Category Archives: Look to the Future sermons

Salt and Light

 

salt and light

Do you make your own bread? I wonder if you’ve ever forgotten to put the yeast in? The result is pretty disastrous, isn’t it? But what if you forget to put the salt in? Maybe not quite such as disaster but salt-free bread doesn’t taste very good, does it? These days we’re always being warned not to have too much salt in our diets and, indeed, the amount of salt in many processed/prepared foods is pretty alarming – we do well to check the labels. But salt does a lot more than bring out the flavour of food. Too much salt may raise our blood pressure but the effects of too little salt are equally, if not more, devastating. Too little salt in our bodies can, for example, cause permanent muscle damage. We add it to bread dough not just to make bread taste better to stop the yeast being overactive; we add it when boiling potatoes not just to improve the flavour but because it causes the water in the potatoes to come out of them and so softening them.

Salt has cleansing, antiseptic properties; it was so valuable as a preservative in the time of Jesus and for many centuries after, that it was used as currency. Salt is so important, so essential to life and well-being that not only has it been used as currency but it has sparked uprisings such as the El Paso ‘salt wars’ of the 1870s in America and protests such as Gandhi’s salt march – a non-violent opposition to the heavy taxes imposed on salt by the British Raj in India.

Too little or too much salt can lead to big problems. Too much salt can ruin your meal; it’s unpleasant to drink – making you thirstier than before at best and making you sick at worst. Yet strangely enough, if you have been running or doing some other very active sport, a drink with some salt in it won’t taste salty or unpleasant because your body knows its need to replace the salt it has lost through perspiration. How very cleverly we are created by God!

When the amount of salt is just right, then we hardly notice it. It’s the same with light – that other image that Jesus uses in our gospel reading today. If there isn’t enough light, we can’t see where we’re going or what we’re doing. If there’s too much light, or it’s shining right into our eyes, then we’re dazzled and can see either.

It’s a question of balance, of getting it right. And so Jesus compares his followers, his disciples to salt and to light. Apart from needing just the right amount of salt or light, there is a significant difference between the two which Jesus highlights. Salt is generally the hidden ingredient. It’s not noticeable either to the naked eye nor in terms of taste. It just enhances the flavour of the food. The right amount is not noticed at all – only its absence or too much.  What does this say to us as a church community, as present-day disciples of Jesus Christ? Are we the salt of the earth that enhances our local community?  Just suppose for a moment that there were no disciples of Jesus Christ – no church – in in the place where you live. Leaving aside the question of the physical church building for the moment, what would be missing if there wasn’t a Christian presence here? Would it matter? Would something be missing? And if so, what? Would people notice the ‘lack of seasoning’? How would our community be different if it wasn’t for the people of this church?

If we look back to our first reading, where Isaiah describes the sort of commitment, the sacrifices that God requires of his people, the sort of difference we the church are called to make – to loose the bonds of injustice, share food with the hungry, welcoming the homeless, – and those more difficult demands – not pointing the finger, not saying unkind things….. These are the sort of things that are going to add flavour to our community, to our fellow human beings. And look at the promises God makes, the rewards which will result from this behaviour: our needs will be satisfied; we will flourish like a watered garden; we will be peace-makers, repairers of the breach, restorers of the streets to live in.

Although the right sort and intensity of light is unobtrusive, Jesus makes the point that, unlike salt which can be hidden, mixed in, light needs to be out in the open to be effective. It has to be in a position where it can be effective.  At our recent ‘Messy Church’, adults and children made a collage showing their homes as ‘beacons of blessing’

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– light streams from the doors and windows of houses making them noticeable, inviting, encouraging. Jesus says, in those words we use at the offertory in the Prayer Book service, that we should let our light shine – make all those things that Isaiah encouraged obvious – so that people would give glory to God. Here, unlike the salt, Christ’s followers should stand out, should shine out. We are the light of the world! Jesus in John’s gospel describes himself as the Light of the World but here, in Matthew’s gospel, he tells his disciples that they – we – are the light of the world. How do we enlighten the world. Do we enlighten the world? Do we light up our own community?

