Thursday, 22 January 2009

Sunday 25th Jan 09

Bit of a 'messy' week: I'm not preaching at the main service, which is a joint service for the week of prayer for Christian Unity.

At the 8am I will concentrate on the gospel and the call of Jesus to James & John. Mark 1: 14-20
I've been reflecting with someone this week on how it feels when various chapters of your life are closing and the future is very uncertain.
I'm sure we can all think of our own examples of this happening in life - and I suspect some of us will be going through change of this sort right now: loss of a job, moving home, family changes, or just time's winged chariot whisking us off our feet and dumping us down on our backside.

What strikes me in the call to James & John as Mark gives it to us is how little information they are given to go on - Jesus says 'Follow' - he doesn't say where, why, how they're going to cope... he doesn't even say when - but it seems James & John know when - NOW.

This is scary - but also strangely reassuring:the disciples upped & went - their only certainty was that they were going to keep company with Jesus. Perhaps when the mists of uncertainty lift we will find that Jesus has kept company with us.

Sunday 18th Jan

1 Samuel 3: 1-10 , John 1: 43-51

To change things round a little, I did an introduction to the Bible readings this week - to help to set the scene and get people to 'tune in' to the Samuel reading in particular.

Call
The first of our readings tells us about a young boy, Samuel. He is the son of Hannah. Distraught because she had no children, Hannah prayed for a child and promised God that if he granted her request, she would give the child back to God. When the baby was born she named him Samuel – ‘I asked the Lord for him’ – and once he was old enough she took him to live with Eli, the priest in the temple. So in the story we are about to hear Samuel, who may have been 7 or 8 years old by this time, is sleeping in the temple as a little ‘mini-priest’.

(Samuel read)

The second of our readings is from John’s gospel: right from the start of Jesus’ ministry – Jesus has just been baptised by John in Jordan and has started gathering followers around him – Andrew & Peter are already following Jesus.
(John read)

Have you every heard the call of God?
Even the question might make you feel uncomfortable: what sort of people hear God’s voice? Surely only very holy people, or people who are on the brink of insanity, or perhaps people in desperate need of help – but not ordinary people.

But that’s not what our two Bible readings have said.

The story of Samuel is a very human story. A little boy hears a voice in the night and assumes the voice he hears is Eli – but it’s God.
An ordinary boy, an ordinary story– but with extraordinary account of God calling to a young lad.
I remember this story well from Sunday school – with a picture of a blond-haired cherub – and the message that even little children could hear God.
God calls people – of all ages.
It’s also strangely reassuring that the call is not always heard clearly – that when God calls, people might need to keep listening – and so learn to hear what God has to say to them.

John’s gospel deals with different kind of call: to adults, to follow Jesus – it’s a more tangible call, from a man who is standing right on front of them, but its still extraordinary that they listen and follow – after all, they know very little about this man Jesus.

Andrew has seen him baptised, and tells Peter, his brother. Philip is from the same place as Peter & Andrew so maybe they’ve told him something about Jesus. But all Jesus says to Philip is ‘follow me’ – and not only does he decide to do it, he goes to fetch Nathanael as well. Jesus tells Nathanael he saw him under the fig tree & that’s enough to convince Nathanael that Jesus is the King of Israel.
What they have seen & heard, what they have learnt about Jesus enough to convince them to follow and learn more.

God’s call might not be a single, life-shattering moment for us: it can be a process, a journey, a life-long adventure – to listen and learn, to follow and find.

God’s call comes throughout life – prompting, guiding, supporting.

We might wonder what God will say if and when he does speak to us. For both Samuel and for the first of Jesus’ disciples the call was about their direction in life, what they should do, how they should act, how to grow closer to God.

We think about little Samuel and feel very much like been around the block a few too many times in comparison! Like Eli we might feel old, that our eyes are growing dim. We might be going through life not expecting to find anything new, and certainly not expecting to hear God speak to us or feel the love of God touch our lives.
But God broke in to Eli’s life, too, when he spoke to Samuel – he gave a message for Eli through Samuel, which also started a new chapter in the life of Eli.

You are never too young to hear God – and never too old either. We need to listen and to be open.
And when we do hear something, it could be very simple – follow me, walk in way of Jesus, move closer to God & know his love and care for you – through all of life’s journey.

So may God bless each one of us here, and help us to feel his presence, hear his call, and walk in his way.
Amen

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Explanation

With apologies to anyone who has come here & found yourself stuck on Christmas Eve - but I did need a break after Christmas!
I've just posted below the 2 sermons I have preached so far in 2009 - and will now try to get back on track, I promise. Later today I hope to be looking at the readings for this coming Sunday... Hoping that 2009 has begun more calmly for others!

Baptism of Christ

The Baptism of Christ.
(A short reflection for the 8am service)

As we hear the words spoken at Christ’s baptism ‘you are my son, my beloved, with you I am well pleased’ we may wonder at what this says about Jesus. Here, at the beginning of Christ’s ministry, he receives affirmation that he is beloved of God, and receives the touch of the Holy Spirit to enable him to begin his work.

