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And Beyond!

The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to Luke.

Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“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 favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:14-21)

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The Old Testament  book of Nehemiah, a reading of which is also scheduled for today, tells of the return from exile of the Israelites, and the way they wanted  to make a connection with their faith again; to see their city being built again, and to be together as a people again.

They were back in their own land; they were rebuilding it;  they were becoming a community;  and they realised that to grow as a people, and  as individuals,  they  needed to strengthen their faith, their ‘church,’ and to become truly, one body.

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul gives us his ideas about what constitutes ‘one body,’ and how people with all their various gifts contribute in their own way, to create that body, which is the church.

Paul relates it to the human body, and how the various parts of our body  work together, to function so beautifully. The head, the neck, the arms, the legs, the eyes, the mouth, and so on, each relying on the other parts for its existence.

And so, he sees how all the various people who are part of a  community – the church – likewise depend on each other, to become a complete entity.   

Christ is no longer in the world physically, so if he wants a task done here in the world he has to find someone – one of us – to do it. In other words, we are his body in the world. 

If he wants a child taught, he has to find a teacher to teach him; if he wants a sick person cured, he has to find a physician or surgeon to do his work; if he wants a story told he has to find someone to tell it. We have to be hands to do his work, feet to run his errands, a voice to speak for him.

It is a glorious thing for us, Christian people, to serve Christ as his body here  on earth.

You will remember, a few years ago, a process was introduced called Natural Church Development . This encouraged  those who participated, to look at how the church functions, in short, to look at  how the parts of the body of Christ work together.

We all have various gifts, various parts to play. Each one is as important as the next.  Just as the parts of our human  body aren’t jealous of one another – like  your arm couldn’t be jealous of your leg, could it?  – then we can’t  be jealous of each other.  An arm is made to be an arm, and a leg a leg. ‘    Just as our body needs every limb and every organ to do the work it is gifted to do, so does the church.

We need each other, don’t we?   The work we do isn’t so important  that we can neglect or criticize those who do other work.    All service ranks the same with God.

If we can’t see that, then we just haven’t ‘got it’  – we haven’t begun to see what church unity means.

A great example of a short-sighted way of looking at the church, comes out of this week’s Gospel.

It is concerned with the time when Jesus had just begun his ministry in Galilee.

Galilee was an area in the north of Palestine which stretched about fifty miles north to south and about half that from east to west. Galilee means circle, and the name comes from the fact that it was encircled by non-Jewish nations.

Jesus had been teaching in Galilee and word must have spread about him, because when he went to the synagogue to worship, as was his custom on the Sabbath, he was asked to read and teach from the book of Isaiah.

He read it and interpreted it for those who were there, as it applied  to his own beginning ministry.

He had been affirmed in who he was at his baptism, when the voice from heaven had said, ‘’This is my Son and I am pleased with him”

He had wrestled with the devil in the wilderness, and had won, and gone out to do what His Father had sent him to do.

This Sabbath in front of his own people, he as much as told them that.

That was fine, but then Jesus sat down – as was the custom with teachers, or rabbis  – to teach.  And if we were to read a bit further than today’s excerpt, we would hear Jesus mention instances from the Old Testament – stories where Gentiles were heroes, or were the focus of a story which showed them favoured by God.

This was anathema to the people who were there.  The Jews of the day were so sure they and they alone were God’s people, they couldn’t accept that anyone else could be loved by their God, 

But here was Jesus whom they all knew, telling them something  they didn’t want to hear.   It was too much for them. They wanted unity, but only as long as it didn’t involve outsiders.

This was a people who claimed to be God’s own in the world, and yet they couldn’t see beyond their prejudices  They could not see beyond themselves.

They turned against Jesus.

That’s the sort of attitude some of us Christians have displayed at times,  about issues we felt  strongly about. Remember the prayer book/ BAS controversy? Remember the controversy about women’s ordination?

Other controversies are coming down the road and will test our willingness to  accept those who think a bit differently.

