Telling God’s story of hope in a new way – sermon for Evensong, 1st Sunday of Epiphany, Adel Parish church.

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An old story for today’s world…words for Evensong, 12/1/20 at Adel Parish Church

Joshua 3: 1 – 8, 14 – end; Hebrews 1: 1 – 12

During my post Christmas break we went to see the film ‘Little Women’. When I was a child I loved the series of books, so I was slightly anxious whether the film would live up to my memories.

For a while I was unsure, because the film started somewhere towards the end of the books, telling the main story in flashbacks; material from all four books was mixed together; characters weren’t as I’d pictured them.

But the acting is excellent, and eventually I relaxed into the story. By the end I’d realised this was an adaptation which told the same story – but in a new way, a way suitable for today.

Perhaps the writer of the letter to the Hebrews was wrestling with the same issue. There is much uncertainty about both the writer and the recipients of the ‘Letter to the Hebrews’. It is likely though that the Hebrews were Jewish Christians who had not themselves witnessed Jesus’ life and resurrection.

They would be familiar with the old testament texts. They would know that God has always spoken to his people. Directly to a few individuals – such as Moses and Joshua, as we heard in our first reading. Mostly through the prophets…in many and various ways…

…in anger at His people forgetting him.

…in the Manna called down by Moses, and the fire called down by Elijah…

…in words of hope to a people in exile.

God was known by his mighty acts…of rescue from Egypt…of destruction and punishment. For long periods God was known only by his absence, by the feeling of being abandoned. Then the words of hope would be vindicated – God’s people would feel able to sing, as in the psalm we just said together…”God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

They would know these stories of God’s people and their encounters with God…and the picture of God, which this built up. Now though, they’ve been confronted with this utterly new and radical idea that God can not only speak through a human – as he did with the prophets – but can be a human.

In these last days, they’re told; God has spoken through a Son. A son who is not just a special human – but ‘the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.’

This was an enormous thing for them to take in…and it still is today if we truly engage with it. The Almighty, powerful God of the Old Testament is reflected perfectly in this human…Jesus Christ is God in human form…the same God we encounter in the Old Testament.

But, they’re told, look properly and you’ll see that this is the same God speaking in this new way. This is the same story of power…as shown in Jesus’ miracles…of righteous anger…as shown by Jesus in the Temple…of faithfulness as shown by Jesus weeping at the death of John the Baptist, of Lazarus…of feeding…and healing.

Like the film I saw…this is the same story, but interpreted anew, for a new time.

The new revelation this brings is that God loves us enough to share our humanity. That God really is interested in us just as we are. That God is not only utterly beyond what we can imagine, but also closer than we know.

I will go back to Little Women and reread the books, but I will do so with new insights brought by the film of how women’s lives have changed, and how they haven’t.

I think this lovely passage from Hebrews tells us not to forget what we learn of God from the Old Testament…from the prophets. But to look at it with the new knowledge of God we gain from the person of Jesus.

Jesus, who is challenging and difficult as well as welcoming and human…but who shows us above all that we are loved.

David Jenkins…one time controversial Bishop of Durham…and thus a bit of a hero of mine…once said “God is, as he is in Jesus, so there is hope.”

A message that we need at the start of 2020 with so much uncertainty in the world.

Look at Jesus, said both the writer to the Hebrews and Bishop Jenkins, and you will begin to understand a little more about God. Look at Jesus, and you will see God’s story told anew in a way we can begin to grasp. Look at Jesus and you will find a reason to hope.

“God is, as he is in Jesus, so there is hope.”

 

 

 

A bruised reed he will not break…how do we follow that? Sermon for Baptism of Christ Sunday, Adel Parish Church

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‘A bruised reed he will not break, a dimly burning wick he will not snuff out’…how do we follow that today?

Sermon for 12/1/20 at Adel Parish Church

Isaiah 42: 1-9;    Matthew 3: 13- end

Epiphany. It’s a bit of a strange season. Often ignored by squeezing the wise men into the Christmas crib, then packing them away with the tree. Or if people do know of it, it’s probably only as a celebration of those wise men. Yet there are 3 more weeks of the season to go.

