Saturday, January 26, 2013

Epiphany 4C Our DNA as the Body of Christ

One way and another we've been thinking a lot about Baptism here at St Matthew's....baptism as a badge of identity and baptism as a sacrament of belonging.
2 weeks ago we celebrated the Baptism of Christ, and heard with Jesus that wonderful affirmation
You are my son, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased” - those words offered to each of us not because of who WE are, or HOW we are - but because of WHO and HOW GOD is.

Last week, we baptised (Clare's little daughter) Hettie, – and remembered that, like her, each of us is so loved by God that if you or I had been the only person ever born, Jesus would still have come into the world for us...

Then, with great joy, we welcomed Hettie into the family of the Church – so it's good that today Paul tells us more about that family, that multitude of people across the world and through the ages with whom we are connected because“in one Spirit we were all baptised into one body”.
- and goes on to explore just what that body looks like...
It's a familiar passage, of course...and the truth of it is obvious.
Bodies ARE made up of many different parts...All of them ARE equally necessary...simply because you aren't very conscious of your gall bladder it doesn't mean that you could manage quite happily without it...if the whole body was an eye, where would hearing be...
It's TRUE.
but I'm not sure that in the church we behave as if we really believe this. I know that I spend far more time than I should lamenting that I don't have the gifts and abilities of other people....imagining how much more use I would be to God, and to his church, if only I were more like.....Well, I'll leave you to guess...
But remember, though you may not value your gifts, or imagine that you have much to contribute – you are absolutely essential if the body of Christ in this place is not to be handicapped, less than it can truly be.

But I don't imagine I'm alone in behaving as if some parts of the body are more useful, more valuable than others. I think that from time to time we all behave as if certain people have a greater importance than if it's more valuable to be “up front” than praying in the pew, better to be welcoming someone at the door than ironing the linen, arranging the flowers than gurgling in your mum's arms.
Admit it – you DO tend to think that some people have more to offer the church than others...and so did the church in Corinth
Are all prophets?are all teachers? Do all work miracles?” asks Paul...and we know his answer will be in the negative.
All those ministries, all those gifts are necessary.....and its not up to us to withold them...but more, if we are ARE a body, then we're all equally necessary – and what's more if we ARE the body of Christ....then each of us should carry HIS DNA.

I'm no scientist so when I think of DNA, what I actually imagine is the way the the lettering that runs all the way through a stick of seaside rock, no matter where you cut into it. That's really poor science, but not a bad way of thinking about it.
And if we're thinking of the DNA of Jesus – the DNA that we share - well, our gospel reading tells us why he came – and thus what WE should be doing to show ourselves part of his Body

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour”

We experience what it means to be Christ's Body as we engage in Christ's mission in the world. And if we want to know more about what that means, we have an excellent starting point in our gospel reading for this Sunday. In it, Luke portrays Jesus at the start of his public ministry claiming a combination of passages as his mission; and in claiming this as his mission, Jesus offers himself and his life as a prophetic sign that "today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
I think sometimes that, as a member of the Body of Christ, I'd like to put that kind of invitation on my bathroom mirror, to see at the beginning of my day as I make decisions throughout my day:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour."
Because that's one set of things I think we should draw from this passage.
I'm not Jesus, and I can't save the world.
Actually, nor can you.
But together with our brothers and sisters, close at hand and far away, we are the Body of Christ. We are called to live that identity, and to engage in the mission that comes with it -- not later, when we've got our act together, or when it's more convenient, when our health is better or we have more time on our hands. Not later but TODAY.
The Spirit of God was upon him, because God anointed him to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and the year of the Lord's favour. And here and now, we are the Body of the Christ, Anointed, set apart to live out Christ's mission in the world.
This is the way of life that God longs for for us; it is the way of life God calls us to; it is the way of life he wants us to help create. And as we live it, together, this scripture is fulfilled in our hearing -- and in our doing.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Words for the Feast of the Baptism of Christ, Yr C at St Matthew's

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.
Deacons are to seek nourishment from the Scriptures; they are to study them with God's people, that the whole Church may be equipped to live out the gospel in the world. They are to be faithful in prayer, expectant and watchful for the signs of God's presence, as he reveals his kingdom among us.
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 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!) 