We have a lot of traditions in the church you know. And we want to hang onto them.  Some are rooted in ancient times;  some so long ago that we have forgotten how they came to be.  It may be that we will have to re-think certain traditions. 

There is one in particular, that goes back to Old Testament times.  

You see, in those days,  kings believed that God gave them direction in dreams. If they wanted to know what they were supposed to do in their administration, they would try to receive direct word from God while they slept.

If they weren’t getting any dream messages in their own bed,  they would go and sleep in the Temple where they believed it would work better.

Is this  the origin of the time-honored tradition of sleeping in church?.

Perhaps during the sermon?

We need to lighten up a bit about some of the issues that engage us, and see the hand of God working in everyone, in our family circle, in our church, in our city, our diocese, and in the world at large.

But as much as we might not like it, the fact is that God doesn’t only work through Christians. We are called especially to do his work in the world, but he also works through others too.

I have mentioned it before, but it bears repeating, that a group of influential people – past members  of the Palestinian leadership – and a group of people – past members of the Israeli leadership – got together and worked out a plan for peace.

It was a plan that would call for compromise from each nation, and give advantage to each, equally. Most of all it recognised the realities that existed, and reached beyond them.

Muslims on one side and Jews on the other; maybe a Christian was involved, as there are Palestinian Christians, but God was trying to work through the gifts of people who are not specifically Christian.

We might wonder how God could use people who don’t follow Jesus.  But it shouldn’t  matter as long as peace comes – as long as the job gets done.  Isn’t that right?

But politicians on both sides rejected it. Who knew!

Some years ago, a well known Christian, Jimmy Swaggart, lost his position as church leader, because of a sexual misadventure.  I believe he is now a forgiven Christian. It was easy to criticize Jimmy Swaggart. It was easy to call him a phony Christian.

But within a few months of his fall from grace, I read a report that said his organization, the organization he had formerly set up, fed a quarter of a million hungry children a day in the third world.

What a wonder!   God not only works through non Christians, he works through fallen Christians.

There is hope for all of us, isn’t there?

We need community. We need to belong to a church, where the combined gifts of all members are so much more fruitful than the gifts of one alone. 

But we can’t let the walls that shelter us where we meet, blind us to the wonderful work that God is doing out there, through all sorts of   ‘other’ people, and the wonderful opportunities that we have to serve him too, here, and out there,   according to our gifts.

Because Jesus wants to work through us, in the church, and beyond the church. 

Amen.

Still at Work!

The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to John
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.   (John 2:1-11)

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A priest was driving his car rather erratically. It was weaving from side to side. Naturally, a policeman sitting in his car watching the traffic go by, on seeing how this car was being driven, gave chase. It didn’t take long to catch up with the car and the driver readily pulled over when signaled to do so.

The priest wound down the window, and looked at the officer with a big smile. The officer asked, “ Sir, have you been drinking?”  The priest answered, “Yes, but only water.”

The policeman then spotted an empty bottle on the floor of the car, and asked the priest to pass it to him. The priest did so. The officer smelled the bottle, and said,” This bottle smells like wine.”

“Would you believe it ? ” said the priest,” He’s done it again!”

The event that took place at Cana and which is related in today’s Gospel has inspired similar humorous stories like that.

Mary was invited to a wedding, and asked Jesus to come along. He did so, but he arrived with five disciples. Five unexpected guests might have put a strain on the resources of bride and groom, and sure enough the wine ran out.

An incident like that would be terribly embarrassing for anyone, but in Palestine, because of the strong tradition of hospitality, it would be doubly so.

In some accounts, Mary is the sister of the groom’s mother Salome. She may have had some official function at the wedding. She certainly was able to speak authoritatively to the servants. It was she who first noticed that the wine was gone, and she mentioned it to Jesus.

It’s a bit like, if a woman, accompanied by her son, handy at fixing computers, was visiting  friends, and seeing that their computer was on the blink, says to her son, “The computer is broken, “ meaning, “Go and fix it.”

Jesus at first says, “My time is not yet come.”

His mother ignores him, and tells the servants, “Just do whatever he tells you.” 

