May 24, 2021
Categorised in: Sermons
Canon Dr Richard Lindley
Acts 4. 32-35, John 17. 11-19
When you were children, did you like writing your full address, ending England, Britain, Europe (interesting that one!), the World, the Universe? People who migrate from one country have to decide which is their home country. Immigrants, or their children or grandchildren, often feel they belong to two countries, with two languages and cultures. Some can feel they don’t belong to either, with tension inside them and sometimes spilling over outwardly. But diversity can of course bring immense richness and variety, not only to the people concerned but to their adopted land.
On the night of his betrayal, Jesus, according to St John’s Gospel prayed to God:
And now I am no longer in the world, but they [that is, his disciples] are in the world . . . . Holy Father, protect them in your name . . . . They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.’
So where do we Christians live, where do we belong? We know only too well: we live in this real, earthly, human world, with all its joys and pleasures, and all its wickedness and misery. That’s what we have to deal with, every day, sometimes all day. And, indeed, that’s where our fields of influence lie, the responsibilities we share for everything and everyone – ourselves, our families, the way the world is run, our precious environment, people in dire need. We can’t opt out, and we shouldn’t try to. And in that sense we certainly belong to this world.
So what did Jesus mean when he said his followers don’t belong to the world? I think he meant that we have another perspective, additional priorities above those connected with our material conditions. As Christians, we have our hearts set elsewhere – set on the ultimate values we associate with God. Jesus and his followers thought the end of time was imminent, and that he would soon return with a dramatic Apocalypse to judge the world and establish his Kingdom. This didn’t happen immediately, but the principle remains the same, Christians have their sights set beyond this world, and our values are those of the Kingdom of God in this existence, in this earthly world.
So we live in two worlds, two real worlds. The first, which we can’t escape, is our native land: this tangible world, with its highs and lows, where we manage our daily lives and where we have daily chances, big and small, to influence things. And the second real but invisible world is our adopted country: the Kingdom of God, which is a land of ideals, which we are called to build within the land where we live, and which we enrich with the values and culture of God. We contribute to this day by day, more often in little ways rather than big ways. The Dalai Lama once said: ‘If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito’.
So, peculiarly, we live in both worlds: they overlap and intermingle. And one of them, ‘the other world’ we could call it, or ‘the invisible world’, is precious, very precious, with a set of values that mean it will outlast our bodily existence and indeed the physical existence of England, Britain, Europe, the World, even the Universe itself. The key word is ‘Emmanuel’ – God with us, with us exactly where we are.