May 1

Spring in London

By Marsh Chapel

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John 20:19-31

1. Love Divine

Love Divine all loves excelling
Joy of heaven to earth come down
Fix in us thy humble dwelling
All thy faithful mercies crown
Jesus thou art all compassion
Pure unbounded love thou art
Visit us with thy salvation
Enter every trembling heart

2. Deeds That Speak

We hear today the ringing conclusion of the Gospel of John, the courageous Fourth Gospel, the gospel of love divine.

Notice the unique appearance of Thomas, so unlike anything else in any other gospel. Notice the power and irony that he who mistakes the gospel of believing for the truth of seeing, nonetheless announces the full gospel’s full truth: My Lord and my God! Notice the gospel writer who forever reminds us that signs and wonders are deeds that speak (Bultmann, TFG, 698). Notice the ardent proclamation of a personal faith that is not a conviction that is present once and for all but must perpetually make sure of itself anew, and therefore must continually hear the word anew (ibid, 699)…The recounted events have become symbolic pictures for the fellowship which the Lord, who has ascended to the Father, holds with his own (696). Seeing is not believing: believing is seeing. Touching Thomas tells the truth.

3. All Weddings Are Royal

Deeds that speak include weddings, royal and common.

The spring London fog lifted Friday and the spring London rain waited and we enjoyed a royal wedding, 2 Billion of us. The hymns, prayers, liturgy, vows, and spirit of the service are closely similar to the dozens of weddings we will solemnize here at Marsh Chapel this year. As the minister said, all weddings are royal and every bride and groom is a king and queen. For a moment the fog of three questionable wars, a warming environment, a cooling economy, and 400 tornado taken in the south lifted and the rain of anxiety waited and there was a dress, a ring, a carriage, a kiss, a party and a convertible. 60 million Britons had a holiday, and you got up early to watch. Why did we watch?

I hope we heard the sermon. A good word about a generous God who evokes generosity in us. A good word about a new century in which the discoveries of the past century we will need to control and manage: the emphasis on science in the 20th century may be giving way to an emphasis on religion in the 21st, a shift from discovery to community, from creation to redemption. A good word which quoted a personal prayer. A good word about seeds of devotion growing into eternal life, of which the Gospel of John eternally speaks. I hope we applied the sermon to ourselves, along with the beautifully read verses from Romans 12.

But I doubt that is why we watched. In fact, only one observer to my ear so far, among the 2 billion, has come closer to the deeper reason for our attention. Those of us listening to Bonhoeffer this spring will not be surprised.

4. Freedland

“The power of the young Elizabeth’s brief scenes in the King’s Speech is not solely chronological. It is not only that she was around a long time ago; it is that she was around then, during what Churchill predicted would be known thereafter as Britain’s finest hour. She is the last living connection to an episode—the island race standing up to Hitler—that has become the foundation story, almost the creation myth, of modern Britain…Britain alone, Churchill, 1940, the Blitz—this is the tale of unalloyed heroism that the country likes to tell and retell itself. And as long as Elizabeth sits on the throne, Britons remain tied to those events directly” Jonathan Freedlander, New York Review of Books, 4/28/2011, 30.

5. Their Finest Hour

We used to remember that. It is the courage in history of a real love of freedom, that has preserved our way of life, and that has us speaking English today, and not German. Wesley said he knew how to prize “the liberty of an Englishman”. That fierce, pugnacious, relentless, John Bull, bulldog, dog with a bone love of freedom. At the right moment, one momentous Spring in London, 1940, Winston Churchill faced down the more polished, better heeled, more popular and more experienced old Britons of his newly formed war cabinet, and steadily led his country away from their desire to compromise with Adolf Hitler. With Belgium defeated, Churchill clung to a love of freedom. With France cut in two, Churchill clung to a love of freedom. With 400,000 men stranded at Dunkirk and escape virtually impossible, Churchill clung to a love of freedom. With the whole German airforce poised to incinerate England’s green and pleasant land, Churchill clung to a love of freedom. With Lord Halifax ready to seek terms and Lord Chamberlain ready to let him Churchill clung to a love of freedom. Read this summer John Lukacs’ Five Days in London, May 1940. He concludes: “Churchill and Britain could not have won the Second World War. In the end, America and Russia did. But in May 1940 Churchill (alone) was the one who did not lose it.” Churchill’s mother grew up south of Syracuse in Pompey. One wonders if some of his paternal love of freedom came from the winds of the Allegheny plateau. Authority is about love of freedom.

