is to his.
When it comes to the spiritual life,
many still think ONLY of an ascent up to God-
It is such a common view that almost all self-help, personal development
and new spirituality is based on that tradjectory.
Onwards and upwards.
But Augustine reminds us-
as he reminded his people in Carthage all those years ago
there is more to holiness that just our willpower and our efforts to carve away our weaknesses
however excellent the methods
are never going to make us READY to ASCEND TO GOD!
The mystery of God’s descent that we celebrate in 19 days time is the reality of a God coming down to meet us
IN our weaknesses, frailty, and lowliness.
The mystery of God’s descent reminds us
that to make forgiveness a disposition
we are going to be in constant need of God’s mercy.
The mystery of God’s DeSCENT reminds us
that to experience conversion of life that is going to have to be
an ongoing EVERYDAY process.
The mystery of God’s descent- which we recall at Christmas To which John the Baptist points
Which nelson mandela tasted
It is a reminder that we are NEVER REALLY READY
For any of this
until he is ALREADY with us.
Are we ready?
Does that matter?
Rely on God. Be patient with yourself, forgive yourself as God forgives you Become aware of your weakness, inner poverty, and frailty.
Take your weakness to God and ask for his healing. Pray for a second conversion this advent
And the God of hope will fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
so that we all may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.