Epiphany means manifestation, showing. It means realisation. The crib says God became a tiny baby. Epiphany begins to unpack something of what that means for us.

And today we get a surprising picture: Jesus, Son of God, lining up with repentant sinners to be baptised by his cousin…so unexpected that even John, one of the few to recognise Jesus for who he is, tries to stop him. Today we’re given a very alien notion of what a Lord and Saviour looks like.

So today we also hear Isaiah’s prophecy of the suffering servant to help us to understand. In it God promises to send his chosen one, a light for the nations, who will bring forth justice. But how he will do it is not perhaps quite what we expect…‘a bruised reed he will not break, a dimly burning wick he will not quench.’

‘a bruised reed he will not break, a dimly burning wick he will not quench.’ It’s such a strange picture that it stuck in my mind.

A bruised reed – if it’s not to break needs support and protection. A dimly burning wick, if it’s to stay alight needs protection…needs oxygen.

God’s servant, it seems, is sent to minister to those who are bruised, breaking, flickering. The prophecy may have referred to God’s people the Israelites; it may have referred to Jesus. Either way, I think, it challenges us. We are God’s people today – we are followers of Jesus.

That’s had me wondering what nurturing and protecting bruised reeds and smoldering wicks might look like in our lives.

In the last couple of years I’ve had a twitter account on social media. I don’t use it much but I rather like the surprising things I see – posted by the few people I follow. I’m not entirely sure why, but these are mainly clergy and farmers. So my twitter feed is a slightly surreal mixture of sheep, obscure Anglican jokes and faith related articles.

The other day a reference to the Timpson chain popped up. You probably know them – once shoe menders, then key cutters, now dry cleaners…

…what made it interesting is that 10% of their workers are recruited directly from prisons. James Timpson talked about a chance encounter on a prison visit, which made him realise the vast pool of talent in prisons being discarded when all it needs is a bit of nurturing. Timpson’s now do that nurturing with a high success rate.

James’ father John Timpson fostered over 90 children and set up a trust, which supports looked after children. It also gives financial help to 2 schools. The two schools chosen were a failing school, and a school threatened with closure. Bruised reeds? Dimly burning wicks?

I don’t know whether they are Christians – but these actions, I think, show a counter cultural nurturing of the bruised and failing that all Christians could learn from.

But Timpson’s is, after all, a business. Elsewhere on their website they talk of only recruiting the most able, the most innovative and creative. Their business requires that the bruised and flickering have the right sort of potential…of course it does, they have to keep their business afloat.

But to really commit to ministering to the bruised reed, the dimly flickering wick, asks for something even more against the prevailing culture. It asks us not just to help those who have great potential but are going through a bad patch, or had a difficult start. It asks us to protect and support that wick – even if it will never burn very brightly.

Imagine ‘Strictly’ or ‘Bake-off’ where the best contestants were voted off, so those who were struggling could have more help…I’m not sure it would make great television…

…but perhaps in this Epiphany season we’re confronted by Jesus: the chosen one, the light for the nations, and reminded that his message of hope is particularly for the bruised and broken, the struggling and the weak.

Perhaps we’re asked to consider whom the bruised reed and dimly burning wick might be in our lives, and our society. The ones who seem to need help over and over, the ones it might be easy to give up on. Perhaps it asks us to consider how we might be asked to nurture and protect them.

I’m aware this is much easier to say than to do – especially perhaps for those working in business. I spent time the other day with someone whose job requires him to make people redundant…in order to safeguard the jobs of others.

Applying our faith to our work might be easier if we are say, nurses or teachers, or Rectors…but being Christian doesn’t mean much if we aren’t prepared to think about what it means in the real world, in everybody’s world.

Nurturing the bruised and flickering must be able to find some way into every job. I think though it also asks us to consider how our whole society might be changed…how we might work for a society where no one is ever written off, whether they seem to have potential or not.

This is a challenge, but it’s also good news for us when we for whatever reason are the bruised or the broken. Jesus’ message of salvation is then particularly for us.

This 2nd week of Epiphany we’re offered the revelation that God loves us and takes us seriously whatever…and as followers of Christ we’re asked to reveal that same love to others…in all aspects of our lives.