Monthly Archives: January 2022

Epiphany 2 16th January 2022

Epiphany 2 Year C – 16th January 2022

Isaiah 62:1-5, John 2:1-11

In the name of the father, and the son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Did you know that in Genesis chapter 9 there is an account of Noah – that stalwart of ark building and saving all the living creatures, getting very drunk on wine from the vineyard he planted after the ark had safely come to rest after the big flood. He deeply embarasses himself afterwards (as people often do with a spot of nakedness too!) One of the psychological effects of alcohol at least in the earlier stages of intoxication is to lower our inhibitions. I know what I am about to say is not quite in the same league as Noah, but I was equally shocked when some years ago now when with my sister children’s (who are all now grown up). (Not very recent I admit!) We were watching an episode of the children’s TV show Camberwick Green (animated puppets – made in the sixties with Pippin Fort and the soldier boys etc) and encountered an episode where the character Windy Miller (who lived in a windmill) got drunk on cider!!! And slept when he should have been working.

Basically wine making and drinking have been a fundamental part of human existence for a long time. The Bible contains a number of challenges about getting drunk. The book of Proverbs advises not to get led astray by drink. It instructs leaders to avoid it – I am not going to use this to comment on ‘partygate’ that has dominated the media over the past few weeks… However not all the advice in the Bible is negative, in Proverbs it also advises to give strong drink to one who is perishing and also wine to those in bitter distress is also included, (remembering bitter wine vinegar being offered to Jesus on the cross!)

St Paul wrote about this too and cautions against drunkenness. Those who wrote the Bible clearly knew all about wine from experience and observation. They also point to the social problems associated with over-indulgence. Though they may not have called it binge-drinking – our current label for it, the writers of the Bible clearly understood what drink could do in excess!

All this background makes it interesting that the first recorded sign – as the gospel of John called it or miracle as we more commonly call it, is all about partying after a wedding and wine… Though things have been different in our strange times – most of us have found ourselves over the years at wedding celebrations and wine is often very much a part of these. However we are unlikely to find ourselves as guests, if the wine runs out thinking this is our problem. So Jesus reaction as a normal wedding guest to his mother when the wine ran out runs in line with our own reactions. What concern is that to you and to me Jesus says. But then it gets quite a lot more mysterious – My hour has not yet come – he goes on.

I recently re-read an interesting interpretation of what happened next in this story, which is one of those for regular churchgoers, which is a bit over-familiar. We have heard it so often that it washes over us a bit, or is a bit too cosy and comforting. I heard it in a talk by Margaret Silf, who has contributed to the Bible Reading fellowship’s New Daylight in the past. She divides the action into 3 parts and I have added some reflections of my own to hers

  • Needy emptiness

  • Transformation

  • Poured out, tasted and shared

Let’s begin with needy emptiness. God’s action here in this story and God’s action in our own lives begins in the same way from our need. We turn to God in our need more often than not on these occasions we acknowledge as indeed we should all the time that we cannot make it on our own. In a way we recognise our own helplessness and how things are not under our control. So need plays a key part. But this needs to be accompanied by obedience – the call to obedience to surrender ourselves without the usual question or argument to our God who is wiser than we are.

How did the servants at the wedding feast feel as Mary said – do whatever he tells you. And what did they think as they filled the huge jars usually used to hold water for foot washing and other rituals that took place before the wedding feast began? Sometimes the things we seem to have to do – can seem rather off the main point or the solution we are looking for, but that sometimes makes doing them all the more important. This isn’t blind obedience but trust. In these circumstances, it is knowing that we cannot help ourselves and it is about handing over and acknowledging our need of God in the situations in which we find ourselves. In this way the need becomes emptiness. We need to be empty and have let go of control for God to work in us.

Just as the empty jars were filled up, they must first have been empty. This needy emptiness is the raw material of the next stage, the transformation that God brings to us. When we start from needy emptiness – or even needy openness to God’s movement in our lives that is all he needs to work in us  and make miracles of our lives too. It is important in this reflection that God regularly chose emptiness to reveal himself (revealing himself is very much what this season of Epiphany is all about). As well as using the empty twenty gallon water jars, God used other empty things. He used the empty womb of Mary and the empty tomb on the first Easter day.

Emptiness like this is not very comfortable, but we do need to resist the temptation to fill our inner emptiness with anything less than God’s will for us. From needy emptiness we move on to transformation. The filled water jugs – have just been filled. There are no dramatic fireworks, hand gestures or theatricals. The miracle happens silently, secretly, if you like – hidden in the depths of the stone water jars.