She knows he will do something about the situation. 

And Jesus does.

He, in effect, provides  120 or more gallons of wine. Six stone jars, each holding twenty odd gallons – more than enough for a half dozen wedding receptions.

This looks like overkill doesn’t it?

They asked for wine. They got wine. Oh boy, did they get wine!

There are several points to this story.

This is the first recorded miracle, or sign, that Jesus did.  It sounds rather frivolous at first.  There is so much to do in the world, and here is Jesus  making water into wine.

But to the couple whose wedding was being celebrated, running out of wine would be disastrous.  It would be a monstrous shame.

If you think that is an overstatement,  then just cast your mind back to your own wedding, or to the wedding of a son or daughter and remember the stress, the worry, the tumultuous part that weddings play in the lives of groom and bride, father of the bride, mother of the bride, attendants, groomsmen, and so on, for weeks, or months.

I have seen that a lot, I tell you, and although it dismays me that it is so, it is a fact that a wedding is an extremely worrying event.

Jesus had compassion on that couple and helped them out.

Are you like me in that when you pray you are kind of ashamed to ask God to help with simple everyday things?  Like,  I pray for peace in the world. I pray for those I know are sick, or who have asked for my prayers. But if there is something in my own life that is bothering me, and even though it is a serious worry for me,  in the world scheme of things it seems  trivial,  then I am reluctant to ask God to help me out.

How about you? 

But this story tells us that God is concerned with our everyday problems and we can take them to Him.

As soon as Mary heard there was a problem, she immediately turned to Jesus, and so can we. In fact he should be the first one we turn to.

Now, John the evangelist, the writer of this Gospel, said nothing that was not meaningful. He wrote this Gospel seventy years after Jesus was crucified.

He had all that time to consider, to ponder, the deeper meanings of the events he remembered, and he brought all that consideration to his Gospel. 

At the very beginning of his ministry, in a little village almost within sight of Nazareth, Jesus did this miracle.

He replaced water with wine. It was better wine than had been there before. It was so plentiful that there was more than enough for everyone there, more than  enough for the whole village, probably.  

The deeper message that John wants us to understand is that Jesus is entering into a momentous time, a wonderful ministry of word and deed, that will put an end to the old stale ways of doing things. He is doing a new thing. He will bring a different, new, more wonderful way of knowing God.

The way of life epitomized by the Pharisees and their obsession with the law will be discredited.

People will have access to a God who had appeared to have become distant, not because He wanted it, but because the priests and the temple and the law and all the stuff around religion, had come between the people and their God.

Jesus would bring the blessing of freedom to worship, and to experience  joy in  worship.

Anyone who thinks that religion should be gloomy has got the wrong idea.

Here are Jesus and the disciples having a good time, with people they know, at a celebration. 

The old ways, like the old wine, had run their course. New ways, much better ways, like the new wine, would take their place.

The story works on another level too.

What changed in the story primarily was the water. It became wine. But what also changed?

The attitude of the wine steward changed. One moment he had no wine to serve, the next moment he had plenty. Imagine the grin on his face.

The attitude of some of the people there changed too. They always thought that the best wine was served at the start of a celebration and the not-so-good wine near the end when people would be less discerning. This time the best was served last.

The attitude of the couple was changed from one of consternation to one of joy.

The attitude of the bride’s father was changed. He was responsible for providing the wine, and was probably white with worry when it ran out. Now he is happy, relaxed, can enjoy the evening, and looks like a great planner.

Mary’s attitude didn’t change. She knew Jesus could fix things, and here he had fixed this.

You see, Jesus did what he did, for people.

This story therefore, works for us. Jesus is not in this world physically, but he still does his miracles for us, and through us. 

In 1985, about thirty five  years ago, Bob Proctor was doing a week-end seminar at the Deerhurst Lodge north of Toronto. He was there on that awful Friday night when a tornado swept through Barrie, killing several people and doing millions of dollars of damage. I am sure you remember that.

I met someone just a few years later, whose trailer was smashed to ruins that night , and who had been lucky to get out alive.

