Sunday 30 June – Evensong Sermon
Sermon evensong 30/06/19
Life as a prophet is not easy. The Bible is littered with them. Men and women whom God calls and gives them a specific message to pass on to the people. Whether those people are going to like it or not. This week it’s Zechariah. It’s around 500 BC. Darius is King of the Persian Empire. The people of God are scattered, living as exiles. And the Temple, the holy place where God tangibly stayed on earth is a heap of rubble. Right at the beginning of the book of Zechariah is the crux of the message – those who have gone before have turned away from God. There needs to be a turning back.
And the Temple being destroyed – well that is devastating for God’s people. The whole of their way of living was – should have been – centred around the Temple. That was the whole created order, the way things worked. The centre of social, political, and economic life. And a life sustained by Creator God.
The passage we’ve read tonight is the fifth of the visions that are written down in this book we call Zechariah. In the middle of a whole lot of unfamiliar imagery the phrase stands out – ‘not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit says the Lord of hosts’. A good starting place from which to echo Zechariah’s plea – ‘what are these things, O Lord?’
As with any poetic imagery or painting, you need to know something of the code. And here the main symbol is of a lampstand. Perhaps that rings bells of the same imagery used in the book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible. It’s the symbol of God’s presence, power and authority. The focus is not so much on Zerubbabel and his attempts at Temple building, but on the lampstand.
Mmmm … which when you live under the rule of the Persian Empire becomes something of a challenge.
Especially when the prophet then emphasises that it’s not by power or might, but by God’s Spirit.
Because, well if we’re honest it’s not only exiled Jews living under Persian control that might find it difficult to orientate their lives around God – the lampstand – instead of relying on armies and commerce.
And it would be easy to dismiss this as simply part of the Hebrew Scriptures if it weren’t for the fact that this sort of thing pops up again and again in the New Testament.
In fact, so much so that it seems to be how God works. How God is.
Because Jesus as God’s Son continues this whole theme. ‘Not by power, nor by might, but by my Spirit says the Lord’.
The prophets called the people to turn back to God and get involved. To change the way they lived their lives so that others could see God’s plan unfolding.
Jesus embodied everything that the chosen people in the Hebrew Scriptures were called to be. He showed us how to live with God at the centre, and then asked his Father to send the Holy Spirit so that we could continue that embodiment of Hope in the world.
The church as set apart, political, engaged, with the metaphorical golden lampstand at its very centre.
A community of brothers and sisters who are interdependent, showing something of the triune God. Showing the abundance of God. Forgiving each other. Loving the world. Pointing to what is ahead in a way that doesn’t make sense unless you put the idea of God into the equation.
Not by power, nor by might, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.
Often as a people we have hidden the lampstand. We have tried to melt it down and make something else out of it. We’ve rubbed out the picture and tried to put something else in its place. At times we have hijacked popular culture, or gone along with prevailing views, or tried to react to the dominant culture without grounding it in who we are.
And we’ve done this for so many years that now those outside the church just see an empty space where there should be God. No wonder the attitude from many now is not a reaction to their previous experience of Christianity. There is no previous experience. There is just indifference.
And we need to put God back in the centre of who we are, what we do, and why we do it.
Because God’s Spirit is still working in the world, and in the people. And in ways that don’t make sense.
Like why a simple Christian song, ‘Sing Hallelujah to the Lord’, became a way of peacefully protesting in Hong Kong.
Or why, unbeknownst to me, my friend suddenly felt the urge to come to this church and pray for me all morning two weeks ago. An interdependence that we can’t explain without reference to the divine.
We need to continue to embody the Good News – which of course, was a very subversive phrase to use in the face of Caesar and the Roman Empire, because that is the way God works. And that is how Jesus taught us to live.
Not by power, nor by might, but by God’s Spirit.
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