Transformation can be like that. A butterfly shapes itself silently in its chrysalis. The child is formed silently in the womb. So transformation happens in ways we cannot see, control or understand (at times). What Jesus is doing in turning water into wine for that wedding party is giving us a sign of how God is longing to transform us. Transform us from the people we think we are to the people God has created us to be.

Yet that transformation still needs one more step to complete the picture to make the miracle of change in us (and in the water turned to wine) seen. The wine must be poured out, tasted and shared.  If it had not been poured out, tasted and shared – it might well still have been water. Jesus knows this too and invites the servants to draw out the wine and take it to the chief steward for tasting. When God touches our lives with his transformations, there is also a call for us to be poured out, tasted and shared for each other. We are not given gifts, changes, growth in our inner being and transformations for these to be kept to ourselves. That would be like – having the wine in the water jars but never trying it!

Our willingness to go with how God shapes and transforms us is marked by whether we are willing to share or whether we are still living for ourselves alone. It’s never too late for this to happen. When God has touched a human heart – that person becomes living wine for others. We probably all know and rejoice in those who share of what God has worked in them with us. We have recently been giving thanks for someone who was living wine for others in the life of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

God as we can see in this passage often saves the best until last. So that in a way just when we think that we are past all possibility of change, the greatest change may be just about to happen. The ways of God and how the Spirit moves in our lives starts from our empty need, through the transformation of our hearts and then our willingness to be shared, tasted and poured out

We need to go where God calls. Be obedient and trusting and to be willing to share of what transformations God works in us. Every single one of us – each heart on fire for God beating to his rhythm. Amen

The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995 – Some material adapted from Margaret Silf.

 

Plough Sunday – 9th January 2022 – Rev Alison Way

Plough Sunday 9th January 2022 – Rev Alison Way

Amos 9:11-end, Luke 9:57-end

In the name of the Living God, loving Father, Risen Son and ever present Holy Spirit. Amen.

As I said at the start of today’s service – we are marking Plough Sunday today. It celebrates historically the long hours of tilling and preparing the land before the seed can be sown. The festival was originally celebrated after the 12 days of feasting for Christmas as a way of inspiring people back to work. The plough for the town or village was often stored in the church. It was then decorated, blessed and taken around the town or village, and money raised to keep a ‘plough light’. This light was a candle kept burning in the church until harvest, reminding people to pray for the land and those who worked on it. Sometimes seed and soil were also blessed, and if we have brought some seeds with us today, we will be praying God’s blessing on them symbolically a little later in this service.

Many of our traditions have changed since the height of Plough Sunday activities. For example, marking the 12 days of Christmas as the feast has shifted to Christmas starting on 1st December (or earlier) and ending pretty smartly on Boxing day for some. Likewise preparing the ground after the harvest is now much more of an autumnal activity than a winter one! Some things have stayed more constant – I think the idea that we should pray for the land and those who work it has remained pretty constant, especially in more rural parts of our country.

Talking about ploughing may seem a world away from the lives of many of us today – but the start of a New Year often brings with it a sense of new beginnings. Penny talked briefly last week about New Year resolutions and encouraged us to have a new year resolution to walk in the light of Christ all the days of our lives. Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father, based on the words from the Baptism Service.

Our new beginnings today build on that and are represented by any seeds we have brought with us. These seeds are ones I am going to attempt to grow in my green house this year. Having a green house is a relatively new thing for me. My gardening help insisted I couldn’t have a greenhouse lying idle in the spring of 2020 even allowing for my absence of green fingers! (I have not had a Rectory with a green house before!). For the last two years I have had a good crop of courgettes and tomatoes, and less success with cucumbers based on plants someone else had sown as seeds and nurtured into life. This year I am hoping to have some similar success but with plants I have nurtured from seed myself!

Looking at these seeds has made me reflect somewhat! The seeds are tiny in relation to the size of the plants that result (particularly prolific courgette plants which have some triffid like qualities!). Yet for seeds to grow they have to germinate and lose this form to take on another. They need water, light and the right kind of preparation of the soil. They need all these things at the right time and in the right amount to flourish well. Not every seed will spring into life – yet that so much can come from something so small is quite startling – and nature as it often is – is deeply impressive.

