Sermon from Sunday 10 March

The love that turned stars into human beings.


Reading(s): Colossians 3.12–17, Luke 2.33–35. This sermon was given by Vanessa Lawrence at All Saints and St Mark.

Did you know that nearly all the elements in the human body were made in a star - as stars explode, or go supernova, they expel the essential elements that make up life. Every element was made in a star and if you combine those elements in different ways you can make species of gas, minerals, and bigger things like asteroids, and from asteroids you can start making planets and then you start to make water and other ingredients required for life and then, eventually, us. This process has been going on for something like 13 billion years and our solar system is thought to have formed only 4.5 billion years ago.

This is just a completely mind-blowing fact. And it will probably be repeated in many future sermons! So when I say, as I often do, in gratitude for someone - you are a star - this is actually literally true!

Stars are beautiful, breathtakingly awe inspiring, and essential for life - and like many things that are both beautiful, awe inspiring and essential, they direct us towards God, and God’s love for us.

Psalm 8 reads: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?"

These words from the psalm encapsulate for me something really quite astonishing that is hard to imagine. God is so almighty and powerful, the creator of all these stars and the universe, and yet God still loves and cares for each one of us here as an individual - knowing each of the hairs on our head. The power of God’s love is hard for us to understand.

But in our reading from Colossians, Paul breaks it down into something more easily understandable, and that is the way that we as a Christian community, treat each other, and those who are part of our wider community.

Paul is most likely in prison in Ephesus, on the coast of modern Turkey; he’s writing to the new church in Colossae, about a hundred miles inland. We read in chapter 1 that Epaphras - a man from Colossae who has been to see Paul in prison in Ephesus - told him about the church’s ‘love in the spirit’ (1:8). This love doesn’t simply mean that they all have good feelings about each other. No one would travel 100 miles on foot to visit someone in prison and say. “The people in my church are quite nice to each other”!!

It suggests that some of those behaviours which we see in the world, those things that divide communities and are not of love - hatred, oppression, fear - they are being replaced: by kindness, gentleness, forgiveness, an acceptance of one another as members of the same community even where there were major differences of race, background and culture. 

This, as far as Paul is concerned, is the true sign of God at work, and he is thrilled and grateful to hear about it.   This is being the community of love.  This is the stuff that helps them - and us, to reach out into the brokenness of  the world. Kingdom-building stuff.

Hear those words again:

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other”  

The word Paul uses here literally means be ‘big-hearted’. To have compassion doesn’t mean being sentimental. Being kind doesn’t mean being a soft touch. Having humility isn’t the same thing as having low self-esteem. Gentleness is not weakness. Big-heartedness doesn’t mean letting everyone do what they want with you. 

Mothering Sunday is a day for pausing and perhaps thinking about who we are and what love is. Not the imperfect love of human mothers. In the 16th century, Mothering Sunday was less about mothers and more about church. Back then, people would make a journey to their ‘mother’ church once a year. This might have been their home church, their nearest cathedral or a major parish church in a bigger town. This would have represented a significant journey for many, and a reconnection with their essential elements, how they were made, and who they were at their core. A reconnection with their faith, the sense of what that love means at the heart of faith.

We mustn’t let people scoff at the central virtues that make the Christian life what it’s supposed to be because the Christian faith has the capacity to change the world. Because at the centre of those world changing virtues is love, and that love is the love that has the power to create the stars, the love that turned stars into human beings.