Sunday, 30 January 2011

Candlemas

Not preaching at the main service tomorrow, so here's the 8am reflection:


Presentation of Christ in the temple. Luke 2:22-40
We are a little early to celebrate Candlemas – it actually falls on February 2nd, because that is exactly 40 days after Christmas Day and the birth of Jesus. According to Jewish law, families were commanded to present their male children at the Temple in Jerusalem, to give thanks to God and pray for the purification of the mother and health of the child, for it was considered that after the vital forty-day period it was almost certain that all mortal danger was passed. This is a perfectly normal event in the life of any Jewish family but that this is not an ordinary family. Luke tells us this story because he believes it is a story which will help us to understand more about what God has done in Jesus Christ: to grasp the good news of God’s coming kingdom.

We hear how Simeon & Anna see and recognise the 40 day old Jesus – and know this is the one. Here is another moment of epiphany, a revelation in the midst of ordinary life of the glory of God come to earth.
Luke wants us to know that Jesus is not just the one to be looked for by Simeon and Anna, the one to bring hope to Israel, but is the one who brings good news to all time and space – to the whole world. ‘A light for revelation to the Gentiles’ – light and hope for Jew and non-Jew alike.

As we come with our seeking, hoping, and longing in the ordinariness of this day, Christ comes – God’s chosen, the one who can save us, the one who can change things, by revealing God’s love. In this bread, in this wine, in these prayers, God comes to us all.

The message of Luke is that God has come to us, that heaven is shining through in the ordinary things of life, that we are never abandoned and may hope for new and abundant life.
In the grace and the gift of Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Jan 23rd - Call of fishermen

Readings for this week are:
Isaiah 9:1-4
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23

Jesus calls the first disciples.

Every now and then when I’m reading a familiar Bible story, a question will pop into my head that seems so basic I wonder why I’ve never thought of it before.
We’ve heard the story of Jesus calling the first disciples. My question is WHY FISHERMEN?

First a subsidiary question – what’s Jesus doing by the sea at all – why Capernaum?
We know Jesus was referred to as being from Nazareth, despite actually being born in Bethlehem. Nazareth is land-locked, between the sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean, but in this story here he is walking by the shore. Jesus is by the sea of Galilee, in the tiny fishing village of Capernaum. We might wonder why, if Jesus had decided to move away from Nazareth, he didn’t choose a place of power like Jerusalem, or at least Bethlehem, which is in striking distance of the city.
But Jesus chooses.. nowhere – a backwater. Right from the start, Jesus signals that his message of good news is not just for the powerful and the important, but is god news for the lowest and the least and the almost forgotten places – like Capernaum. And while he’s there, he begins to call followers, starting with these fishermen.

In this unimportant place, Jesus calls unimportant people, as he calls first the smelly, the poor & the over-taxed. Under Roman occupation those engaged in fishing had to pay for ‘fishing rights’ – surrendering up to 40% of their income as tax. These fishermen know what it is to be ground down by the authorities, they have jobs which are hard and unpredictable – even on the sea of Galilee fierce storms could rage. They had jobs which needed them to go out every day for a fresh catch to make enough to survive.
Going out fishing in their boats was a daily activity involving physical nerve and early mornings. Why fishermen? Well, maybe they would be the ones who would find it easiest to understand that following Jesus wasn’t just a once-in-a lifetime choice like buying a farm, or setting up a business, but was a decision for each new day.
Jesus begins his ministry with a call to repent. This is not just a one-off decision, but a continuous call to turn in God’s direction – to walk along with Jesus & continue to make the right choices, day by day. Fishermen understand the daily rhythm of choice.

At one level this call process to the fishermen seems very simple, Jesus calls, they follow – but then what?
What follows is a kind of 3-year apprenticeship as the fishermen, and others called by Jesus, see what Jesus does and hear what he says in his ministry, and learn to follow.
Even after 3 years they are not fully initiated, fully knowledgeable, they make mistakes & have doubts, and have to be nudged in the right direction by God’s spirit.
Just because they are called by Jesus doesn’t mean they know exactly what to do. Maybe that’s another good reason for calling fishermen: however much experience they’ve got, there can be bad days, when the fish seem to just not be there.
In Luke’s account of the call of the fishermen, they are faced with exactly this situation of empty nets and wasted time. Fishermen understand persistence in the face of frustration.

