Event Name Sermon given at the Sung Eucharist on the Third Sunday of Advent 2016
Start Date 11th Dec 2016 11:15am

The Reverend David Stanton, Canon Treasurer and Almoner
This morning I would like to make a connection between prophecy and human rights.
Whenever we listen to the news we more often than not, hear of human rights abuses around the world and sometimes, vey sadly, within churches themselves.

This morning’s Gospel reminds us of both the prophecy of John the Baptist and Jesus’ care for the vulnerable; the blind, the lame, the deaf, lepers, the poor, even the dead. Here we see the very humanity of God in Jesus Christ. The divinity of Jesus Christ revealed through his humanity.

But first, a short story. A man who thought he was John the Baptist was disturbing the neighbourhood, so for public safety, was eventually sectioned and sent for care in a secure institution.

He was put in a room with another man, and immediately began his usual routine by saying, ‘I’m John the Baptist! Jesus Christ has sent me!’ The other man looked at him intently and declared ‘I did not!’

Today the world is full of all kinds of prophets; some speaking with insight and perception, others not. So what is a true prophet? In a general sense, it’s someone who speaks God’s truth to others.

In the Bible, prophets often had both a teaching and revelatory role, declaring God’s truth on contemporary issues, being fundamentally concerned with people, while also revealing details about the future.

This morning’s Gospel reading speaks about John the Baptist as both prophet and messenger. He preached boldly against the corruption of his day, about the special place of each individual before the eyes of God, and delivered grand visions for the future of Israel.

Today, folk around the world are rightly outraged by the blatant violation of human rights and are totally with those who speak out about the horrors taking place in Aleppo and other places.

Our hearts sink when we see what is taking place in Syria, with hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced, with atrocities in Aleppo hitting new highs, civilians fleeing, as Syrian government forces advance on the rebel-held eastern part of the city.

Syria’s commercial capital, once a beautiful and vibrant metropolis of narrow streets filled with shops, restaurants, and bars, has been reduced to a rubble-strewn wasteland.

But when liberal western society considers this in relation to religion, not least Christianity, suddenly opinions become far more divided and complex. Sharp questions are asked:

Would the cause of human rights be much better served by detaching it from all connection with religion? Can the understanding of Christ make a significant contribution to the practice of human rights? Why is Christianity so often associated with domination rather than justice?

For thousands of years, Christianity has been embedded in community, and churches, just like other bodies, have had a complex relationship with human rights.
Yet human rights issues are intimately related to the heart of the gospel, to the understanding of humanity before God, to righteousness and justice.

They embrace mercy, reconciliation and hospitality, and they focus on the treatment of the marginalized and of strangers. They stem from our understanding of Christ as the centre of forgiveness, reconciliation and generosity.

So why are human rights crucially important to Christian discipleship? The reasons are really quite simple.

In the twenty-first century, large numbers of people continue to be abused, tortured and murdered. Large numbers continue to die of hunger and disease when the resources are there to prevent this. Large numbers suffer from all kinds of discrimination to a degree that is serious enough to damage their lives in quite unnecessary ways.

Despite giant strides in human social progress, descent into barbarism seems as easy in our current century as it has ever been. Action must be taken to constantly reduce and prevent these evils.

As we journey through Advent, getting ever closer to Christmas, our minds are focused upon the fact that Jesus Christ in his life, death and resurrection, reveals to us the character of God as a God of unconditional love, peace and justice.

The baby Jesus becomes the crucified God, the executed God, always in solidarity with the marginalized. As such, Christ is, and will remain, a vital source of hope of justice, compassion and rights for all humanity.

The prophesy of John the Baptist points us towards the fact that the ministry of Jesus is also prophetic and points to the coming reign of God. Through Jesus’ care of the bind and the lame and the marginalised, we encounter God around us, an encounter which often challenges our understanding of order and respectability.

Jesus’ incarnation, his birth at Bethlehem, reminds us that having a body is part of being human. He modelled the compassion and care that we ought to show to others.

The deluded character that I mentioned at the beginning of this sermon, may actually have the last laugh, for God invariably uses us in ways that we may never know.

Our second reading this morning from the Letter of James, speaks of such discipleship through compassion, suffering and patience, and our opportunity to learn about such things from the prophets.

Above all he speaks about endurance in the Christian life, for all over the world God is using ordinary and rather vulnerable people to make himself known. God undoubtedly uses us all to advance his kingdom and prepare the ground for his second coming.

The question is, are we ready to let God use us? By following God’s lead you will be an answer to prayer and used by God, not only to make the world a better place, but to change lives and save souls.

© 2018 The Dean and Chapter of Westminster

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