That Sunday night as Bob was going home, he stopped his car in Barrie and got out on the side of the road and looked around. It was a mess. Everywhere he looked there were smashed houses, and overturned cars.

The same night a man by the name of Bob Templeton was driving down the same highway – probably Highway 400. He stopped to look at the disaster just as Bob Proctor had. His thoughts, however were different.

Bob was the vice president of Telemedia Communications, which owned a string of radio stations in Ontario and Quebec. He thought there must be something he could do to help the people of Barrie, using the radio stations they had.

The following night Bob Proctor was doing another seminar in Toronto. Bob Templeton and Bob Johnson, another vice president from Telemedia came and stood in the back of the room. That night  they shared their conviction that there had to be something they could do for the people in Barrie. They went back to Bob’s office.

Templeton was now committed to the idea of helping those caught in the tornado.  So the following Friday he called all the executives at Telemedia to his office. At the top of a flip chart he wrote the numbers 3-3-3.

He said to his executives, “How would you like to raise three million dollars three days from now, in three hours, and give the money to the people of Barrie?”

Finally someone said, “Templeton, you are crazy. There’s no way we can do that.”

Bob said, “Wait a minute. I didn’t ask you if we could , or even if we should, I just asked if you’d like to.”

They all said, “Sure, we’d  like to.”  He then drew a large T underneath the three threes. On one side he wrote, “Why we can’t,” and on the other, he wrote,” How we can.”

He put a big X on the ‘why we can’t’ side,  because he said that was a waste of time.

He told them he would put down all their ideas on the other side, and said,  “We are not going to leave the room till we figure it out.”

There was a long period of silence, until someone finally said, “We could do a radio show across Canada.”  Bob said that was a great idea and wrote it down.

Before he had finished writing, someone else said, “You can’t do a radio show across Canada, we don’t have radio stations across Canada.” That was a pretty valid objection, They only had stations in Ontario and Quebec.

Templeton said, “That’s why we can. That stays.”

It had also been a valid objection because radio stations are very competitive and don’t usually work together.

All of a sudden, someone suggested, “You could get Harvey Kirk and Lloyd Robertson, the biggest names in Canadian broadcasting to anchor the show.”

At that point it was amazing how the ideas began to flow. They came fast and furious.

That was Friday. The following Tuesday they had a ‘radiothon.’ They had fifty radio stations all across the country that agreed to broadcast it. It didn’t matter who got the credit for it as long as the people in Barrie got the money.

Harvey Kirk and Lloyd Robertson anchored the show and they succeeded in raising three million dollars, in three hours, in three business days.

People working together to help people who needed help, probably praying for help, and help came.

Miracles are still being done in this His world. 

So don’t tell me that God doesn’t care, or that Jesus came for nothing, or that there is no good going on in this world.

Jesus began something with that first miracle, that has endured.

He merely changed water into wine, but it was a beginning that saw mighty changes, miraculous changes, take place in people’s lives.

More, much more has happened since Jesus died than during his short three year ministry – as he promised it would.

Proof that His Spirit is still at work, in the world, in the church, and in us.

Amen. 

I found the story told by Bob Proctor, about his friend Bob Templeton,, in Chicken Soup for the Soul, written and complied by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, published in 1993 by Heath Communications Inc., Florida.

Thank God!

A Reading from The Acts of the Apostles

When the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:14-17)

The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to Luke.

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:15-17,21-22)

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Eight hundred years before Jesus was born, the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel, whose capital was Samaria.   As conquerors did in those days, they took away the greater part of the population, as slaves, and brought in strangers to live in the land.  Over time, those who had been left behind inter-married with these foreigners. 

A couple of hundred years later, the Babylonians conquered the rest of the territory, the Southern Kingdom, called Judah, with its capital Jerusalem. And most, if not all, its inhabitants were carted off to Babylon, as slaves.

These exiled people hung onto their religion, and stubbornly kept themselves separate from the people they lived with.  Consequently, they considered themselves, to be racially pure.  

