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Deanery Licensed Ministers: Sermons

A True Witness

Sermon Preached at All Saints, Hanworth, 9/12/2007
Revd Sue Groom, Director of Deanery Licensed Ministers

Advent 2
Readings: Isaiah 11:1-11, Romans 15:4-13, Matthew 3:1-12

Did you notice, in our Gospel reading, that great crowds of people were coming forward to make a renewed commitment to God? According to Matthew, it was ‘the people of Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region along the Jordan.’ Can you imagine all the people of Hanworth coming forward to make a renewed commitment to God? The people were coming forward to submit to ritual cleansing, to baptism, to confess their sins. They came forward in response to John the Baptist’s proclamation of a time of preparation, a time of preparation for the coming kingdom of heaven.

Let’s try, just for a moment, to enter into that scene in the wilderness. Try to imagine, if you will, a great crowd gathering on the banks of a river, it’s not a large river, not a particularly fast river, but it is a very important river, the only river around, winding it’s way down the valley between rocky hills... The crowd consists of weary people, a people whose religion has sunk to a desperately low point... Long, long ago there had been great patriarchs and prophets.., there were tales of great signs and wonders way back in history... But, now, this people are living under foreign, oppressive, occupying forces.., with a corrupt king.., and religious leaders who are both self-righteous and hypocritical... Yet, somehow, throughout the history of this people of God, there has always been a remnant, a few who remained faithful, a minority who never lost hope that, one day, the kingdom of heaven would come on earth.

The last book in the Old Testament, Malachi, finishes with a prophecy that the great prophet Elijah would return. Now, just a few pages later (and about 400 years later), at the beginning of the New Testament, this prophecy is fulfilled – as Matthew has Jesus explain to his disciples, John the Baptist is the Elijah who was to return.

Let us return to that scene on the banks of the Jordan... The people gathered there were a people of hope. They were the people who understood their weakness, who knew their need for God, and for a renewed relationship with him. They were people – perhaps like us – who found no satisfaction in a world of materialism and hypocrisy, a world in which the only moral guidance is the command, ‘Thou shalt not get caught.’ Just as their world was ‘occupied’ by the forces of secularism and unbelief, so is ours.

We, too, must be a people of hope. Though we may feel tired, dejected, and far away from God, the exhortation still rings out through the centuries, ‘make way for the Lord, make repentance a reality, be cleansed, be purified.’

If we’re like the Pharisees, then we can go through the motions – church on Sundays, prayer and good works – but unless we are being challenged to grow in faith, our repentance is not ‘bearing fruit worthy of repentance’. John the Baptist summons us to a total commitment, a renewal of the whole of our lives, a transformation which goes far beyond the limitations of this world.

So, what is fruit worthy of repentance? Our first reading from Isaiah mentioned ‘judging the poor with righteousness’, and ‘deciding with equity for the meek of the earth’. Elsewhere in the New Testament we find ‘the peaceful fruit of righteousness’ and the well-known list from Galatians: ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.’ These are fruit worthy of repentance.

But, what was it that attracted people to John the Baptist? What was it that made them go down to the river to listen to him? Why were they eager to be baptised by him? His clothing may seem a little strange to us – camel’s hair and a leather belt – but then that was how prophets were supposed to appear. His diet doesn’t sound too attractive either – locusts and wild honey – basic food, gained by foraging. John was not user-friendly, not approachable and accommodating. He sounds like the sort of person who is blunt to the point of being rude, and deliberately intimidating. His message and his demeanour match his looks. Yet, there must have been something about him that attracted all those people. What was it?

I suspect that it was something to do with the reality of John. Here was a true witness to God’s presence in the world. We have the capacity to discern a true witness, to recognise someone who is the genuine article. And when we do discover someone who is communicating life, life in all its fullness, then we are drawn out of our darkness like moths to a flame. We are attracted to the light. And although we may be scorched, even burned in the process of purification, unlike moths we will survive and flourish.

John was a true witness to God’s presence in the world – a bright light shining against the backdrop of a dark world, a world full of materialism and hypocrisy. But.., of course, John was not the light himself. All he could do was to point to the light, the real light, the source of light, Jesus. ‘Look,’ exclaimed John, ‘ the lamb of God.’ ‘Look, he is the one who takes away the sins of the world.’

Those of us who are willing to take the journey out of darkness, those of us who are willing to allow the lamb of God to reconcile us to our heavenly Father, will in turn become witnesses to the light. John was one of the first great witnesses and we are called to be like him, to have a faith that will shine out and give hope to others.

So, who among you here at All Saints is a true witness? Who has a faith that shines out and gives hope to others? Part of my role as Director of Deanery Licensed Ministers in the Kensington Episcopal Area is to help people discern vocations to ordained ministry. The church today in Kensington needs to extend its pastoral ministry and to strengthen its mission. Is God calling someone here to minister in this deanery as a priest or deacon? Someone who has a deep and searching faith and an openness to share this with others? Someone who has thought about ordination before but because of family or work commitments did not feel able to respond at the time?

If you can identify someone here who may be called to explore Deanery Licensed Ministry then do encourage them to speak to Lindsay or myself. If you want to know more about Deanery Licensed Ministry yourself then please to speak to me.

During this season of Advent, may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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