There’s something of a contrast here, isn’t there – between the salt which is unobtrusive, hidden, subtle, self-effacing and the light which is like a city on a hill, shining out. Both are effective, both are encouraged by Jesus. It’s not a case of “either or”, but “both and”. We are the church, the body of Christ in this place both in the way we are present alongside our family, friends and neighbours, living a life of faithful discipleship, and when we declare our allegiance, our faith in more obvious ways, when we speak out and stand up for those who are treated unjustly.

There is one last point I want to make about the image of salt and that is that it doesn’t take much. Only a pinch of salt is needed. And I hope that thought might be a comfort and an inspiration to us when we look around and think that we are too few to make a difference.  Remember the words of the Dalai Lama – ‘If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.’

May you be as salt where there is staleness;
light where there is darkness;
truth where there is unbelief
and love where there is great need.
And may you know the blessing of God the Father,
Son and Holy Spirit,
close to you each moment and each day.
Amen.

This week, when you switch on a light or taste salt, use this moment to pray for God, and ask him how you can show his love to others.

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Candlemas – Shine as a light in the world

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According to yesterday’s newspapers, we can expect another month – at least – of stormy, wet weather. Given that today is sunny – in this part of the country anyway – this fits in with the folklore that if Feb 2nd is cloudy and dull, winter will be over soon but if it is bright and sunny, there will be more bad weather to come.

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
Winter won’t come again.

In the United States, on February 2nd, they observe ‘Groundhog Day’. The theory is that if a groundhog comes out of his winter burrow on that day and sees his shadow, he will be frightened and go back underground; winter will continue for a few more weeks. If there is no shadow (i.e. it is a cloudy day), winter is indeed over and the groundhog will stay outside. Like many of our sayings about weather (‘red sky at night’) it is probably based on experience and may have an element of truth.

I wonder if you have seen the film ‘Groundhog Day’? The story is about a grumpy TV weather forecaster, Phil, who is sent to report on what a groundhog (also called Phil!) does on Feb 2nd. Having made his report, he is prevented from leaving the town by heavy snow. He is then caught in a time-loop in which the day repeats itself over and over again. His response varies from frustration to taking advantage of the situation – stealing, being rude because he never has to face the consequences – to desperately trying to escape by attempting suicide. Only when he uses his experience to save lives and to befriend people, to be a blessing to them, is the loop broken and time moves on – much to his relief.

Today, Feb 2nd, the church celebrates the event described in our gospel reading, the presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple at Jerusalem according to the Jewish custom of the time – to dedicate the first-born male child to God and to mark the return of the mother to normal society after the birth. The elderly Simeon greets Jesus as a ‘light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of God’s people’. Light has come into the world but there are also shadows of events still to come.

Why Candlemas? Well, it was the day of the year when all the candles, that were used in the church during the coming year, were brought into church and a blessing was said over them – so it was the Festival Day (or ‘mass’) of the Candles.

Candles used to be more important than they are now, and not only because there was no electric light. Some people thought they gave protection against plague and illness and famine. For Christians, they were (and still are) a reminder of something even more important. Before Jesus came to earth, it was as if everyone was ‘in the dark’. People often felt lost and lonely and afraid – and still do, of course. As if they were on their own, with no one to help them. Then came Jesus with his message that he is with his followers always ready to help and comfort them. He is a guiding light to them in the darkness. Christians often talk of Jesus as ‘the light of the World’ – and candles are lit during church services to remind us of this.

At the end of our service today we will light our individual candles, symbolising our response to our calling to take the light of Christ out into the world to combat the darkness and fear and loneliness that people feel. When Christians are baptised or confirmed they are frequently given a lighted candle and encouraged to ‘Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father’ because they have passed from darkness to light, they have stepped into the light of Jesus, the light of the world. Of course, we may well still experience darkness and fear. Becoming a Christian does not provided immunity from such things but when we belong to the body of Christ, the church, we can hope that others will shine on us, will reflect the light of Christ, light a candle for us.

