Let God show you His great love for you

Sermon given by Bishop Michael Whinney
during a Baptism and Confirmation Service
at St Mary's, Temple Balsall on
All Saints Day, 2nd November 2003

Up early. Rugby World Cup - England v Uruguay - the score 111 - 13. Familiar sight with crowded noisily cheering spectators, all keen supporters of their teams; and many rugby players themselves and certainly many retired ex-International Rugby players - who know what it is like down there on the pitch - the sweat, toil and tears of the match - superbly fit men pushing to their limit and probably coming away with the marks of the contest that will take time to heal. And all this for national honour and a cup to hold for four years only. And in four years time we may well have difficulty in remembering the names of our team. The names of a few immortals like Johnny Wilkinson will be in the records but not known by the next generations.

What a contrast with the Saints whom we remember today! The Bible passage from Hebrews, read this morning, was a shortened list of some of the greats - and you and I can add other well-known names like Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Peter and Paul - or St Francis, St Augustine, St Patrick and St Columba . Or in recent modern times such saint-martyrs as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jahani Luwum or Oscar Romero, towering figures like Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela who seems head and shoulders above the rest of us. But we should also include as saints the ordinary Christians whose lives of faithful often hidden service is known only to God - they too are the saints we celebrate today. All of them well known or little known were all very ordinary people who made mistakes, did things that were wrong at times. Yet because they thanked God, He used them for His glory - and the world was a better place for them.

The portraits of Saints in the stained-glass windows are flat, two-dimensional, like cardboard cut-out copies. Not really real. But the real people were three dimensional all right and fully alive. We thank God for them and are called to follow in their footsteps. That ties in with what we are doing today - Baptism and Confirmation: this is our commissioning, our calling, to follow Jesus as modern saints.

In the Hebrews passage, all those Christians, all of them Saints, are pictured as in a great Olympic Stadium. The writer calls them a cloud of witnesses and they are cheering on you and me, all of us, the modern-day runners - running not a 100m sprint, but a long-distance marathon. The writer likens the Christian life to a race which we run together - not competitively to beat each other and win, but in order to reach the finish line - just like those thousands of London marathon runners who encourage each other as they run. You get a medal when you finish the London Marathon - everyone gets the same, the first and the last. That's a good Bible picture, true to Jesus' teaching. The reward at the finishing line is God's welcoming words: "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord". We don't have to be fast or brilliant like Paula Radcliffe, but we are urged to keep going. The Hebrew's writer urges us to "Run with perseverance", and all the saints in the crowded stands in the heavenly stadium yell out their encouragement: "Keep going - we know what its like - you are not alone - it's worth it".

Best of all, of course, Jesus Himself knows what it's like too because He ran the course long before us - but His promise is that He will run beside us now -even within us, by the presence of His Spirit, each step of the way - and even holding us up and helping us along when the going gets tough - as it does.

Hebrews 12. 2 uses a slightly different picture when it says, "Let's fix our eyes on Jesus….". This is the idea of Jesus being there at the finishing tape with arms wide open to welcome us as we cross the line. Both pictures hold true - Jesus' Spirit with us and in us, and Jesus Himself at the line calling us.

None of those old Saints could have coped on their own - even Peter and Paul, James and John knew that - they needed outside strength and knew that God was the only source and supplier of that. They called it God's grace - His love, His power, His presence - freely offered to each and everyone who wants it: "ask and you will receive", says Jesus. So Paul was able to write, "My God will supply all your needs through His riches in glory by Christ Jesus". He wrote that after recording what God had said to him in the middle of his trials.

"My grace is sufficient for you. My strength is made perfect in weakness". - Paul went on to add: "When I am weak then I am strong with God's strength alone". That same strength and courage to keep going is promised for you and me today. I come today as a representative of the world-wide Church to confirm that God keeps his promises. you will stand and renew your baptismal promises in a moment, saying your "Yes" to god and pledging yourselves to follow him. That will be your witness - and God most certainly says his "Yes" in return. He uses my hands, laid on your head as a sign, to reassure you that He will give you His Grace , His ability to carry it through.

Nothing magical about my hands, but raised hands are a sign used throughout history calling down God's blessing on you. You don't have to do anything other than to receive all that God wants to give you and do within you. Just be expectant and let God show you His great love for you. He has known you and loved you deeply from the very beginning and He's never going to give up on you - no matter what happens. He is in it with you, and with Him you'll get to the finishing tape - and on the way there's so much to learn and experience. We don't have to just endure it - we can actually enjoy it!

Bishop Michael Whinney

Arms of Lady Katherine Leveson

The Foundation of Lady Katherine Leveson
Registered Charity no. 213618
Temple Balsall, Knowle, Solihull, West Midlands B93 0AN

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