Saturday, 31 January 2015

Presentation of Christ in the temple.

Luke 2:22-40
Tomorrow, February 2nd, is exactly 40 days after Christmas Day and our celebration of the birth of Jesus.
During those 40 days we have been celebrating Epiphany – all the many ways in which we see God revealed in our world, the many different glimpses that Jesus Christ gives us of just what it means to have God here with us.

We have heard the story of how Mary & Jospeh brought Jesus to the temple, at 40 days old, in accordance with the Jewish law.
 The law of Moses states that 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, because 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 what happens shows us 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.
And so just as Rembrandt shows us in his remarkable and beautiful painting, this is an event which opens our eyes to new ways of looking.
We see the contrast of age and youth,
we see beginnings and endings of life,
we see Simeon who goes home from the temple in peace – satisfied that he has seen the salvation God is bringing and at peace in himself, and we see Anna, stirred into telling all the world around what marvelous things God has done.
As we look at the picture we might think that Simeon looks very involved, holding onto the baby; whilst the shadowy figure, which may be Anna, is more of a by-stander.
Or is that second figure Mary, pondering the words of Simeon that ‘a sword will enter your own heart’? Is this a moment of great joy or great sorrow?

And what does all this say to us?
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.
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.
We who sit here and listen to Luke’s gospel can know that God is with us.

So we might think that we too can be Simeon – satisfied to go in peace, re-entering life with a sense of completion

Or do we feel more like Anna – wanting to tell the world around us what we have seen and heard and known here, of God with us?

Or are we Mary, today – still pondering, still wondering, needing time to decide quite what it is that God is doing and how we really feel?

Only you know how God is stirring your heart and mind and soul.

But as this is still Epiphany, we might see God is new ways in this reading.
We speak of this as God’s house – and yes, by God’s grace, it is. Here we listen to God’s word, he hear God’s story, we know through what we hear and through the fellowship we enjoy that we too can be part of this amazing story of God with us, and we go to love and serve the Lord in the world around us.
We can see our worship as a visit to the temple where, if we are receptive we can meet with Christ, as Simeon and Anna did.

But this is Epiphany – God revealed to us in new ways. And so we can move on in the imagination of our hearts from this beginning, to the end of the earthly life of Jesus. The Jesus who was alive in the baby in the temple becomes the Jesus dying on the cross and the Jesus laid in the tomb, so that he can become the Jesus risen and living and ascended and no longer confined to any earthly body.

The baby in the temple is now the Lord in the world.
So although we can meet with Jesus here in this church, we can also find him revealed in the world outside. And Epiphany teaches us that we might see Jesus in the most unexpected places and even in the most unexpected people.

So this last week I believe I have glimpsed Jesus, God with us
Monday – Benedectine brothers of Downside Abbey
Tuesday – at the Synod pastoral committee, as together we talked about and cared for the churches of our Synod
Wednesday – with a meeting of representatives form the Torbay area churches, discussing mission and ministry and starting to hope for the future
Thursday – in a person who was sweeping the street as I was trying to pull out of my drive, and who stopped to smile & wave me out
Friday – as I sat and listened to someone talking about a family funeral they had just attended
Saturday – celebrated with Tavistock URC their new roof on the church after nearly 25 years of leaks.
Today – I see Christ’s face in each of you

Where will you find Christ this week? Will you look and listen? It may be that you will find Christ in people, in meetings, in prayer, in Scripture, in silence, in the busy-ness if life. In all these ways you may find that God come to us – lives among us – and will never leave us

In the grace and the gift of Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Romans 12: 1-18 - a celebration

On Saturday I will be in Tavistock, at a service to celebrate the new roof: they chose Romans 12 1-18 as the text - and perhaps I got a bit carried away with the idea of celebration...

Today is undoubtedly a day of celebration.
And if, like me, you are a fan of a certain hit Saturday night BBC show that reaches its final at Christmas each year, then you will (strictly) associate celebration with dancing!

I like to think St Paul would have agreed with me – because he certainly advocates some dance theology in his letter to the Romans.

