Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Life Unbound: A Sermon preached at Croydon Minster

A sermon preached at Croydon Minster on Sunday 4th October at the Parish Eucharist for All Saints Sunday. The readings were Revelation 21.1-6a and John 11.32-44.

"Jesus said ‘unbind him’"

+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The raising of Lazarus is a beautiful, mystical and intriguing episode given to us in St John’s gospel.

It holds before us human mortality and the reality and stench of death; it holds before us the power and fragrance of God’s abundant life and the possibility of how we live life in the power of the Holy Spirit, unbound and unleashed.

Here we are at the Eucharist. Human mortality and the death of sin is held before us, and we have confessed our sins and heard God’s forgiveness. The power and fragrance of God’s love is broken open in front of us in the breaking of bread. We are commissioned at the end of Mass to ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord’.

Making sense of all this is great to ponder on All Saints’ Sunday. It is a pattern replicated in our lives.

Lazarus’ experience is a pointer to our own as followers of Jesus Christ. When we were baptised we were plunged into water; Lazarus plunged into death: we were raised out of the waters; Lazarus was raised out of death.

The process of being baptised is, like Lazarus, to die to sin and live again in Christ Jesus: so that, as St Paul puts it, ‘it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’ (Galatians 2.20).

Once released from the grasp of cold, dark death, Lazarus walks away and into…what? The day after our baptism: however long ago that was we have the question: ‘what next?’ The rest of our life after baptism is about uncovering and discovering what life unbound means day by day.

Being a Christian disciple is about being schooled to be a saint, one of the Holy Ones of God. This is not an esoteric, remote, other worldly task reserved for those in stained glass windows; it is the task of the Church.

Being a saint, being a disciple, is daily to grow into undertaking small things with great love in the name of Jesus Christ.

Part of my task as your new(ish) Priest in Charge is, with my fellow priests and lay ministers, to help you cultivate the habits and practices that shape and mark out being a Christian today, and indeed to endeavour to model that in my own life as a disciple of Christ.

To that end – cultivating habits of discipleship - here are three questions that drive deep into the heart of Christian discipleship:

1.     What will do be doing this time tomorrow?
2.     How will you recognise God at work in what you will be doing this time tomorrow?
3.     How can you be prayed for in what you will be doing tomorrow?

Grappling, especially with the last two questions, helps us ponder the nature of being a disciple and connecting what we’re doing now, in this holy place, and what each of us will being doing this time tomorrow. In other words crafting a response to what it means to ‘go in peace to love and serve the Lord’.

How will you see God gently and insistently working in your life tomorrow? What are the things you most need to enable you to recognise that and enable you in that, for which others might pray?

I guess that Lazarus faced those questions even after his momentous experience of being raised from the dead. He is saved from death; he has a new chance: how is he going to use it?

You are saved from death; you have a new chance now; how are you going to use it?

Jesus cried out, ‘unbind him’. Lazarus was unbound to live life full of the abundant life of God.

The life of a saint is a life unbound, freed to live as God intends and calls us to live.

This isn’t simply an individual call to the heart. We believe in the Communion of Saints; that is to say, we acknowledge that there is a wider communion of faith and the faithful, beyond ourselves; beyond Croydon Minster, beyond Southwark Diocese, beyond the Church of England, beyond even the confines of the solar system: All Saints Day is celebration of a cosmic, social vision connecting us to Christians of all times and places. To believe in the Communion of Saints is the ultimate in connectivity, beating any mobile phone or Wi-Fi network going.

To celebrate the saints is to celebrate human life unleashed in the name of Jesus Christ, reflecting Christ in all that we think and speak and do.

So back to those questions:

1.     What will do be doing this time tomorrow?
2.     How will you recognise God at work in what you will be doing this time tomorrow?
3.     How can you be prayed for in what you will be doing tomorrow?

There are almost certainly not quick or easy answers to those questions for you.

You may know where you’ll be this time tomorrow: in your classroom; in Sainsbury’s; in your home; at the doctor’s; at your desk. This time tomorrow I would guess most of us will not be in the same place we are now. We will have moved – gone in peace to love and serve the Lord.

God will most certainly be with you tomorrow and yet I can’t supply the answer to how you will recognise God’s work in you where you are. But…by being full of gratitude, being a forgiving, reconciling, hospitable person in the name of Jesus Christ, honouring others, speaking truthfully in difficult situations, and in being just and joyful, others will see God working in you: they will see not a goody, goody, but a saint.

And the last question… how can you be prayed for in what you will be doing tomorrow? If there is something – for example, strength, patience, courage, wisdom – something that you may want someone to pray for you why not go over to the Lady Chapel at the end of the Eucharist. There you can light a candle, ask for the saints to pray for you; you can write your request down to be offered later in the week; or you may want to make your way to the Lady Chapel where there will be priests to pray with and for you; or you may ask a fellow disciple whom you trust to pray for you.

And remember the saints have a ministry of intercession – that’s us all, and the saints who have gone before us: ask the saints, perhaps a particular patron saint, to pray for you too.

This is all about living life unleashed like Lazarus; not tied up and constrained by our fears but unbound by life and love and power.

© Andrew Bishop, 2018

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