Epiphany 4: 1 Corinthians 12, 12-31 & Luke 4, 14-21
I don’t know why but I have a gut feeling that many, perhaps most, of us might be just a little suspicious of, even cynical, about political manifestos. In today’s readings we are presented with two manifestos. Jesus chooses to launch the Galilean Ministry by quoting from the prophet Isaiah but also by going one stage further, claiming that he is the living fulfilment of the Isaiah prophecy. Paul then provides a kind of manifesto for the church; the church, of course, being the chosen vehicle for the fulfilment of the Jesus manifesto. The point is this: if Jesus is the fulfilment of the Isaiah prophecy, the church, as His body on earth, is responsible for its sustainability. The central concerns of the Isaiah prophecy are liberation, healing and equality. Jesus’ concern is that everyone should brought into relationship with God, and know themselves to be loved by God, and in his ministry he goes on to model, or enact this. The Jesus we are called on to know and love as Saviour, and Redeemer, seeks to liberate all, irrespective of temporal identity markers.
If you read on a few chapters in Luke’s gospel you will find Jesus calling his first disciples or the Apostles (who were a pretty mixed bag), then calling Levi, a despised tax collector, before healing the Roman centurion’s servant and then raising from the dead the widow of Nain’s son before he encounters what Luke describes as ‘some women,’ including Mary Magdalene. All of these are characters who are in search of ‘Good News;’’ all of these characters are in some way ‘poor,’ and ‘oppressed.’ All of these characters need to be liberated from that which oppresses them. They all need to be raised up to newness of life. And, this is what Jesus does in the most lavish and indiscriminate way.
Paul in his Manifesto to the Church starts with the notion of equality. For Paul, equality isn’t some form of abstract philosophical theory, but instead a sacramental reality: ‘For just as the body is one and has many members, and all are members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ,’ followed crucially by, ‘For in the one Spirit we were all BAPTISED into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.’
For Paul we are all, despite our God-given differences, equal in the sight of God through the sacramental reality of baptism. The Eucharist, in which everyone gets the same amount of bread and wine and no one gets seconds (except me), also affirms the sacramental reality that are all are equal in the sight of God. And, this matters. It matters because when we accept that we are all equal in the eyes of God we become truly free to welcome, affirm, and help liberate others on equal terms. We become the sort of people who are comfortable in our own skins, knowing ourselves to be loved into all eternity by God, whilst accepting that the creator God has crafted a beautifully diverse humanity.
Our mandate as baptised Christians is to affirm and release the skills of all, for the good of all. Our job is to model the beauty of individuality in community. Jesus welcomed all and affirmed all. He brought fishermen, tax collectors, widows, Roman Centurions, women such Mary Magdalene, the cultural elite such as Nicodemus and, countless others into relationship with himself and with each other. Both Jesus and St. Paul insisted that a true religious, or Christian, community should be characterised by the love and concern its members show for each other, with each individual standing in solidarity with the beloved other: ‘if anyone member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.’ Mother Theresa’s reflection on this was simply this: ‘If we have no peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another.’
The credibility of the ‘good news’ as presented through the Jesus manifesto is contingent on us – the baptised – living out our sacramental reality, as individuals in community, standing alongside one another, bound together through love. This is the ‘more excellent’ way that both Jesus and Paul place at their heart of their manifestos and when we live this way as baptised Christians we render the gospel truly credible,
The Baptism of Christ: Isaiah 43, 1-7, Acts 8, 14-17 & Luke 3, 15-17 & 21-22
I don’t know whether you have had the experience of looking at a screen or a blank piece of paper and thinking that you don’t know what to say? Well this happened to me this week. I was really struggling to work out what I wanted to say about baptism and this, in a way, is really strange because I give lots of baptism homilies every year.
Now there is obviously a difference between giving a homily at a baptism and speaking to the baptised about baptism, even though I use the same gospel reading, and I think that this is where I got stuck. The event that, if you like, got me back on track was a tweet from + Steven in which he invited ‘clergy and LLMs preparing sermons inviting people to baptism and confirmation, to share our top 3 reasons for inviting people to come to the waters.’ So here we go: the three reasons that I gave:
First, baptism is a celebration of our individuality. In the reading from Isaiah we hear some of the most beautiful words in Scripture: ‘do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine,’ and again ‘do not fear for I am with you,’ we are also told that we have been ‘created for glory…..formed and made.’ I would like to suggest that we grow into our fullest selves when we accept the basic premise that we are made, known, and loved. When we accept this the wonderfully good news is that we need no longer fear, for love has won. Baptism is a celebration of love, joy and God’s delight in us as his children. We need to hear for ourselves the words that the Father spoke to the Son: ‘you are my son / daughter, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ Can you, dare you, imagine a world in which each and every person knew that they were individually and truly loved? I would suggest that such a world would be a world free from abuse, tyranny and fear.