Don’t you just love reading someone else’s letters?
Paul is writing to the church in Rome, because he is planning to come and visit them. He begins with his usual giving thanks to God for the church, sending greetings to people he knows, and then he starts addressing what seems to be some trouble that has arisen for the Roman church. It seems there’s a problem with followers of Christ with a Jewish

background, and others with a non-Jewish, Gentile background. Paul tries to show the relationship between the Jewish law, and the new way of following Jesus, which doesn’t have to follow all the old laws.

So I don’t think Paul would have much truck with the current waves of anti-Semitism being seen in our world. He is at pains to underline the fact that God hasn’t finished with the law and the prophets and all the promises given to the people of Israel, but that in Jesus Christ, God has spoken even more directly to his people, grounding the laws of Moses in the example of the life of Jesus Christ, which shows us in the flesh what God’s love looks and sounds and acts like.

You’re looking puzzled – where’s the dance?

I think it’s the conga – the unbroken chain of God’s love to all people.
 Beginning at creation, stretching to the people of the Hebrew Scriptures, those who follow the law, to the prophets and all those who through the years have tried to keep God’s commandments – an unbroken chain through Jesus to his followers in first century Palestine, and Rome, and eventually across the world and down the centuries to us. But watch out – if you’re at the back of a conga chain it can be a pretty hairy ride !
Things speed up as you get further down the chain – it’s easy to get a bit lost, a but thrown about, because everything seems to change so quickly.

So even in this newly refurbished building, remember to hold in tightly to the best of what’s gone before, but also be ready to move your feet. Enjoy the conga.

Having talked (in chapter 11) about the conga of continuity, Paul says Therefore – the first word of the reading we heard – therefore because of this relationship between Jesus, the Jew, who was Son of God, and the desire of God to see people follow Jesus and come close to God’s love – therefore Paul tells the people of Romans to engage in another dance - the ‘Hokey Cokey ’ .“You put your whole self in”. Offer your very selves – worship of mind and heart – be transformed. Then you will discern the will of God.

I hope you don’t think now this building is looking so splendid that the work is done & you can sit back & rest! It’s time for the hokey cokey – put your whole selves into serving and loving and worshipping God in this place – and be alert to discerning God’s will for the future.

Next Paul gives a whole list of things that wholehearted followers of Jesus will do: they will offer their various gifts to God – whether it is the gift of inspired utterance, administration, teaching, counselling, giving to charity, leading with enthusiasm, or helping others.
And all these gifts can be summed up in one phrase ‘love in all sincerity’. And the dance which will set the rhythm for this love – the waltz. A dance of love, attentive to others, keeping moving amidst all the dipping and swaying, the rise and fall of life.
In your desire to waltz with love as a church you may need to ask who your partner will be, who you need to dance with so that love can be shown in this community. It might even be that at different times you will need to dance with different partners – so that the love can be shared around.

Finally, Paul exhorts the people of the church in Rome to live as those who want to be part of God’s dance of life and love. With zeal serve the Lord, let hope keep you joyful, in trouble stand firm, persist in prayer, contribute to the needs of others practice hospitality.

Last weekend I had the great honour of staying at the Benedictine Abbey at Downside for a 24 hour retreat. The Benedictines take very seriously the call to hospitality. The rooms weren’t lavish, the food was wholesome but not cordon bleu, the brothers themselves were few and elderly – but they had hospitality cracked! From the moment you arrive you feel the community, almost the building itself welcome you to join in with the prayer, life and service of the place.

Practice hospitality – never tire of inviting others to come dancing – joining you here in your journey towards God’s kingdom. If this is like any dance perhaps it is like the Grand Chain in country dancing – everyone involved, no-one left out, hands reaching out to touch and bless and include.
The dance of God’s love can’t be kept to yourselves – and the dance needs to spill out of this place to the world outside – so that all may be included in the dance of life.

So today, people of Tavistock, be ready to celebrate and dance.
Dance the conga – stay connected to tradition, but be ready to move your feet!
Dance the hokey cokey – out your whole selves in
Dance the waltz – love and show love through partners
Dance the Grand chain – leave no-one out of God’s dance.
And most of all – listen for the music of the spirit, follow in the steps of Jesus Christ, celebrate God’s love and Keep Dancing !