SERMON: …because through the weakness of our mortal nature, we can do no good thing without thee

First Sunday after Trinity 2017

This resounds from our Collect this morning as Cranmer’s skilful reworking of the ancient prayer so forcefully reminds us:
we can do no such good thing without thee but with God, it is a much, much different story: that our one and only earthly task is to keep God’s commandments in the pursuit of our one and only earthly goal to please God both in will and deed.

But why? Which is what? Is doing God’s will, when we discover what it may be, even, ever achievable?

Sometimes we need, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, to begin at the beginning, to take stock of where we are in life. We have done it before, often only when forced to do so by some life-changing event, but no matter what brings us to it, our collect today reminds us that we all benefit from fresh mental stimuli from time to time in order to do nothing less than perform the act of living life ever better.
That is what St Mary the Virgin, Iffley is all about – our many activities, outreach and services which expose us to the ethereal and what possibilities there are for us in this life, now and in the future.
And with not a word wasted, this collect is at the heart of it, a prayer which is pure WD40.

Read it afresh. It adjures us to limber up, to wake up: new every morning. That Jesus expects us to reinvent ourselves, as God offers us a way to live life that is more effective, more appealing and more in sync with His will than we had before,
than we have now.

And this is nothing less than the possibility of a radically changed awareness, a fundamentally different attitude all of which leads to a completely new orientation in our thought and actions.

So how do we do it?

Go back to today’s Collect.
Resolve to scrub the barnacles off our hull,
as we have done so often in the past – or should have
make us sleek again to re-orient ourselves to serve God and God alone.

Everything, yes, everything else is of secondary importance, especially our regard for our selfish selves. It follows, does it not, that anyone who tries to preserve his own life will lose it and he who loses it will gain it. Is this a hard saying?
Perhaps. But it is a rich promise as well.

Yet this call can fill us with dread. It sounds too much like repentance, being born again and hard work when, truth to tell, we like the old comfortable, sinful ways of behaviour. Are we not all too often mental couch potatoes? For hundreds of years it was impossible to talk about this cleaning without using the word repentance, a turn off if ever there was one.

Yet anyone who thinks about repentance for longer than a half minute will realise that Jesus does not dwell on our problematic past. What he wants (and we are free to give or withhold) is for us to join with him in creating a better future for ourselves, a future full of rich promise so that we can do the good he calls us to do.

And all you have to do is approach the mercy seatwith a resolution that now is the time to give God yourself afresh with confidence, a believing trust which we name as faith. And in our culture, it is faith which gives us the courage and hope to do God’s will, not for reward here or in the hereafter, but now, when we are strong enough, alive enough and able enough to enjoy, yes, enjoy doing it.

And it is nothing other than aligning all we do to mesh with God’s will for us. God wills nothing for himself. God wills nothing but our wellbeing.

As Hans Küng, the great XX Century theologian once wrote,
‘From the first to the last page of the Bible, it is clear that God’s will aims at mankind’s wellbeing at all levels. God’s will is a helpful, healing, liberating, saving will. For it is God’s will that we should enjoy life in freedom, peace, and finally salvation.’

For Kung, God and man are inseparable. No one can be for God and against man. If we want to know and understand the bottom line of God’s will it is that He wills us to live lives of healing and serving. It is in our service to mankind that service to God is proved.

It follows, therefore, that true service of God is serving mankind and serving mankind is serving God.

And it is doable. It is what God wants. Remember, every action of Jesus from the start of his ministry until his death and resurrection was, and is not about him, it is about us.

So our Collect bids us reinvigorate ourselves, yet in the doing so, one seminal aid, one vital word is missing and that is love.
The love of one’s fellow man is present everywhere in Jesus’s teachings. And for him love is almost invariable translated in to action to do good. It is not talk, but action, good works if you will, which turns our yearning to do God’s will into a loving reality.

That’s why we need to inject fresh opportunities to love or renew our love to complete our MOT. It is love which is the all-powerful drive which completes our definition of what it is that God wills for us:

Our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord; and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind and with all thy strength.

This is the first commandment and the second is like, namely this:
Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

And in meshing with, doing God’s will, who is our neighbour? As we have seen in Manchester, in London, people do care, people do act and every act of kindness, from tending the wounded to donating clothes it all is, know they it or not, in His name. He and we together make the difference which is healing. Here is practical love, kneeling in the blood soaked streets caring for someone you have never, ever known.

So, who is my neighbour upon whom I ought to focus? Of course it is impossible to work out in advance who my neighbour will be as the story of the Good Samaritan makes so attractively clear. My neighbour is anyone who needs me here and now.

But, and it is a big but, as in the case of the towering inferno, where there is love there is also evil to be confronted. Those who would stoke resentment in the hearts of the victims, those who would kindle hate in the minds of the vulnerable for their own end whilst condemning them to new lives mired In an unnecessary anger.

That is why we need to be fit for the fight, that is why we need to be Christian soldiers for it is no one other than you and me who need to complete our acts of service by standing in the middle of the road and saying to those committed to reap havoc: No. No. Love is the way.

So knowing we are loved by God, who shows us the way we can do good if we will but emulate his son, the God who, in faith, reassures us that we can do good things, after all. We no longer do victim. We act in his name, we act in love, trusting that we are doing his will and knowing beyond peradventure that we are doing it all well, very well indeed.