Saturday, 26 January 2013

Epiphany 3 - Nazareth Manifesto - longer version


We heard the part of Luke’s gospel where he tells us the story, from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, of Jesus going back to his home town of Nazareth, to start teaching and healing. It should be a day of great celebration – local boy makes good. Jesus reads the bit of the book of Isaiah which says “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has sent me to being good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind and freedom for the oppressed”.

Jesus is setting out his stall – some people call this the ‘Nazareth Manifesto’. At the start of his ministry, in the place where he has been brought up, Jesus makes it clear what he is there for - God has sent him to tell everyone the good news of God’s love and to make the world a better place.

We didn’t hear the end of the story. You might imagine that the people of Nazareth would be pleased – Jesus has come to do good things, to tell them good news, and he’s going to spend the rest of his life helping other people. But instead of starting the party, the people of Nazareth grab Jesus and almost push him off a cliff.

On this occasion, Jesus just walks through the crowd and leaves them alone – but we know that in the end, after only 3 years of his teaching and healing, Jesus will be killed on a cross.

So what does Jesus say that gets people so angry at him? He tells them that God’s love is there for them when life is tough – but they will need to be honest about when they need God’s love.
Jesus declares that there is
Good news  - for the poor
Recovery of sight – for the blind
Release – for the captive
Freedom – for the oppressed.
All these good things are available from God - Good news, sight, release, freedom; but you have to be prepared to admit that you are poor, blind, captive, oppressed.
The people of Jesus’ time believed that you could tell that a person was blessed by God if their life was good. Illness was a sign of God’s disfavour: health was a sign of God’s love and blessing.
But Jesus says that we need to be ready to see that God’s love is there for us when we need it most – when life is tough, when we’re ready to admit our mistakes, when we’re at our lowest and feel trapped.

Perhaps Jesus’ neighbours were wanting to hear their local boy say that Nazareth was so special that God had come to be with them, and that they would be specially blessed by God’s presence and everything would be great. They wanted a feel-good message. But instead what they get is a message for when they don’t feel good. Jesus tells them that rather than God being especially with the rich and healthy and succesful God is especially with those who need him most. God is especially with those who are ready to admit they haven’t got life sorted out yet.

And so that is good news for all of us. God’s love is here for you.
If you’re ready to admit you need help, ready to ask for more strength, ready to ask God for love, you are welcome to come and eat the bread and drink the wine of communion.

Communion reminds us of the love of God shown in Jesus: a love so great that Jesus was prepared to die for us, and a love so great that he came back from death to live forever.
This is a love which is always there, always offered, and always gives strength.

But it is not just a love that is for us to enjoy for ourselves: if we do that we risk becoming like the people of Nazareth, ready to grasp God’s love for ourselves and ready to push anyone who says that God’s love is for others off a cliff in our anger.

The reading from the first letter to the Corinthians contains Paul’s famous teaching about the church as the body of Christ.

Paul reminds us that we are baptised into one body – that we belong - but that we belong equally to God, we are filled equally with God’s love, whether we are Jews or Greek, slave or free. Whoever we are, whatever our background or race or income, we all belong to God.

And if we are Christ’s body, then we are here to proclaim the same gospel of God’s kingdom that Jesus proclaimed: where those most in need will know God’s love and see the change it brings to their lives.
Good news for the poor
Sight for the blind
Freedom for captives
Release for the oppressed.

Once we have accepted God’s love in Jesus Christ we cannot sit back and bask in that love, we are called into the body of Christ to share that love with all the world.

So we belong to the body, we proclaim God’s love to all the world, and we are filled with God’s strength. Being part of the body means that we don’t do what we want, by our own strength, but we work together to do God’s will, in God’s strength.

So at this table we accept God’s love, we allow God to  strengthen us, and we go out to do God’s will

To God’s praise and glory. Amen.

Epiphany 3 - the Nazareth Manifesto

this is a version for a baptism service - I am now working on a longer version which uses Luke 4: 14-21 and 1 Cor 12: 12-18 - will post longer one too when I can.


So today is a day to celebrate: we’re celebrating Esmae’s baptism into the church, and I know we’re celebrating Ella-Rose’s second birthday , too. It’s a day to give thanks to God for beautiful daughters and wonderful friends, and all the good things God gives us in life. It’s a day to be with other people, a day to think about the needs of others, and a day to recognise that God promises us strength to help us be our best selves.

We heard the bit of Luke’s gospel where he tells us the story of Jesus going back to his home town of Nazareth, to start teaching and healing. It should be a day of great celebration – local boy makes good. Jesus reads the bit of the book of Isaiah which says “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has sent me to being good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind and freedom for the oppressed”.