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Chalking the Doors

....has become an important tradition at St Matthew's over the past 5 Epiphanies - but every year when I mention it online there are cries of "You what.....?" so, for those who want to know what we do and why we do it

Chalking the Doors is more common in Catholic Europe - when I was in Prague last year we saw several houses with doors most beautifully inscribed. It's in one way an echo of the sign that the Israelites marked on their lintels at the time of Passover to ensure that the angel of death passed over their homes...but this sign is an indication to the wise traveller that the Christ child may be found within. We bless chalk and then inscribe the door of our church
20 C + M + B 13....the initials that legend has ascribed to the wise men, Caspar, Balthazar and Melchior. Blessed chalk is also offered to the families to take home with them, for the inscription also stands as  a shorthand blessing of the house
"Christus Mansionem Benedicat" "Christ bless this house" 
Here's the mini liturgy I use. It's not remotely formal as the doors we use at church have glass panels, so the children who actually WANT to do the chalking have to be hoisted on high and this year at least none of them was older than 6 - so there was much hilarity along the way...but nonetheless I'm really glad we do this, both at church and at home.

O God, you once used a star to show to all the world that Jesus is your Son. May the light of that star that once guided wise men to honour his birth, now guide us to recognize him also, to know you by faith, and to see you in the epiphany experiences of our daily lives.
As the Wise Men once sought your brilliant light, O Lord, so may we seek to live and work in your splendour.

Lord Jesus, through your Incarnation and birth you have made all the earth holy. We now ask your blessing upon this simple gift of your creation — chalk. We use it as a tool to teach our children, and they use it as a tool in their play and games. Now, with your blessing, may it become a tool for us to mark the doors of our home with the symbols of your wise servants who, so long ago, came to worship and adore you in your first home.

People in turn mark the doorway with one or more of the symbols:

O God of Light, bless this house and this family. May this be a place of peace and health. May each member of this family cultivate the gifts and graces you have given us, dedicating our talents and works for the good of all.
Make this house a shelter in the storm and a haven of rest for all in need of your warmth and care. And when we go out from this place, may we never lose sight of that Epiphany star.
As we go about our work, our study, our play, keep us in its light and in your love.

May we, in this house, and all who come to visit, to work, and to play, remember these things throughout the coming year. May all who come and go here find peace, comfort, joy, hope, love, and salvation, for Christ has come to dwell in this house and in these hearts.

All: May we be Christ's light in the world. Amen

Long after Epiphany has faded in the memory, the presence the chalk marks on the vicarage door reminds me every time I go through it that God watches over our going out and our coming in,- turning the door itself into a sacramental sign of God's presence. It reminds me too, if I pause to think, that I may expect to find the Christ both within our walls and out in His world - Emmanuel, God with us.

All that in a few letters - holy graffiti on our door.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Epiphany Evensong Sermon for All Saints

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year

'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.

Familiar words, I’m sure,- enshrined in our national consciousness after George VI used them in his Christmas broadcast in 1939…words I remember too from many a New Year assembly in my high school years.
For the moment, I want you to forget how the verse continues and instead to reflect with me on the journey into the unknown that each new year represents. We may think we have a fair idea of how our lives will develop over the next few months, we make plans and resolutions, we may cherish hopes or shrink from fears – but actually, nothing is absolutely certain.
If there are important decisions ahead, I for one often wish that God would make them for me…I say, only half jokingly, that I long for a sign, some sky writing would be good, telling me exactly where I should go and what I should be doing.

