Sermon – The Baptism of Christ

It was summer.   A few mates who had worked together were going on holiday to Cornwall.   They were travelling in an old Ford Escort.   The journey didn’t last long for almost as soon as they joined the M6 the car was involved in an accident.   Thankfully they all survived, a little shaken, a memory they would not forget.   It was a near death experience.

This morning we heard of another near death experience in our Gospel, the baptism of Christ.   The scene is set.   Jesus steps into the river and John pushes him under the water.   If he’d stayed there, his lungs would have filled with water and he would have died.   Yet John pulled him out and his ministry began.

Our own Zach Higgins had a similar near death experience off the East Coast when he was baptised in the North Sea last year.   Then we did plunge him (his father said I had a look of glee on my face) under the water, we pulled him out a little breathless by the whole experience.

Being baptised should be dangerous.   It is a near death experience.

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‘In the fullness of time…’ a sermon for Christmas 1

Today’s reading contains the earliest version of the Christmas story – from Paul’s letter to the Galatians – almost certainly written before any of the gospels.

“When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman’.

Compared to John’s poetry, or Luke’s story telling, it’s a bit tame. It wouldn’t make much of a nativity play – in fact it’s easy to miss altogether.

“When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman’.

Actually, ‘God sent his Son, born of a woman’, sums up incarnation pretty well …but it’s the phrase, ‘in the fullness of time’ that’s stuck with me.

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Christmas Morning – Has anyone seen the baby Jesus?

With 4 different Christmas plays in rehearsal– and performance dates looming, that question often rang around school in the run up to Christmas. Each class had their own angels, shepherds, aliens (it’s amazing who gets into the Christmas story these days), but we shared the baby Jesus – a doll from the reception classroom.

Well we could hardly use a real baby…but it was rather ironic that the star of the show was so completely passive that he was frequently mislaid.

If we’re not careful though, it’s not only in school nativities that we reduce God incarnate to a passive object…very precious…but an object never-the-less.

Think of crib sets – often delicate as well as beautiful – unwrapped lovingly, set out on a shelf out of reach of small hands – admired, then wrapped up again just as lovingly and put away for another year.

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Many stories told. Many still to tell.

“And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”

Kirkgate Market has had a makeover. Over the last few days it will have been a hive of activity. Turkeys will have, not literally of course, flown out of the butchers. Enough fruit and veg purchased to feed an army. Amidst all the kerfuffle, some may have paused to notice some words painted on a wall.

The Kirkgate Market logo stands in the middle, on one side of it there are these words ‘Many stories told’ and on the other ‘Many still to tell.’

Many stories told. Many still to tell. Those words have stayed with me since I first saw them earlier in the year for they could equally be applied to Christmas.

What stories told accompany our Christmas?

Like the one when Dad went out on Christmas Eve to buy a Christmas Tree only to find them all sold out, and came back with what could be described as a Christmas branch.

Or the Christmas when the snow came down meaning that cars had to be left some way from the family home and walks made over snowy and icy roads to get home.

Or the time when plans were changed when an outbreak of illness meant that there were rather more at your house that you’d planned. These are some of mine, you will have your own.

Many stories told. What stories to tell from Christmas 2017 will seep into our family history?

We don’t know yet but something will happen. And the words we shall use to tell these stories will matter to us, for they become part of our story.

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Some thoughts on the church year for the start of Advent

This last year – and particularly since my priesting in June – I’ve been initiated into the strange and wonderful world of Anglican vestments. And since they were all made for men, I’ve had to work on me wearing them – rather than them wearing me…

And it isn’t just one set – the liturgical year (and the glories of the Whitkirk cupboards) demand regular changes. Today we begin Advent – so having presided at 8.30 I now know there’s at least one chasuble of each liturgical colour that I can wear. Today we begin Advent, so the legendary four candles banner is also on show.

Why do we go to all that trouble? Well I guess for the same reason Matthew makes an effort to celebrate festivals on their correct day – with week-day Eucharists – and why as well as spurning your coffee, at this time of year he will also refuse your mince pies…

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“You want the impossible”

“You want the impossible.” Even if you’ve never seen the Star Wars films, you probably know at least some of the characters. Han Solo, C3-PO, Yoda and Luke Skywalker whose words they are.

He says them when he’s learning to be a Jedi Knight and faced with one particular task, a task he cannot imagine being able to complete, he says to his teacher “You want the impossible.”

Perhaps these were words muttered amongst the two tribes that we heard of in our reading from Ezekiel. Two tribes, each with their own identity likely forged to some extent by their differences, them and us.

We know something of this ‘them and us’ too. Think Lancashire and Yorkshire, Leeds and Bradford, Newcastle and Sunderland, Arsenal and Tottenham and so on. There’s a bit of us that likes belonging to a tribe and it was just the same in Ezekiel’s time.

God’s people had ended up in two tribes and yet these two tribes or two sticks as Ezekiel memorably describes it are, impossible as it may seem, to become one ‘in order that they become one in my hand.’

And it was impossible too that a man who for some, a person to be hated would became an apostle and evangelist for Christ.

In the reading Paul tells his story and is unflinching in his truth telling. He says that he tried to ‘force’ the followers of Jesus ‘to blaspheme.’ Yet this same man speaks words of grace and truth that are still being heard today.

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Forgive our foolish ways.

At the age of seven I joined the Brownies.  It was a big deal, being part of a uniformed organisation.  I was proud of my uniform and the badges which I had earned.  Being a Brownie was important to me making my promise and following this law:

“A brownie guide thinks of others before herself and does a good turn every day!”

To this day those words have stuck with and even though my active guiding and brownie days have finished, the promise I made aged seven and the Brownie law have remained as part of my thinking.  Over the years, trying to be a good person will have amounted to a lot of good turns.

I might have tried for years but you see the thing is I’m not perfect.

I am impatient. I get cross, I can be rude. I am quick to judge.  As fellow human beings you are all sat there thinking, well I’m like that sometimes too.  Yes, we are all guilty of being in the wrong or hurting someone back because they have hurt us.

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Losing our life to gain our life

When faced, as we were recently, with the sight of white supremacists sporting swastikas and executing Nazi salutes, we are naturally horrified. We automatically side with their opponents. Surely if these are the sort of people rallying around a statue of General Lee – then that statue should go. After all, he fought to enslave people just because of their skin colour.

What about those protecting such statues – can we dismiss them all as driven by hatred? Are they always motivated by wanting to cling on to racial segregation?

I wonder. If we look beyond men in KKK costumes – there are perhaps many others afraid that they are losing their lives. Not that they are threatened with death – but that the life stories, the identities they have grown up with are being eroded – and they no longer know who they are. After all, an accident of birth or geography may have decided which side they were on in the conflict.

I was made to think about this when the debate widened to other statues around the world – including those to the explorer Captain James Cook.

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