Friday, 29 January 2016

Prospect

Epiphany 4
Year C                                                                                                                          Luke 4:21-30

Maybe this has happened to you.

You start going on about something at a crowded dinner table. Everyone looks happy and nods affirmatively. Thensomewhere along the way, you say something that causes everybody’s face to fall. You, who were doing so well five minutes ago, are now about as welcome as a skunk at a garden party. You misjudged the politics of your audience or used saucy language or insulted the lady of the house. You got it wrong. You’d like to know why because you’re not sure. From the silence in the car on the way home you suspect your wife is confecting the necessary words to tell you.

The story from St Luke’s Gospel about Jesus speaking in the synagogue at Nazareth describes just such a sudden collapse in popularity by a speaker. To highlight this our lectionary has divided the story at the very point where things begin to go wrong. Last week’s reading (Luke 4:14-21) had Jesus being handed the scroll by the elders of the synagogue and beginning to read at the appointed place, reciting the promises of God to release the captive and show grace to the blind and the oppressed. Jesus hands the scroll back to the attendant, sits back comfortably and following a meaningful pause declares that “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”. There’s a charged silence as the home crowd waits for what the local boy will say next but the mood in the room is still pleasantly calm.

What he says next as this Sunday’s gospel reading picks up the story (4:21-30) relates closely to the themes in the King’s Wedding Banquet (Luke 14:16-24) where invitations are sent out and the traditional invitees refuse to respond and so the King extends that invitation to a larger and previously uninvited crowd. We are reminded that we enjoy our membership in the family of God not because we are a deserving heaven-born crowd but because God shows an interest in his creatures which is sufficiently wide to include even us.  As the line from the hymn puts it:

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
Or the line from that other hymn:
A spendthrift lover is the Lord

Were there widows in Israel in the time of Elijah? Of course, but God’s grace was extended to a Gentile woman in Sidon. Were there lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha? Yes, but God chose to bless a Syrian soldier. Believe, as you should, that God releases the captive and blesses his creatures but know that he will extend that grace to whomever he will. If you think you're special, you're not. If you won’t get up on your hind legs and receive such grace thankfully you may end up outside the circle.

We can say with probability that when you and I ran afoul of the group we were speaking to it was because we got it wrong. What Luke tells us in his narrative is that the violent response Jesus received from his hearers that day in his own home town was because he had gotten it absolutely and thoroughly right. Too right, in fact, not to have a fight break out.




Thursday, 21 January 2016

Prospect


The Third Sunday after Epiphany
Year C                                                                                                     1st Corinthians 12:12-31



Unity or diversity?  The one or the many?

Challenges to a family, a company or a church should, in the best of all possible worlds, be met with a great show of unity amongst the members.  The phone calls are made which need to be made, the decisions taken and the resources marshalled to see the group through its rough patch.  A show of unity.  Divisions and differences are minimized.  We come to recognize what we have in common. 

Unity can occasionally be a crippling thing as well.  There is something comforting about hearing our own words and opinions echoed back to us.  We might feel ourselves to be fairly cosmopolitan people - able to navigate foreign cities and speak a few words in another language but when we choose our friends they may well be those who are like-minded people.  We might have bent to our family’s will and followed in our family’s footsteps when we chose a profession.  We might have heard from a parent or another family member that the Smiths or the Joneses aren’t that sort of person.  We don’t do that.

That part of the world which is big and expansive escaped us because we conformed to the supposed unity of our family, our nation or our clan.  We took on the family narrative.  We lost out on horizons.
St Paul describes the society – and he would say that the Church is the greatest society of all because it is the one that God himself has built – as being made up of many nations, languages and even religious backgrounds which have been brought together and baptized into one Spirit.  From the many, one people.  Jews, Greeks and Barbarians, Male and Female, Rich and poor are gathered into a unity which must defy the prejudice and clan loyalties with which each viewed the other previously.

We are one body.  But does that mean that we are the same?  No and this is where Paul continues.  What troops out of that Ark of baptism are all the different creatures and varieties which make the world of the Church an interesting place to be.  Our gift to the world is that some of us move one way and some in other directions.  We use the gifts which God has given us and we discover gifts we did not know we had.

This is an interesting time for the Church and for churches like ours.  Gathered as we are from a variety of places we find that we have much in common.  We are able to work together.   In fact, we find ourselves today in a place where the future of our small congregation requires that we pull together as never before.  What is required, though, of each of us is not the same offering of a common gift.  It begins with the “Same Spirit” - it moves to the quite unique contribution that only you can make.  God has something for you to do.  God is lifting up ministries in his Church.  Which one is yours?





