Sermon: Revd. John Barr


A sermon preached by the Revd. John Barr

Readings: Rev. 12: 7-12 Luke 1: 39-55

A song, a struggle, and a Saviour who inspires both. Today as we remember those patrons to whom this Priory Church is dedicated - Blessed Mary and the Archangel Michael - the Bible readings invite us to consider what we can learn from their example.

Mary's song - the Magnificat - is all about God. It is a gospel before the gospel, a shout of triumph thirty weeks before Bethlehem, and thirty years before Calvary and Easter. Mary's song tells of a dream coming true at last. The ancient dream of Israel that, one day, all nations would be blessed through the family of Abraham and Sarah - the people of the promise, and children of the covenant. This dream had been expressed in the Hebrew scriptures which spoke of mercy, hope, fulfillment, revolution, victory over evil - God coming to the rescue.

Now, at last, the day was dawning. And so, echoing the song of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2, Mary celebrates in song the activity - and rejoices in the nature - of God. God the Lord, the Saviour, the Mighty One, the Holy One, the Merciful One, the Faithful One.

A song of a Saviour. Yet a song which also points to a struggle - a struggle to bring God's Kingdom purposes to fulfillment. Mary would know that costly struggle for herself - from her first 'yes' to God, to her birthpangs in Bethlehem, to her agonizing vigil by the cross of her Son at Calvary.

The song and the struggle and the Saviour go together. Mary reminds us that those who say 'yes' to God are opening themselves to the One who in Jesus Christ comes to bring His Kingdom revolution into this world. Jesus who calls us to share with Him in living and working for God's Kingdom come on earth as in heaven.

Yet the song and the struggle and the Saviour are not just a human or an earthly matter. Our other patron - the Archangel Michael - points us to a conflict that is cosmic in scope. For, as Paul puts it in Ephesians 6, "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12). And, in today's passage from the Book of Revelation, we are told that "Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back" (Revelation 12:7)

The struggle for the fulfillment of God's Kingdom has a heavenly as well as an earthly dimension, a spiritual as well as a physical manifestation. While the decisive victory has been won "by the blood of the Lamb" (Revelation 12:11), Satan and his angels are still capable of exerting their evil influence on earth.

If nothing else, this fact speaks of a truth which applies both to angels and humans alike: namely that disobedience to the will of God inevitably leads to discord and disintegration. For disobedience - the sinful refusal to listen and to act upon God's declared will - denies the purposes of the Kingdom, and so reaps the destructive consequences.

Our world is littered with the fallout of such disobedience. It affects - and infects - relationships at every level. The daily news is often a catalogue of the bitter, twisted fruit of disobedience. Yet it need not be so. The song, the struggle, and the Saviour point us to God's will, and show us God's way. The way of obedience, the way of living our 'yes' to God.

Perhaps we at the Priory should need little reminding of this fundamental truth. After all, for about four and a half centuries - half the history of this house of prayer - the community that worshipped in this place sought to follow the Rule of Benedict. A Rule whose very first word is a call to radical obedience, an invitation to listen carefully and attentively for the voice of God, and then to put it into practice.

Yes, obedience is challenging. There are so many voices clamouring for our attention - voices from without and voices from within. Ego-driven voices, voices full of anger, fear or prejudice, silent voices, confused voices, painful voices. Yet if we don't listen carefully for the Word of God, then we so easily go astray. That's why any vision for our priorities here at the Priory must be rooted and grounded in the scriptures, flowing from the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.

Like the Prodigal in the parable of Jesus, you and I continually need to listen in order to discern the truth of our situation, and so set out on the journey homeward. As Benedict puts it in the Prologue to his Rule: "The labour of obedience will bring you back to him from whom you had drifted through the sloth of disobedience."

In this labour, we can turn to Mary and Michael as helpful guides. For they beckon us to join with them in a song of praise to the Living God. They also encourage us to share with them in the struggle for the Kingdom of God. And they point us beyond themselves to the Saviour, who is Christ the Lord - the One who continues to inspire the worship of His people, and their work in His Name.

John Barr


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