Christmas 1 - Pioneers of faith

A sermon preached at St George's by the Revd Ivo Morshead on 29 December 2013

 Isaiah 63.7-9; Hebrews 2.10 to end; Matt 2.13 to end

It was fitting that God for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering. Hebrews 2 v 10

 So begins the epistle for this first Sunday after Christmas and the last in the secular year 2013. On a recent occasion, while travelling from Kings Cross Station and waiting in the taxi drop off section for a wheelchair attendant to come, I  chatted with the railway employee on duty. I complimented him on how he had polished his shoes to such a high shine. I sensed he had been in the forces and, sure enough, both he and his father had served in the army. I asked what regiment and the reply was the same as in my text this morning, namely had been in the aptly named the Royal Army Service Corps, who in my time in the army and that of his father’s were known as the PIONEERS. Upon them fell every possible task needed in support of the ordinary front line soldiers. Behind the scenes they did the heavy work which made the ultimate victory possible.

It is this ultimate victory and God’s purpose to bring many children to glory to which scripture points us. What is emphasised in our epistle today is that whilst Jesus is the pioneer of the ultimate victory, this can only be achieved by the participation of  us all. We are those who are named in Hebrews as Brothers and Sisters  (10 v 1)  who are described as a Congregation or in Greek, eclessia, a Christian assembly. What also is emphasised is the manner in which Christ is qualified to be our saviour, protector and friend. He was fully human yet divine, lived among his contemporaries and gave his life that we might be saved. Such  were the qualifications that the claim could be made in today’s epistle  that through suffering and being tested he was able to help those being tested, in fact had had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect. that he might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in the service of God.

We are all called upon to be priests in the service of God as evidenced in the first Letter of Peter writing to the newly baptised (2 v 2-4) let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. A priest by definition is one who mediates between God and his people. He or she represents on the one hand the brothers and sisters in Christ and on the other mediates the word of God through Scripture and liturgy. This is what we all do when we worship together each playing a part to which we are called by skill, training or temperament. As in church so too in the life around us in  family, work and community. Those who are ordained have a special. particular and authorised role that we believe stems back to the disciples by the laying on of hands through countless generations and there are four things expected of them.

Remember that we are all part of the Priesthood of Believers and so these four things, spoken at a funeral about a much loved and devoted vicar, are equally applicable to us all. The first is that a priest, as had been that vicar, must be consistent in prayer and seen to be so, second to be immersed in the study and reading of Scripture, third to teach by preaching and instruction  and fourth to visit and identify with those in his charge.  We do not have to be ordained to carry out as far as we are able, all these four things expected of a priest.

Hopefully we are all consistent in prayer, but how are we seen to be? It is easy for the vicar as he is in the church at an advertised time and when in prayer almost always accompanied by a passer by, a member of the church or of the staff. We can all, however, in all sorts of ways intimate to others that we are prayerful people. One obvious way is ,when a friend speaks to us of illness, trouble, or bereavement, to tell them that we will be praying for them. Remember too that Jesus  prayed and prayed and was seen to so do by his disciples and all with who he was in contact.

The second attribute of a priest is to be immersed in the study and reading of Scripture. Again in the case of a vicar this is part and parcel of his job, one example, to preach a sermon involves much study and reading of Scripture.  All of us in this  modern world, however, can make use of the Bible Reading Fellowship notes. They can be bought as a four monthly booklet or for the computer literate, the notes can be e-mailed as a daily reading each day. Jesus knew the scriptures and lived out in his life the fulfilment of the prophecies.

The third and fourth requirements can be merged in the sense that preaching, instruction, visiting and identifying with others for most of us has to be done just by others seeing and sensing who we are by what we are in ourselves. In other words the way in which  we treat others and how we show love and concern. Jesus was the one who above all was the exemplar of such in his preaching, teaching, healing and identifying with the rich and the poor, the simple and the educated, the sinner and the saint.

We should not underestimate the importance of our responsibility as Christians. We are honoured by the description of brothers and sisters of God and privileged to be part of the ecclesia or congregation. That attendant at Kings Cross Station was immediately seen to have something about him that was more than himself. It is not that we should all go out and polish our shoes but we should be aware that what we are as Christians can be made apparent to others just as that railway attendant remembering the discipline and training of his army service was visibly a witness to what the fellowship of the army stands for to past and present. He served as a Pioneer and is taking with him what he learnt into his further life. 

Paul  urges Christians at end of today epistle .. let us  run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the PIONEER and perfecter of our faith. (Hbr 12 v 2). 

 Perhaps this can be among our thoughts for the New Year.
Holland Park Benefice