Here follow a few sermons from the new year starting with the wedding at Cana...
1. Alex and I are reading books about how to raise sons - perhaps a little too late? smacks of desperation?? Both books - written from differing perspectives though both American, seem to imply they can provide the tools for turning a very loved but ordinary son into something quite extraordinary through control over the tv remote, through appropriate boundary setting, through lots of positive contact and love, through allowing lots of imaginative play and so on - I’ll tell you more when we are finished. The crux of both books though is that to ‘successfully’ (please note the quote marks!) raise a son, they need the active presence and positive influence of a male role model - ideally a father.
2. This morning’s Gospel also deals with turning something quite ordinary into something extraordinary - namely the ordinariness of water into the specialness of wine through the active presence of and positive influence of God the father beginning to reveal the presence of his kingdom in and through the ministry of his son Jesus.
3. Brief retell - at the wedding the wine runs dry. Mary expects Jesus to act - why here? Why now? Jesus clearly feels that he should not act now. The positive influence of God the father, Jesus infers, is to be felt later - reference forward to the cross and resurrection.
4. Nonetheless, Jesus does act and transforms the water for purification in copious amounts of tine wine. John records this as the first of Jesus’ miracles - revealing the the active presence and positive influence of God the father in him.
5. Jesus transforms the ordinary everydayness of water into extraordinarily special wine; why does John see this miracle as worth recording? Because it is an allegory, it points to or reveals something deeper. At Cana, the Old Testament Law becomes the new wine of the Kingdom of God first drunk by Jesus at the Last Supper. We cannot avoid I think the links with the eucharist. The water that becomes wine reveals the glory and presence of God. The wine at the Last Supper is also a pointer forward to Jesus’ death, the shedding of his blood - the ultimate revealing of God’s active presence in and through him.
6. This miracle show us something about ourselves. If we really trust God, and let go and let him lead us in life, Jesus transforms the ordinariness of our lives into the extraordinariness of eternal life with God now. Even though Jesus knows his greatest work, his hour - his death and resurrection, have not yet come, he trusts God enough to use an opportunity to reveal his glory. We need ask God to reveal his glory in and through us - not to make us look wonderful, or to fulfill our deepest insecurities - but for the glory of God. As we share the wine of the Kingdom and the the bread of life at the eucharist recalling Christ’s ‘hour’ - he dwells afresh inside each one of us - as Paul reminded the Corinthians and also us this morning - calling and equipping each of us to activity and service by the power of the Holy Spirit. Each of us has a specific gift, skill or talent to be used in the service of God.
7. The Greek word for Church in the New Testament is ekklesia, literally, called out. We have been called out of family relationships into a new relationship with God and with each other as disciples - HERE. Here in the security of this room we learn and worship together, here we get to know one another. BUT, from the safety of a room, God empowered the first disciples with the Holy Spirit and sent them out with is same message. He has does the same with us. From Cana’s water in wine to Calvary’s blood and water, in this sweep we see Jesus’ whole life as one miraculous event, an invitation into an eternal relationship of love. I believe that in this Gospel my friends, God is offering us a challenge to be his Epiphany people again, sharing the sweet and rich wine of the Gospel with our community through some new things that we will do together this year
In the light of those recent statistics that were published a couple of weeks ago, the newspapers would have us believe that this country is getting increasingly secular - or to put it another way - less and less people are bothered with religion, with the church and especially with the Church of England. In the light of that, I have been wondering what marks us as Christians out against our secular friends and neighbours. Part of our difference is that we go to church on Sundays. We are not alone in going somewhere and doing something on a Sunday - hundred, thousands of people go to car boot sales, football matches, or supermarkets. I am convinced that there is something distinct, something tangible, something desirable about being Christian that is noticeable in us which is definable against the rest of humanity. I believe there are those in our community who might ridicule for our faith, when push come to shove would admit they need us ‘to do the holy bit’ for them when they can’t. I believe that this morning’s Gospel gives us a starting point from which we can discover what this distinction is for ourselves and then commit ourselves to living out.
Candlemas is a festival that the Church of England tended not to make too much of up until the very recent past perhaps because of it’s Mediaeval focus on the purification of Mary and not the presentation of Jesus as the first born son dedicated to God. Latterly the Church realised how significant this major feast is in her the worshipping life, because, like a steep hill on a good walk, Candlemas provides us with a vantage point enabling us to look back to the Christmas celebration of the birth of God in our midst from where we have come, and forward to the destination of our journey - the cross and death PAUSE... and resurrection.
