Infinite Love

Sermon Title:  Infinite Love

Date: 4th January 2015

Preacher: Rev’d Susanne Champbers

Church Calendar Date:  The Epiphany of our Lord

Lectionary Reading:  Isiah 60.1-6, Ps 72.1-7, 10-14, Esphesians 3.1-12, Matthew 2.1-12

 

The birth story of Jesus is important as we reflect on the life of Jesus as told in the New Testament.  We know the story.

We know that although Jesus comes with promise and hope as our Messiah, there is also pain and sorrow mixed in.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem and then with amazing courage and insight of Joseph through dreams, they end up living in Nazareth.  If it wasn’t for Mary and Joseph following God’s calling, the world would be a very different place.

The set verses from Isaiah today are beautiful. ‘Arise, shine for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!’

Most of chapter 60 is full of hope and promise, and wealth, and the walls and gates of the city will be renamed, “victory” and “renown”.

From the scars of war and violence will come a new status for Zion.

Yet, it is one verse that saddens me because it seems as though this new identity has zero tolerance for disobedience in this new system: Verse 12 says this: “for the nation or the kingdom that does not serve you shall perish; such nations shall be destroyed” Isaiah 60:12.

Even with all the hope and beauty and promise of a new empire, in the end, it doesn’t seem they have learnt a great deal. When we have wealth, power, when ‘you are the master’, does that really mean we have to exclude, put down, kill?

Jesus was born when King Herod was the ruler. ‘Herod was known to rule with cruelty and viciousness, fed by paranoia stemming from his uncertain claim, as a non-Davidide, to the throne.’[i] And as we know he was out to kill Jesus and ended up slaughtering a lot of innocent baby boys. And yes, the cry of Rachel is still heard today…

We are just such complex human beings who don’t appear to love ourselves or our neighbour or God enough to stop jealousies, revenge fantasies, abusive behaviour and the like. We are not grateful for what we have.

It is so easy to be discouraged and when we look at the horrible things we still do to each other, it’s no wonder some people give up on believing in any sort of God!

The story of Jesus; the story of God’s people through the Hebrew Scriptures challenge us if we want a deeper understanding of what it means to be human.

It is so easy to read a passage like the Isaiah one, and skip over the nasty parts. These texts, I believe are written for us to grapple with …not to just blindly agree or ignore.

In Richard Rohr’s meditation for the 1st January 2015, he wrote some very helpful words.

“The formation of faith is an ever-growing and deepening understanding of Divine Reality and our own reality. We see this mirrored in scripture, as the text itself usually takes three steps forward and two steps back in the authors’ view of God and truth. We get a moment of Big Revelation; it is by definition always too much for the small self, and so we backtrack and recoil! Texts themselves reveal each level of consciousness and reassert boundaries, needed violence, self-importance, exclusion, and almost anything rather than really trusting an Infinite Love.

At times in religion’s history, God has been portrayed as merely tribal, vindictive, smaller than we are, and judgemental to the core.  But running throughout our sacred texts, traditions, and experience is the other thread of God’s desire for union, inclusivity, non-violence, trust, patience, and healing.”

Wise words to help us read and understand and grapple with who we are and who God is for us.

The magi in our story today go on a pilgrimage in search of a great leader which they find in ordinary surroundings.   When the star stopped they were overwhelmed with joy.

Overwhelmed with joy! What a marvellous experience that must have been!  And yet, the story isn’t all lovely is it? We know that the cold heart of Herod had been stirred.

And yet, and yet, can we live today in the hope of the Risen Christ? Can we keep the flame of our faith alive amidst the messiness of humanity and live with courage and love?

Ponder the words by Jim Cotter on the front of your pew sheet.

“Living Presence of glory, your star rising in splendour,

your radiance in the eyes of the Child piercing the darkness of our slumber,

signalling the dawn of a new commonwealth of peace and justice,

enlighten us when we are tempted to fall back into gloom,

beckon the nations to your light, and guide all humanity to your glory.

We pray this in the Spirit of Jesus,

Word made flesh,

Dream incarnate,

Hope of the world.”  Amen.

Someone once said “Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.” Sarah Ban Breathnach

As complex, messy, streaky human beings, we will take three steps back and two steps forward as we learn to trust more ‘Infinite Love.’

As we enter a new year, and as we hear the ancient stories of our faith again and again, may we with T.S. Eliot say ““we shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

The Lord be with you

[i] Brendan Byrne ‘Lifting the burden’ page 28