Event Name Sermon given at Evensong on the Third Sunday before Lent 2017
Start Date 12th Feb 2017 3:00pm

The Reverend Graham Hamilton, Vicar, St Peter and St Paul, Bovey Tracey

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It is a privilege to speak to you today. Some of you have come from all around the world, from backgrounds of many religions and none

Most religions encourage us to worship God, whether with gifts and sacrifices, sweets and flowers, prayer and fasting, or with beautiful choral music such as we have heard this afternoon.

Many religions encourage us to obey God, and try to tell us what God commands us to do, and how to interpret those commands.

But Christian faith is almost unique in telling us to imitate God, as St Paul tells the Christians of ancient Ephesus:

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

The Great Greek philosopher Plato and the Jewish writer Philo also said that we should “flee from earth to heaven as quickly as we can. This flight means to become like God as far as is possible. This becoming means with the help of insight to become just and holy” Philo De Fug 63

Can we imitate God? How far is it possible? We cannot be all-knowing, all powerful, we cannot create all things from nothing. But Christians believe that Jesus shows us what God is truly like in character, lived out in a human life on earth, without escaping to heaven. In our gospel we heard how Jesus met a man with leprosy: a hideous disease of loathsome sores and stinking wounds. But Jesus was filled with compassion and touched him. His compassion shows that Jesus is fully human- more compassionate and courageous than we would be : his power to heal, not with a prayer, but a word of command shows that he is fully God.

If Jesus can be fully human and fully God, if Jesus is the Son of God, then perhaps we too can be imitators of God. But there are two things we will need.

1 We need to know what God is truly like. If Jesus is God, then we must play close attention to him and learn to live with compassion, to ‘live a life of love just as Jesus loved us’. St Paul tells us.v10 Find out what pleases the Lord, and have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness. v.17 Do not be foolish but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

Jesus said in the sermon on the mount: be merciful as your heavenly father is merciful. Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” A good Comedian carefully studies the public figures of today. How does the new President, the new Prime Minister hold his head and speak? Then he can do a recognisable impression-and mock the politician. Christians are called to imitate God, and to please him, so we must study his character. There is no room for greed or sexual immorality if we are to be like Jesus. We will live generously for others, not pursuing our own wealth and comfort. That is hard in a world which honours wealth and success. We will love faithfully, honouring marriage as a lifelong and exclusive relationship, not pursuing our pleasure in fleeting relationships or indulging in coarse jokes or obscenity. There is no place in God’s kingdom for such conduct. We must fill our minds and hearts with the life and words of Jesus, with his purity and compassion.

2. We need to experience God’s power to change us. As soon as we try to imitate God, or even obey his commands we will find the power of the darkness within our hearts. Greed and immorality charm our eyes and beguile our hearts. But the good news of Christian faith is that Jesus has the power to change us. The man with leprosy cried out, “If you are willing, you can make me clean”. Jesus was willing and was able. Jesus came in compassion to touch us too: he loved us and gave himself up for us, died on the cross, as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Instead of stinking wounds, whole fresh skin. Instead of impurity and obscenity, thanksgiving and praise. But we have to ask him, and then he will make us clean. St Paul says, “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” You have to ask Jesus to fill your mind and heart with his light—his purity and compassion. Obeying rules of morality cannot do this. We cannot imitate God by our own skill and strength. We need our hearts to be captured by a greater vision and a stronger love, that exposes the shameful and unsatisfying ways of sin. We need to see Christ in all his glory, his compassion and his purity and ask for his touch.

In a few moments we will sing our final hymn. I do not know from what religious background you come and how you expect to worship God. I do not know what you think it means to obey God, But we all share the same dark and disobedient hearts- we all know how hard this is. So I invite you to consider these words. I heard the voice of jesus say, ‘Come unto me and rest. The Lord Jesus invites us to rest from our weary worship and struggle to obey, and instead to drink of his cleansing stream and look to his pure light. Then we will know what God is truly like, experience his power to change our hearts, and we too will be imitators of God.

© 2018 The Dean and Chapter of Westminster

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