Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Intergenerational Love Of God

When I was a kid, me and my friends loved to ‘play out.’ We lived in suburbia and one day we decided to play football in a cul-de-sac round the corner from us. We were boisterous, the 5 or 6 of us and we obviously annoyed one of the residents of the street who came down his drive and yelled at us, ‘Clear off or I’ll call the fuzz!’

It wasn’t the first time we were caught out by local residents, but many a time we made our way away from wherever we were followed by a call of ‘Remember, I know your folks!’

A few years ago, Hilary Clinton in part quoted a Nigerian proverb, when she said that she still believed that it took a whole village to raise a child. Many of us as adults here will remember ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’ who played significant roles in our childhoods; adults looked out for children more generally. But nowadays many of us would be afraid, and I do mean that, to intervene if we saw a child out on their own at an odd time or in an unusual place, for fear of being reprimanded. It’s somehow no longer my responsibility.

Prior to the passage we hear as this morning’s Gospel, in characteristic detail, Luke records Jesus’ birth, and He is surrounded by a host of people influencing even His earliest days - Emperor Augustus, Governor Quirinius, angels and shepherds as well as His parents. The child is born into occupied land & welcomed by those outside - socially and spiritually. He is welcomed as a child of Israel as he is circumcised and named at 8 days old and then is taken to the Temple in thanksgiving as was the custom.

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord… and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Andy Murray was widely reported in recent days that he would leave the Australian open tennis championship to ensure that he could be with his wife Kim if she went into early labour. Given a chance you wouldn't want to wouldn't you, as the hopes and dreams we have for our children begin at precious moment one. And it’s not just parents - I can remember my parents and in-laws all waiting impatiently at our house for news of the arrival of Matthew.  Whilst focused on Jesus throughout, our Gospel reading also records the responses of the adults around him to the child and asks us some key questions about all children: What expectations and hopes do we have for our children as they grow toward adulthood? What responsibilities do all adults have for children, regardless of whether or not they are related to them by blood or marriage, to keep them safe and to help them learn our social and religious customs?

Then Simeon… said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed…

When my boys were small we had to find times in the liturgy for them to be able to come and see me and for me to be daddy. Many Sundays I would be praying for God’s blessing on us (with them making the sign of the cross too) or processing out with my children in tow. this became the norm for them and they did this with visiting priest and bishop alike. They were learning what it meant to be in church and how to worship and it was ok. But how is it ok for the Vicar’s children and not ok for others to come to the symbol of the presence of God here - the altar rail? Why is it not ok for them to dance to the music of our hymns as we praise God?

This child, Jesus, will be the falling and rising of many in Israel. But what of this child? Or this one?? And all too often, because of them, the inner thoughts of many will be revealed by a look that says - I wish they would be quiet; what are the parents playing at etc.  Jesus wont have been the only child in the temple on the day, in the midst of it’s hustle and bustle but when parents with their children are here in this temple, the church is filled with a joyful noise. When parents are here with their kids, the Body of Christ is more fully present. When parents with their kids are here, we are reminded that this worship thing we do isn't about bible study or personal, quiet contemplation but coming together to worship as an extended family where all are welcome, where we share in the Word and Sacrament together. When parents with their kids are here, I have hope that these pews won't be empty in 10 years when the kids are old enough to sit quietly and behave in worship. I know that they can learn how and why we worship now, before it's too late. They are learning that worship is important. Oh and let's not kid ourselves that the children are the church of tomorrow because the simple fact of the matter is that unless we care for and nurture our children in the faith and support and encourage their parents, there won't be a church of tomorrow! They are the church of today.

What is Jesus asking of us? Both Simeon and Anna saw the hope of God in this child, not just for the future, but in the now - cradled in their arms.  The church is one of the very last organisations where ages and stages and differing backgrounds all mix together.  It is our shared responsibility to help our children learn how to worship - parents that is perhaps by finding new places to sit so the children can see worship and not just staying down the back. It’s also about helping them understand the different things we do - stopping and being still in prayers, listening to the Bible as it is read. Adults it is about encouraging our children and supporting their parents with a kind word not a scowl or a moan to a Warden. The children only learn they are not wanted or loved that way.

At the heart of our Gospel today is a child, young adults and the elderly all gathered in the presence of God in the Temple; family members and others together discovering the presence of God in their midst in this child. Simeon reminds us that the hopes of not just these parents but the hopes of the whole world are vested in this child.  In this child.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Grace For All At Cana

We have lost some of the greats in recent days - the artist David Bowie, the actor Alan Rickman are two.  I was never really a fan of Bowie’s music, and personally I think a 15 minute slot on the 10 o’ clock news was probably a bit extreme. Then I looked back and I noticed that he had eleased some of the most memorable popular music in the last 40 years.  I admire the way he has managed to reinvent himself musically and stylistically to appeal to a new generation. 

