SERMON: ‘We are put on earth a little space, that we may learn to bear the beams of love.’

SERMON: ‘We are put on earth a little space, that we may learn to bear the beams of love.’

A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley
by Andrew McKearney on 4 February 2018

We’ve heard Saint John unfold the mystery of the incarnation, beginning with those words that we last heard at Christmas:
‘In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.’

Each of the four gospel writers begin their accounts of Jesus by going back and finding a point from which to start their story.

Mark – to the work of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus at the age of 30.

Matthew and Luke go further back – back to the birth of Jesus, with Matthew tracing his ancestry back to Abraham, and Luke back to Adam.

John takes the story of Jesus back further still – before Abraham was, before Adam was, before time was, God was. And that’s where John wants to begin his story of Jesus. John alone of the four gospel writers, places the story of Jesus in the context not just of time, but of eternity.

Whenever I read the opening sentence of John’s Prologue, I sense the enormous weight given to the full stop at the end of that opening sentence:
‘In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.’ Full stop!
Human language lies exhausted – you can’t go further back than that – the limits have been reached!

But there is more! Saint John goes on to say that this creative, revealing, dynamic Word is not some kind of abstraction. The Word has a ‘face’, becomes a ‘person’.

The climax to Saint John’s Prologue comes in verse 14 where he writes:
‘And the Word became flesh and lived among us.’
It is an extraordinary way for Saint John to begin his gospel account of Jesus!

In the middle of this magnificent Prologue we’re brought down to earth with a bump! We move from the cosmic to the parochial, from poetry to prose:
‘There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.’

We would feel the offence all the more if what was written was:
‘There was a man sent from God
whose name was Bert….or Frank…..or Bob!’
We would all roll about saying ‘You can’t be serious!’ Why ruin a masterpiece in this way?

Well, perhaps this is how the material first came to the author of John’s gospel starting in much the same way as Mark’s gospel does with John the Baptist? And some have suggested that perhaps it’s the author of John’s gospel who is responsible for bringing together the poetry and the prose, the cosmic and the parochial, the magnificent words with which the Prologue begins, and these less sonorous words:
‘There was a man sent from God,
whose name was John.’

This juxtaposition is an example of something that is central to the whole purpose of John’s gospel. The timeless sayings of the Prologue are quite deliberately not separated from but intertwined with the facts of history – because it is in this history that the eternal reality of God is present, this human life that is filled with the life of God himself.

But so what? Just supposing all this is true, what difference does it make?

There are many answers to this question, but the best ones to my mind are the simplest – we love when we know we are loved. That for me is the difference the Christian faith makes – we know we are loved by God because God has lived among us, in Christ has made his home with us, has given himself over totally to us, to enable us in turn to grow in love.

So the particularity of the incarnation, a particularity that many find difficult to swallow, is not exclusive but passed on, made available to everyone, and has as it’s purpose to give us all power to become children of God:
‘…. who are born, not of blood or of the will of the
flesh or of the will of man, but of God.’

That’s our calling – to become children of God! And going from that to the particularities of this morning’s service here at Iffley, the healing ministry of the Church that is being offered has its part to play in helping us to fulfil our calling.

The laying on of hands with prayer assures us of God’s love when we are at our most vulnerable and frail.

Hands placed and prayer offered remind us of God’s loving-purposes – even when we doubt or are distressed.

Of course your life and mine are messy, awkward, patched together, stumbling affairs. And what the healing ministry of the Church affirms is that it is not just in the life of Christ that the eternal reality of God is present, but in our lives too – giving us each power to become children of God.

So over and over again, in a whole variety of ways, sitting kneeling standing who cares, we simply place ourselves there – letting the love of God made known to us in Christ do its work in us.

Some of you may know this short quotation from one of William Blake’s poems that I want to leave you with:
‘We are put on earth a little space,
that we may learn to bear the beams of love.’