Another hundred years later, their descendants were allowed to return and began to rebuild Jerusalem. You can read about this in the Old Testament books of Nehemiah and Ezra.

The Samaritans, seeing their own people, as they thought,  back from exile, offered help in the rebuilding, but because they had not kept themselves “racially pure,” their help was rejected.  From then on – for the next five hundred years – there was an unhealed breech and a bitter hatred between Jews and Samaritans.

They had long memories, didn’t they? Five hundred years of hatred!!

But, through Jesus, that wall of hatred began to crumble.

The apostles in Jerusalem heard that some people in Samaria had accepted God’s message and they sent Peter and John. When they arrived, they prayed that the people would be given the Holy Spirit.

Through Peter and John, the church was taking, albeit unconsciously, one of the most important steps in history.  Here it showed in no uncertain way, that the love of Jesus and the power of His Spirit were for the whole world. And could unite ancient enemies under the banner of his love.

Five hundred years of stored up slights, and discrimination, and hatred, were in the process of being eliminated.

I wonder if that is possible in the world today.

Can the Spirit of God do its work with those who are enemies today? 

It will be a tough job. Sunni Muslims in Saudi Arabia are at odds with Shia Muslims in Iran. And the Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia, are discontented with how their Sunni rulers have treated them.

Israel is at odds with Palestinians. There is absolutely no trust between them.

And we see Christians of one persuasion disdainful of Christians of another persuasion!!

However, Iran and the United States, bitter enemies since the Shah’s overthrow, and the holding  of Americans hostage for 444 days, are now showing signs of reconciliation –  not openly, but they are, both against ISIS. .

Is the Spirit working there?

Just when it seems that the dark side always seems to win, situations that seemed intractable,  open up, tentatively,  to change.   Let’s continue to pray that the two enemy nations in the Holy Land, will once again find it possible to compromise and work toward peace.

And if reconciliation between peoples who have been at odds for so long could possibly come to be, then surely in our own personal lives, things that might have seemed to be impossible to change, can – change? 

Wayne Muller tells so lovingly, how it happens, in his book  How Then Shall We live? 

Wayne’s first job was as a therapist working in a street clinic in Rochester, New York.  It was a drop-in centre for runaways and teenage drug users. Sometimes, after taking in a stray teenager there would be no place at the centre to put them, so Wayne would end up taking them home with him.  He was living on a small commune, in a farmhouse outside the city.

Some people questioned the wisdom of bringing these teenagers home. They could be irresponsible, and sometimes they stole stuff. But more often, Wayne says, they seemed so desperate to belong somewhere, anywhere. They were given chores and as often as not,  would end up being part of the  family.

Dolores was severely epileptic. Her mother was poor, not well-educated, and couldn’t care for her properly, so Dolores ended up on the street at the age of fourteen. She was heavily medicated and she would often rebel by not filling her prescriptions.

When this teenager came to the farm, Wayne and the others worked with doctors to get her medication re-calibrated. Whenever she went into a seizure, someone would sit with her, hold her head and keep her from swallowing her tongue.  For the minutes she was shaking, someone would hold her and keep her safe. Dolores quickly became a member of the family.

Maria had been abused by her father. She was hurt so badly that she ran away at thirteen.  She was an angry young woman, and it was somewhat of a risk to bring her out to the farm. 

At first she refused to help with any of the chores.  Whenever Wayne went to do chores in the barn he asked her along. She would follow but she would never help.  She was like a frightened bird, her eyes darting from side to side; she never spoke, but missed nothing. 

One day as Maria and Wayne walked toward the barn they saw one of the chickens, smaller than the rest, being pecked at by the others. This hen was at the bottom of the proverbial  pecking order, and the other chickens were merciless. The small one would come away from these sessions bleeding from the top of her head.

Maria was clearly moved by this. She asked questions about it. Why did the others harm it. How could it protect itself?  And after that she went out every morning to check on the chickens.  She would try to protect the young one, and they seemed to develop a  bond.  She would collect eggs to eat, and bring them into the kitchen. 

