A sermon preached
Jn 1: 51
"I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open,
and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."
That is the last verse of our Gospel passage –
Earlier we read how Philip brings Nathaniel to Jesus.
Jesus clearly already knows all about Nathaniel.
How do you know about me? he asks –
I have never met you before.
Jesus says “I have already had my eye on you,
sitting under the fig tree.
Today we have brought little Iona for baptism.
Jesus says today to Iona what he said so long ago to Nathaniel –
My child, before you knew me
(indeed before you were old enough
really to know anyone or search them out)
already I had seen you and I knew you.
And if you ask why as a Church we baptise infants
and do not wait until they are old enough
to take the initiative in seeking God first,
I would say this –
first and foremost baptism is not about us finding God,
it is about God finding us – and it can never be too soon,
and we can never be too weak, or young or immature
not to need finding by God, not to need his blessing.
I saw a sticker on the back of a car recently which said
“I‘ve found Jesus – he was behind the settee all the time”
Which reminds me of the bit in the movie
when someone says to Forrest Gump
“Have you found Jesus yet, Gump?
To which Forrest Gump replies
“I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for him, sir”
We may lose Jesus,
we may be looking in the wrong place,
we may not even be looking for him at all –
but whilst we are sat – whether in a baby buggy in Alphington
or under a fig tree in Capernaum,
he sees us and we who are lost are found!
Then Jesus goes on – he says to Nathaniel –
“You’re surprised I knew you already - that’s only the start of it –
you ain’t seen nothing yet… Hang out with me
and you will see angels going up and down on the Son of Man.”
That is a slightly obscure image,
which scholars have used much ink discussing.
But whatever it means, the thrust is clearly
that through Christ Heaven and earth are brought together.
The reference is back to the story of Jacob in the OT (Gen 28)
dreaming of a ladder joining earth and heaven,
with angels going up and down.
Jesus is saying – Jacob’s dream about a ladder to heaven –
has finally been fulfilled in me – I am the one who links God to humanity.
Follow me, and the heavenly dimension will break into your life.
Iona’s name of course comes originally from the Scottish Island of
the place where St Columba first landed in 563AD,
bringing Celtic Christianity to Scotland.
There is a phrase often used by Celtic Christian writers –
they talk about a thin place – meaning a particularly holy place
where the boundary between heaven and earth,
between the human and the divine, is specially thin.
Jesus is saying to Nathaniel and Philip and Iona and you and me –
Wherever I am is a thin place –
a place where the clouds divide, and angels come and go,
and heaven is in your midst.
And that, in God’s name, is what we offer Iona today –
Closeness to God, angels, God’s messengers, surrounding her every moment.
St Columba came to Iona from Ireland.
He spoke lovingly of his Irish homeland where he first found Christ -
and described it as place where
“heaven’s angels come and go under every leaf of the oaks”
God is at work beneath every leaf and stone-
O that we might see and know him.
And in every place and every generation
heaven is close at hand if we will but see it.
The Roman Catholic poet, Francis
used to sleep rough by the Thames, with no food, and no home.
But he came to see that even there in greatest need –
indeed maybe specially in the places of greatest need –
at the darkest points of life,
God was there – if only people could see him.
Just look, he said, and –
even at your saddest moment you will see,
amidst the sorrows of London,
glimpses of heaven -
angels, and Jacob’s ladder:
But when so sad thou cans’t not sadder
Cry: - and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder
Pitched between Heaven and Charing Cross.
There is a message for a little girl
going who knows where in life:
however hard some bits of the journey may be –
angels will guard you, the ladder to heaven is always there.
And what better message for those who are troubled and sad today –
I know there are those who today mourn the loss of loved ones –
angels will guard you, the ladder to heaven is always there.
And, says Christ, wherever you are, however deep your sorrow
whatever the fig tree under which you sit,
there I will see you in your need,
and find you and surround you
with the love and power of God himself.
Thanks to Andrew and Diana for their involvement
in planning parts of this service –
including choosing the hymn
from the Iona Community we sang earlier:
Jesus is not just King of Heaven –
he shares the human struggle in the streets below.
And that is not only a promise – it is also a challenge.
Christ calls his people to go with him into the dark and difficult places,
to show others in need a glimpse of heaven.
That is a challenge not just for Iona,
but for every one of us as we reflect on our baptism,
and God’s hopes for us.
The old Baptismal service used to talk about
those baptised becoming Christ’s faithful soldiers and servants.
That phrase isn’t in the current book.
We are perhaps rightly a little cautious of late
about using military imagery in an age when
the sermons of Abu Hamza and
the missile attacks on Pakistani villagers
share the front pages of the papers.
So many, on all sides,
seem willing to wage so-called spiritual warfare
with weapons of war and destruction.
Into such a world comes baby Iona -
Iona is named after an island which,
thanks to the Iona Community,
has become synonymous with the struggle for peace and justice.
I hope and pray she –
along with all of us in this place –
may become a soldier of Christ
whose weapons are love, truth and justice.
Tomorrow is Martin Luther King day.
Martin Luther King walked and worked in the streets
with the needy and marginalised.
But from the gutter he saw the stars –
he had a vision of the coming Kingdom of Heaven.
He fought God’s battles with the weapons of love,
and like Moses, he longed for, dreamed of, trusted in,
the coming Promised Land, God’s assured future victory,
when war and hatred and prejudice would be no more,
and God’s rule would come in.
So Iona – my prayer to you –
which may go over your head right now,
but perhaps if your mum and dad’s hard disc does not get corrupted,
you may one day read:
Like Moses and like Martin Luther King,
I pray that you Iona
may not be afraid to share in the struggle of humanity,
but that as you do so, you will always feel the power of heaven.
May you talk with the angels
and reflect their love and peace in the world
until finally in God’s good time
you come safe home to heaven itself.