Of course, Matthew’s wise men seem to have had exactly that privilege. An Epiphany. Simply put, an epiphany is the moment when God is revealed. It’s that moment of “Aha!” where we can say this experience is nothing less than a real live encounter with God.
So- for the wise men, perhaps their epiphany came with the rising of the star…their very own sky-writing, telling them where to go, what to seek. Certainly, they seem to start out on their journey confident that they know where they are heading…all they have to do is to follow their star.
Though I'd guess that the Christmas card scenes that present it as obviously the one and only REAL star in the sky may be distorting the truth slightly...Step outside on a clear night and the sky tells a different story...countless stars...but our
hese travellers looked at the night sky and saw something that others didn’t. What's more, they chose to focus on one light, rather than the surrounding darkness and so set the tone for their journey.
To focus on light rather than darkness is always, in every circumstance, an act of faith.

But did that make it plain sailing? This journey of faith was not for the fainthearted – it took courage and conviction to stay the distance and wisdom to discern when the journey was really over. It seemed quite reasonable to our travellers that the royal palace should be their first port of call...
A star presaging the birth of a king must surely lead them to a kingly place – except that it doesn't.
They've gone off course, followed their own assumptions and so encounter one for whom the gospel is anything but good news. Herod responds with the anger born of frightened self interest when the wise men ask to see the one born “King of the Jews”.
You might remember that the next time Jesus is hailed as “King of the Jews” is as he confronts worldly authority once again, in the events leading up to the crucifixion, and the shedding of innocent blood. It’s the same here, of course. God's arrival in our world is quite unlike the sweet and gentle scenes of our Christmas cards and carols. It ushers in mass murder and a young family forced to flee for their lives. But for all the violence and fear,nothing in all creation will be able to escape the touch of God's mighty act of salvation. Not Herod, not Rome. Nothing.

Meanwhile, though, our travellers have still not had their real epiphany. They have seen a king but not THE king. Perhaps they'd made a mistake in setting out? Wasted time, energy...Should they admit defeat?
But these travellers were determined to go the distance and followed the directions provided, directions that sent them away from the seat of power, from splendid palaces to an obscure village – yet still not least among the princes of Judah, perhaps.

As the wise men left Herod’s presence, they saw the star. Aha!
Yet again, this was not their epiphany, but still the star-light led them on to a very ordinary house – where all their expectations were subverted in the face of their true epiphany.
God a toddler, cuddled up in his mother’s arms…
Emmanuel. God with us.
It might have seemed an anticlimax.
No angel choirs or fiery messengers, no earthquakes or thundering voice but an everyday scene repeated in countless homes across the world.

Already, in this epiphany, if they were truly wise, our travellers could discern the signs of the times, could recognise the nature of the kingdom.
It was, and it is, a kingdom that included the little and the least, the poor and the weak. It was a kingdom that would welcome those who were searching, even those who had wandered in the wrong direction for a little while. It would include insiders and people from beyond the edges of society, Jews and Gentiles, those already at home and the foreigners like the travellers themselves.

They had come to worship a new king, and found themselves at home and welcomed in his kingdom.

The Franciscan writer Richard Rohr says this
An epiphany is an experience that transforms everything, and before you can do anything with it, it does something to you. It’s not something that can be controlled, and it always seems to demand a change in people‘s lives.
To live with a faith that makes room for Epiphany leaves us on our heels, ready to step out to wherever it is that God may be revealed
The paradox, of course, is that we may not have to travel far at all.
We don’t really need to go looking for God in rare and particular places. Instead, in the child born in Bethlehem, God has sought us out and come to dwell with us in the midst of all of our humanity.
Emmanuel. God with us as we begin our journey into the year ahead.
We can look for him in other places that carry the promise of epiphany - in the company of those who are hungry and thirsty, the sick and the imprisoned, the lonely and those stripped of their dignity;
- among people who turn from the destructive powers in their life and discover new strength from God, among those called to leave the familiar behind and step out in new directions;
- wherever people experiences healing and new life or moments of forgiveness and new love.
Truth is, as the Franciscan theologian Richard Rohr says, “if God can be manifest in a baby [born] in a poor stable for the unwanted, then we better be ready for God just about anywhere and in anybody.”
So, as you go forward into this new year, be alert to celebrate epiphany wherever you encounter God. It won't be just in this building, that's for sure...nor simply at the the high moments of life In all times and places and people, even the most ordinary, even in our own lives, we may come to experience the glory of God through Jesus Christ
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.