Since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.

Preached by Lesley McCormack on Sunday 7th February 2016 at St Peter & St Paul.

“Since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.”

Rawand Aziz and Saman Sharif are Iraqi Kurds, who fled persecution and oppression – both were granted asylum and later British citizenship.  But they are living in a tent in the cold and the mud in the Grande-Synthe camp near Dunkirk so that they can care for and support their wives and children in whatever way that they can – for their families have been denied British passports.

Every 90 seconds last year, a person or family in rented accommodation faced legal proceedings and 99,000 people ended up evicted, mainly due to rising rents and housing benefit cuts and Peterborough is among the worst in the country.

But…“Since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart”

Shortly before he died, Rohith Vemula wrote in his suicide note:   “Never was a man treated as a mind, a glorious thing made up of stardust,” Rohith had been a PhD student, at Hyderabad University, but he was also a Dalit, or untouchable.  He, with four other ‘Dalit’ students,  had been suspended from classes for three months, expelled from their university residence and told they were not allowed to enter any campus buildings, eat at the mess or vote in student elections.

But ……….“Since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart”

The World Health organisation has declared a global emergency as doctors and scientists endeavour to understand the relationship between the Zika virus and the thousands of babies born with brain damage in Brazil while on Tuesday the Israeli military demolished 23 houses in two impoverished West Bank villages, including structures that were home to more than 100 people

But…..“Since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart”

And we do not lose heart because God in Christ shines in our world as a beacon of light and hope, holding before us always the possibility of transformation.  And that is precisely what our readings this morning point us towards.

Luke’s Gospel tells us that Jesus takes with him Peter, James and John to the mountain top and there they experience an extraordinary moment, something almost otherworldly.  You might say that the story is in all four gospels, although John does not tell it in the same way as Matthew, Mark and Luke.  For John, as the theologian John Pridmore points out, ‘The whole story of Jesus is one of humanity transfigured, of incarnate light.  “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of the father’s only son, full of grace and truth”’

According to Luke, while Jesus was praying, the appearance of his face  changed, and his clothes became dazzling white!  We are also reminded just how tired Peter, James and John were after their hike up to the mountain top and one can almost imagine them, heavy with sleep,  rubbing their eyes in the face of what they are witnessing!

Clearly Peter, James and John do not grasp the full implication of what they are seeing and hearing.  But I find myself wondering whether I or indeed any one of us here this morning would have done any better are comprehending what was going on had it been us on the mountain top with Jesus.  I suspect that I would have been with Peter as he suggests building shelters, perhaps so they could stay on the mountain top, safe from possible harm – for themselves and their beloved friend and teacher.  He has missed the point entirely.

Notice, though that Luke slips in six words that we need to hear and to remember:
But since they had stayed awake……
But since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory………

We may struggle to understand and make sense of all that is happening in our world; we may even at times long to hide and protect our eyes from the pain and suffering of others; but this story reminds us of the need to stay awake, ready to see those fleeting moments of God’s glory; not moments to be held on to and bottled but moments that fill us with joy and hope; moments that remind us …..

“Since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart”. 

Such moments serve to strengthen and encourage us in the work we are called to do.

Michael Ramsey, reflecting on the Transfiguration, said ‘Here the Lord, as Son of Man, gives the measure of the capacity of humanity, and shows that to which he leads those who are united with him’ (The Glory of the Transfiguration of Christ).  In the transfigured Christ, we see the full glorious potential of humanity.

Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth is, in some ways, an anguished letter reflecting pain and deep sorrow.

The events precipitating this second letter to the Corinthians is the subject of great debate among scholars.  There is, however, a suggestion that between the time of his first letter to them (when he endeavoured to address problems involving community division and behaviour), and the second, Paul made an ‘emergency’ and sorrowful visit to Corinth, possibly the second occasion on which he visited them.  This visit did not go well and it would appear from implications in 2 Corinthians that he followed it up with another letter, a letter probably now lost, which seems only to have made the situation worse.  There is hurt, anger and pain all around as the young Corinthian church community continues to struggle with the tension between the values and power of  God’s kingdom and the transient power of what their culture can give them!

‘Remember’, Paul says to his struggling community:

All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit Therefore, Since it is by God’s mercy

that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.

Even when we think things can’t get any worse, we do not lose heart!

