Sermons

Holiness

Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 138
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Luke 5:1-11

There’s a story told that in the early in the nineteenth century, the King of Prussia, Frederick William III, found his nation in great trouble. He had been attempting to bring prosperity to his land, but constant wars had drained the treasury. So, he wrote an open letter to the women of Prussia asking them voluntarily to bring their silver and gold to be melted down. He offered a small token of appreciation to anyone who contributed. That small token of appreciation was that in exchange for their jewellery he gave them a simple cross made of iron. It was inscribed, “I gave gold for iron, 1813.” The response was overwhelming. The women of Prussia prized the gift from the king more highly than they had prized their former possessions. Women wore the iron cross with pride. In fact, gold jewellery became unfashionable. The Order of the Iron Cross was established, and members wore no ornaments save a cross of iron for all to see.

Fashions come and go, and what was once highly fashionable can quickly become highly unfashionable now, and vice versa. I want to talk this morning about something that was once highly fashionable, but is now highly unfashionable: holiness. I think holiness has become very unfashionable because people, quite wrongly have come to associate with being more special, more religious, or more pious than others, or perhaps the dreaded holier than thou. In truth, holiness isn’t about any of those things. Holiness is not as withdrawing from worldly things, but discovering that in the midst of all the ordinary things of our life, we can meet with God. And our Bible readings today all cast this in a different perspective.

Starting with Isaiah, Isaiah encountered God while he was worshipping. It was fantastical image of something very unusual, but it doesn’t have to be unusual. The question is can we encounter God in worship? There’s a story told of a man, down on his luck, who went into a church one Sunday morning. Spotting the man’s shabby clothes, some people were a bit concerned, and went to the man and asked him if he needed help. The man said, “I was praying and the Lord told me to come to this church.”
Some of the people were a bit surprised at this, and suggested that the man go away and pray some more and he possibly he might get a different answer. The next Sunday the man returned. They asked, “Did you get a different answer?”
The man replied, “Yes I did. I told the Lord that they don’t want me in that church and the Lord said, ‘Don’t worry about it son; I’ve been trying to get into that church for years and haven’t made it yet.”
Can we meet god in church, like Isaiah did?

In our gospel reading, Peter encountered God when he was feeling strong, out fishing on the lake. It was a good time for Peter, he knew what he was doing, he was happy and confident, and it was while he was doing that that he encountered God. What is it in your life that makes you happy and confident? What is it that you feel strong doing? Perhaps it’s while enjoying a favourite hobby, or perhaps it’s that moment of quiet for a few minutes, or perhaps it’s when you are busy doing something, or perhaps enjoying a favourite activity? Think to yourself of what gives you energy, what gives your strength, what gives you confidence. It was while doing that that Peter met god. Can you imagine meeting God while you are doing that?

In our reading from 1 Corinthians we find something completely different. Paul talks of his own conversion experience, he was on his way to persecute Christians, when he encountered God on the road to Damascus. Paul was going to do something not just naughty, but something wicked. There’s a story told about a man and his wife who had been married for 45 years, who went on holiday to Jerusalem. While they were there, the husband suddenly died. The funeral director told the wife, “you can have your husband shipped home for £5,000, or you can bury him here, in the Holy Land, for £150.” The woman thought about it and told him she would just have him shipped home.
The funeral director asked, “Why would you spend £5,000 to ship your husband home, when it would be wonderful to be buried here in the Holy Land and you would spend only £150?”
The woman replied, “Long ago a man died here, was buried here, and three days later he rose from the dead…I JUST CAN’T TAKE THAT CHANCE.”
Paul was on his way to do something wicked, when he met God. I know that we are good people, but perhaps in your darker, naughtier moments, might you like Paul also meet God?

And in our psalm, the psalmist meets God in creation, indeed it’s a sense of wonder and awe at the goodness of creation, and an amazement that even if God is like this, God still has time for the likes of us. Mark Twain wrote, “God made man at the end of the creation week when he was very tired.”

Before we moved here, I rather assumed that Surrey was mostly an extension of London with little beyond, concrete, commuters, gin, and jaguars. Of course I couldn’t have been more wrong. The Surrey Hills are indeed outstandingly beautiful. There are more trees per square mile here than any other country in England. God made all of this, and God made you and me as well. The psalmist found God in admiring creation. Might we also find God in admiring creation?

If you’ve come to church this morning, that has already put you in the category of unfashionable, but don’t worry because you can’t get more unfashionable than me. So, perhaps, just perhaps, I wonder if you might be interested in this unfashionable idea of exploring where we meet God, which is called by the technical name of holiness. Perhaps we might meet God in church like Isaiah? Perhaps we might meet God in good happy things, like Peter? Perhaps we might meet God when we’re being naughty, like Paul? Perhaps we might meet God when appreciate the beauty of creation, like the psalmist?

But perhaps we might meet God somewhere else entirely. Where do you meet God?