Sermon Lent 1 22/02/15

Mark 1. 9-15

Earlier this week I received a text from a friend of mine in Wales saying that she’s seen her first lamb of this year. It may not quite feel like it yet, but the seasons are changing yet again and before long we will clearly see the signs of new life telling us that winter is behind us and new life is preparing to show itself. If we look closely we can see the early signs of this for ourselves, it’s lighter in the evenings and some of the spring bulbs are shooting, or they were in my garden until my dog decided to dig them up!

As we progress down the weeks, these signs will become more tangible as new colours, songs, life and warmth enter our world. This all sounds really lovely, but we mustn’t forget that with new birth of spring will come the violence of storm clouds to fill the rivers and water the land and the pain of child birth as new creatures are born.

Spring and new life means turmoil, and disorder.

Lent is the church’s spring.

It is the time for us to prepare and show those early signs before we are reborn in the gentleness and violence of new life in Christ.

New beginnings are exciting. It was six months ago last weekend I ‘officially’ started working in the Abbey, that that was really exciting. Most of us can remember that sweet anticipation of starting on a new journey.   New beginnings also involve risk. They call us out of the comfort of a familiar world that we have known, to a strange new reality. New beginnings take courage, because you don’t know what you’ll face and it can be difficult to see the path ahead.   And this is where we are this morning.

The1st Sunday of Lent reminds us that this is a new beginning. A chance to start a new journey.

Lent for me is an exciting, and scary time. Full of possibility and opportunity for the taking, if you are brave enough to step outside your comfortable familiar, safe world and step into the possibility of something greater.   And this is the way of God’s people. Stepping out of what is safe and familiar whether by choice or by being pushed.

Adam and Eve left the garden. Noah left his dry land home. God told Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Gn. 12:1). Jacob feared for his life. Moses and the Israelites left Egypt. And in today’s gospel it’s Jesus’ time. As Mark tells it, “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee” to the Jordan River.

He left his family home, the area he knew, and the people who knew him. And now he’s wet, standing in the Jordan, between home and the wilderness.

Jesus is standing between his private life and his public ministry. And this moment marks a covenant, a pledge, a pact between him and God. It is a point of intersection, a meeting of heaven and earth. “You are my Son, the Beloved,” God tells him.The Spirit of God enters him enabling him for what lies ahead. It is for Jesus as it would be for any of us, a time of decision, of pressure, of anxiety.

This is not just about Jesus, or the faithful people of the Bible. This is our story too. The Father’s words refer to Jesus in a uniquely literal way but they also apply to each one of us.

So how do we go about making this step and entering the wilderness?   How do we make the most of these days of Lent?

Baptism is the new beginning for the Christian. We go down into the water to die. We emerge from the water to new life. It is an exciting moment in our lives as we make a decision to follow Christ. We enter into relationship with God. It is an exciting moment. as we recognize the Spirit of God at work in our lives. But there is also risk at entering the water. It is a time to let go, to lose control, to become vulnerable.

Whether you were baptised as a child, or an adult, we all get to a point in our spiritual lives when we will want to renew that contract with God.

Lent is a time of self-examination, of checking our focus, of sorting our priorities. It is a time to reflect on God’s promises and to recognize our failure to live up to our part of the relationship. It is a time to begin anew, through repentance, through seeking God’s guidance, through struggle, and through renewed commitment. It is a time to seek God’s guidance. Hopefully we begin to rely on God again.

Lent is a journey. Time given to us. If we are brave enough to face the facts and take that step into the wilderness with Christ. We do not know where this new beginning will take us, but together we enter into a journey from ashes to Easter.

Lent – the first few days

One of my Lenten disciplines this year is to give up TV. Or more accurately, to give up watching endless box sets, which means Netflix! I spend far too much time in front of moving pictures. It’s always been a weakness for me which is why it’s taken me 10 years to buy a TV for my living room. I have a slightly addictive personality, so when I start something, I usually have to finish it, and will find imaginative ways to reach the end. A familiar position is sat with iPad or laptop on knee with a program on in the background. I choose to watch programs rather then go outside and be sociable. And other favourite hobbies fall by the wayside. So sorry Netflix, you have to go. Dvds, you’ll stay on the shelf. And TV, you can be unplugged (until the Youth Group come round, the only exception).

So in this first week, a book has been read, a hood and gloves have been crocheted, and a new set of paints bought. It’s amazing what you can get done when your attention is not divided!

The first book I’ve finished this Lent is ‘Elizabeth is Missing’ by Emma Healey. It’s been sitting on the coffee table for a few weeks. A story of Maud, in her 80’s who is struggling with her memory. Extremely well written and a totally compelling story. Elizabeth is missing, but it turns out she is not the only one. She slips between the modern day ‘old’ Maud, and a much younger Maud who is looking for her missing sister. Maud even in her forgetful state is astute and articulate. She knows that she forgets things and can’t remember events, and as the tale unfolds, her distress and anguish increases.

