Sermon 26th April 2015
May the words of my mouth, and the thoughts of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord my strength and my Redeemer. Amen.
As I was preparing for today I was thinking about what was going on in the world, and there just seems to be so much in our news at the moment: With the election campaign reaching fever pitch, the news of the earthquake in Nepal, more butchery at the hands of ISIS or the unspeakable tragedy and crisis that is thousands of migrants drowning in the Mediterranean, fleeing war and poverty.
Our world can seem such a dark place at times and, with the General Election around the corner, we are standing in a position where we have the power and the voice to say what matters most. We get to choose who will make the policies that determine how our country is run, where our money should be spent and to what extent our country gets involved in the affairs of other nations. It could be exciting. But I know that for most, the prospect of putting a cross in one box over another seems like a futile attempt to make a difference. Our faith in politicians is surely at an all-time low. What difference does it make who we vote for? If we live in a place where the seat is safe, then even a protest vote seems pointless since it seems our vote will count for nothing. So instead of excitement, we are listless and apathetic, resigned to the futility of our political system. “How can one vote make a difference anyway?” we ask ourselves. Even the politicians who seek to secure our vote seem apathetic to telling us what they will do if we vote for them and why – in our area the Elections hustings were cancelled because too few parties were prepared to send anyone to represent them!
Futility. Hopelessness. Powerlessness. Perhaps these are words that would best describe how many people in our communities feel about the election.
And Power is key. When we talk about the government, we often talk about who is ‘in power’. We consider our Prime Minister to be ‘in power’. But the word ‘minister’ actually means something quite different, the term ‘minister’ means ‘servant’. Our Prime Minister is actually the chief civil servant, elected by the party we elect, to serve the country. Do we ever think of our Prime Minister this way? I wonder whether David Cameron ever thinks of himself this way?!
Because service and power seem to us like opposite ends of a spectrum. You are either a powerful person, in charge and dictating to those below you, or you are a servant, taking your orders from the top, doing the dirty jobs that no-one wants to do.
In Jesus’ day it was the same. Power at the top, servants at the bottom.
Jesus, however, came to show us something new. Jesus came to show us the Kingdom of God. Jesus came to show us the nature of God. And his nature is this – power and service. Even: power is service.
In today’s reading from Acts, we hear the story of Peter and John. They are hauled before the church authorities, who are, as everyone knows, ‘in charge’. The power is with them. And they ask Peter and John this: “By what power, or by what name did you do this?”
The day before, Peter and John had been teaching in the temple, having drawn a crowd after healing a prominent lame man at the gate of the temple. In fact, it had been such an event, that the writer tells us they had amassed a crowd of more than five thousand who were so amazed at what they saw and heard that they believed. Peter and John seized an opportunity to heal a man, and it led them to a place where they were heard, so they seized another opportunity – this time to teach people about Jesus.
How many times have you missed an opportunity to do something that you knew was right? What stopped you from doing it? I am the sort of person who misses opportunities all the time – it’s the way I am! I’m such a cautious being, I keep my mouth shut for fear that I might say the wrong thing. I don’t take action in case my motivations might be questioned. I tell myself that I need time to think about what I should do before taking action. It takes me a frustratingly long time to make any decisions!
I used to have a neighbour I didn’t really know very well, apart from a passing hello. I barely saw her, actually. She had a little daughter called Faye who would sometimes play on my front garden and I had chatted to her more than her mum when I had been out the front doing the gardening. One night, I was sat downstairs and it was quite late when someone banged on my front door. I froze, not wanting to open the door to an unknown visitor late at night. They banged on the door again and I didn’t move a muscle, hoping that they wouldn’t be able to see that I was in and I was up. I live alone, so perhaps it was a wise thing to do, but I suspect it was actually cowardly. I never saw my neighbour again and a couple of weeks later the housing authority came to the house to prepare it for new tenants. I’ve often wondered if my neighbour was in need that night. Was it she who knocked on my door? Could I have helped her in some way? I’ll never know, but I will look back and wonder at my missed opportunity.
Peter and John are now standing before the church authorities accounting for their authority to teach. And Peter seized the opportunity again. This time we are told Peter is “filled with the Holy Spirit”. He knows that this is the time to be bold. He is in a place of danger, the authorities are angry with him, but he is bold and courageous and speaks what he knows to be true – the lame man was healed in the name of Jesus, which means by the power of Jesus. The authority to heal comes from Jesus. And he goes further, they, the church authorities were the ones who killed Jesus, who God then raised from the dead. They are the ones who rejected Jesus, who cast him aside. But it is Jesus through whom salvation is given.
The power comes from Jesus, and he will be their salvation.
Every day we are presented with opportunities to live boldly for Christ. Through what we do and what we say, may we always be bold enough to say that we are followers of Jesus and we aren’t ashamed of that.
There is no better person to follow. Jesus, the good shepherd, who laid down his life out of his love for us. Jesus, who longs to bring others into the fold. Jesus who is exalted highest among all the nations, yet who came to serve. Let us be bold enough to say this is Jesus, who we follow. And, like Peter, we will have the Holy Spirit to give us the strength and the courage to live our lives this way.
And in the coming elections, although we may feel powerless, we have the power to make a difference. And we must.
We can stand up in front of the authorities and speak the truth. We can tell them what is right and what is just. We can take a stand against injustice. And we must. To stand back and do nothing is to miss an opportunity to do what is right. To do nothing is to give a voice to injustice. Don’t miss your opportunity to stand with the poor and the oppressed, the migrants, the foodbank users, the earthquake survivors, the sick, the children, the persecuted …
I close this morning with a quote from Cardinal Newman:
God has created me
to do him some definite service:
he has committed some work to me
which he has not committed to another.
I have my mission –
I may never know it in this life,
but I shall be told it in the next.
Somehow I am necessary for his purposes:
as necessary in my place
as an Archangel in his.
I have a part in this great work;
I am a link in a chain,
a bond of connection between persons.
He has not created me for nothing.
I shall do good, I shall do his work;
I shall be an angel of peace,
a preacher of truth in my own place.
Deign to fulfill your high purposes in me.
I am here to serve you, to be yours,
to be your instrument.