St Bride's: Sermons

The story that shines through ...

Hebrews 4:12-16

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12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

13 Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.

14 Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.

15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

The story that shines through ...

In the name of the living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen

A friend of mine called Andrew tragically lost both of his parents while he was still an undergraduate - as a result of which he and his sisters found themselves the recipients of a sizeable inheritance at an unusually young age (they were all in their early twenties at the time).  And being young people of principle they agreed amongst themselves that they would each give away a substantial percentage of that money to charity.  

Andrew himself was perfectly happy with this decision - until, that is, he found himself seated in the waiting area of the solicitor's office, ready to go in and discuss the will.  Because while they were waiting, he describes how, having previously been absolutely committed to giving away a large amount of that money, and very content with that decision, he suddenly found himself starting to waver: wasn't he being just a bit too generous with his share?  Wouldn't it be wiser to hang onto the money until his own future was secure?  Could he get away with relinquishing a much smaller percentage of the money, without his sisters finding out?  At which point he realized with a jolt that creeping avarice had been joined by a temptation to deceive the very people who were closest to him.

As Andrew said later, it was almost as if there was a voice whispering in his ear that was doing all in its power to corrupt his good intentions.  In the end he did managed to overcome these powerful doubts and temptations, and stick by his original, very generous decision - but it took a phenomenal act of will for him to be able to do so.

I suspect that we are all very aware of just how swiftly, and subtly, the allure of money can begin to get its claws into us - even those of us who are most generous at heart.  And the fact that we are surrounded by a financial industry that both feeds, and feeds upon our anxieties around money and security and the future, merely fuels those temptations.

Whereas the irony is that money has a habit of generating at least as many fears and anxieties as it resolves.  My previous church was situated in one of the wealthiest and most privileged residential areas in the West Midlands, and yet I have seldom encountered quite so many lonely, isolated, and depressed individuals as I did there.  Indeed, I took the funerals of more victims of suicide while I was in that one job than during the whole of the rest of my ministry.  Money cannot solve life's problems - but its allure is so, so seductive, and can be so very hard to resist.

Experiences such as the one described by my friend Andrew in that solicitor's office are very exposing.  They reveal to us the truth both about our priorities, and our darkest temptations.  They are moments when we discover whether we are in control of our desires - or our desires are in control of us.  Which is why our reading from Hebrews speaks so starkly of the nature of judgment, which leaves us naked before the searing gaze of God, whose word can judge the thoughts and intentions of the human heart more sharply that a two-edged sword.  And, conversely, that is also why we can become so adept at protecting ourselves from that painful reality by erecting impenetrable barricades of self-justification and indeed self-delusion.

The young man in our gospel reading today asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life.  With a few deft questions, Jesus exposes the one thing that is standing between him and God - namely the young man's attachment to his possessions, of which he had many.  So, 'Sell all you have and give to the poor', says Jesus.  At which the young man goes away shocked and grieving: because the uncomfortable truth would seem to be that he did not own his possessions - but rather his possessions owned him.

It was recognized as far back as Aristotle that if you really want to know the truth about a human being, don't look at what that person says - but rather, look at what they actually do.  Look at how they live; look at the way in which they conduct themselves to others; look at the detail.  Because it is there that the truth is revealed.  The story of who we really are is the story that shines through the fabric of our life.

This morning we are commemorating with thanksgiving the life of John Colley; a dedicated and much loved member of our community here at St Bride's for many decades.  John was a highly respected Fleet Street journalist of the 'old school', who became group news editor for United Newspapers.  But it was his qualities as a human being for which he will be most fondly remembered; those things that shone through his life.  John was a loving and much-loved family man, devoted to June, his wife of 66 years, to his children Jenny and Christopher, and to his grandchildren.  He was a man of intelligence, commitment, warmth and great good humour. John was also a man of great faith; a dedicated servant of Christ, who worshipped here for decades.

Indeed, until his death earlier this year, John was the only surviving member of the St Bride's congregation to have witnessed the destruction of our church during the bombing of 29th December 1940.  At the time he was a sixteen year old, already working in journalism, who had just done the evening shift for the Yorkshire Post at the Ministry of Information.  He had walked back to Fleet Street through a shower of shrapnel and falling embers, and describes seeing the steeple of St Bride's lit up like a Roman Candle, with clouds of sparks cascading up into the sky.  In time St Bride's was to become a major part of his life, initially through his friendship with the Revd Wallace Boulton (who is here with us this morning), who was Honorary Curate here.  

I gather that John's own installation into the Guild was not without interest.  There was a major strike at United Newspapers in the late 1970s, in which John was involved.  The then Chairman of United Newspapers, Lord Barnetson, also happened to be Master of the Guild here.  So in 1979, John had the curious and rather ironic privilege of being inducted into the Guild by the very man whom he was striking against.

It is people like John who give quality and depth to the life of a community - and I hope that those who today have joined the ranks of the Guild, will recognize that from his example.  We give thanks for John; and we give thanks for them, and for all that they, in their different ways, will contribute to St Bride's, just as he did.

The desires and temptations that can distort our priorities, and impair our relationships are legion; how we respond to them reveals the truth about who and what we truly are.  And that is the story that shines through the fabric, and the detail, of our lives.

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