Sermon preached by Mark Simons

Sunday 4 February 2018, Second Sunday before Lent

Bible Reading: John 1:1-14

God is with us individually and communally

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

In the name of God who is Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Amen

In the film Pursuit of Happiness, based on a true story of Chris Gardner, a salesman in New York who faced homelessness whilst competing for an internship at a stock brokers. His son in the film tells him this joke:

There was a man who was drowning, and a boat came, and the man on the boat said, “Do you need help?” and the man said, “No thank you, God will save me.” Then another boat came and he tried to help him, but he said, “No thanks, God will save me.” Then he drowned and went to Heaven. Then the man asked God, “God, why didn't you save me?” and God said, “I sent you two boats, you dummy!”

Our Gospel reading today is one of the well-known opening verses, that we not long heard ago at the Christmas Services. And as you can imagine it is a rich and poetic writing of scripture that gives those who preach a wealth of ideas but also a challenge to stick to one!

It is worth remembering that there is a strong emphasis in John’s Gospel and Prologue of Jesus being the Son of God … the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us. This is also emphasised in the Gospel according to Mark, the set gospel for this church year with the opening lines … The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And again, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is known as the Emmanuel which means ‘God is with us’.

For us as Christians, we believe God came to us in the form of Jesus Christ, he became incarnate…born with human flesh, but as we progress through the gospel he was also divine. He was ordinary and extraordinary.

The first few words in John’s Gospel and the first book of the Bible Genesis share a similarity that simply says … In the beginning.

In both opening lines, the story of creation is woven into the bigger story, but when you delve further in the opening verses of John…

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being….

We can see that before creation, Jesus was there too with God, and all things that has come into this world since means that we are also with God and Jesus, our identity is woven since creation and made in God’s image. We too can be ordinary and extraordinary.

Then we have the final verse, And the Word became flesh and lived among us. Other translations have dwelt amongst us. The word dwelt means to ‘tabernacle’ or to ‘pitch a tent’, which in the Old Testament was the meeting tent of God right in the middle of the people.

God chose for Jesus not to be hidden from us, but to be born right into the middle of this world, not with a fanfare or extravagant party… but coming in the vulnerability of a child born into a world that was messy, with darkness, pain, sin and suffering. Jesus comes right into the middle of the lives of people then and for us today, the Emmanuel … God with us.

So where can we find God with us today?

In our world, where there is war, disaster, pain and suffering that we often hear about in our news and sometimes that we would never hear about, God is present with those people … God is also with the politicians, the world leaders, the aid agencies, organisations and charities. God is with them in their important work to bring comfort and healing to those in need or with our world leaders to make wise decisions.

In our community, how is God present with those who are homeless, rough sleeping or addicted? The Winter Night Shelter project starts in a couple of weeks, they are still in need of volunteers, do speak to Julia or Karen if this is something you would be interested in.

I wonder where God is present with those in our community and around us who face the daily struggle of mental health difficulties or those suffering in body, mind and spirit. Our Lent programme is available today where we are to explore healing, wholeness and well-being, I encourage you to take the leaflet home and consider growing your knowledge and awareness. Sometimes a simple gesture can be so meaningful for those who may feel the darkness of this noisy, stressful and chaotic day to day life.

Finally, how might we see where God is present with us in our own lives? I come today after being licensed yesterday at Birmingham Cathedral as a Reader in this Benefice, reflecting on my training over the last year or so, I recognise that God has been there at several times throughout where I have felt a wide range of emotions including feeling tired, excited, stressed, sad, blessed and happy.

Returning to the joke I began with about the drowned man and God saying I sent two boats dummy … the joke is encouraging for each of us to think and reflect on, for us to be open to both looking for God present with us through others and to have the presence of God with those around us.

Reflecting on my emotions throughout training, it has been through countless people, too many to mention, including friends, work colleagues, our ministry team and my family, that has been there in many ways, being signs of hope, support, encouragement, love and comfort. Even I must add God was being present in the small voices and company of my nieces!

There is a fountain in India with a quote by the Indian poet Kabir: ‘I laugh if I hear the fish in the sea are thirsty. I laugh if I hear man goes in search of God’.

Every one of us has the daily opportunity to be reflections of God to all people that we encounter. Because if we show the glimpses of God, who knows what change we can make and pass onto people around us and in our world. God is present within us and God is present within those around us.

I would like to leave you with some thoughts and questions to ponder:

  • How might we recognise that God is with us in our world? To be better stewards for the creation that we have been woven into?
  • As a community, how might we demonstrate the vulnerability to be outward signs and the reflection of the divine?
  • For us as a church, how might we serve this community of Moseley and to be a continuing and relevant presence?
  • And for ourselves, how might we demonstrate the love of God to all that we encounter, to be ordinary and extraordinary, to be reflections of God’s image and to recognise that image in others.

Our Gospel reading may usually be read at Christmas, but it is a reading for every day of the year and gives us the opportunity to be part of the creation story and with God, where Jesus, Son of God, comes amongst us in the vulnerable child, but to journey alongside us and to sacrifice himself as our saviour on the cross.