Sunday, January 07, 2018

Rise and shine - a sermon for our Volunteers' Evensong at Coventry Cathedral. Epiphany 2018

Arise, shine -for your light is come!

My father spent some of the happiest days of his life as a serving officer in the Royal Navy, and so it was that in childhood my day always began as he put his head round my bedroom door offering a passable imitation of a Bosun's pipe before declaiming 
Wakey wakey. Rise and shine”…
And I knew, somehow, that, whatever the day might bring, the force of his love for me meant that I’d always shine, someho, in his eyes.
His faith in my abilities was absolute. 
Of everyone that I’ve known, he would probably be the least surprised that I’ve ended up here – something that was a far cry from my own imaginings when I finally stopped running away from God’s call to ordination and set out in reluctant obedience. You see, I know that I’m really deeply ordinary...Nothing wrong with that, but it does mean that all the lovely things that have happened to me along the road have come as joyful surprises. Daddy, perhaps, might have claimed to see them coming (and sometimes I’m still sad that he died without even knowing I’d be heading to the university of our dreams…)

However, - there’s nothing worse than a preacher who goes on about themselves...though I guess most preachers find ourselves engaging with the words we most need to hear as we prepare...But – that’s not the point.
It’s all about rising and shining today.

Your light has come

Such welcome words in these dark cold days when January bites.
Though the galaxies of fairy lights may have vanished, the decorations have been returned to their boxes, nonetheless we continue to celebrate
The light is come
The light that shines in the darkness – while the darkness cannot even comprehend it...

And – the dawning of that light means that we too are called to shine.
Not simply to bask in its transforming glow but to SHINE...and to recognise that
The glory of the Lord is risen upon you...” and in that light, the whole world is transformed.

That's what an Epiphany does. It helps you see things differently.
Simply put, it's the moment when God is revealed.
It’s that instant of “Aha!” when you can say with confidence that this experience is nothing less than a real live encounter with our real live God – and after that nothing will ever look the same again.
Lift up your eyes and look around”...
This is not the same place that it was before...
These people are more beautiful...
They reflect that light which has dawned...and so do you
You shall see and be radiant. Your heart shall rejoice!”

Epiphanies change everything.
How we see the world – and how we see ourselves.

The Common Worship liturgy for this season invites us into a season of marvels .
Three wonders mark this holy day.
This day, a star leads the wise men to the Christ child.
This day water is made wine at the wedding feast.
This day Jesus is reavealed as the Christ in the waters of baptism.

Wonders that show us, and all humanity, something of the truth of God with us...
A birth story, a baptism and a wedding. What a wedding!

I have to say that, as one who has spent a fair bit of time involved in the fine details of wedding arrangements, I find them very nerve wracking affairs. So much seems to ride on the success of the day, there is such a longing for “perfection”, that the risk of disappointment feels enormous.
It's bad enough if the clouds gather, or the florist fails – but I would really really hate to be too close if the wine ran out.

But, of course, this is exactly what happens at Cana of Galilee.
A wonderful day of celebration is transformed, not by the radiant light of an epiphany but by the looming clouds of family shame and disappointment.
Such disaster!
Despite the best planning, the many attempts to ensure perfection, a roomfull of guests is faced with the exciting choice of water or water.
Human resources have failed.
But luckily that bride and groom whose names we'll never know had the good sense to invite Jesus to be part of their celebration – and in doing so, had, against all their expectations, brought God directly to their marriage feast.
Lift up your eyes and look around you!
So, when all they could offer was water – Jesus intervened and turned it into wine – and not just supermarket plonk but the finest vintage ever tasted.
How did it happen? I can't help with the mechanics of the miracle, and sadly I don't know how to replicate it, but at the most basic level it happened because someone had the sense to ask for help....a useful reminder for all of us. God is waiting, longing to bless us – but too often we try to struggle on, claiming our independence even as we fall flat on our faces again and again.
The God who in Jesus took the ordinary things of life and made them extraordinary is the same God who takes ordinary people – you, me and the lady down the road – and blesses us to be signs of God's kingdom.
Pablo Picasso, who knew a fair bit about being gifted, I’d say, once wrote
The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away”
And that’s exactly what you do, - each of you  splendid volunteers, who give of your time and energy, talent and skill to God through the work of this Cathedral. Be you singer or ringer, musician, verger or server, reader, welcomer, steward, Blitz museum host, archivist, guide, teacher, caterer, coffee maker, bread maker, polisher, weeder, filer, copier, editor ,Night shelter host or Work Club advisor, intercessor, prayer minister, or planner,  embroiderer, committee member, small group leader, pastoral visitor,f- or a host of other roles…
You give of yourself – and we are deeply and truly grateful – not just today when we voice our thanks, but on each and every day of the year.
You give of yourself, and God uses you as a gift to bless others.

Yes each one of us is fundamentally quite ordinary...As we wander through Broadgate, there’s nothing to make anyone take a second glance and yet.........and yet, we can and will be transformed by God, if we can only find the courage to ask God to work with us.
The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose is to give it away.
Arise. Shine. For God knows that you can...and will..shine for God.

The water that we bring, our everyday lives, our time, our being is blessed and transformed into that we too can be a sacramental sign of God's presence – for that is what the church is called to be.
But the thing is – those servants who poured out the contents of the water jars as directed had NO idea that a wonder was occurring. They had to act first – and one can well imagine how it felt to approach the MC with a cup of – well, they knew that the jar had held water...they'd filled it themselves...
There's something for us to learn here, isn't there?If we don't actually RISK trusting that God can do amazing things....if we don't attempt the extraordinary for God's sake ….then we will never discover what God's grace can accomplish.
Yes – even in me. 
Even in you.

Arise. Shine.

Truly, this is the season of wonders, as we continue to celebrate God with us, - in the simple things of everyday, - in water, bread and wine and in men and women, giving of their gifts of energy, time and talents.
For all this and so much more, thanks be to God!

No comments: