Curate's Sermon - 15th March 2015
May I speak in the name of God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
I watched a film about 25 to 30 years ago, that by no means should still be in my mind today, and yet one scene from this particular movie experience has remained with me ever since. The film was by nobodies standards a classic - that I cannot even remember the name of it is no surprise to me, especially as to the best of my recollection it was simply a Video Shop impulse choice that I had made to fill a lazy morning or afternoon of a school holiday.
The film was, I do recall, a cartoon - not a comedy though but instead a serious affair, heavily influenced no doubt by George Lucas’ then recent success with my beloved Star Wars. It told the story of a battle amongst the stars between the forces of good and evil, in which a lone warrior is all that stands between the universe and its destruction.
I say lone warrior, but key to my eventual point is that this young man actually had the help of a robot, an android – similar to C-3PO in the aforementioned world of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, humanoid in nature but importantly here one that was most definitely female in its looks and traits.
The scene that I have never forgotten was the very final one of the film – a punch line that I am happy to spoil on this occasion given that I doubt anyone here will ever seek out this straight to Video affair themselves – a scene in which our hero and his female mechanical sidekick have finally defeated the great evil and they look deeply into each other’s eyes having become more and more caring for one another throughout the stories telling.
“How shall we reward them for their great efforts?” wonder the forces of good - the gods, fate – goodness only knows what was in charge and why they had been missing up until this point in the film – “let us give them the chance to gain the true and perfect love they so crave” comes the answer. And so before our hero’s very eyes the metallic features of the android change until she becomes a beautiful young woman.
But then surprisingly he begins to change too. He shrinks and falls becoming enveloped in his clothing as it gathers on the ground. The sound of a child’s wailing is heard and the once robot now woman reaches down, her eyes bright at the sight of the once man now baby who stops crying and begins cooing and smiling as she clutches him into her arms and off they go out into the world to share the apparently true and perfect love according to the maker of this otherwise less than profound piece of small screen guff.
Today is Mothering Sunday, the day during Lent that we put aside to think on mothers and motherhood and a day then that saw me once again, for this happens every single year, think upon that scene, no doubt embellished somewhat now, but that I do truly recall all the way from my late childhood.
Alas it is always true and necessary to approach Mothering Sunday with the fact in our minds that for many family life and relationships as and with mothers, do often fall short of the ideal. And yet today as I think about our reading from St John’s Gospel, the nature of the love of God described is one that stands alongside this strong message that I have remembered and carried from my youth about the perfect and true love that can and often does exist between mother and child.
Having not been a mother myself I cannot fully comment upon the true force of that bond that can exist between a mother and the child that has been carried - however I have experienced and can imagine the true and unconditional nature of motherhood’s love. For this to me seems to be a love where there is giving and giving of oneself with little tangible sign of return; certainly in the first and early years of life when a child simply must rely entirely upon somebody else to survive, where they cannot buy, barter or defend themselves and instead need somebody to do literally everything for them – a role which for so many of us is and was mainly and perhaps only filled by our mothers.
But as I said I am not a mother so my direct insights end there and instead I turn to the passage from the Gospel of St John and the words then of Jesus Christ in conversation with the Pharisee Nicodemus – words that are wonderful and amazing. John 3:16 is perhaps one of the most famous verses to be found within the pages of the Bible and for me rightly so I would say, for just listen to it once again and think on what these 20 or so words are actually saying.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life”.
As Christians we do perhaps rightly look to the end of these words for the most wonderful pay off to what the love of God means, we are after all those “who believe in him” – Jesus the Son sent by the loving God. And as I say rightly so because what a prize to be given for believing, what a gift given in love and for love to know that death is not the end, that we will not perish but have eternal life.
Many an adventure flick of much better quality than the animation that I spoke of earlier has the search for eternal life, immortality as the prize usually for the villain; Indiana Jones’ Last Crusade for example where the Holy Grail is sought – and yet here are we good Christian people, followers of Jesus, knowing that love and not hate leads to such spoils for us - knowing that the love of God is so great that we have that unending future with our Lord opening out in front of us if we believe.