But our responsibility as the body of Christ – Christ’s hands and feet and voice in the world – goes further than this. As a church, we are called to continue Christ’s work of bringing light into the dark places of the world. Yes, we can ‘do our bit’ on our own, we can be ‘you in your small corner and I in mine’ but how much more effective we will be if we work together! Think of a birthday cake with candles. Ordinary sized cake with, say, 5 candles dotted around the side. Pretty, attractive. Now suppose you are celebrating a significant birthday as some of us are this year…. Ordinary sized cake but someone decides to decorate it with the appropriate number of candles and light them all. What happens??? Melt-down! A conflagration! Wow!

That’s how to get noticed, how to provoke a response, how to bring a shining light into dark places – places of fear, of deprivation, of injustice. How might we do that? And just as Jesus the light of the world was not all harmony and sweetness, we too may find that standing up for what we believe may prove uncomfortable for us and for others, a stumbling block, a sign that is opposed.

Today is a day when we look both backwards and forwards. It is the mid-point, in terms of the calendar, between the winter solstice and the official beginning of spring on March 21st. It is the point at which we put Christmas behind us and begin to look forward towards Lent and Easter. It has become the custom in recent years for the church to continue to celebrate Christmas, to keep Christmas decorations up until Candlemas. But now our focus shifts from celebrating the birth of Jesus to considering his suffering. On the other hand, the darkest time of the year is now behind us, the days are getting noticeably longer; the light is coming. We no longer need those artificial twinkling lights; the real light has come into the world. Simeon and Anna, in our gospel reading look both back with gratitude that the saviour of the world has come and forward to what has still to be accomplished by Jesus’ death and resurrection. It seems a long time since Christmas but this is our last opportunity to look back at the infant Jesus. The special words spoken by Simeon and Anna tell us yet again that he is no ordinary baby. So many things have been giving us clues through the story of the nativity – a star, angels, the special gifts offered by the wise men and now all of that is put into words. This baby is the light of God’s salvation, a light for all the world.

But even as we look back at the baby, Simeon’s words to Mary make us look forward to the cross. He gives the first hint that the way to salvation is not going to be easy as he tells Mary that Jesus is going to challenge people and make her very sad.

So we too, in these churches of the Wilford peninsula can look back with gratitude for all God has done for us and the gifts he has given us. But we look forward too with varying degrees of excitement and trepidation as we set out on this journey to discover where God is calling this church and to carry His light out. I hope that we can say ‘For all that has been, thanks be to God; for all that shall be – Yes!’

“Come as you are”

Come as you are

Today we continue to consider where God might be calling us to by looking at what it might mean to be a church – a Christian community rooted in a particular place, on the Wilford Peninsula. The ‘modern’ parlance encourages us to ‘be church’ and talks about ‘being church’ but that is an awkward and unattractive phrase. If we can speak of being a church or being part of the church, it is clear we are not talking about the physical building – stone and mortar. We are familiar with speaking of ‘the worldwide church’ or the ‘Church of England’ without getting confused about whether we mean an actual building. So why, when we talk about ‘our’ church, or even the church in our village  – do our minds – and those of other people – immediately form a picture of a familiar and much-loved building? Perhaps because it is easier for us to identify with and feel a sense of belonging to something which is real, which is located in time and place. We are physical beings; time and space and place are important to us; that is how God created us; that is why He came to join us here in time and space in the person of Jesus Christ; that’s why Jesus instructed his followers to remember him and to draw close to him by eating physical things – bread and wine. The church – whether it’s the church on the Wilford Peninsula, in Suffolk, or the Church of England – cannot survive without expressing itself in time and place.

