Sunday, 24 January 2010

Prayers - 24th January

OK I really haven't put much material up here, in fact I have been producing stuff every week but I just rarely get round to posting it.

Today I have two prayers - one taken from parts of Wild Goose Worship Group's Wee Worship Book, the other adapted and developed from a prayer of Eusebius (3rd century).

In the beginning,
before time, before people,
before the world began –
God Was

Here and now,
among us, beside us,
enlisting the people of earth for the purposes of heaven,
God Is

In the future, when we have turned to dust,
and all we know has found its fulfillment,
God Will Be

Not denying the world, but delighting in it,
not condemning the world, but redeeming it,
through Jesus Christ,
by the power of the Holy Spirit
God Was; God Is; God will be

And so God, we pray:
Because you made the world,
and intended it to be a good place
And called its people your children
Because, when things seemed at their worst,
you came in Christ to bring out the best in us;
so, gracious God, we gladly say:
Goodness is stronger than evil
Love is stronger than hate
Light is stronger than darkness
Truth is stronger than lies.

Because confusion can reign inside us, despite our faith;
because anger, tension, bitterness and envy distort our vision;
because our minds sometimes worry small things out of all proportion;
because we do not always get it right,
we want to believe
Goodness is stronger than evil
Love is stronger than hate
Light is stronger than darkness
Truth is stronger than lies.

Because you have promised to hear us,
and are able to change us,
and are willing to make our hearts your home,
we ask you to confront, control
forgive and encourage us, as you know best.
Then let us cherish in our hearts
that which we proclaim with our lips:
Goodness is stronger than evil
Love is stronger than hate
Light is stronger than darkness
Truth is stronger than lies.

Lord hear our prayer, and change our lives, until we illustrate the grace of the God who makes all things new. And hear us as we pray using the words Jesus taught his disciples, saying:
Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil,
for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory,
For ever, Amen.

Gracious and Loving God,
May we be no one’s enemy, and may we be the friend of that which is eternal and abides
May we never quarrel with those nearest us, and if we do, may we be reconciled quickly
May we love, seek and attain only that which is good
May we wish for all people’s happiness, and envy none.
May we never rejoice in the ill-fortune of one who has wronged us.
When we have done or said what is wrong, may we never wait for the rebuke of others, but always rebuke ourselves until we make amends
May we avoid and repent of hypocrisy and legalism
May we win no victory that harms either us or our opponents
May we reconcile friends who are angry with one another
May we, to the extent of our powers, give all needful help to our friends, our neighbours, and to all who are in want.
May we never fail friends who are in danger
When visiting those in grief, may we be able by gentle and healing words to soften their pain.
May we respect ourselves, and others.
May we always keep tame that which rages within us
May we accustom ourselves to be gentle, and never be angry with people because of circumstances.
May we never discuss who we call wicked and what wicked things they have done, but know good people and follow in their footsteps.
May we not simply hear about or see news from abroad, but feel, empathise and respond as best we can.
Lord God may our attitudes be changed by our prayers, so that our fine words lead to fresh actions, that benefit your people, your world, your kingdom. Amen.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Sermon - 3rd January (Christmas 2/Epiphany)

Did you have a great time, or are you glad it’s all over for another year?
Maybe you’re all past masters at sailing through the festive season without raised voices, stress levels or blood pressure, or lost opportunities, tempers or sellotape – but I suspect at least one or two of you can identify…?

Ironically even getting to church – who’s going, which service, will we get there on time? – can become a source of stress instead of a place of peace.
I won’t stand here and claim that I, we had no stresses – though I have to admit that my wife had most aspects of our family celebrations covered, including the presents.

Even when I’m doing it, I’m not great at present-shopping.
As you’re are getting to know me a little by now, you might be surprised – but I leave it too late, usually! Then I inflict on myself the crowds of pre-Christmas shoppers, the shelves with items left in the wrong places, the mental list of people to buy for with no idea of what to get or even where to start!

It’s always escaped my understanding why people will do all that, celebrate Christmas, then pile out to the sales and do the whole crowds, traffic and misplaced items experience – again!

