Sermon: 2nd Sunday before Advent, 15 November 2020, St Mary Magdalene, morning

Preacher Revd Alan Sykes
Reading Matthew 25: 14-30

Unless you’re a specialist in ancient history, you can probably count the number of figures from Roman Britain on the fingers of one hand: Boudicca (Boadicea), Caractacus, St Alban and just possibly a Christian monk called Pelagius, who lived in the late fourth century and early fifth century – just at that period when Roman power in these islands was crumbling.

Unfortunately, at least for Pelagius, the Church soon came to regard him as a heretic, though for a time he had quite a following. Pelagianism – the movement named after him – asserted that we human beings can achieve salvation (union with God) entirely through our own efforts. God gives us his commandments. All we have to do is to put them into practice. It’s as simple as that and as clear as that.

And looking at some of his teachings, we might easily conclude that Jesus himself was a bit of a Pelagian. Does he not, for example, after telling the story of the Good Samaritan, say: Go and do thou likewise.

And does not the master, in this Parable of the Talents that we just heard, tell his slaves to use their abilities to create more money for him? He doesn’t help them. He simply wanders off and expects them to get on with it. Two of them do and one doesn’t but the implication seems to be that the one who didn’t could have done if only he’d had more grit and determination.

Well, grit and determination, effort and self-discipline are no doubt highly laudable but the gospel isn’t a matter of simply trying harder.

As in all things Christian we have to weigh up Jesus’ teaching as a whole. We have to weigh up what the New Testament as a whole is saying.

So, perhaps a little cheekily, I’m going to bring in another gospel passage – the early verses of John chapter 15, in which Jesus says that he is the vine and that his followers are branches of the vine.

Crucially he says this: Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me’.

If we’re ever going to be the real deal spiritually, we must abide in the true vine. We can’t do it in our own strength and only with our own resources. If we think we can, we are deluding ourselves

Remember the phrase that St Paul uses countless times – in Christ. He urges us to be in Christ; he reminds us that as believers we are already in Christ; he implores us to go ever more deeply into that union, because the more that we come into union with Christ, the more Christlike we become.

It’s not that we can do nothing in our own strength and with our own abilities but it will always be piecemeal and always tarnished by our own psychological inadequacies. Only if we abide in Christ can the power of those inadequacies be diminished and even, let us dare hope, overcome.

Only connect, E M Forster said. That phrase is truer than he probably knew. Connect with the divine – the reality behind all reality. Connect with the divine in Christ and we – in however humble a way – will inevitably bear fruit, the fruit that will last.

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