6. Hell’s Destruction

When I tread the verge of Jordan
Bid mine anxious fears subside
Death of death and hell’s destruction
Land me safe on Canaan’s Side
Strong Deliverer, Strong Deliverer
Be Thou Still My Strength and Shield
Be Thou Still My Strength and Shield

7. Aldersgate Street

The freedom and love in today’s Scripture lesson provide an alternative. Authenticity, finally, is at the heart of any godly authority.

We once remembered that. It is the experience of freeing love, that ignited our church. At midlife, one enchanting night in the English Spring of 1738, John Wesley heard something said in church that warmed his heart for good. He had been on Aldersgate street that Sunday evening, going to chapel service more from duty than from passion, when he heard a preacher read Romans 8 and also Martin Luther’s commentary on that passage. There is something so fragrant and so full about damp London in the springtime. As he left church, Wesley felt something new, a freeing love in the heart, which is the creation and work of the Holy Spirit, which blows where it wills and you hear the sound of it. Authority is about freeing love. If you missed Easter Vigil, you missed a part of this story.

8. Resurrection Changes Us

“So let us listen to the stories of Jesus and his miraculous birth, his calling of disciples and teachings of friendship, his sharp knocks at hypocrisy and love of childlike innocence, his proclamation that the last will be first and the first last, his miracles of healing and his struggles with fickle crowds, his interpretations of history and parables of the Kingdom, his gospel of love and demands for justice, his institution of sacraments and founding of a beloved community, his bitter betrayal and corrupt trial, his bloody suffering and desolate crucifixion, his harrowing of Hell and glorious resurrection, his blessing of our maturity and gift of the Spirit, his ascension into Heaven and mythic transformation into the atonement for all sins, into the Cosmic Christ, into the Second Person of the Trinity, into the divine founder of the Christian movement, into an ever-loving friend personally available to each of us, into a reality that is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. All of these things are part of the deep truth that works in us when we celebrate them. Better yet, let’s sing them, because music moves the soul faster than words alone. What changes with resurrection? We do. What is that change? A closer connection with God. What is that connection? An entry into the divine life whose wildness is embraced with Easter joy. “And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood?” You bet!! “Bold I approach the eternal throne, and claim the crown, through Christ my own.” Amen.” (Robert Cummings Neville, April 23, 2011)

9. Moral Lessons

Just how shall we live changed lives? I have studied, preached, taught and interpreted the fourth Gospel for 33 years, but I never tire of wonder and amazement at what John does not say. He says nothing to us about how we are to live. There is not a single ethical sentence in the gospel—not a proverb, not a moral, not a parable, not a wisdom saying, not a command, not one, no not one. For John trusts—John believes—that once the heart has changed, once our own devotion, decision and discussion are strangely warmed, then we will figure out the rest for ourselves. We shall to build Jerusalem, and then we shall do so.

Let us make a start today. Let us take communion with the promise to live the communion. Let us keep faith with our partners and spouses. Let us tithe, give away 10% of what we earn—at least 10%. Let us worship—an hour a week of careful liturgy, prepared preaching, vibrant music, real fellowship. You can do this. You can. I know you can. We should get ourselves into our own Westminster Abbeys more than once every thirty years.

10. Jerusalem

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning Gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O Clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire.

I will not cease from Mental Fight
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

~ The Reverend Dr. Robert Allan Hill,
Dean of Marsh Chapel.

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