Alan Rickman similarly has never been one of my favourite film stars.  Yet whether it was Sense and Sensibility, Truly, Madly Deeply, Dogma or the Die Hard or Harry Potter franchises I recognise that stage and screen alike has lost someone very important.

The other great thing that we have lost, for now I believe, is the Church’s right to speak to a culture that needs the Gospel more than ever.  Jesus ministered to those on the margins of society in His day - lepers, women, the sick, Samaritans, tax collectors etc and He called His followers to do the same.  We have been reminded this week that as members of the Anglican Communion we have failed to be good news to the LBGT community, and we remain publicly unrepentant for the way we have corporately treated them.  Whilst it was highly unlikely that Anglican Primates were going to agree on issues of human sexuality, to see the Episcopal Church in the US effectively ostracised for three years to keep the Communion together seems like a heavy price to pay. An odd definition of Communion if there was ever one.

We all want Jesus to take our side and to act on our behalf not theirs. Even His mother tried to play that game according to what we hear in this morning’s Gospel - ‘…And Jesus responds to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’…’ The historical actions of slave traders and abolitionists, supporters of women’s rights and those wedded to traditional understandings of patriarchal headship alike can all be justified by the words of Scripture. Yet history shows us that what is considered culturally acceptable changes with time as does the Church's interpretation of Scripture.

The wedding at Cana is an odd story in a way - Jesus meets a human need with miraculous divine provision. But the need in this case is just that the hosts at a party have run out of wine. Compared with the needs of the desperately sick or seriously disabled, more wine for a party seems more like a luxury than a need. 

The mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ Christina McQuillan rented out her flat on New Year’s Eve via the website Air BnB. She was called by a neighbour back to her property after a party involving hundreds was clearly in full swing.  “It was horrific – me and my partner got to the property and there were hundreds of people on the streets… We entered the property and we told [the host] to shut it down immediately. This girl just laughed and said ‘no, I’m holding a party’.”

Running out of wine was a social faux pas: to entertain relatives and neighbours at a wedding was a major social obligation. To run out of wine would be a serious social disgrace and spoil the party. But this is evidently not a really poor family. Couldn't they have just sent out to buy more wine? In the end, by providing more wine we have to admit that Jesus isn't so much meeting a need as being rather extravagant. As Jesus' contribution to the party, if you like, he provides far more wine than they could possibly have drunk, even though such wedding celebrations traditionally went on for a whole week. And much better wine than they would normally have expected to be drinking. Luxury and extravagance are the words we have to use.

Jesus said, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ When the steward tasted the water that had become wine… the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’

Soren Kierkegaard, the great 19th-century Danish philosopher, said: 'Christ turned water into wine, but the church has succeeded in doing something even more difficult: it has turned wine into water.’  Wine though wasn’t just a social lubricant at an event such as this.  It was a sign of the harvest, of God’s abundance, of joy and gladness and hospitality.  In performing this miracle Jesus provides for over a thousand bottles of the finest of wines.  And that, according to John, is what grace is like: an overflowing of joy, blessing, and the presence of God.

If Jesus’ call to us, as to his first disciples, remains the same, to model what he did and said in his earthly ministry bringing the grace and joy and blessing of the presence of God to the outsider, I wonder whether what the church does and says so often turns the wine of the kingdom into water? It certainly feels like that might be the case following the Primate’s meeting if you are a member of the gay community, but it will also feel like that every time we shush a child or glare at it’s parent who is trying their best to feel welcomed by Jesus and helping them grow in faith and yet we push them away from our Jesus.

We are the conduits of the extravagant grace of God to the whole of our community, not just those we like or who are like us, but to all that society and the church push to the margin.  Not demonstrating God’s grace to others in our words and deeds is more than a social faux pas. It silences the Gospel. We lose our right to speak.  Archbishop Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop in the TEC said this week: “Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all. While I understand that many disagree with us, our decision regarding marriage is based on the belief that the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians are true for the church today: All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ…’ To paraphrase St Paul: There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, gay or straight adult or child, for all are one in Christ.’

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Test Tube Baptism and Blessing

We're in the season of Epiphany and next week we keep the Festival of the Baptism of Christ in one of our churches at least.

A few years ago I ordered some test tubes in the days before the Festal Eucharist.  During the liturgy (which you'll find on page 170 of this document) re asked God to bless water in the font, we sought the forgiveness of God and rededicated ourselves to living out our Baptismal vows.

At the end of the service I gave everyone who wanted to the opportunity to take home a test tube filled with holy water and to use the water to bless their home. 

I wrote the following prayer to be used with it:

As you mark the door of your home with the sign of the cross with the Holy Water, say the following prayer:
May Christ always be here with us
May He share our joys
and comfort us in our sadness.
May He inspire and help us
to make our home a place where His love is shared. Amen.

(© Simon Cutmore, 2013. Feel free to use it, but please acknowledge me as the source.)

It was well received and I'm blogging it here basically for my own benefit, but if you would like to do this/use the prayer/adapt this idea then please do so but could you simply let me know what you did and how it went?