Worship in spirit and in truth – sermon from Raithby Aldersgate 2017

25 May 2017

It is understandable that we should think the world to be in a mess.

Of this there can be no doubt.

The events in Manchester on Monday night were a reminder, if ever we needed one, of the evil that stalks our world.

Add to that one of the most destructive wars since the Second World War being played out in Syria and visible on our screens week after week, year after year.

The largest movement, again, since the Second World War of people across the globe.

Refugees from battle zones, economic migrants fleeing abject poverty, famine and drought.

In our own islands there are moves towards the break-up of a Union that had once ruled the seas.

Policies that were once deemed to be far right are now accepted as mainstream.

And a third national poll in 25 months; we have lost our direction; we are not sure where to go let alone how to get there.

And what can the Church do?

It seems as if we are as impotent as Cnut in holding back the tide.

No one seems to listen, even when we may have something to say that’s worth saying.

If we cannot accept that the demise of the Western Church is imminent then at least we should acknowledge that it is in a serious, perilous state.

Respect, tolerance, courtesy, grace were all part of a moral compass that now appears to be difficult to find.

Shame too is a thing of the past.

Barefaced liars in public office, the disparaging of historical fact, a reluctance to hear opinions that differ to one’s own limited perceptions, and a Church so wrapped up in arguments about sex that it can’t speak to a rising generation.

Like the woman at the well we have given ourselves to those that can never meet our expectations.

We are left scurrying around in places already vacated by the rest of our generation.

We are alone at the well, wondering how deep the bucket will have to go.

Yet hope remains. Of this we should have no doubt neither.

We still hope to encounter the one who will satisfy us.

We still hope to answer all our questions.

We still hope to have something of value to tell our community.

And all these things may yet come into being.

But for them to do so a change of perception is necessary.

It’s not on this mountain or that mountain that we will find the salvation we long for. Not in this temple or that temple.

Not as we have always supposed but in a wholly new way will we find the truth.

Today we have a myriad of choices in almost everything.

From a ridiculous array of breakfast cereals on the supermarket shelf to information on the internet. We are awash with choice.

We have no idea where to look in order to find true, everlasting fulfilment. Is it here or there? With this one or that?

There will come a time, Jesus says, when you will not need the temples you build – for you will find the One you long for elsewhere – and you will do so through being in spirit and truth.

The end point is not where we expected.

David Jenkins once wrote that

‘Our humane mission now – as Christians and as faithful believers in God – is not primarily to convert but to share; not to conflict but to collaborate. We are not called to write off our neighbours but to seek to understand and to contribute some shareable insights into our mission, our hopes and our enjoyments.’[i]

The time has come to not convert but to share.

Only the arrogant close their ears to the possibility of insight emanating from the stranger in our midst.

Only the humble will hear the truths that God discloses through those whom we would not normally pass time of day.

Only the confident in faith will allow the faith of another to inform, enlighten and add to their own.

On Monday evening Manchester witnessed the worst and the best of human deeds.

From the one with evil on his mind and cruel intent to the emergency service personnel who rushed to the scene in selfless duty to protect and tend to the wounded; they could not have been sure that they didn’t have another Bataclan in their city with gunmen awaiting their arrival yet they went about their duty with great professionalism.

On Monday we witnessed the worst and the best of human deeds. From those who took to twitter and Facebook to spill out their vile hatred to those taxi drivers of every faith who ferried the stranded to safe destinations free of charge.

Today we might yet witness to the greater good. A good that unequivocally states that all life is precious. That states every human being is a child of God, whatever culture or creed in which they have been raised. That states we will not allow prejudice to infiltrate our way of behaving or speaking.

Today we might yet witness to the greater good.

Today we might encounter the stranger at a place where he or she seeks refreshment and find that we too have our thirst quenched.

Today there has never been a greater need for dialogue, development of understanding and appreciation of difference.

The woman asked Jesus where they were to worship, on this mountain, or that mountain; in this temple or that temple.

Jesus responds with a comment that resounds down the ages and comes to us this very night.

You will worship in spirit and in truth.

May we be sure that our minds are filled with good intention and our hearts with love so that the spirit and truth may be our guide and our legacy.


[1] Jenkins, David, The Calling of a Cuckoo: Not Quite an Autobiography (London and New York Continuum, 2001), p.175




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