Saturday, 9 February 2013

Carrying Epiphany into Lent

Luke 9:28-43
The Transfiguration
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
Jesus Heals a Boy with a Demon
On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.

Today is the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany.
Next Sunday we find ourselves in the season of Lent which begins on Wednesday.
As you'll know by now, I love to mark the progression of the Seasons of the Christian year, to change the colour of stole I wear, to reflect, in our worship, and in our daily living together in community, the differing aspects of Scripture and of the Good News we hear and try to live into.

But, before we embark on the long season of penance that is Lent, I thought it might be useful to look back at Epiphany and retrace some of the steps we have taken on our journey through the year so far.
Our gospel reading, from the mountain top, affords us a good view and a good place from which to do that.

So lets go back to the beginning of Epiphany.
That was the first Sunday of the New Year.
When we welcomed the Wise Men to the stable.
We pondered the journey they had taken - a long and circuitous route.

Remember this, our call to worship on Epiphany?
“When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with the flocks,
then the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal those broken in spirit,
to feed the hungry,
to release the oppressed,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among all peoples,
to make a little music with the heart…

And to radiate the Light of Christ,
every day, in every way, in all that we do and in all that we say.
Then the work of Christmas begins.
(Howard Thurman)

The work of Christmas, the work of Epiphany, opening our eyes and the eyes of the world to the love of God born among us is a work for every day.
For some people, it happens all at once.
For others, it is quite a journey.
But the joy we experience on discovering God born beside us gives us the enthusiasm and the energy we need for the onward journey.
Of course once those important seekers, the Magi, found the stable, the Holy Family had to flee for their lives and we lost them, for a time, on the road to Egypt.

The following Sunday, in our gospel reading we were confronted by Jesus, all grown up, being baptised and affirmed by the voice from heaven " This is my beloved child with whom I am pleased."
The Epiphany for us - recognising in our baptism, that call and affirmation of a God who calls us beloved children.
Incidentally, this encounter is echoed in our gospel reading today when, once again, a voice from heaven declares: "This is my son, my chosen. Listen to him!"
Beloved children of God today, we see God calling and equipping us in so many ways.
We see the baby God all grown up and walking beside us along the way as we engage in Gods mission in the world today.

Then, in Luke's gospel, we moved on to explore the wedding in Cana and the gift of abundance.
Remember - Jesus seemed reluctant to reveal Gods power - but his mum, as mums do, knew better.
She told the stewards at the wedding feast to listen to Jesus and to do whatever he told them.
Their compliance with Jesus odd request assisted the Son of God to displays his credentials in a typically extravagant and exuberant way.
Water into wine - but not just any wine - Son of God wine!
An Epiphany for those at a wedding feast.
But also for us as our eyes are opened to the gracious abundance of the gifts of God.

From the wedding feast, we moved on to the synagogue.
And saw Jesus getting down to business.
Setting out his manifesto by reading the words of Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

And proclaiming: this Scripture has come true today.
We spent some time considering these words - we even took some of the words home with us to remind us that, today, we are called to fulfil this prophecy - to live out Jesus manifesto in our lives, bringing the reign of God to those we encounter day by day.

I wonder how that is going for you?
Fulfilling Scripture.
Living prophetically.
Last week, , the fourth week of Epiphany, we saw Jesus almost being lynched by his fellow worshipers - because he spoke the truth and called them to action.
Living prophetically is not an easy or a popular choice.
But we are called to risk it.
To open our eyes and see that Gods reign won't come simply by divine intervention - but by a lot of hard work and graft by us who claim to follow Jesus.
Us whom God calls to live in love, here in our fellowship together and in our daily living with those who have not yet had an Epiphany of faith

And so to today's gospel - when Peter, James and John see Jesus transfigured on the mountain and see him joined by heroes of faith - Moses and Elijah.
A transformative moment for them, one that must have caused them much puzzlement and wonder, both then and throughout the rest of their lives when they got the opportunity to go back and ponder it.
Such moments are rare but sustaining.
Moments of affirmation and encouragement.
Moments that we can rarely plan but which, when they happen, we must grasp with both hands.
But moments often in which we cannot linger.
For the realities of life beckon.
And so we must leave the wonder, come down from the mountain top and go on.
Often such times of being on a high are followed by a crashing descent.
Such is life.
Sometimes there aren't enough of the mountain top experiences and a great too many of the crashing down to earth times.
But in it all, as we have learned this Epiphany, God calls, equips and accompanies.
And so, as far as the Liturgical season is concerned, we leave Epiphany.
But I like to think of every day being filled with little epiphanies in life.
Those aha moments, when we see God at work, in odd encounters, in glimpses of majesty in moments of awareness of something other - and grander than ourselves.
A couple of years back, we accepted an invitation from the folks up at St Paul's to go to Bellahouston and see Pope Benedict.
We had to be in the park really early although the Pope wasn't going to be there until much later in the afternoon.
So we took a picnic lunch and joined the tens of thousands of people in a very carnival atmosphere to enjoy the entertainment or just sit in the sunshine and read - and wait.
But long before the Pope actually appeared on the platform set up in the park, a whisper went around the crowd - "he's here"
There was a buzz of tension and then an incredible hush - everyone was electrified by the sense of sharing a special moment.
Whatever age, however devout (or not) folk became caught up in a moment of encounter with the holy.
That encounter wasn't simply about catching a glimpse of the man elected head of the Roman Catholic Church.
That encounter was, for me at least - and I'm sure I wasn't alone - that encounter was about an awareness, in that moment of the presence of God in our midst.
An aha moment in which God revealed our shared humanity and our shared access to holiness.
As we descend from the mountain top into the wilderness that is Lent, we are sustained by all the aha moments.
And the austerity of Lent does not preclude even more startling discoveries of God in our midst and in our every day.
Indeed, perhaps because we are more focused on God as we journey through Lent, we will discover so many more mountain top moments.
So let us journey on, knowing the presence of God dogging our steps as we make our way from the mountain top into the wilderness with the Son of God and as we explore afresh how God intends to use all the gifts that we have for God's kingdom.
To God be the glory.

