Sunday, September 29, 2013

Angels and archangels - a homily for 8.00 on Michaelmas Sunday, 29th September 2013 at St Matthew's

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
Bless the bed that I lie on
Four corners to my bed
Four angels there be spread
One to watch and one to pray
And two to bear my soul away

In the bedtime prayers of my childhood there seemed little difference between the evangelists – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – and the shining guardian angels whom I was certain were my overnight companions....
I loved those angels, believed in them implicitly – and still, as this feast day of St Michael and All Angels approaches, I find myself dreaming happily of wondrous golden beings whose presence reassures me that all is well with the world.

In that I guess I'm in good company. Angels are hugely popular today. Gift shops can rely on selling any number of angel trinkets...books of angel stories walk off the shelves at a time when public interest in more mainstream expressions of faith seems at a very low ebb. People LIKE the idea of heavenly beings charged with taking care of us....a reassurance that we are not on our own in a hostile universe.

But, you know, the Biblical experience of angels is very very different.
Often their arrival seems to be anything but reassuring – and perhaps that's why every angelic appearance in the New Testament opens with the words
Don't be afraid”
Annunciation, Ressurrection, Ascension...
Heaven in all its dazzling splendour breaks into our world. Time is interrupted by eternity

It's alarming stuff right enough – even before we've discovered quite what it is that the angel has to say.

Just think of the most famous angelic appearance of all.....Gabriel's mission to Mary.
Imagine yourself as that teenage girl, minding her own business in an obscure corner of the Roman Empire.
Hear those words spoken to you.
Do not be afraid Mary – for you have found favour with God. You will bear a son”
No wonder Gabriel feels the need to begin the conversation by speaking reassurance.
Do not be afraid...”
Words that suggest that he knows he has already lost that particular battle!

And só often that's how it seems.
Angels break into our world as messengers of heaven – and their tidings turn the world upside down.
Like a stone dropped into a pond, their messages ripple outwards, touching and changing many lives in ways we could never imagine.

Jacob is at a pretty low ebb when he has his vision of angels
He has cheated his brother out of his birthright, run away from home and is sleeping rough
He's not on retreat, attending to his soul. He's on the run. He's scared, and he's tired. Since he has a stone for his pillow it may not be surprising that his sleep is disturbed.....but his vision is one that sums up the ceaseless activity of angels as they act as go-betweens constantly carrying messages between our world and heaven.
Jacob sees
a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it
That's the vision – and then Jacob hears his own good news.......that God has a plan for him, - even fraudulent, fearful Jacob - and will not forsake him til that plan has become a reality.
Angels prepare us to hear of God's plans
They appear at times and in situations that may seem most agents and messengers of God's good news.
And their words and their presence awakens us to a truth that we all forget
Jacob put it this way
Surely the Lord is in this place and I knew it not”
Angels alert us to God at work in our world...they point towards God's actions, his plans, his presence
Good news then....

Which brings me to one more thing.....their name ANGEL means messanger but it shares its roots with another message of good news – EVANGELISM
Perhaps my childhood self wasn't that far out in confusing the saints and the angels of that poem!
And perhaps that's where we come in
We are not, surely, to be content to be passive recipients of the Good News the angels bring...
Like them, we have a calling to point out those surprising places where God is at work in our world só that others too may see and celebrate
And, for ourselves, having noted God at work we are to join in the ceaseless chorus of praise that resounds throughout creation
Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify thy holy name
Evermore praising thee and saying “Holy, holy, holy. Lord God of hosts. Heaven and earth are full of thy glory. Glory be to thee O Lord most high”

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Thoughts for St Matthew's Day

 On Friday we held a St Matthew's day service for our school – during which we thought alot about our priorities in life. In the grand tradition of reality television I invited half a dozen children to represent “lots of money” “lots of chocolate” “an iPhone 5” “friends and family” “Peace” “Happiness” - then explained that we couldn't keep all of them, só we voted them off one by one.
You'll be glad to hear that the children chose wisely – dispensing with the quick fixes – money, chocolate and all – and hanging on to Peace and Happiness – though they agreed that it can sometimes be hard to make the right decisions.
Then we heard the story of Levi – who became Matthew- and marvelled at how his priorities had changed when he had that watershed encounter with Jesus.
He became, it seems, a different who set his past behind him só thoroughly that it might never have existed.
He literally dropped everything to follow Jesus
And, like other saints who found thimselves doing a U turn, he acquired a new name to represent his new life


Levi the sinner became Matthew the saint...Matthew the story teller....Matthew the evangelist....

In this church, of course, he is our patron – só how can his story become our own?

One thing I love about it is that it begins on just an ordinary day.
Levi has gone to work as usual
He isn't among the crowds following Jesus.
He isn't obviously on a Great Spiritual Quest.
He is just sitting there collecting taxes.
And there, in the midst of his everyday life, Jesus comes to find him and turns his life upside down with a two word invitation
Follow me”

That's what Jesus does again and again...
He comes to us in the daily muddle of our lives
Supremely, of course, he comes in the Incarnation – entering into our world in all its broken messy reality...but this is not a story of once and long ago but a story of today.
Today Jesus comes to you...He comes to me... and calls each of us by name.

