THE LIGHT AND THE GLORY
[Sermon preached for Candlemass at the Worcester Forward in Faith Gathering St Barnabas, Russell Hall Dudley 2nd February Candlemass 1995]
"To be a light to lighten the Gentiles : and to be the glory of thy people Israel"
Words from the Nunc Dimittis in St Luke's Gospel
The two halves of this verse provide a clue to our way forward in faith in the immediate future.
But first let us look at Simeon, the man by whom these words were first uttered. It had been revealed to him, you remember, by the Holy Spirit that he wouldn't die before seeing the Lord's Christ.
Tradition has drawn the conclusion from this that Simeon must have been an old man at the time of that revelation.
There's nothing in the scripture to force this view upon us. The description St Luke gives us would equally well apply to a young or middle aged man suffering from some terminal illness, say tuberculosis or cancer, to which there was at that time no known cure.
It's a small point and I don't want to labour it. But it highlights the tendency we all have to suppose that we know more than we actually do about the way God proposes to work out his purposes for and with us.
Anyhow, young or old, Simeon was what is called a "man of vision". And here again we have the common assumption that such people's vision applies mainly to the future. But I would put it to you that a man who can see clearly what is right under his nose is just as entitled to be called a "man of vision" as the one who can accurately assess what the future is likely to bring.
And nowhere was this more true than at the Presentation. There was the Lord's Christ about to enter his Temple in the Holy City of Jerusalem, the place of which it had been said "the Lord whom you seek shall come suddenly". Who recognized him?
It wasn't the priests. It wasn't the sacristan. It wasn't the learned doctors of theology who were to meet him there again some 12 years later and be "astonished at his understanding and answers" but still not recognize him.
No, it was two laypeople, a "just and devout man" and the other a woman of great age who had served God for many years with fastings and prayers.
To them it was given to see the revelation of God incarnate face to face.
Doesn't this warn us that we should be totally open-minded about the way in which god is going to act, and more particularly about the sort of people through whom he is going to act. It may well not be either solely or principally through priests, bishops (flying or earthbound), theologians or church dignitaries; but through laypeople, "laymen of vision" who are "in touch" with things both earthly and heavenly in a way in which clergy are sometimes regrettably not.
Now let us return to the two halves of Simeon's prophecy.
A *light* to lighten the Gentiles : the *glory* of Israel.
These two assignments, or so to say job descriptions, complement one another in the person of Jesus Christ, and it is reasonable for us to draw the conclusion that a corresponding pair of complementary job descriptions applies to the the Church the body of Christ on earth.
Firstly we, the church, are to be a *light* to the nations, not least to our own nation. Light, especially in St John's gospel is inextricably bound up with *truth*. We are to tell our nation the truth, "whether men will hear or whether they will forbear" Like the prophet of old we are not being sent to foreign nations or the people of unknown speech, but to our own nation of people who have become estranged from their Creator and therefore from the truth.
We are to tell the truth regardless of whether it will make us unpopular; we are to tell the truth whether it happens to fit in with the particular popular nostrums of today's world. We are to insist, for instance, that babies in their mother's womb have greater rights that veal calves, however important veal calves may be in God's eyes; we are to insist that there is only one saviour and lord, Jesus Christ, however much we may have to learn from the wisdom of other faiths; we are to insist that "without Christ there is no hope"; and perhaps most unpopular of all we must insist that we shall all be held responsible at the last day before the judgement seat of Christ for how we have responded to his reconciling love.
Hence it follows that this vocation to be a light is going to involve a good deal of plain speaking. Like Simeon we have to be men of vision about *the present*. Like him, too we also have to be men of vision about the *future*. And that is where the second half of the verse "the *glory* of thy people Israel" comes into play.
As members of his Body we also partake of his glory.
This whole concept of glory is in danger of getting lost sight of. Frankly, people are embarrassed by being, through no merit of their own, the heirs and inheritors of a Kingdom whose glory surpasses any riches or glory that the world has to offer.
This "embarrassment about riches" is a recent development. there was a time when people rejoiced to belong or be associated with some noble or historic institution, whether it was their regiment, their college, the ancestral estate or the Church of Christ. Of course the privilege of belonging held its dangers and was sometimes abused. But the pride and joy was felt by all those concerned - sons, daughters, wives, cooks, gardeners, sacristans and soldiers of all ranks and none.
These people rejoiced in being part of something so much greater and extensive than themselves. They felt proud of it. but now that feeling of pride has been replaced by a sense almost of embarrassment which is at once negative and debilitating. "What have I done to deserve this?, they ask. The answer, of course, is "nothing". But that is the very reason why this glory is such an inestimable gift, given and received but never earned.
For the truth is that God has called us to "share his glory". And at this point I want to bring in a phrase which we owe to John Richards, Bishop of Ebbsfleet. He insists that all Forward in Faith parishes should strive to become *Centres of excellence*.
"Excellence" is not the opposite of "simplicity" but of "mediocrity". Glory and mediocrity do not mix, have no common ground, whereas glory and simplicity may well be the ideal combination in certain circumstances. Never be afraid of simplicity; always be deeply mistrustful of mediocrity.
The bane of the Church of England today is mediocrity, whose motto is always "we'll muddle through somehow".
We are, I believe, being offered and opportunity by God to break with all that is bad about our Anglican past and to "carry forward" all that is most glorious.
*Centres of Excellence*. Everything from the administration of forward in Faith Central Office, the new Regional Deans, the parishes, and, not least, the people in the pews, are to be centres of excellence. We are to let our light shine before men that they may once again glorify their heavenly Father.
If we seize this opportunity they with Simeon we shall be able to say:
Lord, now let your servant depart in peace/ for my eyes have seen your salvation/ a light to lighten the Gentiles/ the glory of your people Israel
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