Even in the early church – the church, the community of Christians, in Corinth, the community of Christians that Matthew wrote his gospel for – even before church buildings were built, Christians struggled with how to live out the gospel, how to be true and faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

In today’s first reading from Paul’s letter to the Christians at Corinth, we find that all is not well – even though in the first 9 verses of the letter Paul mentions their faith and the gifts that they have been given by God. But there is division amongst the Christians of Corinth as we discover as we read further into the letter. Being human, they are forming allegiances to different leaders and forgetting their primary allegiance to Jesus Christ. Of course we will find some ministers and preachers more inspiring than others – that is human nature – but we must still remember that all are servants of Christ and, like John the Baptist last week, are (hopefully!) pointing away from themselves and towards Jesus and saying – there, there is the Lamb of God, He’s the one you should be following. And so Paul brings the Corinthians back to the central purpose which is to make known the Good News, the gospel. Part of the intercessions from last week’s worship resources asked that God would enable us to be ‘good news’ in our community; to embody the gospel. How can you do that – be good news?

St Francis is alleged to have instructed his followers to ‘preach the gospel – use words if you have to’ – implying that it isn’t just what we say; not just a case of telling people the good news – whether it’s standing on a street corner, in a pulpit or in a one-to-one conversation. Actually, that’s the easy bit. And probably the least effective. We are called to BE good news. How might we do that – as individuals in our daily lives? as the body of the church on this peninsula

‘What do you do?’ is often the first question people ask when meeting someone new. It can be difficult or even painful to answer, for example, if your role is difficult to explain to outsiders, if you’re unhappy with your work or life, or especially if you are unemployed. But more often than not, it’s a convenient way in towards finding out about someone’s day-to-day life, as long as you meet the answer with compassion.

In the media this past week there have been a number of stories touching on how people end up in the jobs and roles that they do – and what keeps them out of others. I caught part of a discussion on the radio about prostitution and whether it was a ‘choice’ for women or whether they were forced into it by circumstance. Both National Service and the royal family have also been in the news in the context of the advantages and disadvantage of freedom of choice when it comes to employment.

In the passage from Matthew’s gospel, we are introduced to four men – Simon and Andrew, James and John – for whom the answer to the question, ‘And what do you do?’, would have been simple. They were fishermen. We don’t know whether the profession suited them or what they thought of it, but when it comes to the question of what led them to it, we can guess that James and John had followed their father Zebedee into the family business. The story was probably similar for the other brothers too. For some of us, our future seems mapped out from the start. Prince Charles is expected to follow his mother into full royal duties at some point, while at the other end of the spectrum those growing up in jobless households may expect the same fate to befall them. Breaking free of such expectations can be enormously difficult. When the kingdom of heaven is near, however, things can change unexpectedly, as it did for those four men in Galilee.

‘Galilee of the Gentiles’ wasn’t the place you would expect the Son of God to go to choose people to help him bring in the reign of the kingdom. It was a place ‘in darkness’ (Matthew 4.16) and held in ‘contempt’ (Isaiah 9.1). Jesus opts to base the first stage of his ministry among despised and marginalised folk. A fisherman’s son from Galilee was unlikely to have had the networks or privileged education to get a glittering career in government or the priesthood, just as a child growing up on an estate or in a jobless household might find the odds stacked against them entering many professions today.

Sadly, opportunity isn’t equally distributed in the world. But Jesus chose men from Galilee. And in the kingdom of heaven, all of us are called to come, just as we are, fisherman or prince. The opportunity of the gospel is for everyone. We don’t need special qualifications; we don’t have to change before we come – but we do have to be prepared to be changed.

Jesus begins his ministry not at the centre, but on the margins- the Jews of Galilee weren’t considered “proper Jews”. We see him healing those who are ill – illness was often considered as punishment by God. Again Jesus is on the edge and the margins. How do we minister to the people on the edge and margins of our villages?

But we are told large crowds followed him, and these people came from the centre of faith and the margins – Jesus unites them. How does our church act as a centre of unity, of bringing people together?

James, John, Simon and Andrew may have enjoyed being fishermen. But on the other hand it may just have been what they were obliged to do to make a living. We don’t always get to have as much control over our lives as we would like. But whatever our circumstances, we can choose how we react and respond to those circumstances. Indeed, it is often through faithful perseverance in difficult circumstances that we grow (see also Romans 5.3-5).

