Sunday, January 03, 2010

New Year - New Vision

Happy New Year! It doesn’t seem possible that it’s 2010 does it? Only a short time ago we were celebrating the milennium weren’t we? And policemen and clergy are getting younger too...

The milennium was a significant milestone in many different ways for all of us. Ten years since the millennnium marks something significant for me. Clergy in this diocese who have been in holy orders for 10 years and in their current post for at least three years are invited by the Diocese to take a sabbatical. I have been offered and accepted this opportunity. This has been no secret but I am concious that I have not said anything to you all publicly.

Beginning on Sunday 21st February 2010 I will be off duty for 12 weeks. My first Sunday back will be Pentecost Sunday, 23rd May. This is not an extended holiday although that is part of what we will, be doing over that time. It is not some sort of jolly. Sabbaticals are a time for reflection, recovery, renewing of vision, and a certain amount of taking stock. It’s sort of professional development for the clergy. After over 10 years in ministry, and over five years here, being honest, I need some of that. You are probably rightly wondering what I will be doing with my time.

I have a project that I will be working on over that three month period. I will be visiting, working with, talking to and learning from church communities like our own which gather around the Lord’s table and who allow the the sharing of bread and wine, the Eucharist, to be the living and beating heart of their life together both in the church building and the wider community. I will be spending time with churches in our own diocese, in London diocese, in our link diocese of Linkoping in Sweden and in New Zealand. Basically I want to see what God is doing in churches like our own, to see if there are any themes, any common activities, any fresh ideas that I can glean, and be inspired.

My final Sunday of active duty will be 14th February 2010. I will be around over that following week clearing my desk and doing final bits of prep. During the period of time over Lent, Holy Week and Easter the people who will ensure that everything continues as normal day to day are all of you ably assisted by the Church Wardens, Hitesh, and other members of the clergy team and they will be your first port of call. But we are the church, and empowered by God’s Holy Spirit we will continue to be blessed and be a blessing according to his will and word.

There will be periods of time when I am at home at the Vicarage, there will be times when I am not. I would appreciate it, to enable me to get the most out of this experience, if you did not to call by asking about parish business, but if you do see me around the village do feel free to stop and catch up as normal.

I will be keeping a regular blog of what I am doing and where I am, what I have experienced and what I am thinking about plus posting up to date photos can be found at my new Rectory Wanderings blog.

What has all of this to do with what we recall today? We are keeping today as the feast of the Epiphany which actually falls on Wednesday of this week.

How many kings does our Gospel reading mention this morning? Three? No, only two... The first is obvious, Herod, the reigning monarch. He sits on his throne in the capital city of Jerusalem, able to command, used to being obeyed, ruthless in ordering drastic measures in order to safeguard his kingdom.

Herod is used to taking centre stage, to being in the spotlight…apparently strong  - but surprisingly vulnerable, paranoid, a King who wonders how long his reign will last. He courts attention but in this story, actually, Herod is a distraction…for us, and for the travellers.

You see, just down the road…in an insignificant house, in an insignificant village…there is a new-born baby – the one for whom the star shines…But it’s easy to miss him, and the wise men who sought him, also nearly missed him too.
These wise men, astrologers, distracted by stars and then attracted by one in particular, distracted by the trappings of the power, wealth and influence of Herod, are constantly having their vision refocussed.

But this story is one of continual readjustment…of vision clouded and then cleared… It is, perhaps, remarkable that the travellers managed to see past their own expectations…of royal pomp and power to recognise and rejoice in heaven in ordinary, a baby boy snuggling with his mother. Perhaps that’s the greatest gift of this story, that God gave them the grace to get past their expectations and truly see the Messiah.

Here we begin another year, and another decade. We’ve all travelled a fair distance, and the journey isn’t done yet. It’s easy for us, too, to be distracted from the purpose of our journey, to be lured by the bright lights of Herod’s palace, where power and politics carry the day…

Yet the Epiphany of Jesus and indeed every day with God is about readjusting our vision of God and His ways and plans - whether we are on Sabbatical or not.... as we look into the manger God begins to reveal through the gift of Gold His King, through the gift of Frankincense a priest to forge a new relationship between Him and people, and through myrrh God reveals that this baby is born to die, to use John the Baptist’s words, ‘to take away the sin of the world.’

As we gaze into the manger, God reveals the destiny of not only this baby, but of each of us too. Through his Son he calls us to inherit his Kingdom and to play our part in building it locally, nationally and internationally through our words deeds and prayers. Through his Son, he calls us home as sons and daughters and welcomes us through faith into his arms of love. Through his Son, the affects of our sin are nailed down and done away with with And what can we offer in return?

The best that we can offer will only be of value as an expression of our love…because however hard we try to match the gift to the recipient, there’s NOTHING that God needs…except our love….and whatever we bring, God will recognise the love that lies behind it, and the only way that we can show that love from day to day is by allowing it free play in all our lives so that we come with our all of our gifts to places and to people every bit as unexpected and unlikely as that child in the back street of Bethlehem.

(With huge thaks to Kathryn for inspiration and ideas towards the end!)


Dustyhoper said...

thank you for a great sermon this morning, i always find at this time the changing year forces a reflection on years past. how we see the world changes, moulded by the joys and sorrows, along with it our faith rides the rocky path of life, sometimes on a cliffs edge, hanging on with our fingertips to the thread of life given to us, and at other trimes we can run, dance, sing with gladness on the mountaintops.
what I am getting at I suppose is that what you said about re-newed vision and new vision is vital to our faith journey. thank you for your sermons and times we have chatted over the past couple of years, you have helped me see a renewed vision for my own life and given me the hand that pulled me from the clifftop

Kathryn said...

That sabbatical sounds hugely exciting...I'm so pleased that you're planning to blog it (&, I hope, tweet it too). What a pleasing prospect as the year begins (and how lovely to have a team with whom you can safely leave the parish without undue angst)