He takes the initiative...”coming ready or not” he says.
And that's just as well – for we are very rarely ready.
Só he comes and finds as where we are.
We don't have to be wrestling with immortal longings.
We certainly don't have to be waiting in a state of expectant holiness – indeed, his call is specifically for we, who are far from holy
I don't come to call the righteous but sinners...”

Jesus comes to us and we just have to respond.

Matthew got up and followed him.

That response may feel like a new birth – as we walk away from things that have confined us, made us less than the people God made us to be.
That's part of what we celebrate as we hear again the story of Matthew's call...the way Jesus sees our untapped potential and invites us to fulfill it...

But change and challenge can be too close for comfort.
Imagine, if you will, how hard it might be to walk away from a steady liveliehood, from all that is safe and familiar – the tax collector's booth, the life dedicated to our own satisfaction.
It can seem a costly choice for new beginnings aren't possible without some kind of an ending – that can feel very like death
We have to set aside our old way of being and try to re-order our lives and our priorities in line with that new intention to follow Christ – and that can be só very hard.
For myself, I've found that I need to renew my decision, confirm my intention again and again and again.
Sometimes it seems easier to stick with the old order – the world of selfish gain and short term pleasure – than to admit that I'm among the sick who needs a doctor, among the broken who depend on God's mercy.
But Jesus never tires of offering his invitation...He never gives up on us...and having called us, he celebrates with us – just as he shared that meal at Matthew's house

Jesus wants us to eat with him – that's why we're here this morning.
But having feasted with us, he will give each of us a new job to do.
It's the same job that he gave to become an evangelist – one who shares the good news that each one of us, whether we count ourselves successes or failures, is extravagantly loved by the One who calls us to follow Him to fresh possibilities, new beginnings and lives transformed by His grace.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

On sheep and shepherds - a love story for Trinity 16

I wonder if it has ever struck you that when we gather here for worship week on week, we do so in celebration of a love story.
Perhaps that's stating the obvious...
We know, don't we, that God so loved the world...but sometimes we need reminding just what that means.
It's all too easy to get caught up measuring our own goodness or lack thereof – and it's even easier to find ourselves making judgements about the lives of others – the way they dress, spend their money, discipline their children...
A prime example this past week was Michael Gove's criticism of the lifestyles of some who use foodbanks – and I know that his views are shared by others who are só intent on making value judgements about other people that they've almost lost sight of our shared humanity.
That tendency to weigh others in the balance and find them wanting is not confined to the Pharisees who accosted's alive and well in our community and even in our church...but that's NOT what the gospel is about.

The gospel is all about love.

It's that which means we're in no position to judge. Even if we managed, as the Pharisees believed that they did, to obey every letter of the law we would trip up over our failure to love.
Jesus begins his story, as he só often does, by asking a question
 ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?
It's a good question...só stop for a minute to think about your answer.

If you had 99 sheep trotting along happily– would you REALLY bother to go in search of the 1 that couldn't play nicely? The loner, the trouble maker, the one who didn't fit in?
Would you risk the safety of the flock – just leave them amid all the dangers of the wilderness while you went to look for JUST ONE???
It doesn't seem prudent. It doesn't even seem kind.
All those good little sheep deserve care and attention. Surely a good shepherd should not just abandon them...

No, Jesus, I don't think I'd answer your question in the way that you hope.
If I were the shepherd, then the flock would be left sheep lost forever.

But thankfully I'm not the shepherd.

I'm one of the sheep. And só are you. Perhaps you feel that you're one of the majority, grazing calmly with your fellows, travelling obediently along the path that is set before you...And that might make you a little sad, even indignant when the shepherd – and the Church that exists to join in with His work – insists on making such a fuss about the missing sheep. What's so special about that one missing sheep after all? It's not exactly a prize merino, is it...WHY does it matter.

It matters, of course, because God loves it with a love that WILL NOT LET HIM REST until the flock is complete.
That's the gospel..the good news for all of us.....because, you know, actually each of us is also that one lost sheep...
Willfull....Confused....Downright disobedient......We've all chosen to wander away from the Shepherd from time to time....but HE NEVER EVER LEAVES US ASTRAY
He loves us too much.

I was once at a toddler group when one of a pair of twins vanished.
One moment their mother was happily chatting to a friend, the next she had abandoned the conversation and was scanning every corner of the room for her missing son. It didn’t matter that her daughter was safely by her side…she needed to find that small boy so badly he might have been the only child she had. Her daughter, though, was sensible. As her mother swooped off to the furthest corners of the room, she was followed by a small but determined figure, who had no intention of letting her mother out of her sight.
The whole drama didn’t last long, and ended in a happy reunion behind a stack of tables.…but for a brief period maybe those of us involved had an inkling of the way God feels about each one of us. He loves us so much, that we might be his only child. He actively seeks us out when we have wandered away or broken off communications with Him. It’s almost as if He feels incomplete when one of us is missing. He takes every risk, right down to sending his own Son, to seek us out and rescue us.

And that leaves us with another question...
Are WE in the right place?
perhaps we should ask ourselves whether, if the one sheep is with the shepherd, it might not be the 99 who have gone astray
If Jesus is somewhere out there on the margins, hunting for missing sheep, shouldn’t we be out there with him. Surely the most important question for each of us is not
Is Jesus with me?” but “Am I where Jesus is” for we can trust him to lead us into new pastures, to keep us from harm, and indeed to lay down his life for us.

That's just the way love works.