This is a book I would highly recommend. It’s poignant, funny, sad, frustrating and intriguing and you’ll be taken through an emotional roller coaster as you travel with Maud’s in her search for answers.

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Wedding Sermon Joe Wyatt & Maggie Little

Psalm 100 & Philippians 4. 4-9

Today is deemed one of the most romantic days of the year. Up and down the country and around the world, symbols of love are being exchanged. Some will do it in small gestures, chocolates, or flowers maybe, some will do it in secret. For others it will be a huge occasion, and I’m not sure if you can get a larger gesture of love then what Joe and Maggie are doing today, to marry, and declare their love for each other in front of their family and friends.
One thing we can be sure of is that neither of you have any excuse for forgetting your anniversary!!!
To be loved, I believe, is the deepest of our human desires, and to give love, is one of the greatest of human joys. The pursuit of love has been well documented down the ages and appears in all of our greatest works of art and literature. And it is good and right that we have a day to celebrate our love.
The legend of St Valentine himself is a story of love conquering. Valentine was a priest who lived during the Roman era. Emperor Claudius II had prohibited marriage, declaring that it was better for men to become soldiers in his army, and that’s what he expected them to do. However Valentine disagreed and continued to marry people in secret. Valentine acted against the authorities to ensure that people love could still be declared and couples could still make vows.
It didn’t take long after his death for Valentine’s story to catch the imaginations of people, and the church declared that St Valentine’s day would become a celebration.
It is good, and right that we should celebrate love, wherever we find it. And I hope that your celebrations Joe and Maggie will not be reserved to just one day. Because we are told in our readings that we are to rejoice; we are to rejoice and make joyful sounds wherever we see something that is true and honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable and excellent. And we pray today that your marriage will be full of these things, so that every day you are together will be a celebration and an occasion of deep joy.
This is a day of celebration, of love shared, exchanged and declared in front of God and in front of your family and friends and I’m sure they will all do exactly what the readings ask, they will rejoice with you.

Candlemas Reflection for Abbey News

From one hymn of praise to another. In the Christmas edition of Abbey News Fr. Kevin reflected on Mary’s song ‘My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour’ (Luke 1: 46-47) repeated every evening in countless different settings by our choirs. And for this edition, as we celebrate Candlemas, we have another hymn, also repeated every evening, in countless different settings by our choirs, ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word’ (Luke 2: 29).

The song of Simeon otherwise known as the Nunc Dimittis is a calmer, sombre song of praise then that of Mary’s. It’s a song of fulfilment and of a hope satisfied. Simeon, described as a righteous and devout man, had waited for many years in hopeful expectation. He’d waited for the anointed, the chosen one from God. He’d waited, with God’s assurance that he would not see death until he had seen the Messiah.

The words are so familiar to many of us that it is easy to lose the impact of them and the experience the Simeon went through. He has waited for so long and, being human, he probably despaired at times. Would God’s promised Saviour truly arrive in his lifetime? Perhaps he’d just imagined that God had spoken to him. But, whatever his feelings, he kept on waiting faithfully.

Candlemas is a pivotal celebration in the churches year. It’s a time when we can look back on what has been and look ahead to what will be. In the church that means looking behind us to Christmas and the celebrations of the birth of Christ, and ahead to Christ’s passion, and the promises of Easter.

And for us?

There is certainly a lot we can learn from Simeon’s patient, faithful waiting. It is easy to hold onto our faith when God feels close and his plan is very clear. But we all go through times when our vision of God fades, and there are times when all we feel is His absence. When prayer feels like a waste of energy and time. It is at these times when we can turn to Simeon and take his example of holding on day by day, watching , with no apparent signs of change, in the expectation that God is about to act.

We can also remember and rejoice that Simeon’s faith was rewarded by the sight, sound and touch of the infant Christ and was given a time to act.

‘Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what is customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God…then Simeon blessed them.’ (Luke 2. 27-28 & v34a)

For each of us there are times for waiting and there are times for action, and Simeon gives us an example of this crossover, this move to action. As we approach Lent, many of us will make this transition and act; to join home groups and Lent courses, to vowing to make changes in our lives by the giving up of luxurious treats for a period of time, to raise money for worthy causes, or to start preparations for confirmation.

What will your action be?

From one hymn of praise to another. In the Christmas edition of Abbey News Fr. Kevin reflected on Mary’s song ‘My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour’ (Luke 1: 46-47) repeated every evening in countless different settings by our choirs. And for this edition, as we celebrate Candlemas, we have another hymn, also repeated every evening, in countless different settings by our choirs, ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word’ (Luke 2: 29).

The song of Simeon otherwise known as the Nunc Dimittis is a calmer, sombre song of praise then that of Mary’s. It’s a song of fulfilment and of a hope satisfied. Simeon, described as a righteous and devout man, had waited for many years in hopeful expectation. He’d waited for the anointed, the chosen one from God. He’d waited, with God’s assurance that he would not see death until he had seen the Messiah.