Whether it was by obligation or choice that they had become fishermen, Jesus recognised something in those four men that equipped them to do something else too, to ‘fish for people’. Sometimes, even if we cannot see it yet, the things we are called or obliged to do today are helping us to get ready for what God will call us to do in future. Whether that is a high-profile task like leading our people, as faced by Catherine Samba-Panza in the Central African Republic, or just the everyday challenge of trying to treat those around us with grace, trying to be good news, we can all pray to hear and obey the call to follow Jesus, right now, today, as we are, no excuses.

We are called to ‘Come as we are’ as a church community too. ‘As we are’ with the resources – both in terms of buildings and skills and people – that we already have. No wishful thinking, ‘if only…. the church didn’t need repairing/we had more money/more people came to church/we had a full-time vicar/etc. etc. A wise archdeacon who is now a bishop used to say ‘God has given you all the resources you need for the work He wants you to do’. Come as you are and join in Jesus’ ministry to proclaim the good news of God’s love and bring His healing to those around us.

Come and see

I wonder what would come to your minds if I asked about the call of Jesus’ first disciples.  I wouldn’t be surprised if most people mentioned Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John, all fishermen, being called by Jesus to leave off mending their nets and go with him to ‘fish for people’. But here in John’s gospel there is no mention of them being fishermen. Instead, they are disciples of John the Baptist. John points to Jesus and tells his – John’s – followers that Jesus is the one he’s been telling them about. He is the one they should follow. Jesus doesn’t call them at all. John the Baptist encourages Andrew and ? – the other disciple is not named – to follow Jesus instead of him. That’s not always an easy thing to do. It’s all too easy for us as ministers in God’s church – and, as we heard last week, we are all ministers; we were commissioned as disciples and ministers at our baptism – it’s all too tempting to want people to take notice of us, to like us, to follow us – whether on Twitter or not. The idea of accumulating ‘followers’ and being ‘liked’ has taken on a whole new meaning in recent years. So do we secretly yearn for people to follow us, to listen to us, to admire us for our knowledge, our good deeds? Or are we able, like John, to point willingly to Jesus and say ‘There’s the man; he’s the one you should be following’.

I found an inspiring presentation of this passage on YouTube

And Andrew and the other disciple change tack immediately, no argument, no encouragement from Jesus, they just leave John and follow Jesus. Why? was it something that John said or did they recognise something in Jesus? They make the first move. We’re not told who the other disciple was but it wasn’t Simon Peter.

‘What are you looking for?’ asks Jesus. What were they looking for – signs and wonders? answers to life’s big questions? A diversion – something different, something to liven things up a bit? Some action? After all, if Jesus was the promised Messiah, surely he was going to set them free from political oppression.

What would our answer be? What are you looking for in your life of faith? What are we looking for as a community of faith? What is on our ‘wish-list’?

Andrew and his companion dodge the question, or so it seems. Surely they’re not simply interested in viewing Jesus’ accommodation!? Are they playing for time? Do they not want to commit themselves too far at this stage. They want to see a bit more, find out what’s involved. They ask where Jesus is staying. If he gives them an address or some sort of contact details, then they can look him up at a later date. ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you’

And while Jesus doesn’t force the issue, he doesn’t let them off the hook. Instead he issues an invitation – come and see. Come and see for yourselves. Later in this first chapter of John’s gospel, Philip issues the same invitation to the sceptical Nathaniel. Come and see. Come and see what we’ve found. Meet him for yourself. This is Jesus our companion – the one who invites, who accompanies us, the one with whom we break bread because that is what companion literally means – to share bread with. We too accompany others on our journey of faith together; nurturing one another, inviting those who are looking for something to ‘come and see’ – not pointing out the way and then leaving them to it but walking alongside them, being patient, not forcing the pace. And so we say Come, come with me to a service, to pudding club, to a meal, come and see what we’re about as a church, as people who follow Jesus Christ.

