Sunday, February 2, 2014

leading by example

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Over the last few weeks our Church Calendar has covered several important events in the life of our Lord: his circumcision, his baptism, and his Presentation in the Temple. An interesting fact connects all three, which is that, strictly speaking, none of them were necessary, in the sense of being something that he was obliged to do. Circumcision marked a person as being obedient to the covenant between God and the people of Israel; Christ as the Son of God and the Second person of the Blessed Trinity had no need to enter into a Covenant with himself. Baptism was for the cleansing of sins; Christ being fully human was like us in all things, save one, as Scripture tells us – he was without sin. 

Compressed into the story of the Presentation in the temple is both the requirement for sacrifice to be offered at the Temple after the birth of a first born son for the redeeming of the child, as under the law the first born belonged to the Lord unless redeemed by this sacrifice; and also the 'purification' of the mother, forty days after childbirth, as set out in the Law, as a woman was considered to be ritually 'unclean' after childbirth. But in the case of Mary and her virgin birth, the necessity for purification did not apply, as for example the Church Fathers St Theophlyus and St Ambrose assure us; and Christ, as the Son of God, had no need for this redeeming sacrifice to be made. And yet they were done – why? Well the usual explanation is that Christ and his parents were being obedient to the law.

Now, what purpose is served by being obedient to a law to which one is not subject to or indeed doing something that, while worthy in itself, one has no need to do? Well, by way of illustration, let me tell you a story about two women I knew as a boy. The two lived near each other; one was lean and fit, the other was not. The one who was not was constantly complaining about her weight and being out of breath all the time, so the other, as a friendly gesture, offered to join her in a regime of diet and exercise. 

So they formed a pact, a rule of life, a law of their own if you will, as to how to live. Every day they would meet for a long walk, followed by a session of stretches and exercises; and together they planned out a diet sheet, which both would stick to. And every week they would have a weigh-in session. Now of course, the first woman had no need of all this; she was doing it to encourage her friend, and lead her by example into the healthier life-style that she longed for.

I would love to give this little story a happy ending and tell you that as a result of her friend's support and encouragement the other woman was soon fit and healthy … but alas, it was not to be. The woman who was already fit and slender simply grew more so; while her friend as time went by engaged less and less with the programme and finally gave it up altogether. But that is real life, is it not? You can do all you can to encourage and support someone in living a way that is better for them, but you cannot force them to do so, and you can not prevent them from falling away after they have begun.

Is it not also the same with Christ? He leads us by example, encourages us to lead the Christian life, but does not force us. In the instances I mentioned earlier, his circumcision, presentation, and baptism, his example was intended primarily to encourage us to be obedient to God's will. Obedience to God's will is a powerful theme in the Bible. The importance of it is stressed too many times to list here. But if we look at the beginning of the Bible, Genesis, and the story of the Fall, we can see all too well how vital it is that we are obedient to his will. And we can also see in the Gospels how important it was to Christ that he be obedient to the will of the Father. As he said in Gethsemene, in his Agony before the passion 'not my will, but thine be done.'

And in the battle each of us has to be obedient to God's will, we can do no better than to follow the example that Christ set us in Getsemene and elsewhere, that of prayer. Those who pray faithfully, day by day, wrapping themselves in the garment of conversation with their maker, both speaking to him and listening to what he has to say, can not long remain disobedient to his will … his grace will strengthen those who humbly ask for it … and so my prayer as I end this morning is that through prayer you will find obedience to God in all things in your life … and through that obedience find at the last eternal life. Amen.

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