Today is the first day of the rest of your life!
That's an expression we take for granted – and on one level it states the obvious in a way that is absolutely uncontestable. Of course it is. We stand in the now and step forward into the future each and every day. So what?
But of course it's an expression that also carries with it the implication of a new start – a new start that's possible every day...
And in this week of new starts – when we also celebrate the Baptism of Christ – that's a good thing to remember.
On the whole new beginnings are exciting. It certainly felt that way on Thursday when the Stroud Team Ministry came into being – perhapsthe easiest change of job I've ever experienced, with no need for applications, house moves or major anxiety...but nonetheless significant for all that, as the new Team was licensed, commissioned and blessed and Mathew, Clare and I joined Malcolm King at the start of a new chapter in the life of our churches.
Today is another fresh start for Clare, as she formally begins her public ministry among us. Again, on one level there might seem to be little change. We already know and love her and have benefited from her ministry – but today she takes up that ministry in a new way as she stands her as an ordained Deacon, called by God and ordained by his Church to a very specific focus.
Here's part of her job description as presented by the Ordinal
Deacons are called ... as heralds of Christ's kingdom. They are to proclaim the gospel in word and deed, as agents of God's purposes of love. They are to serve the community in which they are set, bringing to the Church the needs and hopes of all the people. They are to work with their fellow members in searching out the poor and weak, the sick and lonely and those who are oppressed and powerless, reaching into the forgotten corners of the world, that the love of God may be made visible.
If that sounds like a tall order, I'm afraid your sighs of relief were a bit premature.
Did you really hear what I read just then – because if you did, you'll surely have noted the crucial words “They are to work with their fellow members”
In other words, Clare's ordained ministry as Deacon is but a specific expression of the ministry that we all share....Something we are all ordained to by virtue of our baptism.
We speak, do we not, of the priesthood of all believers...our shared responsibility to be signs of God's love in a troubled world, agents of God's kingdom each day of our lives...
And though we tend to forget it. our ordination to that priesthood comes at baptism –A new beginning that changes everything...our relationships, our purpose, our destination and the route by which we get there...
One way and another, it's not for the faint-hearted, - and certainly never a matter of form.
There may have been less visible drama for us, for it's unlikely that the heavens were rent on our behalf, or that a startled congregation saw a hovering dove ushering in a new creation – but the new creation began right enough, a life centred on our relationship with God...and it should continue each day of our life, as we try to live out our calling.
The voice that Jesus heard is for us too, though it speaks its reminder of our identity so quietly that it can be easy to miss that assurance
You are my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased.
I love to remember that God speaks these words to Jesus BEFORE Jesus has accomplished anything in his ministry. He didn't have to EARN God's love.From the outset God loves him completely and unreservedly.
And that is how God loves you as well...
Baptism changes nothing on God's side – but it is the crucial first step in our life long response..
Henri Nouwen wrote
“The one who created us is waiting for our response to the love that called us into being.God not only says, You are my beloved. God also asks Do you love me? And offers us countless chances to say Yes”
Countless chances to say yes. Countless chances to SHOW that we are transformed daily by the Sacrament of God's love within us...
the sacrament that commissions us to do God's work, just as Christ did.
For us, as for him, ministry begins there beside the water, on the first day of the rest of our lives..and it is a ministry that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we exercise together. Together with Christ, our brother and friend, and together with one another.
Just think about that for a moment.
When we were baptised we became part of the body of Christ – which has countless members.
From then on we belong to God, to God's Kingdom AND to one another...related to the whole Church of God across space and time.
Most obviously, of course, we belong to one another in our own church community and now in the new team.....and that belonging means that we are as inextricably tied to the people whom we struggle to like as we are to the dear friends we hurry to greet each Sunday.If church is a family, then it has its share of mad aunts ,embarrassing cousins, and tedious in laws – We’d do well to remember that we too might fill just those roles in the eyes of others......but you don't need me to remind you that we can't pick and choose our family.
We simply have to rub along together, doing our best to rejoice in our differences, that mean that together we are so much more than the sum of our parts...
As we often affirm when we gather around the family table
“We being many are one body...”
One body, with many members working as one
Together we can do things we could never attempt on our own...Our gifts, our strengths and weaknesses are complementary and so we are truly interdependent...
That was the message of a hymn by the US writer Marty Hagen, which we sang on Thursday night, You might not have met it before...so I'll read it to you now as our prayer on this, the first day of the rest of our lives.
Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace;
here the love of Christ shall end divisions:
All are welcome in this place.
Let us build a house where prophets speak, and words are strong and true,
where all God’s children dare to seek to dream God’s reign anew.Here the cross shall stand as witness and as symbol of God’s grace;here as one we claim the faith of Jesus:All are welcome, in this place.
Let us build a house where love is found in water, wine, and wheat:
a banquet hall on holy ground where peace and justice meet.Here the love of God, through Jesus, is revealed in time and space;as we share in Christ the feast that free us:All are welcome in this place.
Let us build a house where hands will reach beyond the wood and stone
to heal and strengthen, serve and teach, and live the Word they’ve known.Here the outcast and the stranger bear the image of God’s face;let us bring an end to fear and danger:All are welcome in this place.
Let us build a house where all are named, their songs and visions heard
and loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within the Word.Built of tears and cries and laughter, prayers of faith and songs of grace,let this house proclaim from floor to rafter:All are welcome welcome in this place.
Let us live that vision as we share together in our vocation and ministry to be Christ for this community, to uncover and celebrate the signs of His Kingdom, to be good news til everyone, near and far, can hear that loving voice
“You are my child, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased”
(No idea what happened to the alignment of the hymn...but nothing I do seems to change it, so I fear it will just have to look scrappy :( Sorry!)