We invite others to ‘come and see’, but what do we see for ourselves? Jesus invites us to come and see but have we got our eyes and our ears and our minds open when we respond to that invitation. Whatever Andrew saw convinced him – convinced him enough to go and tell his brother that he had found what he was looking for. Like those 1st century disciples, we need to see and believe and get to know Jesus through seeing not just physically but discerning what God is like and what Jesus wants to teach us. We happily use the word disciple to describe those who responded to Jesus in the 1st century – but the word ‘disciple’ equally belongs to each of us – we are all disciples – all learners – all followers – people who have responded to the invitation to “come and see”.

Part of our task, our calling as a Church is to be a Learning Church – it doesn’t stop at Confirmation – it is lifelong learning. We should never stop learning more about God until we finally see face to face – in the life that lies beyond the grave. As St Paul writes ‘now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.’

Over the past three weeks, we’ve looked at some of the aspects of what we, as a church, are called to. First, we looked at our call to ‘wonder’ – or to worship, not just as individuals but together as the body of Christ. Then, last week, we considered how, as baptised Christians, we are baptised into Jesus’ ministry as well as his death and resurrection. All are called to be ministers and ministry takes many and varied forms – teaching, evangelism, pastoral care, administration, leading worship – all these are forms of ministry; it certainly isn’t the case that one size fits all or that every minister has to be good at everything. See 1 Cor 12.16-20 where St Paul compares the church to a body made up of many different organs, each with their own vital function.

A worshipping church, a ministering church and now a learning church. How can we be a learning church? How can we make the most of the learning opportunities that are available and prioritise them? We already have Café Sundae and Pudding Club, Lent groups. Is there something else that you are looking for? How might we learn together? In USA many churches meet for Sunday School – for everyone – not just children – for an hour before worship on a Sunday morning. Would that work for us – or perhaps a discussion about the readings or sermon over coffee afterwards, or later in the week. All food for thought as we consider together and prayerfully, the sort of church that God might be calling us to be in the future.

Lord, Jesus asked Andrew and his companion
‘What are you looking for?’
They had so much to ask
that their questions required space, a place of meeting.
That’s why they asked ‘Where are you staying?’
Lord, you know our hearts, our hopes, our fears,
but you delight in hearing our thoughts.
So you say to us, as you said to them,
‘Come. Come and see.
Come and ask. Come and listen.’
Then, Lord, we can leave with joy
at the discovery of finding who and what you truly are.
Amen.

The Baptism of Christ

The power of water has been much in the news recently: storms, wind and rain, high tides, floods, people swept away to their deaths, dramatic rescues in the night. There have been stunning photographs of waves smashing against piers and promenades: the power of water to damage and destroy.  On 6th December the sea wall at Shingle Street was breached – maybe you saw the large gap before it was quickly repaired. Only a few nights earlier, some of us had attended a fascinating local farm update at Boyton and heard about the effect on the sea walls of over-topping. If you have visited Shingle Street recently – or made repeat visits over a period of time – the effect of the sea on the shingle – how it moves and reshapes the banks – is very obvious. Here at the mouth of the Deben, sailors know that the water can alter the underwater landscape dramatically and dangerously.

Many people support Water Aid and other charities who seek to provide clean water for drinking. Water has not only the power to give life but also the power to bring disease and death when it is dirty or contaminated. And we have the power to help bring clean water to third-world communities.

For the Orthodox Church, the baptism of Christ is the foremost story of Epiphany, rather than the visit of the wise men. If you google Orthodox Epiphany images, you see photos of people plunging into icy water in cross-shaped holes in the ice. In some places, Orthodox priests cast crosses and icons into the waters of lake or sea to bless the waters of the earth, and people dive in to retrieve the precious symbols. There is something very elemental about engaging with water in this way; something very different from a traditional Church of England baptism with a small amount of clean and often warm water sprinkled on a baby’s head.

Down at Bawdsey Ferry on New Year’s Day, the 5th New Year’s Day swim took place. People plunged into the chilly waters of the Deben not for religious reasons but for fun and/or in aid of charity.