Through her own hurt she had begun to discover a sense of compassion for others.

There was an enormous table in the farmhouse. It seated about fifteen people. Most nights, between those who lived there and the various runaways it was full. Before they ate, they would all gather around the table and say grace.  Everyone would name something for which they were thankful. 

People like Dolores and Maria were not used to giving thanks. They were uncomfortable at first, even angry. But after a week, they would gradually chime in.

Dolores would give thanks for having one less seizure than the day before, and everyone would cheer.

Maria would add that she was glad to be in a place where no-one hit her. Everyone added their own silent assent.

By the time they were all done giving thanks, the food was always cold.

In this story, where do you think  the Spirit was working? In Wayne? Maybe it was the Spirit that had called him to do that sort of work in the first place. Maybe  the Spirit  had placed compassion, and a need to help others in his heart long before he came to work in Rochester.

Was the Spirit present in the hearts of the other members of that commune? They seemed to accept  those who needed care. They had the love and patience to watch and wait with those who had suffered, until they saw healing begin to take place. 

Was the Spirit working in the hearts of those two young women, previously shut tight with fear for so long, enabling them to have new life, new hopes, new light in their lives? 

At the moment that Jesus was baptised, all the potential, all the divinely given power, all the promise and all the compassion came upon him.

We are told that God himself said, “You are my own dear Son and I am pleased with you.”

Today, as we try to cope with  Covid 19  in its different manifestations, and consider  global issues, regional issues, and personal issues, there are, still –  believe it – signs of how the Spirit  can do God’s work anywhere  – anywhere that is, that understanding, and a willingness to open one’s heart  is present. 

After his baptism, Jesus began his earthly ministry. He brought healing, compassion, a willingness to fight for others, a knack for reaching out to those whom society had rejected, or who were just unable to function. .

He brought a hope that no matter how badly we have been hurt, there is healing.

He brought hope that no matter how badly we have hated, there is love; that no matter how badly we have sinned there is forgiveness.

We talk about baptism as moving us from darkness to light. But because most of us were baptised at birth, the moving from darkness into light is a distant notion.   But Peter and John went to Samaria, to baptise with the Holy Spirit; to bring the power of the Spirit into the lives of the Samaritans –  and to enable adult members of the church to move from darkness into light. .  

The Spirit of Christ likewise enables us to move from darkness to light, from an old life to a new life. It confirms the fact of salvation – that we can always begin anew.

Nations, countries, factions, enemies, neighbors, family and friends, all can enter into new relationships with each other.

And it is the Spirit of Christ  which makes this possible.

Thank God, and Bless His holy Name. 

Amen.

To Jesus!

The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to John.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 

9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 1

2But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

15(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. ( John 1: 1-9, 10- 18)

  

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Some time ago, when I still lived in the UK,  my wife and I and another couple went south for a holiday, aiming for Weston Super Mare, as I remember. Two things stick in my mind from that holiday, plus that it rained every day bar one. 

The first was that we went inside Winchester Cathedral, which was a thrill. It is a beautiful edifice. And a glory to God.

Many churches in England date back, to the tenth or eleventh century. And I say many, because by the fourteenth or fifteenth, most had been built. There was hardly a church built between then and the eighteenth century, because every town and village had one. New churches were built much later, after people began to move from the farms into the cities during the Industrial Revolution.

Also, I was always amazed to read, about such a cathedral, that it may have taken from two hundred to four hundred  years to build.

It’s amazing, isn’t it? 

You would think that  the plans would have been lost,  or ‘they’ would have run out of enthusiasm, or something, but no! building continued, I would imagine spasmodically, as money became available until it was done.

Two or three centuries later!

What faith they must have had in the future.

The other noteworthy memory was of visiting the Cheddar Gorge.

Now you might think the Cheddar Gorge has something to do with cheese, but no, it is a complex of caves. To be able to go inside those caves is a real treat.  

Inside, there are stalactites and stalagmites, illuminated by coloured lights, and spectacular they are. But what I remember most was the moment when the guide extinguished all the lights.

