Text: John 1:29-34, Galatians 5:16-26
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen
It gives me great pleasure to be with you this morning, and I bring you greetings from the parish of St Thomas the Apostle, Elson in Gosport. I come to be with you today, not merely because I want to have a good nosey around your wonderful new sacred space, but because your vicar asked me to bring with me as part of your programme of return a new and radical form of meditation – a meditation for all of our senses and for all kinds of people, which our alt.worship community known as Blesséd created last Summer for the National Youth Pilgrimage to Walsingham.
I hope you have seen the posters for the “Stations of the Spirit” and I hope that you, and perhaps most importantly, those that you bring tonight will experience a new, challenging engagement with God and the fruits of the Spirit that we heard about in our second reading. But more on that later…
Clearly, as you return to this sacred space, transformation is a key theme of the moment for you – as the power of God transforms not only your church, but our very essence as followers of the Lamb of God. The Spirit of God, manifesting herself and bearing fruit amongst this community.
A friend of mine, before he became a priest, was a viticulturist: a professional grower of wine. We on the South Coast are blessed (and I know how difficult it might be, given the weather this week), we are blessed with a climate which makes actually rather good wine. I have become, over the years, quite a fan of wine grown in England. I love to visit the vinyards – a very nice local one is only up in Wickham, walk around them and then (out of courtesy only, obviously) taste and buy. As the Scriptures say, wine “gladdens our hearts” and it is lovely to have a personal encounter with place and with product that gives so much enjoyment.
My friend, Fr Kit reminds me that the process of making wine is ancient: when Noah found dry land again, he planted a vineyard and got drunk (it’s in Genesis 9:20-21). However, he is at pains to remind me that one does not simply plant grapes and get wine, something has to happen to it to make it into that wonderful substance.
The action of fermentation, the work of yeast, to convert sugar into alcohol happens almost invisibly. It happens as it must in the dark, in the warm, and out of sight, and for most of us, how it does it is a mystery.
We start with grape juice and we end with champagne. A transformation in substance.
In the same way, the words and the actions of the priest and the responses of the congregation work on ordinary things: simple bread and wine, and there is another transformation in substance.
In a way that is also mysterious, that cannot be satisfactorily explained, nor indeed should be explained, there is a change in the ordinary and it becomes extraordinary, as God enters into these elements and simple bread and wine become the blessed sacrament and precious blood.
When John the Baptiser spoke of Jesus as the Lamb of God, it was an explicit reference to the Sacrificial Lamb of the Passover and one of the reasons that when you look at John the Evangelist’s account of the Last Supper, it occurs on the night before the Passover so that Jesus is crucified at the same time as the Passover lambs are sacrificed – have a look at that when you get home today and you will find it so.
“This is the Lamb of God…” is literally true, it is not a metaphor or an illustration, but a statement of fact. In these changed elements we find God. We find the real presence of Him “hiding” as St Francis of Assisi wonderfully said “under an ordinary piece of bread”.
When Jesus took the bread and wine of a meal, he said “This is my body”, “This is my blood”. It was not a metaphor, not an illustration, but the institution of a sacrament.
We start with bread and wine and we end with the body and blood of Christ. We need not look for God in the molecules of the wine, or the atoms of the bread, look not for the change to the elements but look for the change in the people of receive it – the comfort derived from the sacrament. Look not for the wind, but for the action the wind has on the trees. Look not for the work of the yeast, but the sweetness of that fermentation.
God takes the ordinary: people like you and like me, and he transforms us into something extraordinary – into the saved. God does this is subtle ways, hidden, in the dark. How he does this is a mystery. Look not for the process, but look for the end result.
The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace; patience, kindness, goodness; faithfulness, gentleness and self-control [I know a song about that which once you get it into your head, I promise you will never forget], the end result of the work of God in our lives, the outcome of our encounter with the sacred is transformation.
We are transformed by the power of God, baptised as John said, by the Holy Spirit, transformed by Christ’s body and blood.
The transformation of the Holy Spirit is played out in your new sacred space, and a renewed vitality and confidence in your mission in this place is made clear. The Fruits of the Spirit, won for us by the Lamb of God, have the power to touch the lives of each and every one of us, and the lives of the many more that we will encounter and share those fruits with. Notice that Jesus changed the lives of Andrew and his friend not with heavy-duty theology, not with fine or eloquent words, but a simple invitation of fellowship – “Come and See”
This evening, I invite you to Come and See, to put on a pair of headphones and make a journey around this place and encounter the fruits of the spirit in new and challenging ways, in meditation and in action, in reflection and in prayer and be transformed, just as these holy sacraments are transformed and transform us.
We are the products of that transformation…a transformation far finer than the finest champagne, for this transformation gives us the taste of salvation.