Christ calls us all, by virtue of our baptism, to be stewards of creation, to serve others, especially the poor, the marginalised, the outcast; we are called to seek right relationships with God and with each other; to be agents of God’s transfiguring, transforming love in the mess and the dirt of our wonderful yet broken world.  We only have to look at the experience of Jesus, to listen to the anguish of Paul to know that this work is not necessarily easy or pain free.  With Lent beginning on Wednesday, we are challenged afresh to reflect on how we live out God’s costly call to each one of us to be agents of His transforming Love.

BUT  since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart  – for if we look, we may glimpse God’s glory in the faith communities, individuals and organisations, teachers and healthcare workers  going to places like Grand-Synthe, offering their time and their skills to do what they can, supporting practically and emotionally, enabling people to know they are not forgotten; and to speak of the injustice and lack of humanity to the wider world.

We do not lose heart – for we look and glimpse God’s glory in voices of  scholars and students worldwide who challenge the injustice and discrimination that drove a brilliant young man to take his life.

We do not lose heart – for  we look and glimpse God’s glory in a theatre company performing Hamlet  outdoors in freezing temperatures amidst the mud and squalor of the Jungle – an act of loving solidarity that lends dignity, strength and hope to people driven from their homelands.

We do not lose heart – for we glimpse God’s glory  in our worship and in the many acts of kindness shown and expressed among us here in this place; among our neighbours and the wider community; so often quietly, unseen and unsung; we glimpse God’s glory through the continuing work of our soup kitchen.

We do not lose heart   even though the path ahead seems messy, tangled and unclear

We do not lose heart because in the cross we have seen that the glory of God cannot be extinguished by indifference and fear, injustice or cruelty and so are confident that Christ in whom we glimpse the fullness of glory, will strengthen and encourage each one of us in our continuing efforts – however great or small – to be agents of transformation who shine with the light of Christ.

Amen

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things

 Preached by Lesley McCormack on 31st January 2016 at St Michael & All Angels.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Luke 2:22-40
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things

This morning Luke is moving us on from stories of Jesus birth to his arrival at the temple for the first time.  The angels we met just a few weeks ago with their song of joy and words of encouragement have departed, and other characters come to fill their place – Simeon and Anna – two human messengers declaring  God’s love in a world yearning for consolation.

Who are Simeon and Anna.  Well, we know very little about Simeon.  All that Luke tells us, apart from his godliness, is that he lived in Jerusalem, that the Holy Spirit rested on him, and drove him in to the temple at the right time to meet Jesus. We have assumed that he is old and in most works of art he is depicted as very old indeed.  The reality is that Luke makes no mention of his age at all. We know too, that Simeon had been ‘looking forward to the consolation of  Israel’

Anna, on the other hand, we know to be old, because Luke tells us so.  She had been married, but after seven years, her husband died and for 84 years she has lived as a widow.  Anna lived in the temple  – this was her vocation as a prophet,  living a life dedicated to God through worship, prayer and fasting.

So here we have two people, living  lives of faithful,  loyal obedience in accordance with the Law, rituals and codes of Judaism.  But far from making them satisfied with its provisions, their faith, their understanding has kindled within them a flame of expectancy.  Simeon is looking for the consolation of Israel while Anna was looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.  Faithful, prayerful study of the scriptures, properly understood produced men and women champing at the bit for the coming of God to his people.

Simeon is waiting in patient hope, as generations of Jewish men and women had been waiting for the last 500 years,  for ‘the consolation of Israel’; a hope rooted in the words of the prophecies of  Isaiah spoken to a community in exile – ‘Comfort, O comfort my people says God’.  Simeon longed for that promised consolation.  With all faithful Jews, he  may well have imagined a future glory of Israel as liberation from her enemies, freedom from Roman occupation, and restoration to the grandeurs of King David’s reign, establishing once more prosperity and peace of God’s people.

But then, on this particular day, something extraordinary happens.  There were people milling around the temple as there were every day, and among them, a young couple with their baby.  Mary and Joseph come to fulfil religious rituals involving the redemption of the firstborn and the purification of the mother after childbirth, marking her re-entry into society.  The purification involved sacrifice, and the gift offered varied according to the means of the family – for the poorest, the minimum was a pair of doves.  Luke tells us this is what Mary and Joseph offered and so makes the point that their baby was born in to poverty and is living in poverty.  Rituals completed, they could simply have quietly disappeared out of the temple and walked the three miles or so back to their home in Nazareth.  BUT

Simeon is a man rooted in God, open to the nudgings of God, open to be surprised by God.  And something moves him to approach this very ordinary, inconspicuous family group. And immediately he knows!  There may be no grandeur here, no power or wealth; no warrior in his midst – just a baby in the arms of his mother supported by Joseph.  But without any doubt THIS IS IT – mysterious and strangely different to what was expected, but this was the long awaited moment!