It might also help us with this question of ‘why fishermen?’ if we think about how they caught their fish. These are not men who fish for leisure, with carefully selected live bait or carefully crafted fly and beautifully flicked and placed line. They have nets, they trawl and drag their catch into the boat.
Maybe Jesus calls fishermen because they’re not looking for subtlety and cleverness. When they are told to become ‘fishers of people’ they won’t get side-tracked into asking what bait they can offer people to entice them to experience God’s love.
Fishermen understand that God’s net of love catches us all whether we want to be caught or not!

Perhaps you’re unconvinced by my suggestions as to why Jesus called these fishermen first: maybe you have your own suggestions, or maybe it’s just that these were the first people to really show an interest in what Jesus had to say.
But surely if we are to follow Jesus we would do well, like the fishermen, to understand the daily decision to walk in the way of Jesus, understand the patience and persistence that it takes, and understand the unstoppability of the gathering of all people into God’s love.
We know that following Jesus is not straight-forward and easy, and we need all the understanding we can muster to help us as we walk in Christ’s way.

So it’s good that we’re not in this alone – but are privileged to be part of a community of Christians, all trying to walk God’s way. It’s good that we’re part of God’s church. We heard today another part of the Letter of Paul to Corinthians. It got off to such a good start last week ‘to God’s church at Corinth, called to be saints’…and now just 10 verses in, Paul gets to the real purpose of writing, not to tell the Corinthians how well they’re doing as followers of Christ, but to tell them off for all the dispute and division between them.

Paul is realistic about how hard it can be to follow Jesus, and he gives us a great message all who are divided in this week of prayer for Christian Unity:

“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.”.

We need to share our different understandings of what it means to follow Christ, if we are to grow together in faithfulness and in understanding.
Perhaps another reason for Jesus calling the fishermen is that they understand team work – they know that they need one another.

May we learn, day by day, to follow Jesus more faithfully, in company with those fishermen and in friendship with all who call themselves Christian, to the greater glory of God. Amen.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

January 16th -Epiphany 2

Readings for today include John 1: 29-42
but quite honestly I've had enough of John the Baptist for a while. And we can look forward to hearing about Jesus calling disciples NEXT week - so (shock horror!) I'm ignoring the gospel. For those who want to, they can think about John's role as a fore-runner and how that relates to what I have to say about being called to be saints - but I'm focussing on
1 Corinthians 1: 1-9 and
Isaiah 49: 1-7

I just sat down and rattled off the first 2/3rds of the sermon - and now need to sit back and chew over my own question - how can we live up to our calling to be saints... (more to follow, I think...)

Called to be Saints
Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth certainly starts with a clarion call: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints…”

Called to be saints. What an expectation. I wonder how you feel about being the church of God that is in Whittlesford/Duxford – called to be saints.

You might immediately feel that you’re not good enough to be a saint. Saints are holy, special, prayerful, they do and say amazing things. Above all, you have to be really good to be a saint – don’t you?

Well – here’s some good news. No. You don’t have to be really good to be a saint. Actually you don’t even have to be really good to be a Christian. Over the Christmas break I’ve been dipping in and out of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s latest book, written with his daughter, Mpho. The book is called ‘Made for Goodness’ – but one of the first things he says is ‘stop being good’.
Tutu knows that all sorts of terrible things happen when people try to earn God’s love by being really good. Being called to be saints doesn’t mean trying our hardest to be good so that God will loves us – it means being people who recognize that God loves us even before we are born.

God loves us – we are his beloved, special, chosen people – all of us. But that isn’t all there is to being a Saint.

There’s the lovely story of a little girl who went with her Sunday School class to visit a large Parish church. The little girl was in awe of all the beautiful stained glass windows that she saw, as the sunlight came shining through them. At one point, she asked her teacher who the people were that she saw depicted in the windows. The teacher told her that those were saints. Later, when the little girl got home, she told her family about what she had seen. She said: "I learned who the saints are today. They're the people who let the light shine through them."

If we think of Desmond Tutu himself – I would say that he is a living Saint – the light of God’s goodness just shines from him. he is a saint and a wonderful witness to the love of God in the world.

