Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Secret of Holy Living: a meditation on the feast of the Birth of St John the Baptist



When I was a kid I loved dressing up as Batman … these were before the days you could walk into a shop and buy a costume that looks just like the TV or film version … basically it just involved a home made cape and lots of imagination … in fact, I actually got into a bit of trouble over making my own cape one time … I asked my mom if I could cut something up for a cape … it was only later I discovered that she thought I has asked if I could cut myself some cake …

It's not surprising I liked him so much … we all need heroes and role models … people we look up to and can try to copy … it's something that we have quite a tradition of in the Church … we don't normally call those people the Church thinks we should try to copy heroes though … the normal word we use is saints … although of course saints are heroes of the faith … I think a lot of people have forgotten this idea … so much so that this can almost be called a lost secret of the church … the lost secret of how we can lead a holy life … because remember, the same word is used in the bible for holy and saint – haigios – and how better to be holy than try to learn the life of some of someone we know lived a holy life …

Today we celebrate the birthday of St John the Baptist … so perhaps we might want to think about what the life of St John teaches us … of course, trying to deal with his whole life might be a bit much for one sermon! So maybe I'll just talk a little about what the circumstances of his birth have to teach us …

Now you might be thinking: hang on a second … what can there be about someone's birth that teaches us a lesson about how we might lead a better life? I'm sure you all remember the story that lead up to John's birth … but just in case, I'll re-cap a little! John's father Zechariah was in the temple doing his priestly duty when an angel appeared to him and told him all about the role that John would play as a forerunner of the Messiah … in fact, this is why Zechariah can't speak at the start of our reading today … he doubted what the angel had to say … he thought he and his wife Elizabeth were too old to have children … so as a sign to him, the angle said he would be struck dumb until the angels words were fulfilled,in part, by the birth of the child …

and of course, as we know, John grew up, went out into the desert and fulfilled the prophesies that had been made about him … so what does that teach us?

Well, looking at John's life reminds us that God has a plan for us even before we are born … the angel came to his father even before he was conceived … and our reading from the prophet Isaiah gives us a prophesy that the gospels tell us was fulfilled in John … that someone would come whose role it would be to prepare the way for the promised Messiah … so God's plan for John didn't just begin before he was born … it began long, long before he was born … it was spoken of hundreds of years before his birth … and since it was connected with the Messiah, we can see that it goes back perhaps even to the beginning of the world …

For ourselves the role we play may not be as unique and dramatic as John's but it is there nonetheless …

The second thing we learn from John's story is that calls us to fulfil the role he has for us … and that he will go to great lengths to help us hear that call … for John there were words spoken by prophets long ago … the visit of an angel to his father … prophesies spoken by his parents themselves … now maybe you think that God isn't calling you as clearly as he called John … there's no prophets or angels in your life … as far as you know … but God calls us all in different ways … listen to your heart … and pray about what it is you think you are hearing … talk to others that you trust … people that you know to be wise and Godly … read your Bible … see the examples of calling there … think about how they apply to you … there are angels and prophets for everyone … you just have to listen to them when they speak ...

And the third lesson from John is that God equips those whom he calls … God does not ask people to do things they are not capable of … but the abilities do not necessarily fall into your lap … sometimes when you hear the call, you have to go and work to get the skills needed to do what it is that God asks you to do … John the Baptist went off into the wilderness and spent many years in prayer and contemplations, no doubt studying scriptures as well, before he was ready to begin … look at the clergy today … we answer the call … and then are sent off for years of training! God doesn't just zap us with what we need … but he does equip us … because he gives us the strength and the will to follow through on what it is he is asking us to do …

and here is the important thing … if you try to follow these lessons of Godly living from John: understanding that you are called, trying to understand what that call is for you, and working to live out that call … then you won't be like a kid trying to pretend to be a comic book hero … you won't be pretending at all … you will be the person that God wants you to be … and you'll be well on the road to being an example of Godly living for others try and follow for themselves … something that I pray for us all: in the name of the Father, & of the Son, & of the Holy Spirit: Amen.


Sermon notes 24 June 2012 

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