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To shine as a light in the world – Canon Maggie McLean, Canon Missioner

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Preacher: Canon Maggie McLean, Canon Missioner

Date: 15 October, Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

I don’t know what to say.

There is such darkness in the news of the last week. It can feel as though our words tumble into an abyss of chaos and despair. As the Church we’re called to engage with the world in which we live, to seek peace and pursue it. But it can feel an impossible task – facing an enormity of horror and violence which defies our comprehension.

Christians have always borne the suffering of this world with the hope of a Kingdom yet to come, a paradise which will – one day – be restored. As our opening hymn put it:

There for ever and for ever

alleluia is outpoured;

for unending, for unbroken,

is the feast-day of the Lord.

Today so much feels broken, and the vision of what is to come can feel a long, long way off – and we don’t know what to say to those who hunger and thirst for that peace to be here, for all of us, now. For healing to overcome the wounds of so much injury, bereavement and hurt.

And then the prophecy of Isaiah, our first reading. Of a God who is ‘a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat’. No God worth worshipping wants destruction to be the final word. Rather, when we walk the darkest path, we yearn for a God who will light our way and bring us comfort.

When Paul wrote to the Philippians he knew that encouragement is needed. The early church was hard pressed and persecuted. In the face of divisions and discord, outward threats and inner tensions, Paul continues to encourage the Christians of Philippi to ‘rejoice’. Paul is convinced in the Gospel message that in God’s time, ultimately, all this suffering and sorrow will be reconciled and redeemed.

Paul’s call to the Christian community was to live that future hope today. To model gentleness and care for those who are traumatised by the harshness of human life. He exhorts the church to think about the things now which bear the stamp of the things to come: ‘whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise’. Even in the darkness of this passing age there are astonishing examples of kindness; of care and of love that somehow breach the walls of hatred.

In our Gospel Jesus tells the parable of a wedding banquet. It’s a parable of the Kingdom of Heaven, a meal where all are honoured, loved and welcomed. No one works on the day of the wedding. Cares are set aside as the celebration begins. The wine flows and old arguments are set aside. There is peace. But in the parable there are some who don’t want to join the party. Weddings celebrate love – but those who decline the invitation turn to violence. Those who carry the message of invitation are maltreated and killed.

We are the servants sent to invite. The ones who are called and tasked to call others. It is such a fundamental part of being a Christian that it sits at the heart of our baptism. To shine as a light in the world; a help to others to find their way out of darkness and to come to the brightness of God’s feast. And all of us at some point, to varying degrees, need that light held out so that we can find our way out of darkness. It’s what Christians do for one another and are called to do in the world.

So, as the church around the world gathers in worship today, our prayers and thoughts, music and words, continue to hold out the vision of a feast to which all are invited. As we stretch out our hands to receive the sacrament we are fed with the hope that in Christ, one day, this darkness will be turned into the Kingdom of light. This is our living hope and one which becomes ever brighter at those times when the world darkens.

It seems to me that it matters more than ever at the moment to follow Paul’s counsel that we should think about what ‘is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure’. When so much focus is on the darkest deeds people can perpetrate, we have an obligation to elevate our attention to the things that will restore our humanity. To pray for peace and to support those individuals and agencies that seek to build communities that are rooted in the life of God’s Kingdom.

I began by saying that I didn’t know what to say. And perhaps silence is also needed at this time. But I believe without a doubt that in our worship we proclaim what must, ultimately, overcome all the evil that is in our world. That as we gather here today we inhabit and model what that Kingdom means – and recommit ourselves to the pursuit of a peace which can only truly come from God alone. Together we are the messengers of that peace and of that Kingdom.

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