The words are so familiar to many of us that it is easy to lose the impact of them and the experience the Simeon went through. He has waited for so long and, being human, he probably despaired at times. Would God’s promised Saviour truly arrive in his lifetime? Perhaps he’d just imagined that God had spoken to him. But, whatever his feelings, he kept on waiting faithfully.

Candlemas is a pivotal celebration in the churches year. It’s a time when we can look back on what has been and look ahead to what will be. In the church that means looking behind us to Christmas and the celebrations of the birth of Christ, and ahead to Christ’s passion, and the promises of Easter.

And for us?

There is certainly a lot we can learn from Simeon’s patient, faithful waiting. It is easy to hold onto our faith when God feels close and his plan is very clear. But we all go through times when our vision of God fades, and there are times when all we feel is His absence. When prayer feels like a waste of energy and time. It is at these times when we can turn to Simeon and take his example of holding on day by day, watching , with no apparent signs of change, in the expectation that God is about to act.

We can also remember and rejoice that Simeon’s faith was rewarded by the sight, sound and touch of the infant Christ and was given a time to act.

‘Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what is customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God…then Simeon blessed them.’ (Luke 2. 27-28 & v34a)

For each of us there are times for waiting and there are times for action, and Simeon gives us an example of this crossover, this move to action. As we approach Lent, many of us will make this transition and act; to join home groups and Lent courses, to vowing to make changes in our lives by the giving up of luxurious treats for a period of time, to raise money for worthy causes, or to start preparations for confirmation.

What will your action be?

Candlemas Sermon Year B 2015

Luke 2. 22-40
“Then Simeon blessed them and said , “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel ….and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
I wonder how many visitors to our cathedral over the past few weeks have been puzzled by the continued presence of our Christmas crib? I hope it hasn’t upset too many who subscribe to the old superstition about the consequences of letting Christmas decorations remain after twelfth night! (I’ve come across one or two of them in a previous parish) But our crib isn’t a left-over decoration-

Far from it! It is a reminder that throughout January we have been reflecting upon, and celebrating, the birth of Jesus. It’s been 40 days since His birth and now he is brought to the temple in our celebration named, Candlemas.
Now, light is a universal symbol. It expresses important meanings in both secular and religious life all over the world. Candles are lit for birthdays, fireworks set off for celebrations and lamps burnt to remember the departed. Hindus and Sikhs celebrate Divali as a festival of light. Jews keep Hanukah by lighting candles for the eight days of the festival.
And light has an important significance to us also. Light is not just as a sign of joy or a practical way of expressing hope. It is linked explicitly to the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ and so for us is a symbol of Jesus himself.
Isaiah speaks of the Messiah as ‘a light to the Gentiles,’ Zechariah looks forward to the time when ‘the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.’
Writing of the mystery of Christ’s birth, John takes up the image: ‘The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.’
So it is hardly surprising that Simeon draws on Old Testament imagery when he recognises the child Jesus as the Messiah, speaking of him in those lovely words we know as the Nunc dimittis as “a light to lighten the gentiles and the glory of your people Israel.”
These powerful words are fulfilled in Jesus’ mission to bring healing and hope, to dispel doubt and to overcome sin and death. So it is not difficult to see how this was worked out in his own life and ministry. He brought sight to the blind, and in so doing describes himself as ‘the light of the world.’
But it is much harder for us to discern how his light continues to shine in our own world, we are overwhelmed every day in the media by images of war, oppression, famine and disease.
We need to ask, are the candles we light today merely pretty decorations, but without the power to overcome the darkness that surrounds us?
Or do they symbolize something much deeper , more powerful and more challenging?
Jesus calls us to bring light into the darkness of our world. St Paul takes up this image, ‘The Lord has commanded us saying, “I have sent you to be a light for the Gentiles, so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” ‘ Like the apostles, we are called not simply to gaze at his light and draw comfort from it, but to receive it in ourselves and reflect it to others.
But we must be aware that this can be a costly undertaking.
It wasn’t for nothing that Simeon give that chilling warning to Mary “And a sword will pierce your soul too.”
I wonder how often, old Simeon’s insight and warning bring a chill to Mary’s heart in the next 30 years as she watched her Son “grow and become strong, & filled with wisdom ” Like any other mother, she must have wanted to protect her son from harm when he so often confronted the powers of darkness.
So often, we too can shy away from the challenges involved in bringing his light into the darkness of our own age.
But Jesus still comes to bring the light of God’s love into the dark places of our world and he calls us to work with him, to dedicate our lives to serving him in serving the needs of his wounded world.
And that is always a challenge- for our human instinct is to protect ourselves from the inconvenience, difficulties and dangers of life, to turn a blind-eye to a society that seems to be spiralling out of control and wash our hands of those whose lives seem beyond our powers to influence or help. We turn our light away, and protect it for ourselves rather passing it onto those in true darkness.
May this feast of Candlemas remind us that embracing the light of Christ is not primarily about lighting candles;- it is about shedding light on the dark places we find and continuing the work that Christ started.
May your candles be more than a source of light, but a symbol of Christ, the light of the world, and a sign of your calling to carry that light to others.