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The Reverend Deacon Abigail Davison (Curate)
Sunday 18 November 2018 – 10am Sung Eucharist
Hebrews 10: 11-14, 19-25 and Mark 13:1-8
I’m sure you all keep up to date with the Anglican Communion News Service blog page, but in case you missed it, there was a piece this week from Rev’d Canon Dr Stephen Spencer, who was one of my tutors and vice principal of the college where I trained (he’s now Director for Theological Education in the Anglican Communion). Stephen has a real passion for the Church in Africa and in the article he wrote about being invited to preach in an Anglican Church in Uganda. The Church was made up of South Sudanese Christians, who had been forced to flee the violence in their home and were now living in exile, in a refugee camp. The shelter that housed the Church they had built themselves out of wooden planks and tarpaulin that they’d persuaded some of the UN staff to give them. And yet, in all this, Stephen wrote of the joy the Church had in gathering for worship, a joy that he described as ‘triumphant’.
Here was a triumphant Church, a Church that witnesses powerfully and movingly to the triumph of Christ, gathered in a makeshift shelter, built of bits of wood and borrowed tarpaulin…
It was another Deacon that sent me a link to the article, and I read it while I was trying to work out what I was going to say today. I read the part about the Church building their own shelter and thought to myself “this’ll make a great sermon illustration”! In the gospel reading we’ve just heard, Jesus foretells the destruction of the great temple, and here we have a group of people who have seen everything destroyed, and yet are in themselves an indestructible, joyful, Church. There’s a sermon somewhere in that.
I could have asked of us, are we ready to be the same: could we be that joyful? If, perhaps when, these large stones are thrown down, will people still be able to point to us and go, “ah yes, there’s the Church”?
That could have been a perfectly fine sermon.
But then I read Stephen’s article again, and it wasn’t the joy the Church had that most stood out, it was the hope.
It was a hope so bold that even in the midst of a refugee camp, they would gather and build themselves a church and be joyful, when according to the world, they should have been crying.
I’m sure tears have been shed. I’m sure they still are being shed: hope isn’t about never being sad or about not recognising when things are truly dire, but it is about knowing they will not always be that way.
Joy like that Church had, I think, can only be the result of knowing how sure and how firmly grounded our hope is.
In the gospel reading, it seemed that the disciples were disturbed by the idea of something so seemingly permanent as the great stone temple being destroyed. It was the centre of religious practise for them. But ultimately it was not where their hope, or ours, was grounded.
It was our first reading, the letter to the Hebrews, that made clear where our hope is grounded: it’s grounded in knowing that the Christ saw things through to the end, and beyond. He finished the job. Because of that, we’re told to ‘have confidence’, to ‘approach’ the most holy in ‘full assurance’, to ‘hold fast’ to the confession of our hope. These are bold statements, bold actions. We are called to be surer then we can be even in stone. There’s very little humility there I think. And that’s not a bad thing here: I don’t know that either hope or joy are terribly humble things. They are very very bold things.
Towards the end of the reading we’re told to do one more thing, we’re told to consider how we might ‘provoke’ one another to love and good deeds. Provocation is never an act of humility: our provocation needs to be grounded in our bold hope though. I suspect there are lots of ways we could be provoking each other to love and good needs, but I wonder if the best of them isn’t by example. Are our brothers and sisters meeting today in that makeshift shelter in a Ugandan refugee camp a provocation to us? If they can be that bold in witnessing to the hope they have, then how could we, how should we be responding to that same hope?
To be clear, I am not suggesting that we should be happier because there are people in the world that have it much worse. Maybe there are times when we need to have a sense of perspective, but actually if you’re facing something difficult then you can’t and shouldn’t try to just dismiss it because there are other difficulties in the world: you still need to deal with it prayerfully and practically, whatever that means to your situation. What I’m asking is, can we, as another part of that same Church, be drawn into what they have. Can we be provoked and encouraged into that same joy?
Here is a place to start, here is my challenge, my provocation to you. I know that some of you will just not be in a place where you can do this – please don’t force yourself to.
But can you smile?
It’s the most un-British, un-Anglican thing, I know! But I want you to leave here absolutely assured of our hope. As you come forward to acknowledge and celebrate the sure foundation of that hope [in the Eucharist], then will you join those Brothers and Sisters and be joyful in it: will you smile?
Link to Rev’d Canon Dr Stephen Spenser’s article here
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