A Sermon for Lent 3
Some words from our first reading this morning: “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come buy and eat!” The prophet Isaiah offers us this morning a vision; a vision of a world where all can eat and drink; a vision of plenty and of safety. And we are surrounded by visions this morning. At the East end of this Cathedral are the two Ceri Richards windows – visions of All Saints and All Souls. A bit later, the choir will sing the Sanctus, the ‘Holy, Holy, Holy,’ which reflects another vision of the prophet Isaiah, a vision of God breaking into worship. The Sanctus is a window into heaven, it should leave us feeling that we have connected with God. No pressure then choir!
There are other visions, there is the curate who has just about warmed up from his night sleeping outside, a vision of a world without homelessness. There is one another, as we look around the Cathedral and see the people that God has called to belong to one another. A vision of the expansive and all encompassing call of God, and perhaps also a vision of God’s sense of humour.
This morning we hear about a vision, and we find that we are surrounded by visions, surrounded by glimpses of God. That is all a vision is, a glimpse of God. A vision is a glimpse, a partial but a real sight, of God and God’s intent for our world. I’ll repeat that, in case it helps. A vision is a glimpse, a partial but a real sight, of God and God’s intent for our world. This morning, we sit surrounded by visions, if only we would let ourselves see them. God wants to be known to us, he wants us to see visions. Visions are not always great experiences of being caught up into heaven. They can be as simple as seeing a person in a new light, or finding our hearts and minds enriched by something that we’ve looked at for years but never really seen. As part of our Lenten journey, let me suggest that we need to learn to see visions, we need to learn to recognize the glimpses of God that he offers us, the dramatic ones and the simpler ones.
As we think about visions this morning, let me suggest four features of visions that might help us as we learn to see them. First, visions take us somewhere new. Visions are not there to confirm what we already know, but to challenge us and to move us in thought and deed to a new place. A vision will give us something new, a new way of thinking, a new task to do, a new place to go to, a new person to belong with. Isaiah’s vision, that we have heard this morning, takes his hearers to a place of hope. A place where they can know that God promises good things for them. The vision does not leave them in the same place, but offers a future of hope and of plenty.
Visions take us somewhere new, and visions call us to repent. As we are given a glimpse of God and of his plans of the world, we can realize that we are working against God’s plans. And so we are called to repent, to stop doing the things that work against God and instead to work with him. “Let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God for he will abundantly pardon” says Isaiah. A vision calls us to repent, both because it shows us where we are frustrating the ways of God, and because it comes from the God of all mercy, who longs for us to return and be forgiven.
Visions take us somewhere new, they call us to repent and they connect us to our world. I remember writing my very first essay as an undergraduate on the ‘Kingdom of God’. About half way through my tutorial my tutor asked me to go to the window and look out and to describe what the world would look like if the Kingdom of God had arrived. I failed that test, but his point was that the Kingdom of God is not about clouds and harps, or about feelings of fulfillment. It is about the world being ordered in the way God intends. It is about a world where the vulnerable are cared for, not put out into the streets; a world where no one goes hungry; a world where there is justice and plenty for all. Isaiah’s vision offers very material things – water, bread, wine, milk – material things for a world made new. Visions do not take us out of this world, they connect us more deeply to it.
Visions take us somewhere new, they call us to repent, they connect us to our world and they shape our lives. We should not be left the same by a vision, by a glimpse of God and God’s intent for our world. Karl Barth, who has been mentioned more than once this Lent, said that God does not speak to anyone in the Bible to impart information. When God speaks, it is to call someone to act, to change their lives, to do something different. God’s gift to us of visions, is at the same time a calling to follow and to be changed by our following. We cannot always predict how we will be changed, but we will be changed.
So visions take us somewhere new, they call us to repent, visions connect us to our world and they shape our lives. They are a glimpse of God and of God’s intent for our world, partial but real nonetheless. They are a gift to us, and all around us, if only we were able to see them. I want to finish by reflecting on the vision of the two Ceri Richard’s windows, a reflection appropriate perhaps as we come at the end of our service this morning to the interment of Sam’s ashes in St Katherine’s Chapel.
The great All Saints window at the head of the South aisle of this Cathedral shows the triumph of light as the whole of creation is put back together. But in doing so, it keeps the cross at the centre of it. It is around the suffering of the cross that the new creation happens. It holds together hope and suffering and as it does so we enter into the power of God and behold his glory. There is order here, and beauty.
In contrast, here the All Soul’s window at the head of the North Aisle, is chaotic. This is the world that we know, with its joys and its sorrows that come one after another. We cannot easily discern a pattern to them. But just as the darkness is more intense in this window, so too is the light. In this dark and painfilled, unjust and often inhuman world, there are intense shafts of light. It is in these intense and beautiful moments of light, that come upon us in the midst of the chaos without warning or pattern, that we have a vision of God. They might come from a piece of music or a beautiful view, or they might come from a human life. Each of us, as well as receiving a vision of God, each of us can be a vision for those around us. That is why we celebrate each human life, each can reveal God to us.
So today as we remember Sam, and as we continue our Lenten journey, we hear again the vision of Isaiah. We are to look for visions as we follow that path, visions that take us somewhere new, visions that call us to repent, visions that connect us to our world and visions that shape our lives. Visions give us a glimpse of God and of his purposes for us and for our world. And as well as looking for them we are called to be visions, to live lives that offer to those around us a glimpse of God. Amen.
Given at Derby Cathedral 3.3.13.