St John’s Day Sermon 2021 (Fr Steffan Mathias)

St John’s Day Sermon 2021, St John’s Upper Norwood – Fr Steffan Mathias

Exodus 33:7-11a; 1 John 1; John 21:19b-25


What does God look like?

If you had to paint a picture of God, what would it include?

God’s face is a big deal in the Old Testament.  As the people of ancient Israel learned more about God, as they learnt to grapple with who their God is, they sometimes understood him as having a body.

Human beings – after all – were made in God’s image; God having a body seemed to make sense.

Yet their God was different than the gods of the other nations because their God couldn’t be drawn painted or sculpted.  their God couldn’t be limited to a statue or icon. Their God was so big that not even the heavens could contain him.

Now, if their God had been a far-off God who didn’t care about them – a kind of clock maker who create to the earth stood back and let it unfold – the question of God what God looked like wouldn’t have really mattered.

But the reason the people of Israel had to grapple – had to come up with ways of talking about God – is that their God was a God was close to them; their God was a God who talked to them; their God was a God who wanted to be with them.

And so we have this beautiful encounter, between God and Moses, from our reading from Exodus.  The people have left Egypt – they are journeying through the wilderness, and as they stop, time and time again, Moses pitches a tent the tent of meeting.

And everyone who sought god would come outside the tent;

And just as Moses went to meet with God;

God would descent like the pillar of cloud, and the people would wait outside.

But Moses would speak to God face to face as one speaks to a friend.

We get this image of Moses just glimpsing God through the thick smoke of the cloud:

Just getting a glimpse of God’s face.

But only just. Because the Book of Exodus goes on with God telling Moses you cannot see my face clearly – for no one can see the face of God and live.

It’s as if God’s face is radiant, so glorious, so powerful, it would burn up anything that looked upon it.

But through these encounters we are told Moses saw God just enough that his face shone brightly with the glory of God.

Faces matter all through the Old Testament.

When People like Abraham encounter God they fall on their face.

When God gives Aaron the high priest words of blessing for the people they are told to say ‘the lord make his face shine upon you’.

God’s face is understood to be one of glory and blessing and power

yet to look upon God is more than any human mortal can bare.

And then hundreds of years after these Old Testament texts were written

a child came into the world

A child born in whom we have seen the face of God

This child – born in Bethlehem – whose birth we have just celebrated – was God made flesh, God come down to earth to show us the face of God.

And this child Jesus showed us the face of God so powerfully that we 2000 years later trust that in him in this Jesus we see God.

Each of our gospels – each of the four stories of Jesus birth his life his death and his resurrection – are like a window on to him.  Each gospel: Matthew Mark Luke and John, paint a slightly different picture of this man – we see Jesus in each of them from a slightly different angle.

And as we read about his life his teaching his miracles

in each gospel we see a slightly different face of God

There is something I think quite wonderful in the fact that we have these four different windows onto Jesus

It would have perhaps been simpler for the early Christians to rewrite them into one story

To merge Matthew Mark Luke and John into one single picture

The problem with that though would have been maybe a rather flat, a rather 2D picture of Jesus.

Instead, as we look at him through each of these gospels

each of these windows

we see him in a different light, in a different shape, in a different way

And Saint John – who we celebrate today – paints a particularly beautiful and unique picture of Jesus

Through St. Johns gospel we see the face of God in a way which has inspired and held Christians through the centuries

Because where Matthew Mark and Luke describe mostly Jesus outward ministry, his public ministry, in John we get something quite different.

in john we get a picture of Jesus hidden life

in John we find out his Intimate prayers to his heavenly father

in John’s gospel we find Part of Jesus personal life – times with his close friends and companions

And in Johns gospel we get a greater picture of what Jesus longs for us – his church – for how we ought to be rooted in him like spiritual vines for branch

Where the other gospels recalled the Last Supper, it’s in John we hear Jesus say that he is the bread of life which will satisfy all our hungers.

And in our gospel reading we just heard, we get this beautiful ending to John’s gospel: that there are so also so many other things that Jesus did, if every one of them was written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

What does God look like?

what does the face of God look like?

We meet with God face to face in a few places

We meet to God face to face in our prayer in quiet in simplicity

where our soul can get a glimpse of God’s glory

we meet to God face to face, Jesus tells us,

in our neighbour and especially in the poor

as we learn to see the image of God in each other

to see each other as God sees us

we meet with God face to face in the Eucharist

in the bread of life that satisfies all our hungers

And we meet face to face with God in the gospels

in Matthew Mark Luke and John

As we read of his life, his teaching, his death, his resurrection – of his love for us – and his love for the world

it’s in these gospels that we have such a picture of Jesus

painted that it sets our hearts on fire

we get a picture of a Jesus who is attractive,

a picture of Jesus we want to try and love that little bit more;

we get a picture of Jesus who wants to be with us,

who longs to speak to us not as strangers,

but as friends face to face.

And it’s in these gospels that we hear the words spoken to Peter – what spoken to Jesus first disciples and spoken to us here today

two very simple words spoken by the Lord, to you and to me, and to each and every one of us

‘follow me’

Because in following him, we shall see the face of God.


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