Sermon Preached by Fr Nicolas Stebbing CR at St Mary, Bourne Street, London on Holy Tuesday (3 April) 2012
“Why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you?”. That is typical of dear Peter. His generous heart takes him beyond where the flesh can follow. This time round he falls. When asked to admit to friendship with Christ he denies him. Would we have done any better? Would we like to be put to the test to see if we can?
Last year three of the nuns who work at our former mission in Zimbabwe were arrested by the police – for what? For having an Anglican church service in their chapel. They were taken to the police station and very badly treated, stuck in a stinking police cell for several hours until the lawyers were able to get them out. They came out full of excitement and joy that they had resisted evil. I admire them enormously but I don’t want to spend even a few minutes in a Zimbabwean police cell. I keep my head down.
That is rather dramatic, of course. Most of us here in England would find it hard to get arrested for standing up for Christ. Yet still we fail him. We fail him each time we sin. It doesn’t really matter what the sin is – the so called big sins, or the rather petty ones; every sin is a turning away from Christ. We know perfectly well what we are doing – we catch the jealous thoughts, the pride, the determination to win, the catty remarks as they pass through our minds. We could stop them but we don’t try. Everyone does it, we say. Everyone says those sort of things, why shouldn’t I? Everyone makes a bit of extra money this way, why shouldn’t I? Sin afflicts us all, me as much as anyone. It is a kind of disease from which we all suffer. However, there is a cure. We can escape it. We can be treated for it, slowly healed from it. We can choose not to do it. Why don’t we? Because really we like it. We don’t really see how it is denying Christ – just as Peter did; or betraying Christ, just as Judas did.
Now I expect you are thinking – here he goes again, a typical priest, banging on about sin in the hope we will go to confession. You would be right. I have a good reason, though. Sin is the gateway to the most marvellous experience of God, if only we can repent. The Prodigal Son never knew how much his father loved him until he came back home. It is worth anything to see once again the forgiving face of God and to discover how much he loves us.
God knows what it is like to live in this world, to be surrounded by sinful men and women, to be part of a corrupt and corrupting society, to be tired and hurt and unable to give of our best. He knows how we are tempted to give up. “I have toiled in vain, I haver exhausted myself for nothing”; yet when we come back to him in sorrow for our many failing we find complete understanding; more than that he find he speaks to us as he spoke to Isaiah “You are my servant in whom I shall be glorified”. Like Isaiah we find, “I am honoured in the eyes of the Lord, my God is my strength.” Perhaps we will hear him say also “It is not enough that you should be my servant; I will make you a light to the nations”. Can we dare to be that?
Nicolas Stebbing CR