Simeon gently takes the baby from his mother, and speaks in those remarkable words we know as the Nunc Dimitus, words that have brought comfort and peace to people down the years at the end of each day and at the end of life.  Is it these words, I wonder, that lead us to think of him as an old man?  Perhaps he was but we simply do not know.

Mary and Joseph, were amazed at what was being said – and no wonder;  if the experience of the words of angels months earlier wasn’t disconcerting enough, what on earth did this man mean.  For Simeon’s prophetic words speak of joy and hope, but also the storm of division, controversy and pain.

 We know what Mary and Joseph could not – that those words point us towards Holy Week and the Passion.

Anna, meanwhile, is caught up in this drama.  But while Simeon held the baby, praised God and blessed Mary and Joseph, Anna did something else entirely – she told all who were looking and searching about this child.

For now, Mary stands cradling her child in the safety of her arms, full of joy and hope, wonder and anticipation; but a time would come when she would stand, longing to cradle her son once more and take away his pain, but have instead to experience the unimaginable pain of watching her son suffer so cruelly and die.

……Love bears and endures all things.

This, Luke is saying, is what happens when the kingdom of God confronts the kingdom of the world

Gulwali Passarlay was a torch bearer for the 2012 Olympics.  During a recent interview he said “My name is a mix of three words – Gul, which means flower; wali, which means friend of God and Passarlay which means spring. So I am a mix of three beautiful things!”  Gulwali was born in Afghanistan in 1994. His father was a doctor.  When he was three or four, his parents sent him to live with his grandparents in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. He has many happy memories of that period of his live. But all this would change.  Gulwali was 12 when the war was at its height.  In 2006, after his father and other family members were killed, his mother decided to pay for him to be smuggled out of the country to a place of safety.

Love bears and endures all things.

He recalls “Alone, I moved across eight countries – Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Belgium, Calais in France and the UK. My journey was filled with everything – I endured imprisonment, hunger, cruelty, brutality, loneliness, terror and even nearly drowned while crossing the Mediterranean Sea. I sometimes wonder if it was all worth it because I am so far away from my family. I recently lost my little sister, and my grandmother. I wasn’t there by their side, and I miss them very much.

And a sword will pierce your own heart too.

Now, aged 21, Gulwali is completing his final year at Manchester University where he has been studying Politics and Social Science, and dreams one day of returning to his homeland and entering politics there, longing to make a difference for his people ‘so that children like myself don’t have to leave their homes, and their mothers.’

Simeon and Anna were open to God, willing to be surprised by Him; willing to see the work of God in totally new and unexpected ways; open to have their understanding of the ways of God challenged and changed.  They were driven in their longing to see God glorified.  And God’s glory encountered in the Temple that day, was quite unlike anything they had imagined, a baby cradled in his mother’s arms.

And what of us – all of us here – are we driven with longing to see God’s glory? Are we open to being surprised by God?  To the possibility that His glory may be revealed in totally unexpected ways?  Are we open to the possibility that His glory can be revealed in the dignity, determination, gifts and qualities of people like Gulwali desperately seeking safe haven and new opportunities to grow and flourish.  And are we then ready to respond with the light of love that is of God himself,  a love that dispels the darkness of ignorance and bigotry.  Are we ready to reach out with a love that is patient and kind, not arrogant or rude; the love that does not insist on its own way and is not resentful; the love that bears and endures all things?  Are we ready to confront the kingdoms of this world with the values of God’s kingdom? Because if we are, and if like Anna we proclaim it to all, there may yet be hope for the thousands of children travelling in search of security, love and peace.  Amen

Now you are the body of Christ

Preached by Lesley McCormack on the 24th of January 2016 at St Michael and All Angels

“Now you are the body of Christ”

It was a cosmopolitan city, a lively seaport and trading centre exposed to multiple influences.  People and cultures from east and west jostled together bring their own understandings of the world, bringing their own questions and problems, joys and excitements.  It was a place where people would sit and openly debate issues of importance and concern

The city was Corinth, not far from Athens, and it is believed, Paul spent longer here than anywhere else.    Corinth prided itself on being a Roman colony on Greek soil; it celebrated its Roman style of buildings and culture, and prided itself on its intellectual life heavily influenced by Greek philosophical thought. It was here that Paul established the Christian community, people who were a mixture of Jews and Gentiles, all of whom were baptised in the name of Christ, just as Abigail and William will be in a few moments.  They would meet for meals and worship.  And Paul spent time teaching them about practical matters of living as members of a Christian community, and what faith in Christ means.

