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Deanery Licensed Ministers: Sermons

The Gift of Self

Sermon Preached at All Saints, Fulham, 6/7/2008
Revd Sue Groom, Director of Deanery Licensed Ministers

Dedication Festival, Year A
Readings: 1 Kings 8, John 4:1-42

More than a quarter of a century ago Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas combined creative forces on the first Indiana Jones film entitled ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark.’ The premise of that film is that the Ark of the Covenant was hidden at the time of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and that it now lies buried in the sands of the Egyptian desert. The Nazis are searching for the Ark because they believe that if the Ark marches before their armies, they will be able to conquer the world.

In a climactic scene, the Ark is opened – and it is empty. There are no tablets of stone displaying the commandments, but rather what appears to be sand. The Nazis heap ridicule and scorn on the whole adventure but, as Spielberg then portrays it, all of those who tried to capture and use the ark are destroyed. They are consumed by fire.

Spielberg, who is Jewish, accurately represents the Jewish belief that God can never be controlled or used for human purposes, that the holiness of God is not to be mocked.

It is this sense of reverence for God, the God who is beyond all our imagining, that underlies Solomon’s prayer:

O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart.… But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! Have regard to your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God… That your eyes may be open night and day towards this house, the place of which you said, “My name shall be there.”

This is the prayer that Solomon prays at the completion and dedication of the temple in Jerusalem, about 1000BC. The prayer reflects the experience of a people who had come to know God through the Exodus, through a time of wandering in the desert.

Always God walked with them on that journey, uncontained, uncontrolled. This God who could not even be named, could not be manipulated or kept in a box.

‘You shall have no other gods before me’, God tells the people of Israel. ‘You shall not make for yourself an idol.’ Do not even think about it.

Solomon’s prayer holds in tension the knowledge that God cannot be contained, with the desire to have a place for the Ark of the Covenant, a place where the people of Israel can gather to worship.

Again and again in its history Israel lost sight of this tension, sometimes building a shrine under every spreading tree, making gods out of wood, stone or bronze.

At other times they put all of their faith in the temple, thinking that the temple was god, that the temple would protect them from all danger.

We have the same human tendencies, making gods of the market, or Church structures, or sexuality, or money, or success, or being in love, or a beautiful body, or human knowledge.

Always it seems that we have to learn the hard way that God alone is our rock, our stronghold, our shepherd. Then in Jesus, God did the unthinkable. Exactly what could not be done, God did. The God who could not be contained by the heavens and the earth became incarnate. God took the form of a human body. To use theological terminology, the transcendent became immanent.

Jesus is known as Emmanuel, God with us, walking and talking, teaching and healing, in the streets, and in the temple, Israel’s house of prayer.

Yet it is beyond the borders of Israel and to a foreigner that Jesus explains the relative insignificance of such a place of prayer.

Jesus tells a Samaritan woman he meets at a well, ‘believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship God neither here nor in Jerusalem… the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship God in spirit and truth.’

True worship is when we bend not only our knees but our entire lives to God. When we orient our whole lives to God. God is not a temple, or church, or sanctuary. God is not a place.

God is spirit, a powerful presence to believers. The hour is already here when the only acceptable worship of God is the complete gift of ourselves, of all that we are and all that we have, to God and to each other.

Jesus summarised the law in two commandments, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ And ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’

Does this seem daunting? Impossible? It is only God who can make possible this gift of self.

It is through the gift of Jesus, God incarnate, crucified, risen and ascended, that we come together as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy people God claims for his own. We have been born into Christ through baptism and the Spirit. We come together as the body of Christ to give thanks and praise to God. We are grateful for the gift of life in all its fullness, for forgiveness and healing, for the call to follow Jesus, for the words of scripture which guide us, and for the food of holy communion which sustains us.

We give thanks for the Church and for the lives of holy men and women who inspire us with their witness to love. We bless God for the earth and all creation. We give thanks for this place of worship, built by skilled human hands, to give glory and praise to God.

And we offer ourselves in so many ways to the service of God and his people.

Some people offer themselves to serve as Deanery Licensed Ministers. These are people God has called to exercise a ministry as a deacon or priest in their local area:

The church in Kensington needs Deanery Licensed Ministers. If you want to know more about them, then please do speak to me after the service.

God gives us so much. How will you give yourself to God and his people?

Acknowledgements and Bibliography
Parts of this sermon are taken and/or adapted from a homily published by Abbot John Klassen, OSB: Homily for the Feast of the Dedication of the Abbey Church, 2004. As with any sermon, however, various ideas come together over a period of time and it isn't always possible to retrace my steps to every source of inspiration. I will gladly acknowledge any other sources if brought to my attention. Thank you.

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