Jesus is setting out his stall – God has sent him to tell everyone the good news of God’s love and to make the world a better place.
We didn’t hear the end of the story. You might imagine that the people of Nazareth would be pleased – Jesus has come to do good things, to tell them good news, and he’s going to spend the rest of his life helping other people. But instead of starting the party, the people of Nazareth grab Jesus and almost push him off a cliff.

On this occasion, Jesus just walks through the crowd and leaves them alone – but we know that in the end, after only 3 years of his teaching and healing, Jesus will be killed on a cross.

So what does Jesus say that gets people so angry at him?
He tells them that God’s love is there for them when life is tough – but they will need to be honest about when they need God’s love.
Jesus declares that’s there’s
Good news  - for the poor
Recovery of sight – for the blind
Release – for the captive
Freedom – for the oppressed.

So God is with us and blesses us on a day of celebration like this. But Jesus says that we need to be ready to see that God’s love is there for us when we need it most – when life it tough, when we’re ready to admit our mistakes, when we’re at our lowest & feel trapped.

Perhaps Jesus’ neighbours were wanting to hear their local boy say that Nazareth was so special that God had come to be with them. They wanted a feel-good message. But instead what they get is a message for when they don’t feel good. Jesus tells them that God is with those who need him most – God is specially with those who are ready to admit they haven’t got life sorted out yet.

And so that is good news for Esmae – God’s love is there for her whenever she needs it in life, in all the ups and downs. But it’s good news for all of us. God’s love is here for you.
If you’re ready to admit you need help, ready to ask for more strength, ready to ask God for love, you are welcome to come and eat the bread & drink the wine of communion.

Communion reminds us of the love of God shown in Jesus: a love so great that Jesus was prepared to die for us, and a love so great that he came back from death to live forever.
This is a love which is always there, always offered, and always gives strength.
In our celebration and in our need. Amen.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Epiphany 2 – the wedding at Cana


John 2: 1-11

“Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

I’m sure I’ve preached – and I’m sure you’ve heard, many sermons about the wedding at Cana and what it teaches us about Jesus and who he is. The lectionary writers have put it for us in this season of Epiphany, when traditionally we think about how Jesus shows us the glory of God the Father in all he is and all he does.

This is certainly a powerful sign of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah.
But perhaps it is also something else.

Last week in the Observer I read a column about friendship, which had the intriguing strapline “It’s our friends who teach us how a person should be”.
The article is here

The author, Eva Wiseman, was suggesting that instead of looking for ‘role-models’ far away in life – in celebrities, sports stars, or those we admire from afar – we should look nearer to home. There are ways in which our friends help us to see what real humanity (what Eva Wiseman calls ‘a real grown-up’) looks like. She gives some examples from her own life, and concludes “This , really, is what friends are for ...teaching us how a person should be”.

So we return to Jesus – our saviour, our Messiah, our friend. God incarnate come to earth to show us not only what we need to learn and believe about God and God’s love, but also to teach us what is means to be fully human. Teaching us what the eternal life for which we were made looks like: a life of loving God and loving others and knowing peace, hope and joy.

The wedding at Cana may have been the first sign of Jesus’ glory and caused his disciples to believe in him – but they were already his disciples, they had already made the decision to follow him, to listen to his teaching, to walk in his way.
So if we, like them, are going to follow Jesus, what does it mean to follow the one who shows his glory in this way – what does our friend Jesus show us about what it mean to be a person, in this story?

Jesus responds to a need, very starkly expressed by his mother ‘they have no wine’. It’s a wedding, a celebration, it is a time when people will want to drink the health of the couple, when the family and friends will want to rejoice together. But they can’t  - ‘they have no wine’.
Jesus responds to this need, he provides wine so that the party can carry on.
As followers of Jesus, what are the needs of the people around us to which we need to respond as readily as Jesus does?

Jesus makes it clear that he is providing for them by God’s grace, not because of their efforts. The water, which is changed into wine, comes from the stone jars filled for ritual washing. The original purpose of that water is to enable the people there to do something for themselves, to make them more suitable for God’s love and mercy. But Jesus changes all their expectations: instead of the water being something they can use to makes themselves a little better in God’s sight, Jesus uses that water to demonstrate God’s abundant grace to each one there. They might use that water to have a ritual wash – Jesus uses it to supply all their needs and to do so without cost or demand: he simples says  ‘draw some out’.