I think the same is true of our new initiatives – our seeds of planned growth in 2022. In both churches we are heading towards fanning into flame something aimed at families. We are taking different approaches, aiming to re-energise our work with the under fives and their grown ups in Wincanton via WOW! and moving towards a monthly more family orientated offering with worship, craft and breakfast in Pen Selwood – called ‘Rise and Shine!’. These things are very much seeds at the moment, waiting for the right time to be sown. There is much preparation of the soil going on behind the scenes, and this needs to be supported by our diligent prayers. It is difficult with the state of things at the moment with the pandemic to be entirely clear when we are going to start with either, and this looks like it may still be later than we had hoped before the Omicron strain of COVID hit! We have also found some extra preparatory work that needs doing as the requirements for safeguarding have developed significantly in recent times. It is really important that we take these developments seriously and prayerfully. So any seeds we are using as an aid to prayer will represent these things too so important in the life of our churches moving forward.

The Bible readings I chose for today, which took the theme of ploughing have some other slightly different ideas embedded within them. The Old Testament reading is from the prophet Amos. Generally, the content of Amos was written at the time before the exile – where Amos call to account the people of God who were acting in immoral and socially corrupt ways at the time. He was warning them of difficult times ahead and to turn from ways where the rich got richer and the poor got poorer, and predicts their downfall through the exile . The reading we got today doesn’t reflect that but is the end of his book – where Amos is talking of better times to come following the exile – that the faithful people of God will eventually be restored back to their homes and be fruitful in the land. It is reading looking not to the current circumstance but a far away future horizon.

Sometimes we too seem to endure the difficult times of the present, whilst keeping our eyes on a longer term goal like Amos did. I have found the journey we have been on in and out of covid restrictions somewhat limiting to our horizons. It seems each time we have a better patch, the situation changes and takes us back to places we really did not want to revisit. We have at the very least been enduring a long period of uncertainty about some things which hitherto we took for granted as part of the fabric of our lives. Our long term horizon, our eternal rest in the love of God is not changed by any of this – but the short term stuff has been very disrupted! I recognise in myself a need to approach this differently, giving thanks for what is possible, and sitting light to what isn’t, in the knowledge that our God of love is both constant and eternal. We each have hope that rests on things above rather than earthly things which pass away.

In contrast to Amos’, the words of Jesus encourage us to keep ploughing on, looking forward. My commentary described this section of scripture as ‘Following Jesus without qualification’, without letting other things get in the way This relates to the reality that if you are not looking forward when ploughing, looking backwards would tend to set the farrow we are ploughing out of line! I think this is probably as much about NOT setting our sights on things past, rather than the days ahead of us. Since the autumn, I have been consciously trying to use the language of moving forward, rather than getting or going back to normality. Moving forward is what we can do, what we can’t do is do anything to change the past or get back to exactly how things ever were. We can learn from the past, but we cannot replay it or change it.

When we set out on our journey together back in February 2020, I could never have imagined some of the things we have faced or the path we have been travelling. All these steps are behind us, we carry the experiences of them with us, but what matters is the next step and then the one after that. Taking each step living with God’s hope in our hearts. I have said a number of times, I would like it to get a little easier with less time spent on risk assessments – and it is true I would, but I also know that God’s strength will support us in the days ahead come what may! Things will come to fruition in God’s time – if we need to travel further in the wilderness of COVID uncertainty so be it. Let’s keep looking forward and praying.

Praying particularly for the seeds we will plant, for those who work the land and for our seeds for growth in our churches. It may not be for tomorrow or the day after, but let’s be diligent in our prayer. We are going to use the Blessing of the seed prayer in our service books to conclude these thoughts. If we can hold any we have brought with us for blessing in our hands and if we can hold in our hearts WOW! and ‘Rise and Shine!’ as I say these words asking God’s blessing on these ventures. Let us pray.

Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation: in your goodness you have given us this seed to sow. In it we perceive the promise of life, the wonders of your creative love.

By your blessing, let this seed be for us a sign of your creative power, that in sowing and watering, tending and watching, we may see the miracle of growth, and in due course reap a rich harvest.

As this seed must die to give life, reveal to us the saving power of your Son, who died that we might live, and plant in us the good seed of your word. Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

All: Blessed be God for ever.

By itself the earth produces:

All: first the stalk, then the ear, then the full grain shall appear.

 

 

Common Worship: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000-2020

The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995

Word Biblical Commentary for Amos

Arthur Rank Centre – Plough Sunday https://arcentre.s3.eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/09160026/ARC-Plough-Sunday-Material-A4-Jan-2022-v216939.pdf

Epiphany – Penny Ashton

Matthew 2:1-12

It is good to see that the wise men have reached our nativity scene safely.  I am always pleased that in Wincanton church where there is more space, we see the wise men travelling from the east end of the church as soon as our crib is set out.  It seems fairly sure that they arrived in Bethlehem some time after the birth of Jesus, but their journey was long and slow, and I am sure they must have first seen the star at the time of his birth.