But in time Paul leaves Corinth to continue his work elsewhere, and it wasn’t long before problems arose – people of education of high social standing unwilling to integrate with people they felt were beneath them; reluctant to accept Paul’s sectarian social practices and teaching.  And factions arose – people siding with this or that particular teacher.  The upshot of all of this was that the concerns of the people were brought to Pauls attention resulting in this letter that Paul writes to the young church community, but a letter that leaves us with much to ponder in our own lives today.

Paul sets out the vision that he believes enables the people of Corinth – and us –  to fulfil Jesus challenge, and  underpins the common life of the Body of Christ – the community that Christ called into being, the church, the community of the baptised.  And it is into this community that in a few minutes, Abigail and William will be baptised.

From what we can glean from Paul’s letters, the Corinthians are a very attractive lot in many ways – enthusiastic, clever, gifted and determined.  But, they are utterly hopeless in their ability to live together in love.  And so we hear Paul’s impassioned encouragement to think in a completely new way.  Instead of always thinking about themselves and their individual needs and rights, instead of battling to be the most important, gifted person in any gathering, the Corinthians have to learn to think of themselves as one entity, one body – whose health and very life depends upon co-operation and connection.  Oh boy! How we need to hear that message today in a world that is every bit as divided and suspicious of those who are unlike ourselves as it was when Paul was writing.

The inescapable conclusion of Paul’s writing, and indeed it is a central thread through the whole of scripture, is that life in community is basic to any attempt to understanding God, and his love for his people.  It is about how we interact with others, how we understand the needs of others and how we respond to those needs.  For as Jesus makes clear in the Temple with his declaration of intent, it is about working always to bring about God’s justice and creating God’s community.

In other words, the Christian body, then and now, will be recognized by the way it treats others.  As we look around us, as we listen to the stories of people in our own country, to the stories of peoples across the world fleeing war, persecution and deprived of the basics that sustain life and hope, we have so much work to do.

For Abigail and William, revelling in the daily delights of fun and exploration with the occasional squabbles of childhood, the full force of these words and the challenge they present will pass them by.  But I hope that challenge will be only too clear to all of us who have left our childhood years far behind, and must take our part in nurturing these two little children in their journey of faith.

Through Baptism, our lives are bound to the life of Christ and we commit to a way of life that gives life – that shines like a light in the dark corners of our lives, our communities, our nation and our world.

We commit to a life that will be costly for we will find ourselves standing against the tide of popular opinion which all too often seeks to marginalise the poor, is suspicious of the foreigner and prefers to feather the nest of the individual rather than work for the wellbeing of the community.

Throughout life’s journey, Abigail and William  will listen to and be a part of shared stories, stories of the family and community life;  stories of faith and hope, strength, courage and love. They will hear stories about God’s relationship with his children, as they endeavour to make sense of their lives and the circumstances in which they find themselves; a narrative that speaks of God’s constancy and love for all his children; a narrative that speaks of light and hope; a narrative that I hope, with encouragement, Abigail and William will continue to return to throughout their lives.

But we begin with water, the stuff of life itself, without which nothing can survive.  Yet water can also drown and destroy.  Baptism is about both these – symbolising the movement from death to life – from being self-centred  to God-centred.  This morning, the water flowing over the heads of Abigail and William will symbolise that movement to new life; and in that action is brought together all the mixed stuff of life – joy and sadness, life and death, human frailty and God’s transforming love which says to both these little children and to each of us – “You are my child, my beloved,  – Go an build my kingdom of justice, peace and joy.” Amen

Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough ways made smooth

Preached by Lesley McCormack on 6th December 2015

Malachi 3:1-4
Luke 3:1-6
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough ways made smooth

Today marks the halfway point in our journey through Advent, that time of year when we are to be actively watching and waiting, called to wake up and be alert!  It is a time when we prepare to celebrate once more a particular moment in history that marked the first Advent, the first coming of God among his people as a tiny, vulnerable baby.  But it is also a time when we are preparing for the promised moment when Christ will come again.  It is both a time of warning but also of hope.   And so I wonder how am I, how are we as God’s children doing in terms of preparation.  If Jesus were to appear in London or Manchester, Edinburgh or Glasgow,  Kettering or Corby today, what would he find – what would he see – a people who would recognise and welcome him or a people who were so wrapped up in political, economic or personal ideologies  they would fail even to note his presence.