Thursday, 14 January 2016

Prospect


The Second Sunday after Epiphany
Year C                                                                                                                        John 2:1-11

Those of you who read up on the Auvergne before moving here will know that this was one of the great wine regions of France before some bright spark had the clever idea of bringing vines over from the New World to plant on French terroirs and took little notice of the tiny aphids (Phylloxera vitifoliae) clinging to both root and branch of the American vines he shipped in on the boat.  The rest is sorry history.  The restoration of the wine industry with new grafted vines came late to our region.  Our local wines are only now beginning to climb back on to the register.  Good wine is produced after decades or centuries of interaction between grape type and soil consistency.  Good wine isn't produced in an instant.  Unless you were a guest at the wedding at Cana, that is....  On that occasion copious amounts of the very best quality wine issued from stone containers which had to that point contained only water.  I remember one of my past parishioners expressing frustration with me that the story required any explanation at all.  Didn't I believe in Jesus?  Don't I believe in miracles? If Jesus is on site, then miracles happen and bad situations are reversed - these thirteen words are all that is required.  Here endeth the sermon.

Calm down dear (I wanted to say but didn't).  John's Gospel puts it like this:

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

A sign points beyond itself to something else.  Even if it begins with a particular problem in time and space it then points out of the room and away from the cups on the table and beyond whatever problems the party's hosts may have.  Jesus performs a handful of miracles.  When he does they are never merely miracles.  They teach us something about God - wrapped up, as they are, with the larger story of the restoration of Creation in the story of the Word's "dwelling with us".  The story informs much more than any present crisis which the instantly needful might want to aim Jesus at.  The party will go on - with or without wine on the table.  Jesus promises his disciples no shortcuts.  He often tells them that they will engage painfully with the world around them but that they will be equipped by him, through faith in him – the one who drives the nourishment up the vine and swells the full fruiting berry.  It is all about that ineffable thing which we lift our glass of good wine to - which is life itself – full and rich and interconnected.  You might say that there is no shortcut to quality - to quality life anyway as the sort of good wine which a true connoisseur would describe with all those daft wine metaphors: "apples in the nose” or “notes of saddle leather, jujubes, and turpentine with a hint of combed cotton” meaning that the tastes and smells evoke and connect to other worlds and experiences.  Signs point to something else. Simple truths open many doors. 

It’s not merely red wine on the table.  It’s not just a miracle. 

Friday, 8 January 2016

Prospect

First Sunday after Epiphany
Year C                                                                               Acts 8:14-17
                                                                                                                           Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Hopeful people populate both our readings from the New Testament this Sunday. The lesson from Acts tells us that a fellowship of believers had sprung up in Samaria. This was good news concerning the progress of the Gospel which reached the Apostles in Jerusalem who then sent Peter and John down to ensure that the new believers were properly ushered into the work of God through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel reading a group of eager enquirers are pointed by John the Baptist away from himself and in the direction of God's coming Messiah who makes his appearance on the banks of the Jordan River at the end of the passage.

Hopefulness? Are you gripped by it sometimes? Do you remember at least what it felt like? Was it a feeling? A disposition? A state of mind? That glimmering sense of something good around the corner? Easier for some folks perhaps than for others.

You might even vaguely resent the human actors who are ushered into your dream world telling you "This way, not that way!" or "Hope for this and not for that". Who are they to rain on your parade or to nudge you this way or that? It's what teachers, preachers and prophets are sometimes known to take themselves for - the managers and gestionnaires of other people's hopes and fears. Fair cop, I suppose. We should presume to supervise less. But...

The Christmas season which has just ended and the season of Epiphany which now begins is all about the hopes of the world being met in Jesus Christ who is God's gift not only to his ancient people but his gift given freely to the whole world. God responds to the needs of his creation by acting in time and space in the real world we inhabit. It bears saying that Christian hope is not a matter of maintaining a sunny disposition or being the type of person who can see the silver lining around any cloud. Being that sort of person is a matter of having inherited the right genes or being raised in the right sort of environment. Some of you will never be naturally chirpy. And that's okay. Christ came to save the grumpy and the gloomy too.

In line with our personalities or even in spite of our personalities God has given us sufficient reason to hope and someone to hope in. This is the dawn, the time of new things. Men and women across the ages have found their lives and have come to their senses in the light of the Good News of what God has done for the world and continues to do through the Holy Spirit. Wholeness and purpose - reconciliation between God and humankind - deep peace and confidence: These are not unreasonable hopes.

The prophet on the river bank directs those hopes of yours towards the one whom God has sent. Disciples travel from Head Office to pray with you for the spiritual strength to accomplish the task. You're part of a hopeful community. And yes, we would rather help than interfere. But even if we get it wrong you are not alone.