Friday, February 21, 2020

The Second Sunday before Lent, 2020

The COVID-19 virus outbreak has led the Bishops of the Anglican Church here in Hong Kong to cancel all church services. To try to continue to offer spiritual and pastoral support to the congregation, we are recording a service together with a sermon and uploading it on YouTube.

This, then, is the transcript of a short sermon for February 16, 2020.

The Second Sunday before Lent:

Friday, as I am sure you know, was Saint Valentine’s Day. Not much is known about Saint Valentine. What is known is that he was probably a church leader in Rome in the third century. This was a time when the Church often had to face opposition and persecution, and Saint Valentine himself was murdered for his faith in Christ and became one of the martyrs of the Church. Quite how he became so closely associated with ‘romantic love’ is a bit of a mystery!

The Church throughout her history has often had to go through some testing times. It has been blessed by God with people like Saint Valentine who have shown faith and provided a witness to Christ in dark times.

In the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, the martyrs are portrayed as being in heaven under the protection of God. St John, the writer of Revelation, writes that a loud voice in heaven says of those who have died for their faith that they have conquered and overcome the enemy that is against them:

‘by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony,
for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.’ (Revelation 12:11)

This faith, shown by the saints, which results in them putting their commitment to God above even their own life and safety is not only something that is only required of the saints and martyrs, the heroes of the faith. 

In our reading this morning from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks to his disciples about their life in this world. He says to them:

‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?’ (Matthew 6:25)

It is not, Jesus tells them that these things are unimportant. Their Father knows that they need them, Jesus says. It is rather that their outlook and priorities are to be very different from those around them who do not share their faith in God. Instead, they are to strive, to work hard, to put all their energy and concern into seeking the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and leave all the other things they need to God.

Saint Paul writes in the second reading today:

‘I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.’ (Romans 8:18)

Never listen to anyone who tells you that suffering doesn’t matter who has never suffered greatly themselves. It is very easy to talk about suffering without ever having really experienced it. Saint Paul had experienced it. He not only had experienced the suffering that is common to us all: loneliness, serious illness, bereavement and the like; he had been imprisoned and tortured for his faith in Christ. He had been beaten, the victim of hate and abuse, and had to endure much physical hardship - all because of his faith.

Saint Paul didn’t see this as either particularly heroic or abnormal. He saw it as just doing what God wanted him to do. He knew that God had better things in store for him in the future and that hope in Christ enabled him to persevere and face danger and difficulty.

Jesus told his disciples:

‘Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.’ (Matthew 10:28)

Clearly, in the present situation, we are all concerned about physical health and the physical well-being of those we love and care for. Much has changed over this past year in Hong Kong, but for Christians in a very real sense nothing has changed. Our over-riding concern and priority is, or should be, to seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.

As the earthly life and ministry of our Lord vividly demonstrates, God is passionately concerned about our physical health and well-being. Disease, sickness, and even death itself, are all enemies belonging to the Devil himself. Even though we are faced with such powerful enemies, if we follow the example of Saint Valentine and the saints, then we too like them will overcome ‘by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony’.

So then, at this difficult time, may we look not to the present, but to the future and seek in our lives and in all we do to put the Kingdom of God first.

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