The second coming – and the first

Sermon preached at St Paul’s Church, Bristol (presumably the St Paul’s in Clifton), 15 December 1996

I have sixty-two video tapes on my bookshelf. Some of them I’ve seen. Many of them I recorded because I was out, but I haven’t actually got round to looking at them. Why did I bother? Because I didn’t want to miss the programme, of course. But they stand there patiently in line until I summon my attendance at the video.

An event is captured in real time, and lies suspended until I put the tape into the machine. I cannot say I am reliving the happening because I haven’t seen it before, but when I start to watch I am in two times: the recorded programme’s time which is as linear as the one to which I am recalled, in a shock, say, if the phone rings in the middle of the exciting bits. You can’t be physically in two places at once, but in this model you can be a two-timer; and each offers its own world view.

The world view of John the Baptist was that Jesus would be the expected man of fire, the Messiah purging Israel of her enemies. Their moral teachings were very similar. Matthew saw in John the promised supernatural return of Elijah, whose appearing would announce the Messiah’s coming. But clearly Jesus’s activity was not that which¬†the firebrand John might have been awaiting. Hence his own disciples came to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one, or do we have to look for another?”

Now, Matthew is very fond of Old Testament resources. His Gospel is littered with references to present the expected Messiah in the person of Jesus and one who would inaugurate the expected Golden Age. But Matthew has a trick up his sleeve. The firebrand that John expected (and the Jewish nation too) turns out to be an enigmatic figure: and not one of unlimited power, which must have been a shock to many.

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The lost sheep and the lost coin

Sermon preached at unknown location – but the manuscript is appended ‘Swindon’; exact date unknown, but headed “Trinity 5” so likely to be in July.

You’re on the bus. Suddenly you find that you are one penny short of the fare. You look in your pockets. You turn out your purse. Very embarrassing. All the people behind you in the queue are becoming more impatient. That one penny becomes the most important; all the others just aren’t enough, however many you may have. Then at last, you find one under some old toffee papers. Oh, the relief! Oh, the joy! You can sit down and enjoy the journey. How important is one penny.

People are important, too. Let’s suppose you’ve had a row with your teenage daughter. She has stormed out of the house at eleven o’clock at night, promising never to come back. Do you go to bed? Do you say to yourself, “oh, she’ll come back. There’s nothing for me to do”? No. You wait up, worried and anxious. Perhaps you go out into the dark streets and call her. You do this, because you love her.

But what about people you don’t like? Can you do the same for them? The outcast is hardest to love. We all have to deal with unpleasant and difficult people. Their nastiness is often a silent plea for love – but often the heart is closed. A horrid man is often one who has never learned nor been able to love himself. Never having received love, he cannot give it to others.

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