Secondly, baptism is also a celebration of community. The sacrament of baptism brings us into the church and makes us members of the body or communion; the sacrament of the Eucharist keeps us and sustains us in church. And, don’t we live in a world where people are longing for genuine, authentic and loving communities? Baptism first affirms us as individuals and then locates us in community. Baptism is a celebration of individuality in community.
Thirdly baptism is a celebration of possibility. In both the New Testament reading and the gospel we learn that the Holy Spirit is given through baptism. Peter and John are said to have laid their hands on the people of Samaria – just ponder that for a moment: they laid their hands on a whole bunch of Samaritans; the ultimate outsiders – ‘and they received the Holy Spirit,’ whilst at Jesus’ own baptism the ‘Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.’ The Holy Spirit is the author of baptismal possibility. It is through the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit that individual lives and church communities are transformed.
In the Church of England baptism is a once and for all time sacrament. If you haven’t been baptised but would like to consider it please do talk to me. If you have been baptised can I encourage you to reflect on what baptism means for you as an individual in community? On the pew sheet we have included a prayer for the affirmation of baptism. Can I ask you to take the pew sheet home with you and reflect on the readings over the course of the next week and also offer to God the words of the prayer provided. Let us pray:
‘Loving God, we thank you that at our baptism you anointed us with the gift of your Holy Spirit and called us by name. Help us this day, and always, to live lives worthy of our calling, that freed from all fear we may proclaim your holy name in word and deed, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.’
Epiphany: Ephesians 3, 1-12 & Matthew 2, 1-12
Did anyone here watch any television at all on Christmas day? Well I, alongside millions of others, watched the Queens Speech (after I had woken up from my early afternoon vicar’s nap) & Call the Midwife. The Queen, and the Sister Julienne, both display that most precious of virtues: wisdom. The Epiphany’s concern is also wisdom.
Wisdom is a complicated subject. In Christian terms, as I have said before, it involves developing the ability to see as God would have us see, to hear as God would have us hear, to feel as God would have us feel, and then to act as God would have us act. We can only do this of course when God, through the person of Jesus Christ, is in reality our Daily Bread. So the story of the Epiphany, first of all, invites us to renew our focus on Jesus and to make him the central character in the ongoing drama of our lives: just as those Wise Men did all those years ago. Christian wisdom boils down to this: growing into the very likeness of Christ, the Christ who ultimately always did the right thing, whatever the personal cost. Doing the right thing whatever the cost implies taking risks and making the right choices; a further attribute of wisdom. If wisdom begins with seeing, hearing and feeling as God would have us do, it ends with behaving and acting as God would have us do. Wisdom is God-centred and other-centred. Wisdom always means taking ‘the other road.’ The wise men do this at the culmination of Matthew’s Epiphany story, faced with the opportunity to gain earthly recognition and veign glory, by acquiescing to Herod’s tyrannical requests, they choose the ‘another road.’
In many ways the Queen and Sister Julienne are also exemplars of people who have chosen the ‘another road.’ They, like the Wise Men of Old, have made the decision to place Jesus at the centre of their lives and in so doing have come to realise that serving the needs of the other – constantly asking ‘who is my neighbour,’ - is the very essence, alongside praise and worship, of the Christian life. When we place Jesus at the centre of our lives we grow in wisdom and develop the ability to walk our lives along ‘another road.’ Christian wisdom is ultimately a commitment to giving our the best we have to offer to Jesus, just as the wise men did, and just as the Queen and Sister Julienne seem to have done. If we do this will grow in maturity and in love. As we learn to walk by ‘another road,’ guided by the ongoing and sustaining work of the Holy Spirit, our horizons will be stretched: we will start to see as God would have us see, hear as God would have us hear, feel as God would have us feel, worship as God would have us worship, choose as God would have us choose, and then, finally, serve as God would have us serve.
We will, if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and offer back to him the very best of ourselves become, like the shepherds, like the Queen, and like Sister Julienne, truly and gloriously wise.
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