Saturday, 16 January 2016

Time, gentle man?

Sunday Gospel
John 2:1-11  - Marriage Feast of Cana

There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee. The mother of Jesus was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited. When they ran out of wine, since the wine provided for the wedding was all finished, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ Jesus said ‘Woman, why turn to me? My hour has not come yet.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ There were six stone water jars standing there, meant for the ablutions that are customary among the Jews: each could hold twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water’, and they filled them to the brim. ‘Draw some out now’ he told them ‘and take it to the steward.’ They did this; the steward tasted the water, and it had turned into wine. Having no idea where it came from – only the servants who had drawn the water knew – the steward called the bridegroom and said; ‘People generally serve the best wine first, and keep the cheaper sort till the guests have had plenty to drink; but you have kept the best wine till now.’

  This was the first of the signs given by Jesus: it was given at Cana in Galilee. He let his glory be seen, and his disciples believed in him.

Sometimes words are just not enough; I would love to have been there when Jesus ‘rebuked’ his mother: the body language, the exchanged glances. Mary’s head held high as she goes over and speaks to the servants gesturing back to her son ‘ Do as he tells you’. Then Jesus’ raised eyebrows and tiny shake of the head and the ‘sigh’ because ‘it’s his mum’. If there was ever any evidence that this was a real, human, mother and son relationship then this tiny unspoken ‘pause’ is it.

We are three or more days into this wedding party and, obviously, a good time is already being had by all. To some people, at least, the lack of wine was being blamed on the indulgence of Jesus and his friends. Perhaps, the stage whispers and pointed fingers had been noted by Mary and she decides to act; even though culturally, it was not proper for a woman (even a mother) to approach the men in public. 

You could also argue, that this is not the most appropriate of times for Jesus to be making his debut.

Or maybe it was? Maybe, Mary, knowing exactly who her son was, saw this as precisely the place for his first public miracle; a place outside the Temple; outside the Law; with the everyday people, with communities celebrating relationship.

If you are going to be different – you may as well start now. If you are going to be where people need you – it might as well be here. 

And why? 

For the simplest of reasons - that there need never be the thought ‘why would God be bothered with my problems?' 

Why would God be refilling wine jars at the end of a wedding feast? Because Jesus sees our life as a wedding feast. Because Jesus wants our lives to be fulfilling. And, maybe, because he can.

Mary acts as the precursor for all the others who call out to Jesus; who demand attention and healing; who shout after him; who touch his clothing and anoint his body. The people who will take themselves to Jesus knowing who they are and who he is; people who will argue with him and challenge him.

And Jesus will allow himself to lose; to be persuaded; to be talked into and out of decisions – in public, by the lower classes, the outcasts and the women; to be criticised by those around him, including his own disciples.

Not a thing a Rabbi would allow – certainly not something God would allow – you would think.

Seems we have a different kind of God.

And this same scenario tells us much about needful prayer; maybe especially where Mary is involved. Because so often when we pray we can think it is Mary doing the work.

We may share our human problems with Mary, but Mary is not going to sort it out for us – she may listen sympathetically – but then she will gesture to her Son and say ‘Do whatever he tells you.’


Sunday, 10 January 2016


Sunday Gospel - Baptism of the Lord -

Luke 3:15-16,21-22

A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people, who were beginning to think that John might be the Christ, so John declared before them all, ‘I baptise you with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Now when all the people had been baptised and while Jesus after his own baptism was at prayer, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily shape, like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’

I wonder if expectancy was also growing in Jesus? If the faith of his parents, that had taught him love, trust and integrity, had also taught him that there was something else; that inside him was a place waiting to be filled.

This was not a 'coming' for Jesus; not even a 'coming out'. There is no reason to believe that this baptism was for the sake of appearances. John knows both his cousin and the Holy Spirit, yet know nothing of what is to come.

John follows the vocation of his birth; he calls and Jesus responds; wanting to be part of John's vision; to help prepare the way for the Lord.

The baptism with water is only the beginning; the willingness to stand before others and be made clean; to stand in the river and be moved by its energy and its restlessness.

Luke tells us this baptism is not enough; Jesus is still Jesus. To be washed is to be made ready. To stand in the river is to sense the movement of creation yet not to be part of that movement; like a willow soaking up the life force of journeys it has never made.

Jesus knows this too. So before he uproots himself from this new beginning he prays. With the fire of passion he prays; opening his heart; pleading for guidance; offering himself to his Father's will.

Oh, the pride of his Father; and all so delighted with his Beloved that even the Holy Spirit takes physical form so as to embrace Jesus. All of the Sacred Trinity in one space; in one witnessing of divine love; of entranced recognition.

This was the beginning. John's gift of baptism - the catalyst- the means to cast off into the deeper life.

And so, Jesus becomes a boat; oars cast aside in faith. Jesus becomes driven by the wild breath of the Spirit casting throught the swirling currents of the Father's will.

Jesus, the Son; the Beloved; the Unexpected.


Saturday, 2 January 2016

The Epiphany

Matthew 2:1-12

After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east. ‘Where is the infant king of the Jews?’ they asked. ‘We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.’ When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born. ‘At Bethlehem in Judaea,’ they told him ‘for this is what the prophet wrote:And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,you are by no means least among the leaders of Judah,for out of you will come a leaderwho will shepherd my people Israel.’Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared, and sent them on to Bethlehem. ‘Go and find out all about the child,’ he said ‘and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.’ Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward, and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.

The story of the Three Kings is one that we are comfortable with; one that we all know. Not least because the Feast Day means we can take down the decorations and start to get back to normal. Except, that, according to the Church’s calendar we should leave our decorations up until the Baptism of the Lord which is next week (those Victorians and their 12 days of Christmas! – Bah, humbug) and, of course, there is no evidence that the Kings were kings, except that someone with too much interest in royal protocol decided that if Jesus was a King then only a King was good enough to visit – it’s a wonder the shepherds managed to stay in the story, given their reputation as thieves and vagabonds.

But isn’t that the way with stories, the Chinese whisper effect, the elaboration to suit the culture, the audience, the attitude of the times. And that is often a criticism of the Gospel – that it is only stories; easier to find the discrepancies, the add-ons, the need to scientifically prove or disprove that there was a ‘star’.

The account of the Kings/Wise men/Silk Traders is much simpler than it seems. It is an epiphany; a revelation; a showing and sharing of faith.

For Matthew, a Jew writing for Jews, it was an opening up of God’s message to the world. The Messiah was meant for the people of Israel, yet here it is the stranger and the pagan who is called, who seeks him out and who acknowledges him. This is where we fit in, wherever we come from, whoever we are, we belong to this story. We are all chosen people.

And whether they were kings or traders it doesn’t matter; they were wealthy; they had knowledge; they understood power; understood what a king was. Yet something not logical, not explainable, not visible allowed them to kneel in straw and animal dung in homage to two homeless peasants and their dishevelled child. The star, that is the revealing of God’s presence in a human baby, shone in their eyes and their hearts and they believed. They believed with the faith that looked into the mundane and saw God.

God is in the everyday and the everywhere. The Lord is present - without limit, without protocol, human and divine. As each of us is human and divine, for the presence of God is a light within each of us. A guiding light that leads to the Kingdom. All we need is to pay attention and then to have the faith and the confidence to cross deserts, expect the unexpected, to make the journey, to follow the Star.