The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s009g16   Second Sunday after Christmass  3/1/2016

‘From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace’.   John 1:16

Our gospel, the prologue of St John, is one of the most familiar passages of scripture.  Of course it doesn’t rival the Lord’s Prayer, but surely is right up there with the Magnificat.   Other contenders are John 3:16 and John 14:6.

The words reflect the culmination of John’s reflections on the life and person of Jesus, of which the rest of the gospel account is but illustration.   Similarly for Paul, his epistle to the Romans is the culmination of his reflections on his previous life of devotion and persecution of others and his subsequent conversion to affirmation and inclusion.   His prologue is Romans chapter 1; none of which therefore has anything to do with intimacy between people of the same gender.

These words are a profound reflection on John’s experience of the life and ministry of Jesus, and each and every word is weighed carefully.   This is particularly necessary when one is describing ‘the Word made flesh’.

I note that John witnesses to the fact that we have received ‘grace upon grace’ - not advice upon advice :-)   ‘Grace upon grace’ not ‘here’s another worthy cause or two to which you should contribute’.  

For me, church has always been that second home, that place where for all my many deficiencies, I have been accepted for who I am.   Now I am in that part of life where both of my parents have died, church is that substitute for the home of my youth, the place where I can find unconditional love.   And it alerts me to the fact that my own home must remain a place of unconditional love for my children and their families, not a place of advice or arena for competition.

We all need this ‘grace upon grace’; we all need reassurance that we are worthwhile, we all need to be heard, we all need to know the special insights we bring to the table are appreciated.   Sadly, of course, few if any grow up in such and ideal environment, particularly those of us of the older generation which held to the precept that children were to be seen and not heard. (1)

But John’s testimony is that in his experience of the church she is precisely this.   Jesus’ dispensation of ‘grace upon grace’ is through the church.

John is particularly insistent on evidence-based practice.   In his first letter he writes: ‘We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us — we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.   We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.’  (2)

Again a recent aphorism: ‘To get the full value of joy, you must have someone to divide it with.’ Mark Twain - thanks Grady!

So this begs the question: How does our church stand up?   And how does our church stand up when we take notice of that single but vitally important word: ‘all’?   ‘We have ALL received, grace upon grace’.   Does our church offer the unconditional love of all to every one of our members - let alone anyone else?   How does our act of Holy Communion communicate the reassurance that all are worthwhile, that we are ready to listen to all people, that we are ready to receive, celebrate and adopt the special insights that others bring to the table?   May I humbly suggest, not very well actually, when our celebration is really known by who can’t participate; when we all have to confess our sins first up; and after we have all received the food of God we are summarily dismissed before anyone might add something useful!

As we attended worship on Christmass Day in our very much preferred congregation, I reflected that while it was led by three priests of the female variety and I have the greatest respect for each and every one of them, the liturgy was written by a succession of men.

I have been reflecting on our love for the communion of saints - they’re all dead - they can’t make any changes - they’re safe :-)

So this ‘all’ must extend to others as well, otherwise we have nothing to offer anyone else, or to society in general.   If we don’t even do this well amongst our fellow worshippers, no one else will be encouraged to join us.  Just wait until a newcomer to a congregation wants to do something other than admire what is and what is already happening - see how much acceptance and unconditional love is evident!   ‘People will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but’ suggesting anything new ‘will not be forgiven’. :-) (3)  How is an expectation that others are only allowed to admire what we have done or do an expression of our love for them?  Is this ‘grace upon grace’?   We might as well be terrorists.   As St Paul wrote: even ‘if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing’. (4)

So when we are considering passages like: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life’ (5) and: ‘’I am the way, and the truth, and the life.   No one comes to the Father except through me’ (6) - these are both predicated on a community of affirmation and inclusion proscribed by the prologue.   And it is only when this community of affirmation and inclusion, affirms and includes others not in the congregation, that the ‘all’ becomes real.

I repeat the sentiments I expressed recently about my work-place the hospital.  It is a place of unconditional acceptance and welcome - and the wonderful healing that takes place there on a day to day, hour by hour basis, is predicated on this.  (7)

I reflect that these miracles and healing are predicated on the advances of science, which has, at its core, questioning and exploration.   Yet so often religion has at its core resistance to anything and everything new, both locally and globally.  Often it seems for religion the only verities are those articulated centuries ago.   These only promise stagnation and death and not just for ourselves, but more importantly for others and for society in general.

Indeed it is precisely this questioning and exploration, affirmation and inclusion that is the way of Jesus - the only way - it is the promise of eternal life for others as well as ourselves, here and now.   Anything less is illusory and a delusion.

1.  Mirk's Festial, circa 1450   
2.  1 John 1:1-4
3.  Matthew 12:31
4.  1 Corinthians 13:3 RSV
5.  John 3:16
6.  John 14:6