Sermon for Sunday 30 January 2022
Epiphany 4 2022
I came across an article last week recounting the latest phobias that doctors have officially recognised. It made fascinating reading. There was, for example, one woman crippled a dread fear of kneecaps. She hasn’t looked at her own knees for 16 years and cannot say the word “kneecap” without bursting into tears.
Other recently diagnosed phobias included the pathological fear of peas, tea bags and frogs.
As amusing as that all might sound at first sight, I think that article actually points to an element of modern life that we should not ignore.
It seems that for many people, life is increasingly becoming something characterized by fear and anxiety: pandemic; global warming; potential war in the Ukraine. It’s easy to get caught up in looking on life through just one lens: and that’s the lens of fear.
Yet in the midst of all this fear, we Christians have, over the past several weeks, been celebrating a story which points to the opposite of fear, to hope. In fact, the first words of that story were those spoken by the Angel Gabriel to Mary: “Do not be afraid.”
If we were to point to one idea that sums up the Christian message, a good one would be, I think, hope. God born as one of us shows us that we do not need to fear, we are not alone, because he is Emmanuel: God-with-us.
In our gospel reading today we hear of the next chapter of the story that started at Christmas. We hear how Jesus starts preaching in the synagogue of his home town Nazareth.
But Jesus horrifies those who were listening to him by mentioning two stories from the Old Testament: the ones that include Elijah and the widow of Zeraphath; and the curing by the prophet Elisha of Namaan the Syrian.
The important thing about both of those two stories is that they are examples of prophets helping people who weren’t Jews. In the face of the parochial jealousy and petty envy of his home town, Jesus shows himself not just to be the hope of the Jewish People, but the hope of all mankind.
What we celebrate with this Gospel today is that if we are to talk about Jesus in terms of hope, he is not just the hope of his own people, Israel, but the hope for all people, everywhere.
That’s something we have been celebrating throughout the Christmas season. But it’s also something we will particularly think about this week on Wednesday in the Feast of Candlemas, when Jesus is declared to be a “Light to enlighten the Gentiles.”
One thing we learn from the scriptures in this week’s liturgies is this. Jesus shows us the family of faith he has come to create is one where all are welcome, and all may belong, no matter what our race or colour or opinions. The Church is to be the Arc of salvation for all people, Jew and gentile.
Being suspicious of people different from ourselves is what lies at the heart of so much of the fear we see in our world – and also in the life of the church. But in the feasts we have celebrated over the past few weeks, and which come to their culmination this Wednesday, we see that needn’t be the case.
The Church should be a sign that God’s love isn’t dependent on our family, or background, or race, or opinions. Everyone is welcome to worship with us at the feet of Christ.
Fear paralyses human relationships and corrupts human society. But we can be a sign that hope in Jesus overcomes fear and allows us to flourish together.
In the face of the fears that terrorize us, we don’t have to be afraid: the one we hope in is none other than the God who made us.
Whatever the world throws at us, we can know that in Jesus we have an eternal anchor that will hold us safe in the storms of life.
That is the hope that Jesus makes clear in the synagogue in Nazareth today and it’s a hope we can share in. And it can overcome all fear because it is a hope in the Lord of life himself – Jesus Christ, true God and true man.
Fr Peter Anthony