The Gospel story tells of the Holy Family’s trip up to Jerusalem, to visit the Temples. They went to carry out what was necessary under the Law. Firstly they went so that Mary could be made ritually pure 40 days after childbirth by the offering of the appropriate sacrifice.
The book of Leviticus outlines very clearly the correct sacrificial practice in various circumstances. If you suffer from insomnia I suggest it as a cure, but the book makes it clear that the poor, should sacrifice a pair of young pigeons or a a pair of turtle doves in various circumstances. Luke is making a very important point here. Throughout the Old Testament, God again and again identifies himself with the poor, downtrodden and the outcast. Luke’s point is clear - with the coming of the Messiah, God’s eternal attributes of love and justice have not changed. As the King of the Nations, the Prince of Peace, God’s Son comes to the Temple he comes not just identifying with the socially, spiritually, emotionally and financially poor, but as one of them.
Secondly, the family went to have Jesus dedicated to God. Again the Levitical Law is clear and Luke quotes it for us - every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord. Luke is making another very important point here. This child will be dedicated to the service of God, like every firstborn Jewish male, but the service he will undertake for God will transform the world.
The other key players in this drama set in the heart of Israel’s spiritual life, the Temple, are Simeon and Anna. Simeon clarifies what God has planned to achieve through this little baby, things that Luke’s readers already know about but now have confirmed through the mouth of a pious and faithful Jew. Simeon had been promised that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. How Simeon knew that this firstborn male was what he had been waiting for all these years we will never know. But as he holds Jesus (whose name literally means ‘the Lord is my salvation’) in his arms he holds God’s salvation itself. As a result he may depart in peace - he can die happy , knowing that what had been promised to him had been fulfilled, and also knowing that shalom, God’s peace was about to break though in a new way to the whole of creation bringing reconciliation, forgiveness, healing, love and justice to reign on earth through this child. Simeon does here what neither Moses or Elijah or the other great prophets of God could do - as he looks lovingly at that newborn he sees the face of God Almighty the Creator - and lives.
Many of Israel, like Simeon and Anna - are pious and faithfully waiting the redemption of God through this child. Many are not and there will be those who will hate Jesus and in the end they will crucify him. Even here in the temple here is the shadow of the coming cross.
At Christmas we recall the greatest mystery - that God became human like us. The Incarnation, the birth of God amongst is surely about God identifying not only with humanity but with everything created, not to understand it so as to apprehend it, but to love it into eternal life. At Candlemas as Jesus God’s own Son is presented in the Temple and dedicated to God, Jesus offers back to God his humanity, our humanity, and reconciles everything that is created to it’s Creator for his use and his glory.
Today as Jesus is presented to God in the Temple, God presents creation with his peace, the Shalom that Simeon knew, in his Son, to which creation responds with thanksgiving knowing that soon pain, suffering, sin, and evil will be banished and all will be restored into the life of God. My friends it is this that marks us Christians out as distinct from the rest of humanity - our part in the great thanksgiving of all created things, a thanksgiving that knows that God will free the world from sin and it’s affects - sin that makes people lie, murder, cheat, abuse, and corrupt. As Christians, as children of God, our lives are a visible thanksgiving to God from the people of Leverstock Green for all that he gives us in Creation and all that he promises Creation in Christ - to be free from the power of sin. Secular humanity find it so hard to give thanks when they do not know whom they should be thanking, and very often can see nothing to be thankful for. My friends I believe our secular friends and neighbours need us. We must not let them down.
and then 3rd Sunday before Lent
Part one. Has anyone here ever been fishing? Talk about going fly fishing with Grandpa... recall going together, the excitement, time together, but teh disappointment of never ever catching anything - except trees, my cheek, weed. I pretended that it didn’t matter - time with him, outdoors etc etc etc. But the thing is, it did matter. One time, going as usual. Been there all morning - he had had nibbles and we broke for lunch. I was despondant. Went out again - try standing on the bank over there... no luck and then...! Good job I listened and trusted what Grandpa said...
- In our Gospel reading today - Jesus challenges some fishermen, far more skilled than you or me, to put out for a catch. They have had no luck all night. How would you feel in their shoes? Caught more than they could cope with. Jesus’ challenge to them and to us is that when he speaks, we sld listen and trust him for amazing results.
Part 2. Jesus is clearly becoming well known now. In the previous chapters he has been preaching and teaching in and around Galillee and perfoming many miracles of healig and exorcism (NB Peter’s moter in law.) Here down by the lakeside the only way to communicate with so big a crowd is to go out onto the water. Jesus get’s into Simon’s boat and asks him to put a way out from the shore. He can see and he seen, hear and be heard from here and he teaches the crowd.
