The Seven Word Sermon: Celebrate Small Victories. Jesus surpasses Moses quietly!
Last week, astronomers announced they had found a giant planet with more than 30 rings. How did they discover it? They measured the light from its parent star. The light dipped and rose, dipped and rose as the planet with its rings crossed the star. With some clever mathematics, the scientists worked out the pattern of rings which would explain those dips. We may never see those faint rings in all their beauty, but we know they are there because of the contrast of light and dark.
There is darkness in our own world, too. The Anglican Archbishop of Wales recently noted that the year 2014 had been “especially bleak. Ebola in Africa… the so-called Islamic State declaring war on all that seems to be decent, good and holy and executing people, in a most public and barbaric way; conflict between Israel and Palestine leading to many people being killed; the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the horrors of civil war in Syria, where the United Nations estimates that more than 100,000 have been killed but has now given up even trying to count and four million Syrian refugees have fled to Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.”
Here in Wales, things are not so bleak, but we still face the grey realities of the extended credit crunch, of low wages, short hours and lack of full employment, of a health and social care service squeezed to the point where so many of us are frustrated that what it delivers is not what we had hoped for; and of everyday life where so many tasks seem to involve one step back for every two taken forward.
We are not to be left in darkness! A great light has entered our world! Tomorrow, the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Presentation, marking the day when the infant Christ was brought to the Temple in Jerusalem. The prophets Simeon and Anna recognise him as God’s true messenger, and for that reason the Church celebrates tomorrow as Candlemas, with the solemn blessing of candles. Today we lit candles for the reading of the Gospel where Jesus casts out an evil spirit. As far as the people listening are concerned, he is a young rabbi, a preacher with impressive authority. But the servant of darkness recognise the true light and cries out, “I know who you are – the Holy One of God!”
So what kind of light for our world is the Christ we celebrate? In our first reading, we heard God’s promise that we would receive a prophet like Moses. It is interesting to see how Moses and Jesus compare…
Moses called down ten plagues on Egypt! Jesus stopped James and John from calling down fire on Samaria.
Moses parted the sea – thousands of Israelites were saved, and thousands of Egyptians were drowned. Jesus calmed a storm for the sake of a dozen troubled disciples.
Moses presented the whole Israelite nation with manna from heaven six days a week for forty years. Jesus fed two crowds of 5000 and 4000 with bread and fish.
Moses went up a mountain and received ten Commandments. Jesus sat on a mountain and proclaimed eight Beatitudes.
Under Moses, Israel was led for 40 years by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Over Jesus, the voice of the Father was heard twice, at his Baptism and again on the Mountain of Transfiguration.
Compared to Moses, I can’t help feeling that Jesus performed God’s work on a rather smaller stage. Indeed, we know that Jesus was tempted to perform public spectacles. Turn stones into bread? Have angels catch him as he stage-dived from the parapet of the Temple? He could have done both, but it wasn’t what he was about.
Jesus shows us what it is to be truly human. Few of us will be called to the dizzy heights of leading a nation in exile. All of us will feel angry, fearful or hungry at times. So although what Jesus does is less impressive on the world stage, it’s much more important for our daily lives. We are assured of God’s forgiveness, God’s comfort and God’s guidance in the trials which we all face.
St Mark gives us today’s story of Jesus casting out a demon because he wants us to know that Jesus has power to overcome evil and darkness. We, too , face a struggle with temptation – not in the form of a screaming demon, but of that small selfish voice inside of us which suggests we should put our own needs first.
We can win many small victories every day. We can choose to smile when an ageing parent rings us for the fourteenth time this week. We can get on with the laundry and the cleaning as a labour of love. We can pick up the phone and call a friend who is in need. We can do the tasks that need doing with good grace; and when something good happens beyond our control, we can rejoice and give thanks to God.
St Paul offered as some advice today on marriage – which basically boils down to ‘don’t get married!’. But if you read one of the verses just before today’s passage, Paul does say he is only giving his own personal advice, not God’s commands; and bear in mind that St Paul is an unmarried man who has had a radical conversion experience and become a travelling missionary relentlessly wearing down his shoe leather across the eastern Mediterranean!
Marriage always requires daily compromises. Sometimes this means that a partner has to make a permanent sacrifice – setting aside their own pet way of doing something, their daydream of how it SHOULD be…and never drawing attention to the matter again. In marriage, as in daily life, it is the small victories which matter.
Here in this parish, we may not have much power to solve global problems. We can pray for peace in the Middle East, we can send some money to CAFOD, and we can lobby our politicians… but there is something that we can do. The small things are important. Among our community are some who have relatives in the troubled parts of the world, and not a few who have fled war zones as refugees. When we offer such a person the small courtesies of daily life, a helping hand with seemingly trivial matters, we bring a flicker of the light of Christ to a soul conscious of great darkness. To us, such a small victory may be as inconsequential as the momentary dimming of the light of a star – but set against the darkness, these little lights, these small gestures, add up to something even brighter than the beautiful rings of a planet!
It is Jesus, not Moses, who shows us the path. Curb your anger, however frustrated you get. Be a peacemaker in troubled times. Give freely of what you have to those in need. Live out the eight Beatitudes. Live as a true child of God-the-Father. Live a life marked not by mighty spectacles, but by small victories which bring light to the lives of many. Listen to your better nature, not the inner voice of selfishness, and you will be victorious – with victories so small that only God and yourself are aware of the inner battle which have taken place. Then you too will be greater than Moses, and the light of Christ will shine in the world through you!