Tag Archives: Genesis

The Light Shines In The Darkness

Sermon preached on the Second Sunday Before Lent based on the following passages – John 1:1-14 and Colossians 1:15-20

May I speak and may you hear through the Grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

In the beginning was the Word… perhaps one of the most evocative starts to a gospel or indeed any scripture, where we are presented by a mystery. Of course, one would expect nothing less of John and whilst all four gospels can be said to be biographies of Jesus, as the former Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple once said, ‘the Synoptic Gospels [i.e. Matthew, Mark and Luke] are like photo albums, whilst John’s gospel is like a portrait’, and a portrait is something we can spend many hours standing in front of to try and gauge what the artist is trying to tell us.

In the beginning was the Word… John’s opening sentence echoes the opening words of the book of Genesis which firmly places the Word in creation, communicating God’s will and evidence that it is eternal and has always been at work throughout.

With its capital ‘W’ we can see that it is a title not a noun or a verb, and John identifies the Word as God in the person of Jesus; and although the term Word or the Greek Logos is not retained as a title in John’s Gospel beyond the prologue, the whole gospel presses the basic claim that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit together are one God. Here is God present to his people and knowable to his people in self-revelation and redemption.

Accordingly, Jesus is the source of life and light for all people everywhere; but what of that light? God had sent an advance messenger in John the Baptist to provide testimony as to the true light. A light that will enlighten, educate and clarify God’s purpose in wanting to redeem all who will believe in him. A light that will dispel the darkness and evil that shrouds the world in so many places.

Certainly, over the last year we have seen a lot of darkness in the world; darkness that is more like an invisible fog that clings to bodies and minds. Yet the one thing that has kept many people going is a sense of faith that there is hope for the future. In amongst all that darkness a small flicker of hope has burned steadily, ‘and the darkness did not overcome it’.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it
John 1:5

And today, more than ever that small flame is burning even more brightly as we appear to be at a turning point in the Coronavirus pandemic, with the vaccine programme rollout and lockdown measures reducing the rate of infection. Yet, we can’t reduce God’s role to that of a single unextinguishable tealight!

However, the light is indeed eternal, and as mentioned, is a light that will enlighten people everywhere. It is a spiritual light, that awakens a response to the person of Jesus, but it is also a light that kindles in our heart and minds the knowledge and skills needed to bring light to others. 

In flashes of inspiration or eureka moments – from Archimedes in his bath; Newton under his apple tree and the scientists at AstraZeneca in their test tubes, to the light that shines out from people’s eyes in simple acts of kindness and love done purely for the benefit of others.

There is nothing that can stop this light from shining and yet people still choose, just as Jesus’ own people did, to turn away, to shield their eyes and fail to recognise God even when he walks among them.

And walk among them he did, which was quite extraordinary, that the Word of God, the agent of creation, should choose to become ‘flesh’, to become a human being, taking on our nature, with all its wayward appetites and frailties. But just like then, his death could not extinguish the light, and those who believe in him, whether then or now, all creatures of the original creation find themselves transformed through his blood on the cross into a new spiritual creation, as children of God, in which the light of Christ resides.

This then is the light that we all have within us as followers of Christ. Even so, for many people there have been times when the surrounding darkness has threatened to overwhelm us, unable to fully imagine the number of deaths related to the Coronavirus, the mental anguish of being parted from loved ones, the exhaustion, the rules, the sheer inescapable nature of the way we are having to live our lives; it all takes its toll.

Yet, the light still shines deep within us. slow and steady – we just have to allow it push away some of that darkness, to hand over our worries and concerns to God, to let him reveal the signs of hope and new life for each of us, just as he revealed his glory in the life of Jesus.

