Sunday 8

1ST SERVICE
MORNING HOLY COMMUNION               PREACHER - CAROL SHELLEY

Psalm 29;
Matthew Ch 3 v13- 17.

Psalm 29 is a hymn of praise to the power of God’s presence in our world.

It describes how through many aspects of nature (the seas, the wind, flashes of lightning, floods) we are able to witness God’s power. It’s theme of God’s power continues in the way in which God’s voice is described: it will shake the desert, it will twist the oaks, it will break the cedars.

The latter example for the Jews listening would have described the ultimate force, for the cedars of Lebanon were known to rise to 120feet and have a girth of 30feet: figures to stop them in their tracks; to make them reconsider the power of God’s message to them.

First and foremost however, the message was to make them listen, something throughout their history they had been very unreliable at.

Not just the Jews in their history, but people in general I would suggest.

Undoubtedly, from my past experience in numerous classrooms some children are very poor at listening, either they are too fidgety or they have not been trained to absorb what is important from the general melee of noise. This is not of course wholly their fault, for another aspect of modern life is the wide variety and continual noises with which we are surrounded. Learning to differentiate and absorb what is important is a skill which is difficult to master.

Sometimes there seems to be just too much to listen to. Do you frequently wish that you could separate yourself from so much that is happening in our world? Of course we cannot, and should not; but what makes our everyday lives so challenging is the presence of modern forms of communication. Of course technology offers us a huge number of positives; no one could appreciate more than myself with half the family living on the west coast of the USA.

The fact however remains that we can almost instantly know about anything and everything that happens in our own area of the world and the wider world in general. We are receiving messages and information all the time.

Despite all this I’m sure many of you, like myself, are becoming increasingly aware that as a generalisation many people today are very poor listeners.

What do I mean?

Well some people are so busy talking that they are totally unaware that others may have something to contribute; and even when they pause for breath they do not listen but continue from where they themselves left off.

Others are so excited and stimulated by what they hear that they cannot wait to express their thoughts and ideas; not deliberately blocking others but inadvertently doing so. Here, I must admit to being guilty of this and trying very hard to retrain and restrain myself.

Then there are others who listen in a manner related to predicted text. They listen only to key words which they construct into the sentence they think you are about to complete. This can be very frustrating when, inevitably, they sometimes construct completely the wrong thought process.

Some of course simply do not listen, either through lack of interest or having decided that there is nothing you could say that might possibly interest them.

Am I being too harsh? Hopefully not but definitely with some point.

How can we deal with these two modern irritations?

Can we find examples to help us overcome with these problems?

Answer – Yes.

Where – The Bible of course.

There are so many examples in both the Old Testament and the New where listening has changed individuals lives, and the course of history. There are also many examples where not listening has proved to be “an absolute disaster darling”. (Craig Revel Horwood off Strictly Come Dancing).

While not wishing to linger on the negative we have only to think of Adam and Eve, Lot’s wife and the population of Noah’s world to appreciate how important listening can be.

The listening of the Bible is of course very specific: the listening is to God, and on reflection the triune God who Christians acknowledge. God communicates in many ways with his people so we must be alert if we are to receive his message.

Many of God’s people received their instructions through dreams. The Old Testament Joseph’s life and those of the Israelite people, was changed numerous times through the dreams he experienced: but much more recently during the Christmas period, we have heard about the dreams of Joseph, Jesus earthly father and the Magi. Both dreams were to prove crucial to developing events.

Then there are the visits of angels: again the Christmas story gives us some profound examples:- Mary receiving the news that she is to have a baby, Joseph takes the family to Egypt when he receives a warning from an angel, and of course the shepherds had the amazing experience of a heavenly host telling them of Jesus’ birth.

We must also remember the prophets, whose task was to listen and then pass on God’s message. There are examples too of God speaking directly to individuals: so how would we respond in any of these situations? Maybe this question should be worded, how did you respond when such an experience happened to you?

