Sermons Sunday 8th January. Eucharist, Epiphany (Matthew 2, 1-12) and Evensong Baptism of Christ Acts 10, 32-43 and Matthew 3, 13 -end)
Happy New Year to you all! And, I hope that this year will be a fantastic year for the church in general and this church in particular. What better way can there be to celebrate the start of a new calendar year than with a double celebration, for today we celebrate the Epiphany and Hannah’s baptism.
The gospel reading we have just heard – the story of the Epiphany – or the revelation of Christ as Messiah reminds us that the world is a divided place. In one corner we find the powerful and strong; those who seek to gain power through domination and subjugation. In the other corner we find the baby Jesus whose adult mission and ministry is to be concerned with freedom from oppression, liberation and affirmation. King Herod and his modern day heirs exercise their power through fear. Jesus of course wants us to throw off all fear. The Epiphany presents us with a choice: fear versus freedom and asks us what it is to be. When we become Christians we accept the latter choice. Not that it is easy, for life will continue to place challenges in our way. The message of the Epiphany is simple: whatever life is placing in your way, know this, your ultimate security, in fact your destiny, is in Christ. If we accept Jesus as our saviour, our Messiah, then all we are asked to do is make the same journey as the wise men. We are asked simply to follow, to give of our best and to be obedient to God’s calling on our lives. In this way we too become wise. One of the ways, perhaps the most obvious way that we accept God’s call on our lives and claim the Epiphany for ourselves is through baptism. Tonight at Evensong I will invite everyone to consider and ritually renew their own baptismal commitments. This morning I am going to baptise Hannah. It feels so right and fitting to baptise on the feast of the Epiphany.
Rev’d Andrew Lightbown
Midnight Mass 2016, Isaiah 52, 7-10 & John 1, 1-14
‘First things first’ is an old fashioned phrase. But, perhaps it is a phrase particularly apt for us this Christmas?
The natural order of things is certainly something John wants to impress on us; ‘in the beginning was the word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God.’ God is for John both the first and last Word, the Alpha and the Omega the beginning and the end. God is your ultimate destiny and, mine. And this is surely the very best of news, or the very best present we could possibly receive?
The birth of Jesus, the word, wisdom or logos ensures that God need not be simply an abstract character; A character we have to believe in through super human strength and mental gymnastics. God comes to us instead in flesh and blood. He comes to us in vulnerability and weakness. He comes to be among us, as one with us, and for us. He comes to us as flesh. This is one of the remarkable and defining characteristics of the Christian religion. God is not simply out there somewhere, he is down here.
And, he comes to us as pure gift. He is the ultimate present. And he is no mean gift. No, he is a shared gift, humanities gift. As the prophet Isaiah notes: ‘the Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.’ And, as John stresses ‘he was the true light, which enlightens everyone.’
The basic fact, or first principle, of Christmas is bound up in these two words: All and everyone.
There is no such thing as my God, only our God; yours and mine. Just as there is no such thing as ‘my communion,’ and only ever ‘our communion.’
Jesus, God made flesh, is our present, everyone’s present and that is what we celebrate and most importantly share at Christmas. This is why the Mid Night Mass is so important. The birth of Jesus slays the myth of crass individualism by insisting that God desires nothing more than to share himself among us. The fact that this is God’s desire reminds us that he loves each and everyone of us equally and wants us to live in peace and harmony with each other. Christmas invites us to see our neighbour, friends, relatives and fellow citizens of the world as special and equally beloved by God. The tragedy is that humanity so frequently fails to value and work for the common good. This Christmas let us pledge to renew our commitment to the common good.
So what are we to do with the Jesus present? Well the answer again is given by John we are invited simply to put our hands out and receive. We can’t save up for God, we can’t buy God on credit, all we can do is receive. The gift is freely given. That is the genius of Christmas; that is the wonder of Grace.
But, one thing that I would like to suggest is that we need to nurture and cherish the gift because if we do this we learn to appreciate the best Christmas present even more; the presents value increases. Again this is a remarkable thought. All of the other presents we receive this Christmas will deteriorate in value through use and enjoyment. But, not the gift of Jesus. The gift of Jesus grows in value as we cherish it and draw on it.