So if we are called to be saints we are called to be people who know that we are loved by God and who let that love shine in us and through us and out of us.

The reading from Isaiah doesn’t use the word ‘saint’, but it talks about God’s servant – someone chosen by God, loved and called by God before they were born and cared for by God. But this servant of God has a job to do.
God says: "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."

Being a saint, being a servant of God, involves shining in the whole world so that everyone will know about God’s love.
We are called to be saints. How can we live up to our calling?

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Final draft - baptism of Christ

Having been away for a few days I was able to look at this again and hoik it around a bit - much happier with this draft.
Can't help noticing that while I was away I broke through the 10,000 hits mark. Apparently there are 249 posts ss that's about 40 hits per post - which in my world is a pretty large congregation - I just don't get to see you all! Thanks for reading - I find it encouraging.

Baptism of Christ
The baptism of Christ is one of those rather unusual events in Jesus’ life: it is an event that is recorded in all four of the gospels. Maybe this isn’t so surprising – it is the start of Jesus’ ministry, it is the point where the obscure carpenter’s son from Nazareth starts to preach & teach & heal.
This is clearly a vital moment in the life of Jesus and it tells us so much we need to know about Jesus: as a part of the community of God’s people, as God’s servant, and as part of the Trinity – the community of the Godhead.

Firstly, here is the point where Jesus claims by his actions that he is part of the community of people walking God’s way.
John the Baptist has appeared, calling people to repentance, to turning back to God's ways. He tells of the nearness of God's kingdom, the time of complete fulfilment of God's promises to humanity. A new era, in which God rules, is almost here!
And Jesus comes because he is part of it.
John seeks to dissuade Jesus from seeking baptism but Jesus insists: he is ready to take this step and make this decision to begin his ministry as God chosen servant. Jesus is aligning himself with God’s purposes and God’s people.

Secondly, Jesus is identified as God’s servant. In the words Jesus hears when he comes up out of the water, we hear an echo of what Isaiah says about God’s servant. ‘This is my chosen one’.

Jesus takes this step of faith as God’s servant.
I think when we hear this story of Jesus’ baptism we hear a story that in some ways echoes the annunciation to Mary, his mother – when the angel tells her that she is the chosen one who will bear Jesus.
Like Mary, Jesus decides he will do what God wants of him: he comes to be baptised by John. Yet the words spoken at the Baptism are not those of Jesus saying ‘I am your devoted servant – use me for your purposes’ (which is what Mary says). The voice we hear in today’s story is the voice of God the Father ‘You are my beloved, in you I am well pleased’.

This is the point at which the Spirit of God fills and inspires Jesus, and where we see the Father, the Son & the holy Spirit all working together to begin a work that is far more than any human person could ever do. Here, thirdly, is one of the biblical stories in which we see most clearly the ‘three-ness’ of God.

So this story teaches us things about Jesus as a member of the community of God’s people, as the servant of God, and as a part of the Trinity of God.
But this story also teaches us something about our role as servants of God.
The reading from Isaiah was one of four Servant Songs, poems about God's special agent whom God will select. This servant will be quiet, gentle, respectful of others, and patient. He will be concerned with God's will and he will not fail nor be discouraged until he has achieved God's purposes. He will continue to do what God did in the past – he will be faithful to the God of history. So Jesus as God’s servant and hears those words “You are my chosen, in whom I delight”. Then through Jesus’ ministry this message of God’s choice and God’s delight becomes a message for each person who will accept it.
‘You are chosen’ ‘you are precious’ ‘you are mine’ – God whispers these words to each one of us here – to everyone.

As we begin a new year, we need to be faithful to all that has gone before and remember the God of history, whose servants we are.
And we need to trust in God’s blessing for each one of us – God’s healing, shown in Jesus – God’s strength offered to us when we most need it.

Of course we may feel that sometimes we are biting off more than we can chew – that it’s all too much for us – we are too few, we are not young anymore, we are battling a secular world. Can God really use us to speak peace to our world?
Surely we are too weak and the struggle we face is too much?

But we should never underestimate the power of God. Jesus’ ministry may have begun by stepping into the Jordan, but it ended by stepping out of the tomb, via suffering and death. Jesus was the faithful servant of God the Father, bringing salvation for all, there is nothing that God cannot do.