In our Gospel reading we hear the account of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. Initially John is reluctant to baptise Jesus because he recognises Jesus for who he is.  However, he listens to Jesus words and appreciates that there is a purpose to what is being requested.  Having fulfilled Jesus’ wishes they see and hear a communication from God. The Holy Spirit in the form of a dove brings the blessing of God and they hear the words “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Through this episode we are able to appreciate that Jesus

  • Is not cleansed of his sin, for he did not sin, but is taking our sins and redeeming us.
  • Is showing his support for all that John has done and is doing
  • Is publically opening his period of ministry
  • Is again publically acknowledging the recognition that he is not an ordinary man, but God’s Son living a life on earth to fulfil God’s wishes.

In the Gospels of Mark and Luke there are actually three more words in the speech from God. They are “listen to him”. This takes us directly back to our own ability to listen, and specifically to listening to God.

Have we ever received a personal experience?

Are we actually alert to what God is asking of us, telling us to do?

Yes in this hurly burly, noisy world it would be very easy to miss a message, so we must give ourselves time and opportunity to become more receptive.

One of the few times that I have appreciated God speaking directly to me was when a friend spoke words which actually relayed the thoughts and feelings I had been experiencing: they were God’s spokesperson. God will frequently use those close to us to confirm what we think we have heard. Sometimes we may hear words from the Bible or from a sermon which seem to speak directly to us. Do not dismiss this as an emotional response, take time to consider if this really is a direct message from God to us as individuals. Another very frequent means of communication is our conscience. Jesus will make us aware through an inner conviction that an action is indeed something he wishes us to do.

Finally I would like to return to angels.

The Jews revered God’s name to the point that they would not speak it; frequently then we find written word where instead of saying “God said” the writer will refer to the presence of God’s angel bringing a message. Are we even open in our thinking about the concept of angels?

What has become very clear for myself as I have formed this address is that probably like others sitting here, I need to spend more time in quiet and I need to consider in more depth what messages I might have received that I have not fully appreciated or taken action on. Such time will also allow me to become far more receptive to God’s messages.

I can think of no better message to bring on this Sunday, the first of the period of Epiphany than we create for ourselves time to receive God’s word.

“This is my Son, whom I love: with him I am well pleased. Listen to him”

Amen.

 

2ND SERVICE

EVENING PRAYER                  PREACHER  - REV LYNN MCKEON

Ephesians 3: 1-12
Matthew 2: 1-12

When we look at the story of the Magi, we see the story of each of us as well. They were strange easterners who travelled long distances, sometimes we think of them as kings, other times we see them as exotic foreigners. So often we see them as someone different, someone other, someone set apart. When we look at the Christmas story we like to associate ourselves with the shepherds or even Mary and Joseph. The Magi are there to make the story a bit more exotic. And yet, in some ways, I think we’re more like them than anyone else in the story. You see, the Magi were looking for something. They were on a journey to find something more than themselves. They were traveling foreign lands looking for a king.

Well, what does that have to do with me, you ask? You may not have travelled long distances, you may not be in a foreign land, but we all have that longing to search for something more in us. We are all following stars and hoping they will lead us to something great. We just aren’t always sure what it is they are going to lead us to.

The Magi were magicians, they were court advisors, they were seers. They were the prophets and advisors of their day, they were the cabinet members, the scholars. In the Old Testament we see a few of God’s people who went on to be Magi in their own right, The most obvious of these examples are Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon. They stood out from the other Magi around them because they didn’t rely on tricks or the stars or smooth talking to sus out the truth, rather they went to God.

But the Magi in our story weren’t necessarily God fearers. Rather, they were studiers of the sky and they saw a great omen in the sky. A star appeared in the east that told them that a great king had been born. And like the man who finds a treasure in a field and sells everything so that he can buy that field and have that treasure, they head out on a great journey to meet this king and welcome him to the world.