So this Christmas my invitation is staggeringly simple: Why not open up your heart to Jesus, and why not extend your hands to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, for if you do what you will be given is the very grace of God; and that is a present worth having and as importantly sharing.
Advent 3: Isaiah 35, 1-11 & Matthew 11, 2-11
My Sunday nights are not the same now Poldark has disappeared from our screens. I do miss Demelza and, I know some of you feel the same about Ross.
Every episode of Poldark starts with a quick recap of the previous week. Of course central to the plot is the battle, and maybe even the spiritual battle between Ross Poldark and George Warleggan. The fact that it is a battle and that George is on the side of evil is made clear by his name being WARleggan. Ross of course is far from perfect but, perhaps like John the Baptist, he does recognise that it is time to reappraise the old givens. He cares for the people he works with, they are his friends, they are colleagues in the truest sense of the word. He believes in the betterment of their condition. He is on the side of justice and human dignity. George Warleggan, by contrast, sees people not as people, but as mere instruments to be exploited to achieve his ends. He has a bad attitude, and one from which he shows no sign of repenting. Warleggan doesn’t want to undergo a spiritual conversion, a reorientation of life. His life and work begins and ends with his own vein ambition. Ross understands and relates to the picture presented by the prophet Isaiah through our Advent readings, Warleggan either doesn’t, or perhaps worse, won’t.
John the Baptist is a Poldark like character, he longs for a better future but knows that without repentance there simply isn’t one. This is why John the Baptist even from his prison cell rejoices when he hears that Jesus is giving sight back to the blind, cleaning the lepers and, raising the dead; for what Jesus is really doing is bringing people back into right and righteous relationship. Jesus, like John before him, is walking what Isaiah calls the Holy Way. And, this is the way we are asked to walk.
What might this mean for us?
Well at a corporate level it means our aspirations to holiness, healing and hospitality. It means being committed to the picture of an inclusive community where all are given their due dignity, where it becomes possible for the lion to lie down with the lamb, the sheep with the wolf and so on. It means all of these things at the corporate level. But, what might it mean at the individual level?
At the beginning of Advent I invited you to pray each day the Night Collect which begins with the words ‘Lighten our darkness we beseech thee O Lord.’ I invited you at the Advent Carol Service to befriend and welcome your own inner darkness, suggesting that in doing so you might find light. What I hoped and prayed that you might find was your very own Holy Way; just as John the Baptist did, just as Ross Poldark, deeply fallen as he is seems to have done.
I have tried to enter into my own darkness. I have tried to do so through prayer and prayerful reading of the Scriptures. So I want to take a risk and say what I have found:
I think that I am being called on simply to trust. Like many in the congregation I have had some real challenges and pain this year. I am someone who likes to think things through. On the Myers Briggs test I am off the scale for thinking! I love academic theology. I once wrote an entire book devoted to understanding what one word, charity, might mean. But trust is a different thing. I hope through Advent to move from belief, which is a consequence of thinking, to the trust revealed by the likes of John the Baptist and, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
And, then there is humility. Did you know, have you suspected, that I like to be right about all manner of things?
Service is also something I constantly need to focus on and, replenish. I am here to serve you and, the wider parish, and, even the Church itself. And, of course here in Winslow, if I am to honour our very own patriarch, St. Laurence, who was only ever a deacon in the church, I need to take service incredibly seriously.
Finally, gratitude. Yes life can be challenging, but I have home and family and I am called to trust in a God who is both with me and, for me. I need to cultivate the attitude of St. Paul who knew both riches and poverty and yet who remained grateful. And, by the way I have been given you as brothers and sisters in Christ.
So there you have it, four aspects of spirituality I need to orientate myself towards, so that I along with John the Baptist, Isaiah and maybe even Ross Poldark can continue to make tentative steps along what Isaiah calls the Holy Way.
One final thought maybe these four characteristics of trust, humility, service and gratitude can be neatly summed up in Mary’s words following her encounter with the angel Gabriel: ‘Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word,’ (Luke, 1, 38). Maybe all I am being asked to do is walk a way that has been trod before so that I can also help give birth to Christ in, and for, this generation? Amen.
Rev’d Andrew Lightbown
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