Knowing, loving and following

This sermon was given by Rev Sue on Wednesday 16 June.

Some people, when they die, leave behind them a whole library full of the books they have written. Others, are remembered for just one thing. Bishop Richard of Chichester, whose feast day is today, by all accounts was an excellent diocesan bishop in the thirteenth century. But he has been remembered throughout the centuries for a single prayer.

Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits thou hast given me,
for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother,
may I know thee more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
and follow thee more nearly, day by day.
Amen.

You may well know it from musical settings in Godspell or from the piece sung by Maggie’s Music Makers. It says so much in a few short lines.

Richard speaks to Jesus as his friend and brother. He immediately evokes a real sense of closeness, of the availability of Jesus to understand us and support us whenever we need him. And his first request is that he should know him more clearly. Richard was an expert in church law – a very clever man. But he was aware that when it comes to God, knowing about him is far less important than having met him. I expect you know quite a bit about the Queen. You could name her children and be reasonably accurate with the important dates in her life. You know were she lives most of the time, and where she likes to spend her holidays. But that’s no substitute for having met her. People who have been introduced to her are usually thrilled. But imagine what it would be like to really know her, to talk to her as a friend, to tell her about yourself, and hear about her life. And yet that is the invitation from Jesus – to sit with him every day, to tell him our troubles as we would to a best friend, to ask his advice and to have the protection and advice of an older brother. And the more time we spend with him, the more clearly we know him.

As the song goes, to know him is to love him. Because the more aware we are of his presence, the more we read about him in the Bible, the more we realise all that he has done for us. We remember those pains and insults Richard speaks about, the physical pain of the crucifixion, the emotional pain of loneliness and desertion, and the insults when he was taunted and bullied by the Roman soldiers. And all that he willingly bore for love of us – not a vague humanity in general, but for every one of us as though we were the only person in the world.  Faced with the heights and depths of that great love for us, we cannot help but respond, and love him too.

And if we love, then we will follow. There are two senses here. Firstly, we might follow someone on social media or copy them in a game of “Follow my leader”. He is our pattern for life and as we read the gospels, we seek to follow his example, and to become more like him. We are stunned by the way he gave his whole life in the service of others, healing and teaching, mixing with both the dregs of society and the rich and powerful. Never putting himself first, but giving unsparingly of his time, his power and his love. To follow him is to be dragged out of our complacency or our despondency and into a life lived for others whatever the cost. And there is then that other sense of following. To walk behind him, not knowing where he will lead us. Into new places, relationships or roles. We commit to a life that is open to the unexpected, that challenging and the just plain nerve wracking, never seeing more than a day ahead. For that is how Richard ends his prayer. The Christian life is not primarily about mountain top experiences, but about the hard graft of getting out of bed every day and soldiering on.

I will read the prayer again, and ask you to pray it with me, if you dare.

Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits thou hast given me,
for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother,
may I know thee more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
and follow thee more nearly, day by day.
Amen.


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