When we, as Jesus’ followers, respond to people’s need, can we do so with such an awareness of God’s grace? We might feel that there is little we can do to help another person, that we are no more effective than a drop of water – but used by God’s love we can be the wine of the kingdom to other people, a sign that God is with them. This church can be a place of God’s loving presence, each one of us can be ambassadors for God’s kingdom of peace, joy & hope.

Jesus responds to need, he does so through God’s grace, not through human effort, and he responds by giving not just enough, but an extravagant abundance.

The jars each hold 100 litres of water – and are filled to the brim. We are told there are 6 of them – that’s 600 litres of wine – or 800 standard bottles of wine. And the wine is declared by the man in charge of the feast to be the ‘best’ wine.
Jesus supplies a huge amount of wonderful wine so everyone can have more than they can possibly need.

So we, following Jesus, need to be ready to be both gracious and extravagant when we respond to the needs of others. We have the greatest of Good News to share – the abundant grace, love and joy of God.

So as Jesus reveals his glory in this story, and as we seek to follow, may God grant us the grace to be as generous and responsive as Jesus, our friend who shows us how to live as human beings, how to live together as a church of followers of Jesus, to the glory of God.
Amen.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

The baptism of Christ

Only an 8am sermon to write this week - on Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22.


‘Now when all the people had been baptized..’
Picture the scene: a crowd of people, who have been baptised by John, standing on the banks of the Jordan, drying in the sun.. wondering what this fresh start will mean to them.
And then, as Jesus is baptised – last, by the sound of Luk’e account, the voice from heaven “You are my beloved”.

I wonder how many of the crowd thought that God the Father was addressing them. Maybe that’s what this fresh start, this repentance John is talking about – really means -  new life as beloved children of God. But then the Holy Spirit comes to rest on just one of the crowd – on Jesus. He, not John, is God’s chosen one. And yet, the gospel Jesus comes to proclaim is that God’s love IS for every person there. God’s love and blessing is declared to Jesus – the Holy Spirit rest on him and he begins his ministry. But this is also the start of the adoption of many sons and daughters of God.

It might take you back to the passage we heard at Christmas time – from the beginning of John’s gospel – where the coming of Jesus is announced and then it says “But 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 Jesus, and the baptism of Jesus, each point to God coming to us in a particular way in this extraordinary person. But the coming of Jesus to us enables all of us – you & me & anyone else who chooses it – to be sons and daughters of God, to be fed and nurtured at this table by Gods love.
Good news indeed. Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Happy New Year!

With apologies to any regular readers who have thought I had stopped posting altogether: I've just posted up a few of the sermons from Christmas - life just got too hectic to keep this blog up to date. But now - 2 colds and a bit of time off later - I'm back 'in the saddle'.
Baptism of Christ on Sunday.. more to follow I hope.

Christmas/ John 1


Post Christmas                  Isaiah 61:10-62:3         John 1: 1-18

Just before Christmas I read this online comment from a man in his 20s The hardest time of the year for me is Christmas Day until March, whenever spring appears. I love autumn, from Halloween to Christmas Eve, but then the season comes to an abrupt end with the exchange of a bunch of stuff, and it's over. Then we get 2 months or so of bleak weather with no holiday charm, except for that atrocious New Year's Eve to really rub it in.”.

It’s a pretty good description of what many people would describe as the ‘Post Christmas blues’. After all the build up to the celebration of Christmas, now it’s over. The crackers are cracked, the bin is full of used wrapping paper, and we’ve almost finished the turkey.

So now it’s more important than ever that we, as the church, try to be heard when we proclaim that the season of Christmas is only just beginning! On Dec 25th we celebrate Christ’s birth, but that means that on every day after that we can continue to celebrate the fact that Christ is here.

Isaiah declares: “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,
my whole being shall exult in my God”.

But this is not the empty cheering of people who don’t want to lose the Christmas ‘feeling’ just yet. A kind of holy version of ‘I wish it could be Christmas everyday’. This is the lusty celebration of people who know that everything changed when Jesus was born – that life will never be the same again.

Isaiah foretells the time when God’s people will be blessed by God’s presence in such a tangible way that the whole world will see it:
The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory;
and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.”

What Isaiah promises has come to pass: God’s gift of himself in Jesus at Christmas has changed us forever.
We are blessed by God: given gifts that last  - vindication, glory, a new name given by God himself.  We are as precious and beautiful to God as a crown or a royal diadem.

And the new name that we are given? Sons and daughters of God – beloved children of the almighty.

Because while other gospels want to tell us about the strange circumstances around the birth of Jesus, John’s gospel reminds us of eternal truths:
‘In the beginning was the Word…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory’.

