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.

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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.

Looking to the future – ministry and mission on the Wilford Peninsula

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