I wonder if you have ever used a satnav?  Although they don’t seem to have been around for very long, they do seem to be almost everywhere now.  They are as much a standard fitting in most cars now as headlights and windscreen wipers have been for as long as I can remember.  Have you ever disagreed with one?  I know I have when I am not convinced that it has chosen the best route, and I have to say that the more modern ones seem to be better natured than the originals.  If I take a turning that my car does not agree with, it goes quiet behind the message ‘recalculating route’.  An earlier model that I have used, would insist on an immediate U-turn to bring me back to its chosen path!  The Wise men were also using satellite navigation, and probably the first ever recorded, but they did not totally follow it either and so they ended up in the wrong place as we heard in our gospel reading.  I sometimes wonder what the discussion might have been like when the star deviated south from its path which they presumed was leading to Jerusalem, and how they reached the decision not to follow it any further.  Whatever the reason they arrived at the palace in Jerusalem, which is a fairly logical place to start if you are looking for a king.

In the church we celebrate Epiphany almost as Christmas part 2.  The feast of the Epiphany is one of the oldest in church history along with Christmas and Easter, and has been celebrated separately but close to Christmas since around the year 350.  The celebration differs slightly between the Eastern and Western churches – we celebrate the visit of the Magi at this time, whereas the Eastern church celebrates the baptism of Christ.  In both cases though, it is the revelation of the royal and divine nature of Christ that is the focus of the day.  The official date for Epiphany is of course 6 January, which is the day following twelfth night or the last of the twelve days of Christmas, and that was originally the date for the giving of gifts.  In this country that gradually moved back to New Year, and then again to Christmas, but it seems that the tradition grew from the gifts of the magi.

The separation of the two feasts of Christmas and Epiphany underlines their distinctions.  In the first we celebrate the very humble and vulnerable birth of God to live as a man, and primarily to the Jewish people; in the second His manifestation to the world in the shape of the magi, and therefore to us as well.  Neither of these could happen without the other – the second is impossible without the first, but without the second, the first would have little apparent meaning.  As Simeon says in the temple, as we shall celebrate in a few weeks’ time, Christ was born to be a light to lighten the gentiles and to be the glory of Israel.

These two phases must also take place in us in the same way.  Initially Christ must be born within us – as the start of our Christian lives, but we cannot and must not keep him hidden there.  Our job is to be a part of the glorious Epiphany of God, the shining out of his light to all that we meet.  The light that has enlightened us as gentiles, has to be shown and shone.  We are to be the light of the world, and as Jesus himself later put it, you don’t light a candle to put it under the bed!  To put it another way – the Epiphany must continue to happen through us.

Why is it then that we so often feel that rather than shining with the light of God, we are more often stumbling in the darkness of the world?  It is true that we are living in dark times – we are in the middle of a global pandemic, there are wars and threats between nations, there is famine and poverty, and there are natural and climatic disasters which seem to occur more and more often.  Wanting to do the right thing is becoming more and more difficult, and it can be depressing to realise just how little difference one person’s best efforts can make.  But we should not, and must not let that stop us – it has always been true, and never more so than now, that it is better to light a candle than to rail against the darkness.   No single one of us can end the evil of global poverty, but we can each add a small item to our shopping lists to leave as a donation for the food bank or the Lord’s Larder.  We can all make the occasional donation towards those charities that we most support in order to fight against famine or homelessness.  We can all look out for the Fairtrade logo on those items we buy regularly.  I used to have my doubts about the efficacy of internet campaigns, but only this week I received a notification from the Children’s’ Society that the bill that will cut the cost of school uniforms has now passed into law.  It has taken eight years, but it will at last make a difference.  And just possibly the email that I sent to my MP and to Jacob Rees-Mogg made a tiny contribution to that.  As Greta Thunberg says, nobody is too small to make a difference.

More importantly than all these things though, if we truly want to be a part of God’s Epiphany – we must remember that we most become like the people and things that we spend most of our time with.  If we want to shine out with the light of God then we must make it our priority to spend time with him.  Whenever we baptise a child in church, we give them the gift of a lighted candle with these words: ‘God has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and has given us a place with the saints in light.  You have received the light of Christ; walk in this light all the days of your life.  Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father.’[1]

The new year is traditionally a time for resolutions – perhaps we could make this one ours.

[1] Common Worship: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000-2020