And that love is maybe increased in our eyes when we think of the loss that the lover endures to give such things to us. Perhaps you do this too, but when I look upon the War Memorial that we have here within St Mary’s, when I see all the names that are written of those lost in the Great War, World War One, I often wonder, although I shudder to do so, what it must have been like for families and for mother’s in particular to see their loved ones that they have nursed and nurtured throughout childhood going off to an uncertain fate. And I just cannot imagine what it must feel like to be a mother and have the news broken that your child has indeed died. Each one of those names on that door makes me think of the heartache of mothers having lost their children.
That God gave His Son as we hear in John 3:16 and throughout the gospels stands in a similar place – similar because He was taken from a loving parent, similar because He was given over to harm and terror, similar because He died. Yet different of course because this was not the chaos and madness of war over rights and land and power, but instead a plan that saw the gift that God wanted to offer in love actually being offered.
God knows the pain of losing a Son that is most definitely true and may be a crutch that some of us can lean on when we find ourselves in similar places within our lives. But as Jesus says in our passage today that lifting up was part of a plan, the lifting up on the cross as He means here was all in the plan that He the Son knew about and was a part of. Not here punishment of an innocent by a wrathful parent but instead shared love seeing fit to offer us eternal life. And this is a truth highlighted by those who are versed in Greek who inform me that when Jesus here is saying lifted up, He certainly means elevated as in lifted high on the cross, but also elevated in terms of His status, lifted up to an exalted placed in majesty through His death, resurrection and ascension to heaven.
But where is the love in the judgement that ends this passage we may well wonder? Well within this judgement there is love I would say, the love first of all of choice. The prize offered in love of eternal life depends upon us accepting the truth about Jesus – it is not forced upon us but offered for us to freely take or not. As Jesus states “those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already” – and this believing or not is ours to do. God sent Jesus to save not condemn, but gave the world freedom to make that choice.
And here perhaps comes the greatest of all aspects of the love of God stated in our passage. God loves the world, the whole world so much that He sends the Son to save it not condemn it when He knows perfectly well that there are those who will absolutely reject this love offering made.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son - even those He knows love darkness, even those He knows do evil deeds, everyone who lives in the world may at least have the chance to believe and have the chance to receive eternal life exactly because God loves them. The actions of some may lead to their perishing the words of Jesus say today – but what is equally clear is that this is not the fate that God and Christ want or wish, wanted or wished when this plan to send the Son into the world to be lifted up and exalted was hatched.
A mother never knows what the life of their child may hold in the future – perhaps some do all they can to ensure that it holds only light and goodness, but for God whatever that future holds for us, whatever we choose to do His offer of love is still there. A Roman Catholic theologian whose words on this passage I read recently gave the following analogy for this. You can buy tickets for a friend to go to a concert and they may talk, fidget, fall asleep or even walk out of the performance – they may not appreciate the art on offer at all and show it, but this does not make the music any less wonderful, nor does it make your gesture any less loving.
The strength and breadth of the love of Jesus and God then is huge – we know this from the immensity of what this love offers, from the cost that this love involves and from the sheer size of those this love is for.
But a question for us to consider today is, where can and do we see this love? Or more importantly if we already are those “who believe in him” where will those others who are not yet believing – who like Nicodemus in the passage cannot yet commit to Jesus - going to find this love? Well simply and as usual in us. And this is a truth revealed in our passage “those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God”.
We are called then to show this love and light given to us by our loving God, through Jesus Christ. We are then called to be signs of the love of God – walking, talking love letters perhaps, declaring and describing the love of God to others around us. Can we do this? Can we show such true and perfect love in our lives, pass on the love shown to us in Jesus by God to others? Quite simply we have to – we have no choice, because we need to show the world that it has to make a choice about whether or not to believe, and at the least we as Christians show the world what Christ is like – indeed this is true whether we want to or not, the clue after all is in the name, Christians – those who follow Christ.
So is the love between mother and child true and perfect – maybe from your experiences yes, maybe for you the answer, alas, is no, but as Christians what we know is that we and indeed everyone in this world that God created have been shown a love that surely could not and is not able to be truer or more perfect. The true and perfect love shown in the lifting up of the Son sent into the world – a true and perfect love that enlightens the lives of those of us who believe – and a true and perfect love that we then must show in how we live our lives, lives we know will eventually see that most wonderful of loving gifts eternal life as our future. Amen.