But even when we are walking God’s way it isn’t always clear at start where we will end up. Jesus was the inspired son of God, yet this wasn’t clear at all times, even to his closest followers.

We began with a story about the start of Jesus’ ministry, with his baptism in the Jordan.
But in it we find a message for the New Year for each one of us.
There is no limit to what God can do with us this year – we are his beloved ones and he is pleased with us.

We can take a step of faith into 2011 and remember always that we are here serving the God who through all time reaches out to people in love. And we should know, as Jesus knew, the Spirit with us to give us the power to serve the one God, Father Son & Holy Spirit.
Amen.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Baptism of Christ - Jan 9th 2011

Readings are:
Isaiah 42: 1-9
Matthew 3: 13-17

I have 'splurged' a sermon, which I will take with me as I have a few days away, and will probably hone - but here is the fist draft:

Baptism of Christ
The baptism of Christ is one of these rather unusual events in Jesus’ life: it is an event that is recorded in all four of the gospels. Maybe this isn’t so surprising – it is the start of Jesus’ ministry, it is the point where the obscure carpenter’s son from Nazareth starts to preach & teach & heal.
This is clearly a vital moment in the life of Jesus and I hope we can learn from it.

Here is the point where Jesus claims by his actions that he is part of the community of people walking God’s way.
John the Baptist has appeared, calling people to repentance, to turning back to God's ways. He tells of the nearness of God's kingdom, the time of complete fulfilment of God's promises to humanity. A new era, in which God rules, is almost here!
And Jesus comes because he is part of it.
John seeks to dissuade Jesus from seeking baptism but Jesus insists: he is ready to take this step and make this decision to begin his ministry as God chosen servant.

So we could read into this story a message about taking the plunge (if you’ll pardon the pun) – certainly of having the courage of your convictions.

But in the words Jesus hears when he comes up out of the water, we hear an echo of what Isaiah says about God’s servant. ‘This is my chosen one’. It is not enough just to hear of the baptism of Christ and think – we must be bold. If we are to take the plunge it needs to be as those who seek to serve God’s purposes, not just our own.
We need to take the step of faith as God’s servants.
I think when we hear this story of Jesus’ baptism we hear a story that is about more than just Jesus deciding he will do what God wants of him – it is also the point at which the Spirit of God fills and inspires jesus, and where we see the Father, the Son & the holy Spirit all working together to begin a work that is far more than any human person could ever do.

So how do we recognise what being God’s servant means?

The reading from Isaiah was one of four Servant Songs, poems about God's special agent whom God will select. This servant will be quiet, gentle, respectful of others, and patient. He will be concerned with God's will and he will not fail nor be discouraged until he has achieved God's purposes. He will continue to do what God did in the past – he will be faithful to the God of history. So Jesus comes with a message – a message first of all heard by Jesus “You are my chosen, in whom I delight” – but a message which becomes a message for each person who will accept it – ‘you are chosen’ ‘you are precious’ ‘you are mine’ – God whispers these words to each one of us here.

As we take the plunge, we need to be faithful to all that has gone before and remember the God of history, whose servants we are. And we need to trust in God’s blessing for each one of us – God’s healing, shown in Jesus – God’s strength offered to us when we most need it.

Of course we may feel that sometimes we are biting off more than we can chew – that it’s all too much for us – we are too few, we are not young anymore, we are battling a secular world. Can God really use us to speak peace to our world?
Surely we are too weak and the struggle we face is too much?

But we should never underestimate the power of God. Jesus’ ministry may have begun by stepping into the Jordan, but it ended by stepping out of the tomb, via suffering and death. Jesus was the faithful servant of God the Father, bringing salvation for all, there is nothing that God cannot do.

But even when we are walking God’s way it isn’t always clear at start where we will end up. Jesus was the inspired son of God, yet this wasn’t clear at all times, even to his closest followers.

We began with a story about the start of Jesus’ ministry, with his baptism in the Jordan.
But in it we find a message for the New Year for each one of us.
There is no limit to what God can do with us this year – we are his beloved and he is pleased with us.
We can take a step of faith in 2011 and remember always that we are here serving the God who through all time reaches out to people in love. And we should know, as Jesus knew, the Spirit with us to give us the power to serve the one God, Father Son & Holy Spirit. Amen.