So today it is timely perhaps that we reach that point in our journey when we come face to face with John the Baptist, whose strident voice should be as much of a challenge to us today as it was to the people who first heard him.  But our Gospel this morning begins not with that familiar voice crying out in the wilderness, but with a long and detailed list of rulers.

Luke moves rapidly from the Emperor Tiberius in Rome through a cascade of governors, tetrarchs and high priests – not just one or two historical figures to anchor his story, but seven both secular and religious. The gospel, the good news that Luke proclaims is a gospel of love and grace, forgiveness and hope for all the world.  But he is writing in the context of Roman occupation and is very well aware that for many Romans, it will be hard if not impossible for them to believe that the ultimate truth about human destiny is to be sought in a member of a despised race, who was executed on a criminal charge at the order of a Roman Governor in an outlying province of the empire.  And so Luke sets God’s saving work firmly in the context of world history.  Like Paul standing before Festus – a moment recalled by Luke in his other book, The Acts of the Apostles – he is saying to his readers ‘I am certain that none of these things have escaped your notice, this was not done in a corner’ (Acts 26:26).  The events I recall happened at a particular time in a particular place when certain people were alive and in positions of power and authority – pay attention!

Luke is doing something else as well.  In listing the various rulers, he is throwing in to sharp relief the forces that will oppose John and the one whom he foretells for behind the list of names and places is a story of occupation, invasion, oppression and misery that was building to explosion point. Things couldn’t continue as they were and something had to happen, but what?  The prophets of old had spoken of a time of renewal, through which God himself would come back to them.  So when a fiery young prophet appeared in the Judean wilderness, in the towns and villages telling people that the time had come, they were ready to listen.

John challenges the people to remember that God is always calling his people back into relationship with Him and with each other.  God is calling, as he called the people of Israel in Egypt to join an exodus out of slavery to a promised land, to a new beginning.  And John tells the people that the first step on this journey towards freedom is a baptism of repentance.  His hearers would  have been familiar with baptism, for it was the ritual through which Gentile converts became Jews and so embarked on a whole new way of life.

But significantly, baptism called for a change in behaviour and this is what John draws upon when he calls the people to a baptism of repentance.  Not simply regret for past misdeeds; it means far more than simply saying ‘I’m sorry. Please forgive me’.  Repentance comes from the Greek ‘Metanoia’ which means a change of mind and heart, a complete turning around, facing another direction, a kind of inner transformation that bears visible fruit.  And when the people ask John what this means, he spells it out for them:

Those who are well provided for are to share their resources
Tax Collectors are not to abuse their legitimate authority
Soldiers are not to abuse their powers
Contentment with their wages

Preparing the Lord’s path toward peace and justice requires a complete transformation, an overturning of the world as we know it and as John quotes from the prophet Isaiah, we hear described the earthshaking transformation that must take place.  God is in the business of road construction! But there are richer associations here:  valleys filled full, mountains and hills humbled, everything crooked made straight and true.  In her wonderful hymn of praise, Mary had sung of the God who dethrones the powerful and exalts the humble, sending the rich away empty-handed and filling the hungry.  Preparing for God’s arrival means rethinking systems and structures that we see as normal but that God sees as oppressive and dehumanising.

Malachi has equally dramatic ideas of what God’s coming means for here God is in the precious-metals business, refining and purifying gold and silver and putting it through fire to reveal its pure state – God is a consuming fire.  And another image of God as a washer-woman armed with fullers soap – not soft perfumed soap, but abrasive laundry soap that scrubs and scours.  When Jesus was transfigured, Mark borrowed Malachi’s image to describe Jesus’s clothes becoming dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth – no washer woman, could bleach them.  In this moment, the disciples were given a glimpse in Jesus of the sheer beauty and purity that is the benchmark for all humanity created in God’s image, the holiness that God made us to share.  God challenges us to be what we were created to be and in Advent these images describe what it is like to prepare for the coming of Christ in our midst. Clearly the preparation that God has in mind is uncomfortable stuff requiring the kind of stripping of ways of thinking, ways of living that many of us would rather put off or avoid.

We don’t have to look far to realise just how much work we have to do.  In the latter part of this week alone, we have seen our government agree to sanction bombing in Syria

San Barnadino in California saw 14 of its residents killedin another mass shooting.  In Paris, governments from across the world are meeting for the UN Climate Change Conference with a marked reluctance among some nations to commit to and honour realistic targets to reduce global warming, arguably the greatest threat to our planet and its people and wildlife.