Basically, they saw something great in the sky and they felt that they needed to be a part of it. So they headed out on a great journey that took them to Jerusalem. Now it’s interesting to note that the star itself didn’t get them to Jesus, to Bethlehem. They showed up in Jerusalem and went to the palace to see where the king might be. In Jerusalem they were introduced to scripture which told them that the king would be born in Bethlehem. Then they travelled there, and only then saw the star again which confirmed for them the truth. For the Magi, the star wasn’t enough. It got them started on the journey, but it didn’t get them to the destination. I’m convinced that this is an important distinction to make because we are all on journeys, we are all following stars, and we cannot expect that the stars will always lead us to the right answer right away. Sometimes we need to go as far as we can with the stars, but then turn to scripture, then turn to prayer, then turn to God and go the rest of the way.

What are the things that we follow? What are the journeys that we begin as we search for something more? What are the stars that we find ourselves chasing after? If we’re really honest with ourselves, we will admit that we do follow stars, and not all of them are healthy. We look for things to give us fulfilment.

We look for something to give us meaning. And we put our energy into certain things because we think they’re going to take us someplace special. I’m sure we all know someone with what I call wanderlust. Folk who are constantly on the move, looking for another adventure to go on, another place to travel to. There’s something that they get from travelling, they find meaning in going places. But we all have different things that give us that same kind of meaning, that same kind of purpose. Or perhaps it is something that we’re chasing that we hope will give us that meaning, that purpose.

One of the curates I trained with is writing a book. She is somewhat unhappy with what’s going on at her church and the situation she’s in in ministry, but she’s excited about this book she’s writing and is throwing all her energy into it. For my dad, it was always heading down to his office, to work on the next building estimate. For my mom, it was devouring the next book. I believe the whole dating scene is a bit of a star, trying to find the perfect person to complete you and make you happy. For others it is keeping up appearances, making sure that they look good to the people around them. I know others who have  addictions, things that are very unhealthy and that rule over them.

We are all following stars, trying to find purpose, trying to find meaning. Some of the stars lead us in the right direction, others pull us into dangerous places. But when our stars come in contact with God, they will bring us to a place where we can find true fulfilment, true purpose, true peace. You see, the fact that we are following stars in normal. It is not bad in and of itself. Some of the stars we may chase may be bad for us or those around us, and when we get to the point where we obsess about anything too much, it can become dangerous. But following stars isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. The Magi were following the star of astrology that led them to seek after a great king. And they ended up in front of the one true king, Jesus.

You see, I believe that if we are truly seeking after truth, if we are truly seeking after knowledge, if we are truly seeking after what is right, God will find a way to make sure we find it. The star didn’t lead the Magi to Jesus, though that’s the way we like to hear the story. The star got them so far, got them in the general area, and then they turned to the Word of God and found their way the rest of the way there.

This is a hopeful message for us, it is a hopeful message for those we know who are lost, who don’t know Jesus. Now I’m not suggesting that all roads lead to heaven. Far from it. But I am saying that God rewards true seeking after the truth. God put the Magi on the right path and brought them in contact with the true word so they could find Jesus. When we meet someone journeying on the path for truth, when we find someone following a star hoping to find God at the other end, perhaps we can help put them on the right path as well. This doesn’t happen necessarily by arguing with them or trying to explain to them every way they are wrong. Rather, we can encourage their curiosity about truth. We can celebrate their open minds to the wonders of the universe. And we can share with them where the star has led us. We were led to a town on the other side of the world, a little town called Bethlehem where we found a young boy named Jesus. He would grow up to be a great teacher, an amazing healer, a man of wisdom and truth, a man who would sacrifice himself for the world so that all who believe in him might know eternal life and the heavenly peace that passes all human understanding.

The stars we follow may be distractions, they may be false hopes, they may be things that are leading us in circles. But eventually they will intersect with God in some way. The question is how we’re going to respond when they do. The true king is born, and he wants to be born in us as well. Let’s be sure that we don’t miss him and that we find ourselves seeking him ourselves. Amen.