Sunday, January 10, 2016

I have called you by name. You are mine.

Life at the Canonry over the past few months has been rather dominated by Willow – a cocker spaniel puppy who joined us in July, in a bid to prevent Libby the golden retriever from sinking into a premature old age. On that ground, I may say, the adoption has been a huge success...
Libby has recovered her joie de vivre and I'm now met by two enthusiastic hounds leaping up to greet me at the end of the working day.
It's fantastic!
But of course Willow needs to be trained, to learn behaviours that are compatible with life in a human family, and which do NOT include chewing her way through my CD collection whenever she happens to feel bored.
And the first step in training was to teach her to respond to her name, the name which was the first way in which I laid claim on her, singling her out from her litter-mates to be MY companion..
The ideal is, of course, that she becomes so focussed on her relationship with me that the moment I call her name she comes running eagerly, waiting to hear what I want, full of delighted optimism at what will come next.
That, as I say, is the ideal.
It doesn't always work quite that way...but after all, we do live in a broken world!

Today, though, God says “I have called you by name”
And that calling is the root of a relationship that shapes every moment of every day.
I have called you by name”
I chose you, singled you out for a relationship with me.
I want to invite you to share an adventure here and now, and on every day to come.
It won't always be easy – there will be deep waters, floods and fires – but it will be OK.
I have called you by name – let's go. Right now, for today is the first day of the rest of your life!
That last is an expression we take for granted – and on one level it states the obvious in a way that is absolutely uncontestable.
Of course ,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 whenever we wake and re-engage with the world around us.
So after the first working week of 2016 perhaps now is a good moment for us to take stock, to focus for a moment on what it means for you, or me, to be called by God, with a unique role in human history – a song that will remain unsung forever if we do not give it voice.

Travelling within God's Church, our first response to that calling comes at Baptism.
The Common Worship baptism service makes it clear that this is NOT a naming service.
We come with our own names, our own identity, already known and treasured by God – so now the Church says to each new candidate
Kathryn, John, Theodore...I baptise you”
God calls you by name and makes you his own, and so you are commissioned for a life of service and adventure within the company of the Church..
I would guess there was less visible drama at your baptism than there was at the baptism of Christ. It's unlikely that the heavens were rent on your behalf, any more than they were on mine, or that a startled congregation saw a hovering dove ushering in a new creation.
Nonehtheless the new creation began right enough for each of us that day, as we embarked on a life centred on our relationship with God...and that new creation should continue each day of our life ever after, as we try to fully inhabit our calling.
We speak, after all, of the priesthood of all believers...of our shared responsibility to be signs of God's love in a troubled world, agents of God's kingdom all our days. 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. The drowing of sin in the waters of judgement that is integral to the service is a once and for all transformation for us – but we have to live into, embracing and living up to its implications day by day. (I'm afraid that too often for me this is a bit like the ideal of Willow's focussed obedience – a beautiful dream that is a far cry from reality...but it does remain at least a treasured aspiration)

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...even in the face of your intransigence, my fear, their unreasonable pig-headedness...
God just loves you – because that's who God is.
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, to offer that intent devotion to the God who calls. Countless chances to SHOW that we are transformed 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 this community, not simply as we gather on Sunday mornings but on every day in between.
That belonging means that we are as inextricably tied to the people with whom we have little in common, those whom we maybe even struggle to like as we are to the dear friends of many years whom 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...not to mention the rather demanding “friend of a friend” who seems intent on absorbing all our time and all our resources.
We’d do well to remember that we too might fill those same 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 make space for all of them at the family table...doing our best to rejoice in our differences, that mean that together we are so much more than the sum of our parts...
In a place dedicated to reconciliation this can sometimes be extra tricky. If we are serious about an open welcome, then sometimes views and opinions which we find seriously disturbing will have to be given space, and people we would prefer to avoid must be embraced as honoured guests
That can be very hard.
It can make us wonder how to hang on to our own integrity, as we stretch out our hands to welcome fellow-travellers we would never, ever have chosen...

But it's rarely easy, heading out on an adventure, even if you're the one in charge – and on this adventure all the planning is in God's care. We don't set the agenda – we just go where we are called.

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...and each one of us called by name, to take our place at the table.

There's a rather splendid hymn by the American Marty Hagen, which expresses my longing for this Cathedral community as we move forward into a new year, from this, the first day of the rest of our lives.
Let me read it to you now, and invite you to pray that, called by name, we can work together to make this vision of Church our reality.

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, all are welcome,
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:

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 frees us:

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:

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

Can we live that vision as we share together in our vocation and ministry to be Christ for this city, to uncover and celebrate the signs of His Kingdom, working and praying together til everyone, near or far, can hear the loving voice that calls each of us by name and reminds us, no matter what.
"You are my beloved child, with whom I am well-pleased".