14 March 2021

St Dunstan's Anglican Church Camberwell

Lent 4

Mothering Sunday

Sunday 14th March 2021 

9.30 am

I like art – I’ve always been an art-lover, I enjoy painting in various mediums and a variety of subjects. I also love watching those art restoration shows and where the provenance of art is researched.

Recently I have done a few portraits myself – using mainly magazine photos. The real challenge I have found is to get a likeness and add a sense of energy to the picture.

You might have seen Anh Do on TV – “Anh’s Brush with Fame”. He tries to do this in his very clever way. His great skill is painting and talking/interviewing at the same time. He tries to incorporate something of the celebrity (his model) that is more than simply a likeness.

When St Paul wrote to the Ephesian Church, he spoke of the ‘free gift’ that we have in God. I think he was alluding to the life we have in Jesus – or to use a common term today – to value add to our existence, a bit like Anh does with his portraits.  But not only Anh – the great portrait artists do this.

There’s a story of a chap who was visiting a great Art Gallery – with people moving around the walls studying the art. He sidled up to one of the Gallery Attendants who looked typically bored. 

The visitor said to the Attendant: 

“I don’t think much of your old pictures.” 

 To which the Attendant replied: 

“Sir, I don’t believe the pictures are being judged – 

but those who look at them are.”

Our attitude to the gifts of God are like that. It is so easy to take them for granted, or fail to see them at all. We may feel overwhelmed by what’s happening in the world and feel God’s power is being outdone or usurped. 

However, the theme of today is that God loved and loves the world so much that He gave his only son, “so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life.” (Probably the best-known verse in the whole Bible.)

We are taken to the point of self-examination today as we reflect with Nicodemus in this discussion about faith and belief. Remember Nicodemus had asked Jesus about being reborn. Jesus, at first, speaks to him about the wind – a great image.  

“You don’t know when, where it comes from 

or where it goes – so it is with the Spirit of God.”

 Jesus goes on to speak about the time Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness – this was when the children of Israel were on their great journey (the Exodus) from Egypt to the promised land.

Jesus leaves Nicodemus and us with an image – as the Son of Man is lifted up and we look on him – so we believe we too will find salvation.

But what does that mean to us in 2021? I think we come back to the Art Gallery – for what art does – it takes us on a journey. We connect with the scene or image before us and sometimes if we love that picture, we will want to have it on our wall. It will remind us of happy times, or a significant moment, or a person of great importance to us. It will be special – perhaps even transform us, even a print will do this.

For Christians, the sight of Jesus on the cross – hanging limp and lifeless is not now an image of despair but of hope, and new life. This is the divine promise and it is what Jesus foreshadowed in the discussion with Nicodemus.

So, Calvary speaks of the proof of those famous words “God loved the world so much he gave his Son.” The reason: to save us from sin.

That little word that can do so much harm – it’s like a tiny virus that can lurk in and yet pop up and cause catastrophic damage.

If not treated it can leave us fumbling in the dark rather than living in the joy of light. 

The great Icon often called “The Trinity” painted by Andrei Rublev was at one time covered in soot, having had innumerable Russian candles and lamps burning in front of it. After restoration and cleaning it now glows and is one of the great paintings of the world.

St Paul reminded the Ephesians, we are made to love the good life to glow like that Icon. In another place, he speaks of each follower of Jesus as a work of art:  therefore he reminds them to lead a life worthy of your calling – with all humility and gentleness, with patience bearing one another in love.

Today is Refreshment Sunday, mid-Lent and Mothering Sunday, we will mark the day with gifts of flowers and simnel cake. These are reminders of a job well done so far in our Lenten fast and journey. 

May they also remind us of the work of art that is you and me. Let’s not overlook the gifts of God, let us treasure them and use them and celebrate them. They are given to combat sin and for restoration and cleansing and to enable us to enjoy the fullness of life to shine in and through us.

Archdeacon Ray McInnes