Sermon for Choral Evensong & Benediction Sunday 20 July 2014
Sermon preached by Fr Michael Lynch
“May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our rock and our redeemer.” Amen.
As most of you may know I was deaconed a couple of weeks ago and this is my first sermon. During the retreat before ordination the Bishop of London spoke to us about his first few days as deacon. He said it was a rural parish and two ladies from the congregation approached him and said, ‘would you mind if we left a tart on your back doorstep’. He also said that on the other hand his sermons were scrutinised the likes of which St. Paul never had to endure. Well, hopefully I won’t be subjected to tarts or over-zealous scrutiny, not at this stage anyway…
In the New Testament reading today we hear about Peter and John being brought before the Sanhedrin, what we would think of today as the Supreme Court, for preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ in an eerie echo of what had happened to their master only months before. It was the officials and in particular the Sadducees who were most offended by the message because they objected to the doctrine of afterlife and feared that their status, their power and their wealth might be threatened if these rabble-rousers continued to gain popularity but they must have been baffled that having dispatched their leader in such a hideous and humiliating way and His followers, unimportant people anyway, being scattered and denying Him that the cult would have faded away as so many others had done before – yet here they were, as enthusiastic as ever, and it was this that scared them the most, that the physical destruction of their leader and the threats and menaces offered to them was apparently having no effect on the power of this cult. Of course, what the elders had done in trying to sever the root of this power was to encourage new shoots as Christ Himself had predicted and served as a reminder to the great enemy of the Truth that he had been put on notice.
For me, what happened after the resurrection is even more extraordinary than the events of Christ’s life itself and is the ‘proof’ if you like of the deity of Christ. Everything should have come to nothing. The followers probably only numbered a few hundred, their leader had been destroyed,
His closest friends and followers scattered and Peter even lied about having known him. Furthermore, the promises that Christ had made hadn’t come to pass as they had expected and couldn’t now they thought because Jesus had been murdered. Yet something amazing happened; out of this desolation, the Great Commission had begun and Christ’s servants, stricken with grief, bitterly disappointed and frightened had been transformed by the spirit during Pentecost into warriors for Christ, fearless and ‘bold’. And here we have Peter, the coward and the liar facing off the Sanhedrin and having been let off without charge insisting that they make a judgement against him. What an extraordinary example for the rest of us. Unfortunately, I feel quite sure that I would have reacted like Peter to the threat of death, and I would have justified it by telling myself that it had all gone wrong anyway but my daily failures to fulfil my mission as I should are as nothing compared to denying the Christ whom Peter had known personally and with all the evidence had been given – yet he was engaged by The Christ to found the church and over two thousand years later there are over two billion Christians in every corner of the earth.
So, how can we apply this lesson to our lives today?
In Ethiopia Meriam Yehya is still in prison charged with apostasy even though her mother is a Christian. She had been sentenced to death and chained-up in one of the worst prison systems in the world while raising a newborn, yet all Meriam had to do was to renounce Christianity – even temporarily – and gone to the United States with her American husband. She would have had a permanent fatwa against her for converting back to Christianity but she could have been living in luxury in the United States and under the protection of the most nation country on earth yet she has refused because she is in chains to Christ, such is the power of the Spirit.
And what about us? What risks can we take for Christ? I suggest we risk a prayer – let’s all ask God what we can do – what risks we can take for Him and ask for the courage and the will to take them. But beware, ask and we shall receive.
Peter asked to be crucified upside-down because he didn’t feel worthy to die like Jesus. The man who ran away had become fearless and unstoppable in spreading the Good News and in his love for Jesus Christ. There’s hope for us all.