Today, I’m looking forward a few days to the 6th, Epiphany, traditionally the day we remember the Three Wise Men. These gents have a solid ‘hold’ on our imaginations and our traditions – on our hymns, too – but if we stick to the Bible, (their only mention comes in our reading from Matthew’s gospel) we don’t know that much about them.

Were there three? We don’t know. There were at least two because the passage describes them in the plural, and we think of three because of the number of gifts they brought. Were they Wise? What did they do? Sometimes we think of them as Kings – who we hope would be wise! – or as astrologers – who might or might not be wise…

The only thing we can be reasonably sure of is that they were Men – as I’m sure you’ve heard before, even this Christmas seaon: if they had been Three Wise Women they would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and brought practical gifts like nappies!

So our Three Wise Men, or perhaps our Some Men of Indeterminate Occupation have arrived. Again, tradition, and maybe a tendency to squash the whole Christmas story together, puts them arriving in the stable, even just later that first Christmas night. But in the passage it simply states it was ‘After Jesus was born in Bethlehem’ (v 1), it mentions the Men ‘coming to the house’ (v 11) (even the ‘stable’ was not mentioned either in Matthew or Luke, just a manger). And judging from Herod’s later actions, Jesus could actually have been anything up to a couple of years old by this point.

And they worship, and they bring their gifts. Suddenly we are in really strange territory. A baby who is lying in a cattle trough, born to parents who are – if not poor, certainly are not well off or powerful – is receiving homage and precious gifts from some people who at least speak with kings.

This is a major part of the story – the whole gospel story – the ‘upside down’ nature of God’s kingdom – that a humble baby should receive worship and precious gifts from these visitors.
And also, that the visitors were from a far-off land, highlighting that Jesus was to be for all people, not just the Jews.

We look, too at the gifts which traditionally and rightly have been identified with certain symbolism:
Gold – a gift suitable for a king
Frankincense – used by a priest, bringing people close to God
Myrrh – to embalm a body after death

Jesus was to be a great King, but also one who would bring people to God, and whose death, as well as his life, would be significant.

But imagine the Some Men, of Indeterminate Occupation, doing their shopping….

Look at this star, I’m sure it means a new king has been born, we should go and see!
OK but we can’t go without a present, what shall we take?
Well, I hate going shopping, I’ll just bring the currency I’ve got on me – here’s the gold that I’ve got, it looks nice don’t you think?, it’s worth its weight in gold, you know!

I just nipped out , there’s nothing left in the shops, just smelly stuff – and nothing suitable for a baby – look, this is a special commission for the temples, ‘Frankincense – by Calvin Klein’, and here’s one for undertakers, ‘Myrrh, by Hugo’.

Oh well, they’ll have to do, hope the parents don’t mind…

But I’d like to ask you – are you a Wise Man, or a Wise Woman? What are your plans for Jesus this New Year? Are you quite happy in your own country, pursuing your own occupation or interests, stargazing, or whatever? or are you ready to ‘up sticks’ and look (again) for Jesus, to bring him afresh into your life?

And if so, what gifts will you bring him? Will you just rummage around for something you’ve got spare and leftover, or whatever’s left, or cheap, on the shelves, or will you give consideration to what is suitable and appropriate?

This is Jesus in the manger, but it is also Jesus of the cross, Jesus of the Church – he doesn’t demand anything, but what gifts do you have that he might use in his church, in his world?

Maybe something you don’t consider a gift but he says ‘I could really use that’. Or a gift you’re not sure about using?
We can get hung up on Jesus parable of the talents, about being a good steward of our gifts, but a story like this can remind us that it is important just to come, that our availability, in all that we are, is more important to Jesus than our ability, how good we think we might be at something.

And here in this parish, or farther afield, there will be room and opportunity to use your gifts, whether ‘up front’ or behind the scenes, whether for a few minutes once in a while, or on a regular and frequent basis. Jesus calls and builds a church not to simply gather an audience for a message, but to gain a congregation, a community, that worships and listens and loves and serves and works together – each as they are able, and in that working together, builds relationships and ministries that are not just one-offs, oh we’re here to worship the babe but now we must go home, but are sustained and sustainable links with others who together go on and ask: What can I give him?