- Having taught, Jesus challenges the fishermen. They could not just be his transport. He tells them to go out into deep water and to let down their nets for a catch. I would love to have seen Simon and the others’ faces - here are men who have been out all night on the Sea of Galillee - they are exhausted, demoralised having caught nothing, broke as they have no fish to sell and still have to pay the tax to take thei boat out, weather beaten, and hungry as fishing is very physical and they have no means to buy breakfast.
- Do they trust Jesus? They will have heard of him and what others have seen him do, they have now seen and heard him for themselves. They may have even known his family, and that his ‘father’ was a carpenter... what would he know about fishing???
- Having just left the Christmas celebrations behind, where we have remembered the incarnation of God amongst us - the coming of Christ, if it shows us anything then surely it shows that as God becomes ordinary flesh and blood, material, so the material world can hold divinity and be transformed to reveal the power of God. This creative power or word of God fills Jesus so that it spills out over the edges and is made visible to the material world transforming it’s frailties, brokenness and injustices.
- Jesus may have known nothing about fishing but when these fishermen trust Jesus the Word of God, and place their nets into the deepest water, they see the material world transformed by divinity and catch so many fish that tehir nets cannot cope!
- SP kneels and recognises God in Jesus (he will do again many times) and acknowledges his sin, his doubt in Jesus’s word, but in the same way his brokenness, fraility and need of God. Call to give up fishing and to take up catching people.
- and us? Do we trust God? Deep water - faith or God himself. Will we put down and reach into God for our resources - to find he gives us more than we can cope with!
- we need to become a community that trusts God completely. Disciples were spent, they had no resources physically, economically, emmotionally and yet when they trusted Jesus God responded in abundance with fish to sell, to eat and in the immense satisfaction of a future secure. So it must be with us.
When fishermen trusted God in Jesus they responded to teh call of teh word of God. No longer catching fish but people. So it must be with us. Will we allow him to transform teh ordinariness of our everyday lives by the Word of God, into places where teh divine can be seen and experienced by all - where people can see and feel the pressence of God in and amongst us and our community?
and from our Thanksgiving for marriage service...
This service is about giving thanks to God for marriage, for your marriages. You will all know that marriages, like all relationships require work. Our friendships work because we perhaps have something in common and we like one another; our family relationships work because we are related, we share blood and history. No one should pretend that any of these relationships are easy all the time. Either way, they require the commitment of all concerned to flourish.
Marriages work when husband and wife are committed to one another and allow the love that brought them together to carry them through their life, through good times and bad. No one should pretend that it is always easy, hence it being really important I think to celebrate marriages and give thanks, especially when society sees them as largely disposable.
Love is the key to a good marriage, and it may shock you to know that Christians are better lovers! Not because we’re more romantic, or because we know how treat a man or woman right, or because we can cook/clean/iron/change nappies better. Christians make better lovers because they know they are loved by God.
St John tells us that all love is a gift from God. God gives away love, he shares it with people and the rest of the universe, because in his very nature he is love. Most of the time He is so excited, in awe, made happy, by all that is - all that he created. If he had a stomach he would have butterflies...
Christians make better lovers because they know they are loved by God and love him in return. John tells us that we know that God loves us, not just because he says so in the pages of the Bible, but because of something he did. The most romantic of gestures. He gave us a present to show us how much he loves us. No chocs, lingerie, champagne candlelit dinners... God sent his Son Jesus, to show us how much we each one of us matter to him, and to offer each one of us the chance to enter into a love relationship with him.
God had longed for that relationship since he made us, but people kept putting things in the way - their pride, their guilt, their fear of change - the church calls this sort of stuff sin. God sent Jesus to do away with the effects of sin once and for all and to offer humanity the chance to fall in love with the source of all love.
Christians make better lovers because they know for themselves God the source of all love. Christians commit themselves to allowing God’s love for them to change them enough, continuing to do away with the things in life and in our natures that let ourselves, others and God down. We do this, not make us better people, or to make our own marriages or friendships work better. We do it so that God can live in and amongst us, and through maybe even us, continues to share that lself-giving love with others.
and Ash Wednesday
Alex and I had the priviledge at the beginning of this month to be invited by Archbishop Rowan Williams and his wife Jane to join them at Lambeth Palace for less than 24 hours. We had been invited with 5 other couples to spend some time in dicussion with them. The centre of the dicussion was about our perceptions of the state of the church locally, what the vision of our church communities are over the next five years or so, and what is the state of the church nationally and internationally.
With this evening’s Gospel warning against a kind of puffed up piety that tries to make me seem a ‘better priest’ or ‘better christian’ than you because of that visit, I want to resassure you that this is not why I am telling you any of this. I promise!