Christ is born, God is with us, we see the Lord eye to eye just as we see the crib scenes, the glow of candles, the sparkle of Christmas trees.
Jesus Christ is here – God of this place, ruler of all time, Lord of our lives.
From the very beginning God has planned to come to his world and to relate to his people – and finally he has come in the Word made flesh.

And this leads to a remarkable birth ‘not born of flesh nor of the will of humans, but born of God’. This is not John’s description of how the Word become flesh – it is not about the birth of Jesus at all.
It is John’s account of what happens when people behold the grace and truth of Jesus and his life and ministry, his death & resurrection.

John says of Jesus that ‘to those who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God’. These are the ones with the remarkable birth story – those who have believed in Jesus and so have become children of God.
This extraordinary child is not Jesus - John means you… and me. We are remarkable, precious, beloved of God – we are sons and daughters of God almighty, not born of human will, but by God’s will. We are the most treasured of all God’s creatures – the ones who believe in Jesus, follow him as Lord, and so are adopted into God’s own family.

It’s quite a cure for the Christmas blues – knowing that the gift of Christmas has only just begun. We can begin this new year knowing that we are redeemed – we are made children of God, by the gift of Jesus Christ. 

This gift of God began ‘in the beginning’ – it is part of God’s relationship with the whole world as creator, redeemer & sustainer. It is a gift that never ends, that is new every year, every morning, every moment of our lives. All of our celebrations to this point have brought us to this realisation – that the love of God has been born for us in Jesus, so that we may be born again as children of God.
So let the celebrations continue – to God’s praise and glory.
Amen.

Christmas/ massacre of innocents


Carol Service

You might have wondered why we had to read on past the usual stuff of nativity plays to the unpleasant bit about Herod and his slaughter of the innocents.
I had already decided on these readings for tonight before the terrible news of the school shootings in Newtown Conneticut, 10 days ago. Believe me, I thought about changing them. This year, I’ve found it hard to hear the words of Away in a manger ‘bless all the dear children in thy tender care’, without feeling a pang of pain.  You might have heard the news report that said that after the tragedy, many people in Newtown were taking down their Christmas decoration, because they felt guilty celebrating Christmas.

But as tonight’s readings have made clear, Christmas is not just a sweet tale of tinselly angels and fluffy sheep – there is hardship in the story, and people abusing power, and real cruelty.

This shouldn’t surprise us – if Jesus was God come to Earth to share our human life he needed to experience all of human life – including pain and loss and even death.
There need to be unpleasant bits in the story because it’s a real story, of a real baby, born in a real way. And so it’s a story that tells us of the real presence of God in our world – in the midst of our celebrations, and when life is almost unbearably hard.

May the real life and love of God touch you and yours this Christmas. Amen.

Christmas Eve


Isaiah 9: 2-7, Luke 2: 1-14

I don’t know if you caught the news story about 10 days ago that a pub landlord in the Wiltshire village of Shrewton had gone off to France with the contents of his customers’ Christmas saving scheme – a total of about £30,000.
The part that made me saddest was an interview with one of the people affected who said “We had £800 saved – and without that money there’ll be no Christmas for us”.

The good news is that the village rallied round and made money available to people for presents and food.
But how sad it was for the man who thought that Christmas would not come without the money?

Of course we all like to have special food and drink and of course it’s lovely to see the faces of your loved ones light up when they open a present they really like – but Christmas will come – whether we spend our money or not.

Christmas will come because the clock will tick around and we’ll cross the days off the calendar and soon (very soon!) it will be December 25th and whatever our level of income and whatever our state of mind, and whether other people have cherished us or exploited us, we will remember the birth of Christ.

The light will shine even in the lands of deep darkness, promises Isaiah. Where the boots of warriors have marched, a child will be born who will reveal God’s rule and God’s authority.

The light will shine in the lives of a young couple who haven’t even got a room for the night, who have been made homeless by the decree of government.

The light will shine on the hills where there is work to be done, sheep to be looked after. Where nothing ever happens, suddenly the sky is filled with the song of angels.

The light of God’s love shown in Jesus will shine on the rich and on the poor. The light will shine when we are surrounded by stuff and when we have nothing but the need to know we are not alone.

Christmas is so much simpler and yet richer than all the fun and festivities with which we surround it.
God loves us enough to come and share our lives – then in Bethlehem, now in Whittlesford.
Hear the angels sing the glorious truth – there can be peace and goodwill for all people – God’s love for everyone alive.

Christmas is here. God has entered our human world – and he will never leave us on our own.
Thanks be to God. Amen