Sermon on 18th January 2015

2nd Sunday of Epiphany/Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

My primary school had one television and one video cassette recorded, which were kept in a lockable trolley with heavy-duty wheels. It was about as tall as the average adult human being, which meant it was much taller than Mrs Scott, who heaved it into our classroom as often as she could, to keep us entertained and give herself a break from crowd-control in our Year 6 classroom. The ritual was a familiar one. She would plug in the TV and the VCR, put the cassette she wanted to show us into the machine, and wait for something to happen. Inevitably, nothing would happen. Occasionally, we might see some black-and-white static on the television screen, or even catch a glimpse of the afternoon showing of ?Neighbours? as she flicked helplessly through the channels, trying to see whether the recording she wanted to show us would appear, perhaps on channel zero, or on ?AV1?.

Next, our exasperated teacher would turn to the class and ask if any of us knew ?how to make this thing work?. Usually someone would suggest that she unplug all the wires at the back of the television and reconnect them in a slightly different configuration. This would be done, but to no effect. Finally, Mrs Scott would have to leave us unsupervised in the classroom (there were no classroom assistants in those days) and go off to find the lab technician who knew how to get the TV to work. All of this would easily take up the first 10 minutes of the lesson, and we found it highly amusing. (Perhaps that was the point?) Of course, I know that nowadays, classroom are equipped with interactive whiteboards and projectors that can show DVDs or stream content from the internet at the click of a button. And teachers are a lot more technologically literate than they used to be. But this memory of Mrs Scott labouring over the monstrous television and video cassette recorder in my primary school classroom seems to parallel the experience described in our reading from Revelation, in which ?no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it? (Rev. 5:3).

Something with meaningful contents (a scroll, or a video, depending on the scenario we are thinking about) remains closed to us; opaque, or unintelligible… But in the Book of Revelation, we are no longer thinking about a wildlife programme recorded off the television last night. We are thinking about a document which includes all of human history — past, present, and future — within its scope. And only one person in the whole of human history is found ?worthy? to open this scroll and break its seals. This is not because he is more powerful or more knowledgeable than any of the elders or creatures who surround the throne in the celestial vision of this person called John. Rather, it is because he was ?slaughtered? (Rev. 5:6), and thereby ?ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation? (Rev. 5:9).

These people ?you have made […] to be a kingdom and priests serving our God? (Rev. 5:10). It is by his willingness to suffer on behalf of others that Jesus has revealed both himself and God?s secret purpose for human history. This purpose is to bring together ?every tribe and language and people and nation? into ?one kingdom? in which we will all be priests serving one God. If this goal seems a long way off in the world, where tribes and languages and peoples and nations are very much in conflict with one another, it also seems a long way off in the Church, where only some people are ?priests? and where all of us — clergy and congregation — are only ?serving our God? some of the time, and half-heartedly at that. This is where, as ever, the example of Jesus comes to unsettle us. In our gospel reading today, Jesus ?finds? Philip and says to him: ?follow me? (Jn 1:43). Then Philip ?finds? Nathanael and tells him ?we have found him…? (Jn 1:45). The message of Jesus is not just for one or two individuals. Rather, it spreads out in ever larger circles, as first Philip, and then Nathanael are drawn into conversation with Jesus. The purpose of the gospels, and of the book of Revelation, is to draw us — from every tribe and language and people and nation — into conversation with Jesus as well.

And in our Old Testament reading, Samuel also learns to say ?speak, Lord, for your servant is listening?, and so is drawn into the conversation as well. I have chosen to quite deliberately to dwell on the language of ?conversation?, ?finding?, and ?following? in today?s gospel passage, because they are all active and inclusive images, rather than passive or excluding ones. Towards the end of last year, a group of us from the PCC got together to review the Priory?s Mission Action Plan. You may remember that I preached about it at the time.

And a key part of the Mission Action Plan was to do with participation. We wanted people to be involved in the process from the beginning, so that it was never just Chris?s vision, or mine, or even the PCC?s. That?s why we held a consultation after one of our morning services, and have actively sought input and feedback from people along the way. And participation was not only part of the process by which we developed our Mission Action Plan: it has also become part of the vision itself. Our desire is for everyone to become more involved in the life of the Priory and of the wider community through active participation in our services and study groups and prayer life and social outreach and engagement with other Churches and religions and our neighbours. We believe it is God?s desire that we all grow towards full participation in a ?kingdom? of ?priests serving our God?. And if these images seem a bit strange, remember that earthly ?kingdoms? and human ?priests? are only a pale imitation of the real thing: a human race unified by our desire for what God desires, and channelling his self-giving love to and through each other.

And this is God?s mission, God?s desire for all people, not ours. Our part is simply to be drawn into participation with what God is doing. Exactly what form your participation (and mine) will take remains for us to work out together. But it will be ?found? by ?following? Jesus. And this is really the only ?conversation? worth having. The more we participate, the more we will be drawn into the life of God, the quality of which is called ?eternity? and the scope of which is the whole of creation. And let me tell you, this beats any of Mrs Scott?s pre-recorded nature programmes! Amen