The sum of all is that God the Lord of all, out of fervent love for his creation, handed over his own Son to death on the cross. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son for its sake.’ This was not because he could not have saved us in another way, but so that he might thereby the better indicate to us his surpassing love, so that, by the death of his only-begotten Son, he might bring us close to himself. Yes if he had anything more precious he would have given it to us so that our race might thereby be recovered. Because of his great love, he did not want to use compulsion on our freedom, although he would have been able to do so; but instead he chose that we should drawn near to him freely, by our own mind’s love.
St Isaac of Nineveh
Today the church celebrates Sexagesima, in recognition that we are about 60 days from Easter, it’s part of a countdown to Lent, a pre-Lent, which gets us in the mood for a season of fasting and penitence. I suspect that it has over the years raised a smile or a smirk from the first three letters of its name, derived for the Latin word for sixty rather than anything else. Though if you were someone who forms their opinion of the Church through the media you would be forgiven for thinking that it was the only thing that Christians think, talk or argue about. It has become a defining characteristic of how we are viewed by the world around us, and Christians can quite easily begin to believe that it is our sole ethical concern these days.
You may be glad to hear that I have no intention of launching into a diatribe against sexual immorality this evening, as it would be neither useful nor edifying. Instead, as we prepare to celebrate the feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple this week It is a feast which sees both Simeon and Anna recognising who and what Christ is, and what he has done and will do, it looks back to Christmas and the wonder of the Incarnation, to the fact that God became human so that humanity might become divine, and looks forward to how this is achieved, once and for all by Christ’s sacrifice of himself upon the Cross. They recognise it and they proclaim it, to anyone who will listen, which reminds us that as Christians we to are to rejoice in these facts and to proclaim them to a world hungry for meaning, which longs for the transcendent, and for an alternative to the gratification of self, and material capitalist culture.
We need to proclaim by word and deed the saving love of God in Christ, through lives lived in ever closer union with him, or to quote the prophet Micah from this evening’s first lesson: ‘and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?’ (Micah 6:8) To walk humbly is to know one’s need of God, of his forgiveness, his love, his mercy, and his grace, to ask him to heal our wounds, and forgive our sins. Humility is being close to the ground, from which we were created, not to see ourselves as other than we are, it is to know that we are wretched miserable sinners, whom God loves so much that he was born among us, and he lived and died and rose again for us, not because we are worthy, but so that through Him we might become so, through the transforming power of God’s love.
January is amongst other things a time for self-improvement, people diet and take up exercise, so when I hear the phrase ‘your body is a temple’ I begin to shudder, perhaps because I’m overweight and unfit, and such phrases sound like the self-righteous and judgemental attitudes of fitness-obsessed, vegetarian teetotallers. Yet when Paul is talking to the church in Corinth he is not concerned with such matters, but rather that Christians, who make up the church, are people who have been baptised, so we have received the Holy Spirit, the indelible character of the sacrament of baptism. We are imbued with the virtues of faith, hope, and love, which we live out in the life of faith. We were bought at a price, namely the shedding of Christ’s blood on the Cross, and as the hymn puts it there is power, power, wonder-working power in the precious blood of the Lamb. It washes our souls clean, so that we can glorify God in our bodies by living lives of Christian virtue.
We will fail in our attempts to do this, but that’s where God’s love and forgiveness come in: it allows us to keep trying. We are never written off, providing that we do not despair of God’s amazing capacity to love, heal, and restore us. The world around us is not so kind, it is judgemental, it pays lip service to freedom, as the freedom to do whatever we please, reducing freedom to a physical rather than a moral power, whereas Christians are called to live in a servitude which is perfect freedom, God loves us and wills us to love him freely, and to live lives which glorify him, so that we can say with the Apostle Paul ‘it is no longer I who live, but Christ living in me’ (Gal 2:20) We do this by walking humbly, by knowing our need of God, and relying upon him, and in his strength, a people forgiven and forgiving, who can truly offer this world an alternative to the ways of selfishness and sin, which we proclaim by lives lived in and through Christ, nourished by his word and sacraments, close to him in prayer, so let us do this together so that the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and to the ages of ages.