5 November 2017

The First Sunday of the Kingdom

St Peter’s Parish Church ~ Rochester

Our news this weekend has been dominated by the allegations of sexual abuse and harassment at Westminster.

It is, of course, a very, very serious matter but the spotlight of publicity is not always very fair, and reputations can be damaged, and careers destroyed by unfounded rumours and gossip.

It is a sort of field day for red top journalism in which our political leaders and representatives are judged rather than scrutinised.

We are quick to point the finger at other people’s failings – and have done so across the centuries.

The mob has always enjoyed the trial and execution of ‘sinners’.

I have been watching the TV play ‘Gunpowder’ with its terrible divisions in our country between the established Church of England and the recusants – the Roman Catholics who refused to worship in their local parish church and worse still harboured catholic priests and fermented revolt which was treason.

On this November 5th we do well to remember more than the attempt on King James’s life by Guy Fawkes and the catholic plotters as we light bonfires and set off fireworks.

Crowds of people in our land just like you and me gathered to watch executions.

In ‘Gunpowder’ we saw a woman in her fifties being publicly ‘pressed’ to death under a door and an 18 or so year old priest being hung, drawn and quartered – still alive with his entrails poured out before the crowd.

The BBC has received complaints about these graphic scenes but they do bring to light exactly how thin the veneer of civilisation is – even today.

We quickly divide the world into goodies and baddies, us and them, perhaps even into saints and sinners – with ‘us’ as goodies and saints!

We may not have public executions anymore in this land but all of us can be quick to condemn and enjoy the downfall of others.

Today sets us on a different path.

In the Church’s calendar we are keeping All Saints’ Sunday, the first of the four Sundays of the Kingdom which end the Church’s year before the start of Advent.

Sadly, if we were to go out this morning into Rochester many people wouldn’t know what a saint or be able to name one.

In practical terms, Britain is a post-Christian society where most people just don’t know the story of faith through the pages of the Bible, the life of the Church and the presence of Judaeo-Christian values in our laws and social contracts.

We live in an age of celebrity where fame, status and wealth are the most important criteria in valuing people in our society.

By contrast, Christianity holds up certain lives as particular examples of the holiness and love that God in Jesus lives and shares with us his family, the Church.

All saints are sinners and fall short of the perfection of God’s love.

At the same time, all people are called by the life and love of Jesus to be saints, to be holy people filled with the Spirit of truth and peace and love.

This call to holiness is the call to freedom.

If people can imagine a saint, they are likely to picture a painting or a stained glass image.

But saints are real people of flesh and blood who make mistakes and laugh and cry and live like you and me.

St Peter, Simon the Galilean fisherman and patron of this church, is a good example.

Blunt, impulsive with a working man’s manners and thick regional accent and little or no education – he was called by Jesus to be the rock on which we, God’s holy family is built.

However, the Christian life is radically different from populism and an easy acceptance of the values around us.

Religious faith and prayer are formed by the values of God’s kingdom and his life in Jesus.

It is an individual journey of discipleship and a common pilgrimage as the family of the Church.

So saints are not a religious sub-species but anyone who lets God’s light shine through them and change their lives.

They are not professional ‘religious’ people; they are anybody and everybody.

Being brave may well be something that all of us have largely forgotten as an intrinsic part of living out our faith.

The next reading from 1 John underlines that the world formed by ego and its attendant appetites of greed, exploitation and conquest was the very way that we betrayed and crucified Jesus.

God’s children, the saints, live like Jesus in a relationship with God and one another that is utterly different from that of self-seeking and self-promotion.

Celebrity and fame are fraught with danger and delusion.

And finally, to the Gospel reading from St Matthew – Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount names those who live out the values of God’s Kingdom:

the poor in spirit;

those who mourn;

the meek;

those who hunger and thirst for righteousness;

the merciful;

the pure in heart;

the peacemakers;

and the persecuted.


I fear that none of these qualities figure highly in job application forms for any appointment today.

Perhaps we should confront our parliamentary candidates with these radical criteria!

Yes, we need public examples today of the values that set all people free and bring healing and hope to the weakest and poorest in our world.

Regrettably, our education system is no longer allowed to be formed by these ‘Kingdom values’

Politicians and educators are obsessed with information rather than meaning – and holiness, true freedom, is banished from classroom and curriculum as being sectarian and quasi superstitious.

Nations and societies need to live with a vision – a glimpse and aspiration beyond the horizons of self interest and the market place.

And that is the function of faith – to furnish humankind with the dimension of God’s greater and transcendent truth.

As we celebrate the Feast of All Saints let us pray and resolve to live by faith and not by sight alone.

Faith catches hold of the days of our lives and gathers us into the common journey back to God in heaven.

It is this journey that we celebrate today, as we give thanks for the saints in heaven and on earth.

We ask for their prayers, even when ours fail and falter.

May the saints of God pray for us and the angels of God watch over us and protect us.

The Church has traditionally selected an ‘A’ list of celebrities who have given the world a particular example of holiness, virtue, courage and compassion – and often their lives and influence have brought healing and blessings long after their physical deaths.

But saints live in the world and not in windows and niches.

Halloween, the Eve of All Hallows, All Saints, has become an enormous celebration in our land: millions of adults and children revel in the glamour of the dark side of the human imagination and businesses exploit this and profit greatly.

How can we as Christians grab the imagination and energy of people around us to share in the adventure of walking in the light as followers of Jesus Christ?

Holiness is life-enhancing not life-denying; faith is a venture leading us into the unknown in which we find the freedom and fulfilment of God’s life – it is the call to holiness.

Our scripture readings this morning give us some idea of what we must expect if we are to answer Jesus’ call and be his holy ones.

The passage from the Book of Revelation was written at a time of dispersal for the Jewish people and persecution within a pagan empire.

The holy ones of God are therefore those who have come through this ordeal and have not sold out to the prevailing spirit of the age and have held firm to faith and hope and love in the name of God and his truth.