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Saturday, 2 February 2013

Compelled to serve

Luke 4:21-30
Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself! ’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum. ’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

1Corinthians 13
The Gift of Love
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

One of the most refreshing things I discovered about being called to minister in Ayr, was the move to a different Presbytery. After 21 years service in the area in which I'd grown up, done my training and taken my first two charges, it was refreshing to serve where folk didn't know my family, hadn't seen me grow up, hadnt "kent my faither" as they say.
It was good to no longer be constantly compared with my brothers or sister, to be told - You're so like your dad, or - your gran would be so proud of you.

Today, our gospel reading follows on from last weeks, where Jesus set out his manifesto - using the ancient words of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus made it clear that he had come to preach good news, to bring healing and release and proclaimed: today you see this scripture coming true in your midst.
Although his words were challenging, they were also exciting and reassuring. And, it seems, they were received perhaps with some nodding of heads, with some indulgent smiles - for here was a local boy made good.
So why did it all turn ugly. Why did Jesus then have to escape from a crowd wanting to lynch him?
What went wrong was that Jesus wasn't seeking their approval or their indulgence.
Jesus wanted to challenge them to understand the meaning of his words and the mission he was about.
That wasn't a mission that would affirm and encourage them in their ways as they imagined.
It was a mission that would make them question everything they did, their motives and their actions - and turn everything on its head.
Jesus wanted them to see that it wasn't enough to nod their approval or encouragement.
What was also important was that they listened to his words - words not of comfort but of challenge.
Words that were meant to be taken seriously.
Words that would change a way of life.
Jesus was like any preacher in any church after Sunday worship who is told, after preaching: nice sermon.
Sermons are not meant to be nice.
They are meant to confront and challenge, to get folk thinking, to encourage change.
Gods word does not simply encourage us in our walk but stirs us up to act differently.
The folk in the synagogue that day were there to hear Joseph's boy confirm that they were the chosen ones on whom Gods favour rested.
Jesus was there to challenge that perception and to blow it out of the water.
You think you are the chosen ones?
Well, let me tell you...
Jesus wasn't interested in their approval of him as a local boy "done good".
He was concerned that their indulgence of him as one of their own closed their ears to the real message that he was trying to preach.
Familiarity breeds contempt.
That was what was going on.
And Jesus wasn't slow to name it.
And that's why he made himself unpopular.
So,Jesus was one of them - that didn't mean that they were exempt from the demands of the gospel.
We in the church, week by week, often think of ourselves as "the good folk".
There is the notion that the minister is "preaching to the converted".
And we bemoan the fact that there are not more folk here who really need to hear the gospel, those who really need to change their ways.
It is from us that Jesus walks away in disgust today.
We who have become immune to the challenge and the demands of the gospel.
We who think we have made it.
That we are the chosen ones.
We are chosen, but perhaps not in the way we imagine.
We are chosen to upset those surrounding us today by proclaiming and living out the gospel that Jesus preached and lived.
God calls us to serve in a whole new way in our world today.
God calls us to be changed and to bring change.

So let's imagine for a moment this morning what might compel us to change?
What might convince us that Jesus challenge is for us?
That we haven't got it all right.
That there is room and the will for change.
How would we do that?
Where would we begin?
How can we follow that radical manifesto of Jesus?
How can we bring good news to the poor, proclaim release for captives, sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed? How can we proclaim the year of the Lords favour?
Having heard that good news, how can we live out that good news?
Last week, each of us took away a part of that manifesto - as a reminder of our call to be involved in Gods mission.
How do we live out those gospel imperatives?
Jesus tells us as he told the people in his local synagogue - "today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing"
Not because we have it all together.
Not because we are the chosen ones.
But because we know the love of God for us.
And that love compels us to share with others.
Because we know ourselves loved, warts and all, we are motivated to spread that love around.
Here in this place are people known to God, inside out.
Here in this place are people loved by God, inside out.
Here in this place, the year of the Lords favour continues to be proclaimed.
Here in this place are people living out Jesus manifesto in their everyday lives.
Experiencing and sharing the amazing love of God.
Touched by Gods grace and love, we cannot help but ensure that others are touched too by that amazing grace and love.

The apostle Paul, who wrote that wonderful love poem that is 1 Corinthians 13, once persecuted Christians.
He travelled long distances to round up and bring to trial those who had been convicted by Jesus teaching.
Then, on those travels, he himself encountered the love of God - and found himself turned upside down.
When Gods love touched him, he could do no other than serve the living, loving God he had encountered.
We've become quite familiar with this reading, this love poem from 1 Corinthians.
It's used often at weddings and at funerals.
But, today, we want to place it back in its context.
It was written as part of Paul's teaching of what life could be like when we live together as a Christian community.
It comes hard on the heels of Paul's encouragement that we act as one body,using all the different gifts that we have been given, cemented together by love.
Back to that knowing ourselves loved, we cannot help but live in love.
That means that we take ourselves out of here to serve others.
It means that we risk the rejection of those around us.
Because we can do no other.
We are claimed by the love of God.
And compelled to respond in love.
Today this scripture is being fulfilled.
Thanks be to God.

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