He said, “When I put out the lights you will experience real darkness.”

And he did.

And we did.

The darkness was almost palpable.

You could see no-one, and nothing.


The person beside you wasn’t there any more. 

You could have been in a coffin, or in outer space.

The darkness had no limits.

It was kind of scary, to tell you the truth.

After just a few minutes, one small light was turned on.

It was such a small light, but it made all the difference.

Just that one small light threw back the darkness

And people began to breathe again. You realised you had been holding your breath.

John, telling about  Jesus, the Word, tells us ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.’

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.

The love of God came into the world and the world did not overcome it.

That is the message I want to carry with me from this first Sunday of the Year of our Lord, two thousand and twenty two. .

I wonder if the people who built those mighty cathedrals in Europe thought that the word of God would endure unto the millennium, or did they think that the darkness in the world would overcome it?

Because there were many dark times in England and Europe in the years that followed.

We have our own worries about the state of the world, and maybe about the state of our own lives, and about Covid,  but they had worries too.

In the tenth and eleventh centuries, and for centuries afterward, life expectancy was low. Infant deaths were common. Midwives baptised babies right  away, because there was no guarantee the child would survive long enough for its parents to take it  to church.

The people who worked on the land were slaves, in essence, subject to the rule of the local lord.

Sicknesses were treated with remedies based on superstition.

The plague would come along and decimate the population.

There were no street lights. Homes would only have tallow candles to provide light, if at all. 

Unless there were a moon, and you walked outside at night, there was nothing to light your way, unless perhaps you carried a torch made of straw dipped in pitch. Or a candle in a lamp.

Neither of which lasted too long.  Or cast much light.

And in the darkness devils roamed the countryside.

Or so people thought.,

I remember reading a story set in the fifteenth century, about life in a castle which was surrounded by a moat.

All the rubbish generated in the castle,  everything,  was thrown into the moat, including human waste.

You can imagine what an evil mix was formed.

Gases would be generated and sometimes there would be an explosion as these gases were ignited by lightning strike, or spontaneous combustion, and people would think it was caused by the devil, or demons, what with the flames and smell of burning sulphur.

It was a fearful time, to be alive. 

Not only did people have to worry about invaders, or what the feudal lord might demand of them, they had to worry about demons too.

The church, where candles would be lit, and hymns sung, and lessons read, and fellowship experienced, was the place where they  felt safe from the exigencies of life.

Because even in that dark world, the light of Christ shone.

And reassured people.

Today’s cities have so much light they can be seen from space. Here on earth, the city lights make it impossible to see the night sky, and the Milky Way, as well as we could when we were young. 

I remember, as a child, lying on my back and looking up at the night sky and dreaming all sorts of scenarios.

I pointed out that we can’t do that today, because of light pollution, etc., to one of my grandkids, and she said, “Of course I can see the sky Grampa. Look here on my i-pad. See, the planets and constellations are even named “

 We have come a long way, haven’t we?  Technologically.

We still have our own worries, of course, terrorism, wars in foreign countries; concerns about millions of refugees or displaced persons,  and how to help them; the aforementioned Covid, of course, and still many  illnesses that medical science hasn’t yet found a way to eliminate.

And our own personal worries – personal demons,  we might call them.

Some years ago, right after celebrating Midnight Mass, I hurried to the bedside of a young woman in hospital, who sadly, was dying, on that Christmas Eve.

Death doesn’t take a holiday.

So this year, 2022, with its yet unknown challenges,  to whom or to what will we turn?

Where will the light come from to drive away the darkness in our world, or in our lives?

When Jesus’ friends were beginning to desert him, Jesus asked Peter, ” Will you also leave me Peter?”  and Peter replied, “Lord to whom would we go?”

To whom would we go?

To whom will we go?

In this New Year, despite all that may threaten us globally, or personally, we can reply likewise when we are asked, ” To whom will we go?”

To Jesus! 

The light in the darkness which was not, and will not, be overcome.

And will be our touchstone as we live out this year.

Father, let this coming year be a safe and Blessed Year for us all. 

Amen.