Entering into the water of baptism is a death of the old self (Romans 6.1-5). Those who enter into icy waters to celebrate the Baptism of Christ are putting themselves in danger – it brings the death closer to home and includes a very real element of risk. The popularity of mid-winter ‘dips’ seems to suggest that we humans have a need to undergo a symbolic death, dying to the old year and rising to the new even if there is no acknowledgement of an element of faith.

Which brings us to the question of what does our baptism mean to us? What lengths are we prepared to go to affirm our commitment to Christ? Would we be willing to dive through a cross-shaped hole in the ice? Or immerse ourselves in the waters of the Deben or the North Sea? Would it be too much to ask when you think of what Christ has done for us? In response to the love of God?

Contrast the benign, cosy feeling we usually get when we think of the water of baptism, with the force of the waves that have been challenging these islands in recent weeks. These waves have got past our defences, and battered and changed the shape of the edges of our island.
Using the images of the storms as symbols of the power of baptism – how does baptism get past our defences and change the shape of who we are?

Those who, like Jesus, are baptised in natural water – river, sea or lake – will also be aware of the fact that the water of baptism is not always clean or crystal clear. It may be muddy, harbouring harmful organisms and the risk of disease. The waters Jesus was baptised in would have been murky – what does this say to us about the life of those who are baptised. Jesus was immersing himself in the muddy, murky reality of our human lives; subjecting himself to the same risks. And we who are baptised know that baptism is not about living happily ever after. It’s about engaging with reality; putting ourselves at risk; sticking our necks out.

There was a time in the history of the Christian church when people would postpone being baptised for as long as possible – if possible until just before their death so that they could be cleansed from all sin at baptism and have the smallest possible opportunity to commit new sins before they died! Of course, once we are baptised we are not immune from committing sins – if anything we become more aware of the sins we do commit and how far short we fall from what God asks of us. But baptism isn’t a one-off event for us anymore than it was for Jesus. For us, as the introduction to the baptism service reminds us, it marks the beginning of a journey with God which will last a lifetime and beyond. It is a new start but it doesn’t mean that we can’t wipe the slate clean again and again.

Jesus’ baptism marked the beginning of his public ministry. As Christians we are baptised into his life and into his death, but also into his ministry. Jesus received that wonderful affirmation, the declaration of his Father’s love and support. That same affirmation awaits each one of us, not just at our baptism but every single day, to equip us, to empower us.

For God says to each one of us, as he did to Jesus: ‘You are my beloved child; I love you’ What does that feel like? Listen to those words for a moment or two….. God says ‘You are my beloved child; I love you’……

That is the authority, the power that is available to each one of us – to everyone who is baptised; not just clergy or elders or readers, but to each and every baptised Christian.
It is the only commission and authority you need not only to be a disciple of Jesus Christ but a minister of the gospel too. And over the coming months we will need to explore afresh how we exercise that ministry within the communities in which we live and work and spend our leisure time, both on an individual basis but also together as Christ’s ears and hands and voice in this place.

The Feast of the Epiphany – ‘Called to Wonder’

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a sermon preached by Rev’d Ruth Hatchett, 5th January 2014

The word “Epiphany” is often used for a sudden revelation, light bulb moment, such as discovering beauty of literature for the first time. In modern usage it tends to be a sudden realisation.

The word comes from Greek meaning ‘manifestation’ or ‘striking appearance’.

But when we speak of the Epiphany in a Christian context we mean more than a sudden eureka moment; beyond mere emotion; it involves rational thought and discerning what one’s conscience requires. Above all, it is about attempting to understand what God is asking.

The first event in Jesus’ life that we celebrate during this season of Epiphany is the visit of wise men guided by star. From their visit we learn that being enlightened can take you on unexpected paths and sometimes the most unlikely people can experience a revelation of God.

T S Eliot describes the journey of the magi as an arduous, unsettling experience, with people telling the magi that their journey was not worthwhile. Yet their world is turned upside down. They went to find newborn king but found themselves reminded of their own death.

January is a time of new beginnings.