A ‘glory’ not as a radiant vision or dazzling light but in his sacrificial love for the world that revealed his true worth. Centuries before, Moses realised that God ‘is compassionate and gracious… abounding in love and faithfulness’ but it is God’s Son who is ‘full of grace and truth’. And it is through this Grace that the invisible God is never truly hidden but is always revealed in the perfect light of his son, Jesus Christ, the light for and of the whole world, now and forever. Amen

Brea(d)th of Forgiveness

Breath Window

Breath – Nave window at the Church of the Holy Spirit, Lebanon, New Jersey*

The gospel reading for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, as often happens, included in part the reading that was given for Easter Sunday’s evening prayer service. This morning we heard the additional story of Doubting Thomas and thought about how we too can doubt, but that how we are more blessed when we have come to believe rather than have the concrete proof that Jesus offered to Thomas.

Last Sunday, when I preached at evensong, my thoughts were more on the breadth of forgiveness that Jesus offered in coming to and appearing to his disciples, who had hidden themselves away from the world. In return this reflects the breadth of forgiveness offered and how we should receive it.

Reading: John 20:19-23

“To err is human, to forgive divine” Alexander Pope, poet (1688-1744)

In our build up to Easter we have taken a great deal of time to reflect on the pain and the suffering that Jesus was to endure through the cross. An instrument of torture, it has, as of this morning, become a symbol of God’s transformative and life-giving power through its emptiness, echoed with the discovery of the empty tomb by two of Jesus’ disciples. This new life is offered to us as a result of Jesus taking on himself our sins in order that we could be completely forgiven, not just for our sending him to die in the first place, echoed in his words from the cross, ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do’ but as part of our response to do the same from thereon in.

Yet, one of the most difficult things we ever do is forgive another. We know we should forgive, because it’s the right thing to do; it’s the Christian thing to do and we know it’s what Jesus would do. But it’s always easier to see another through the lens of their behaviour and its effect on us than it is to see them as God sees them.

How often have we recited the Lord’s prayer in which we ask for forgiveness for our sins as we forgive others? But if our forgiveness to others is given begrudgingly then perhaps we might suspect that our own forgiveness might be begrudged. Even more difficult than forgiving another is to forgive ourselves, to set ourselves free to return to the likeness of God.

What the disciples were to receive on that first day of the week as they came to terms with the amazing turn of events was the life-giving gift of the Spirit as Jesus breathed it onto them, with its resonance to God’s creation of Adam at the beginning of Genesis.

The Spirit is given and the disciples are now called to take up Jesus’ mission, and its immediate effect will be to send them out, to take responsibility for the world. The Christian mission starts in the knowledge of our own need. It’s what the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church is for. It is not designed to fill us with pious emotions, or give us unwavering certainty, or overawe others with our power, or even to build us into the church, though it may do all of these things. The gift is given principally to the disciples and to us to do what Jesus told us to, which is to be his witnesses ‘in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

 Throughout John’s gospel, the way in which people react to Jesus signals whether they will accept or reject God’s forgiveness offered through him. Now the same thing is happening to the disciples. Their mission, too, is to do with forgiveness and judgement  and while it might sound as if Jesus is giving the disciples a blank cheque when he says they now have the power to forgive sins or retain sins, the important thing to remember  is to whom this charge is given, and in what circumstances.

This is a group of people who, only a few days previously, had betrayed and deserted their leader and now they have locked themselves in an upstairs room, fearing for their own lives. When Jesus comes to them and shows them the marks of the nails, it is not just so that they can be truly certain who he really is, but in order that the tremendous mission he  is about to entrust to them can be grounded in the reality of who they are too. These disciples know how much they have been forgiven. They are not going to take the power they are being given over sin lightly.

The temptation is to treat the gift of the Spirit as something for insiders, something to be enjoyed and guarded jealously. Instead we need to long for the Spirit to fall down on all of God’s people; a longing that all should share in the forgiveness and new life that God has given to us. We receive in awed gratitude, and share because we know that God has given us what we do not deserve. Shouldn’t we then in our own levels of forgiveness ensure we are as ungrudging as God?

 Amen

Forgive

*This beautiful interpretation in glass of John 20:21 is one of a series of windows in the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit, Lebanon, New Jersey. To see some of the others please follow this link