This is a great story about Jesus, the Christ, but I think it is also a story about each one of us.
Over the Christmas period we may well, at some stage, have heard the beginning of John’s gospel, where it says:
“to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”

The coming of Christ and the ministry of Christ makes us all sons and daughters of God. And today we can hear the voice from heaven ‘you are my beloved, with you I am well pleased’.

Each one of us here is the beloved child of God. God declares that each one of us is loved beyond measure and that he is well pleased with us. And he offers each of us the strength and comfort of the holy Spirit so that we can follow Christ.

At this table we can know ourselves fed and loved – and with that knowledge we can live our lives to God’s praise and glory. Thanks be to God.
Amen.

Epiphany sermon

Epiphany

Today we have a chance to look at the magi – the wise men – in a different way.
Up until now in our celebrations of Christmas I suspect they’ve had a balancing role alongside the shepherds. They act almost as book ends for our crib scenes – shepherds – magi – holy family in the middle. The shepherds are poor, Jewish & local – the magi are rich, foreigners from far away. The shepherds are told by a host of angels to look in Bethlehem for a new-born baby in a manger who is the Messiah; the magi have followed a star which rose when Jesus was born and are looking for a king.

It is the fact that they are looking for a king that leads them to look first in the obvious, but the wrong place. They have come to the land of Judah & they are looking for a king – so they go to the royal palace in the capital of Judah, Jerusalem, asking to see the new-born ‘king of the Jews’. From there the prophecies and the star lead them to Bethlehem, where they finally find Jesus. When they find him they bow in homage and present their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh – they worship Jesus as a king.

And so the magi are remembered today as we celebrate Epiphany – the revelation of God’s glory. With the magi, we might want to ask where should we look for the child who is king? Where and how is God’s glory revealed?
The first place to look for God’s glory is obviously in the baby whose birth we are celebrating – Jesus.
The magi come, as Isaiah foretells, laden with gold and frankincense, gifts fit to acknowledge a true king, gifts used to herald the Lord’s praise, gifts for God’s chosen one.
But the magi don’t quite get what they are expecting, in fact the whole world is in for a surprise, because God’s glory is revealed in a new kind of kingship, not one elevated to royal palaces, political power and lofty social circles. ‘Epiphany’ means, literally, shown or revealed near to – God’s glory is found alongside common people, the baby is found in a normal house, in a small village in a very ordinary-looking child.

Yet the magi bow to him and present him their gifts. They are clear that here, in Jesus, in this baby, near to them they see God’s glory revealed. Here is the unique event of history, God made flesh – the revelation of God with us, near to us.

We could almost stop there and wonder, with the magi, at this astonishing event.

But I think the prophecy from Isaiah does more then just lead us to expect the coming of God’s glory to be accompanied by the arrival of gifts of gold and frankincense.
Isaiah also indicates the role of God’s people in showing this glory to the world.

Isaiah begins with the call “Arise, shine, Jerusalem, for your light has come.” The prophet tells of a time when God’s light and glory will be revealed to God’s people, but this will be good news for the whole world not just for those who see it, because the light of God will transform the people so that they themselves will shine.
He says of God’s light “you will see it and be radiant”.
Those who witness this revelation of God’s glory near to them are to become lights for the world.

What we witness of God’s glory in the story of the birth, the singing of the angels, the arrival of the magi: all these things show us God with us. Yet this good news isn’t just for us, to make us feel comforted and secure. When the light shines on us we are then called to shine with that light ourselves, to become a light to others, so that they may see proof of God’s glory near them, in us.

Matthew doesn’t tell us what happens to the magi after they pay homage to Jesus – other than that having been warned in a dream they do not return to Herod but go back to their own country by another route.
It is left to TS Eliot to imagine how they might have felt:

“We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.”
I remember studying that poem at school and feeling a huge wave of sympathy for the story-teller, having seen a glimpse of Jesus yet left wistful and unsettled by the event.

Our epiphany is informed by the revelation given to the magi, but of course our epiphany is so much fuller – because we are able to put this beginning of the story of Jesus in the context of the whole of the story of his life.

We cannot escape the references in this story of the Magi which remind us of the end of the earthly life of Jesus. The title ‘King of the Jews’ will be used to mock Jesus at his crucifixion; Herod is soon to seek to end Jesus’ life, using terrible cruelty; and there are signs in the sky – a star announces Jesus birth, whilst his death will be accompanied by the darkening of the sky.

So we turn from our adoration of the infant Jesus and face into this new year having experienced a revelation of God’s glory shining on us and in us.
We go into the new year ready to face the whole of the glory of Jesus’ life.
And having seen that glory we are called to be radiant, to shine for others, to open our lives to the possibility of being a sign of God’s glory for someone else.

To God’s eternal praise, this year & always. Amen