Many of you will be aware of the review of mission and ministry across the whole of the peninsula entitled ‘Look to the future’.  Under the guidance of the rural dean and lay chair of the deanery, clergy and churchwardens have identified a need for change to the way we do mission and ministry. This is not going to be a quick fix but a journey of discernment which will take most of 2014. It is to be undertaken prayerfully; clergy, elders and churchwardens have had some input in the form of a thought-provoking presentation which looked at life-cycle – the need for change and renewal as essential to life and growth. We are invited to look at our core values – to define what is most important in our life as a church in this village. What is the church in this village FOR? There will be a 3 or 4 week course in May, open to all, with the option of a daytime or evening meeting. And over the next 6 weeks or so, there will be series of sermons available to and preached in all churches.

We need to pray both individually and as a church. We might feel a bit in the dark at present – the light may seem dim – but the light is there – in Scripture – in prayerful reflection – in fellowship and discussion.

Over the next few weeks we will be exploring our calling, our vocation as the people of God on this peninsula. Title for today was Called to Wonder – can be taken in two ways : we gather to worship our amazing God; we are filled with awe at his majesty and power; we are filled with gratitude for his love for us and so we come to kneel before him as the wise men did. We can also interpret ‘wonder’ in the sense of discernment. We ‘wonder’ where God is calling us; at what the journey will bring; where it will take us.

The wise men not only knelt before the infant, they presented the gifts that they had brought. Gifts that they had packed in preparation for the encounter with this new king. Gifts that they thought appropriate before they knew that they would not meet Jesus in a palace but in an ordinary home with a very ordinary family.

Thoughts about gifts have kept coming back to me in the last couple of weeks. Of course there are the gifts we give each other at Christmas time. The personal gifts we choose with a particular person in mind – socks, ties, perfume – and those which are perhaps meant to be shared – chocolates & sweets. There are the gifts we may give to people who we don’t know and may never meet – items placed in the food bank, donations to charity, a gift for someone in the third world. And then there are the intangible gifts which are sometimes the best of all – a hug, a kind word, helping with the chores, time spent listening to someone.

In contrast, I heard some shocking statistics about what we do with the presents we’ve been given. There is a website that will offer you a price for pretty much anything and by 10am on Christmas day they had received a huge number of requests. Unbelievably, one in four people chuck unwanted Christmas gifts straight in the bin!

I was intrigued by a radio programme interviewing a man who had given up using money in any shape or form. I was expecting him to have relied on bartering to provide the basic essentials of life but he described what he called the gift economy where relationships forged within the community resulted in items being freely given to other people without expecting something in return. How hard it is for us these days to accept something as a gift without feeling that we need to offer something in return. We want to make everything a transaction; make it fair, when in fact we should be passing on the ‘gift’ by giving something to someone else. This is God’s ‘gift’ economy – he gave us himself – he gives us himself, his love, today in this eucharist and every day – and we respond by giving love to others.

To return to those 3 gifts brought by the wise men: gold, frankincense and myrrh. What might they remind us of as we look to the future, as we try to discern where God is calling us?

What might they mean for us in terms of ministry and mission?

  • Called to give of our gold/wealth- sacrificially to enable the work of the Kingdom to be done
  • Called to worship – frankincense – growing in faith and praise – what helps us to grow in our relationship with God?
  • Called to care – myrrh – traditionally used at death – all of us are called to minister God’s care and concern – how do we do this? How could we do it better?

Following God’s call brings anxiety. It creates rootlessness, wandering and instability. The disciples, too, knew that sense of ‘what on earth is going to happen next?’ (John 11.16). They were called to a life of wandering and wondering.

But the wonder, the amazement of God’s presence – a glimpse of the shimmer of God’s light, an echo of the whisper of God’s voice, starlight in a velvet sky  – all this catches our hearts and takes our breath away and reassures us that God is, wonderfully, with us.

Jan Richardson has written a lovely poem which I think is particularly appropriate at this stage of our journey. It’s called ‘For those who have far to travel’ and you can read it here.