The reason I am sharing this is because, the conclusions that came out loud and clear as we talked together centred around the church continuing to have a vital role in building community in an ever fractured society, and for the church and her people going back to being faithful in prayer, in worship, and in study of the scriptures, and only from this foundation of a living relationship with God, can the she then go out and minister in the places where she finds herself whether that’s contributing to national debates or taking a funeral. The holy season of Lent which begins today, can also be summed up in those two ways - building a community and building a living relationship with God.
All too often friends, we see Lent as if we are children in a sweetshop. Look but don’t touch we are told. If we hold back for now, God gives us chocolate on Easter day. Alternatively, in Lent the Church becomes the spiritual wing of weight watchers as we dress up the need to lose Christmas’s exessive celebrations. Lent, has becoem for many of us, an inconvenience preventing us from just getting on with the good stuff of celebrating the new and eternal life on offer because of the resurrection.
Lent which begins today is not cod liver oil for the soul - some sort of necessarry evil - it is a gift. Lent presents us each with an opportunity to return to the essentials in life; to restore a sense of thanksgiving which includes the acceptance from God of our wonderful life, created exclusively by the love of God, for there is no other reason for us to exist; loved by Him even before we were born, we were taken into His marvelous light. Now we live and we forget. When was the last time you thought about it? But I do not forget so many trivial little things that transform my life into empty noise, into a kind of traveling without knowing where. Lent gives us the opportunity to restore this this essential layer to life and find some direction
Today as we are each signed with the cross, God stoops to give to each of us a kiss of love. The cross brings us up short. We are not immortal, medicene may not cure all things, there are still unanswered questions, we are actually weak and frail. Through the sign of the cross we recall our sinfulness, our need of him and each other. The cross reminds us of God’s stooping to kiss the world in love through Jesus’ life but especially through his death and resurrection - the cross offering the forgiveness and welcome of God, the drawing together of a repentant community. The cross signals the death of one person, but also the death of my sinful self. The cross reminds us of our calling to God and each other, our call to follow Christ as his brothers and sisters, given at Baptism - where God says to each of us ‘you are my child, my beloved, with you I am well pleased.’
The ash used to make the sign of the cross heralds a counter-cultural call. In a world that says that I can and will succeed by my own will, the ash says that I need the help and grace of God to understand life, the life he gave me, and how to live it. In a world that selfishly shuts others out, that is fractured and splintered, that says there is no community only fear, the ash says that I need the support of others who share my dustiness and my destiny, especially my brothers and sisters in faith if I am to follow where Christ leads. In a ever more letgious society, ever ready to sue each other, the ash says that I and the world in which I live and its systems are broken, they are far from perfect, but in christ they are all being made new, errors are admitted and people are forgiven.
The holy season of Lent is a gift - some time set aside to build community and restore relationships with others and God. Like our Gospel suggests, Lent revels the true meaning of all our relationships. For, if our fasting, prayer, almsgiving and other spiritual activity become solely about my relationship with God and others and how much I can gain by changing - looking more like self-help than living faith, then we have surely acknowledged unwittingly how much we need this season! Our Gopel reminds us that Lenten faith stands against self-centered, pompous, individualistic religion, the cross of ash places us within a community of people seeking to have their lives restored with their true meaning - that we belong to each other and we exist because God loves us.
The ash cross we wear today calls a repentant community together, a community of people that know they need each other and God, and see this holy season as gift to restore their realtioships with each other and him. Friends this begins with forgiveness and us forgiving each other because God offers us the same forgiveness through the coming cross of Christ.
So, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters: let us forgive one another. Let us not think about why. There is enough to think about. Let us do it. Right now, in a kind of deep breath, say: "Lord, help us to forgive. Lord, renew all these relationships." What a chance is given here for love to triumph! – for unity to reflect the Divine unity, and for everything essential to return as life itself. What a chance! Is the answer we give today yes or no ? Are we willing to offer forgiveness? Are we gladly accepting it? Or is it something which we do just because it is on the calendar – today, you follow, forgiveness; tomorrow, let’s do...? No! this is the crucial moment.
So, please, for the sake of Christ: let us forgive each other. The first thing I am asking all of you, my spiritual family, is to forgive me for my quick temper, putting me and my family first, my laziness, my slowness sometimes in responding to your needs, putting my concern for my own health first, my inability to sometimes finish what I start, all of which vex me beyond measure. How I long to be more Christlike.
Please forgive me and pray for me, so that what I am preaching I could first of all somehow, be it only a little bit, integrate and incarnate in my life. Amen.
Phew...! Must get posts up to date more often!