Meanwhile, millions are displaced by war and oppression and the gaps between rich and poor, people across the world grow ever wider. As we hear afresh the voice calling us to turn around and begin again it is clear that there remain many valleys to be filled, mountains of ideology and self importance to be made low, crooked paths to straighten and an urgent need to reshape  the world’s systems and structures; to reshape the landscapes of our own minds and hearts, reshape them so that they fit if you like with God’s plan, God’s vision for all his children.

100 years ago this week Brother Roger, the Founder of the Taize Community was born.  His vision lived out in the community at Taize is one of joy, simplicity and love, the marks of those who follow Christ.

Yet, in every act of love, kindness and compassion, in every act of forgiveness and generosity no matter how small, we glimpse that vision and the reshaping of landscapes, hearts and minds.

A voice calls, urging us to turn around. A voice that came to prepare God’s people for God himself born as a fragile, human baby. But Luke sees the somewhat forbidding figure of John in a greater light.  Luke and only Luke gives us the prophetic vision in all its fullness.  All that impedes God’s purposes for humanity’s total good will be swept away.  The road Luke looks down is the way to glory.  The stumbling blocks on that path will be levelled and ‘all shall see God’s salvation’.  This is Luke’s joy and hope, it is the Advent joy and hope, the Christian joy and hope, it is our hope grounded in the all embracing, incomprehensible love of God who will never cease to call us into that love.  Amen

And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.

Preached by Lesley McCormack on All Souls Day

“Since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.”
Lamentations 3:17-26, 31-33
John 6:37-40

Rawand Aziz and Saman Sharif are Iraqi Kurds, who fled persecution and oppression – both were granted asylum and later British citizenship.  But they are living in a tent in the cold and the mud in the Grande-Synthe camp near Dunkirk so that they can care for and support their wives and children in whatever way that they can – for their families have been denied British passports.

Every 90 seconds last year, a person or family in rented accommodation faced legal proceedings and 99,000 people ended up evicted, mainly due to rising rents and housing benefit cuts and Peterborough is among the worst in the country.

But…“Since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart”

Shortly before he died, Rohith Vemula wrote in his suicide note:   “Never was a man treated as a mind, a glorious thing made up of stardust,” Rohith had been a PhD student, at Hyderabad University, but he was also a Dalit, or untouchable.  He, with four other ‘Dalit’ students,  had been suspended from classes for three months, expelled from their university residence and told they were not allowed to enter any campus buildings, eat at the mess or vote in student elections.

But ……….“Since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart”

The World Health organisation has declared a global emergency as doctors and scientists endeavour to understand the relationship between the Zika virus and the thousands of babies born with brain damage in Brazil while on Tuesday the Israeli military demolished 23 houses in two impoverished West Bank villages, including structures that were home to more than 100 people

But…..“Since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart”

And we do not lose heart because God in Christ shines in our world as a beacon of light and hope, holding before us always the possibility of transformation.  And that is precisely what our readings this morning point us towards.

Luke’s Gospel tells us that Jesus takes with him Peter, James and John to the mountain top and there they experience an extraordinary moment, something almost otherworldly.  You might say that the story is in all four gospels, although John does not tell it in the same way as Matthew, Mark and Luke.  For John, as the theologian John Pridmore points out, ‘The whole story of Jesus is one of humanity transfigured, of incarnate light.  “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of the father’s only son, full of grace and truth”’

According to Luke, while Jesus was praying, the appearance of his face  changed, and his clothes became dazzling white!  We are also reminded just how tired Peter, James and John were after their hike up to the mountain top and one can almost imagine them, heavy with sleep,  rubbing their eyes in the face of what they are witnessing!

Clearly Peter, James and John do not grasp the full implication of what they are seeing and hearing.  But I find myself wondering whether I or indeed any one of us here this morning would have done any better are comprehending what was going on had it been us on the mountain top with Jesus.  I suspect that I would have been with Peter as he suggests building shelters, perhaps so they could stay on the mountain top, safe from possible harm – for themselves and their beloved friend and teacher.  He has missed the point entirely.

Notice, though that Luke slips in six words that we need to hear and to remember:
But since they had stayed awake……
But since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory………

We may struggle to understand and make sense of all that is happening in our world; we may even at times long to hide and protect our eyes from the pain and suffering of others; but this story reminds us of the need to stay awake, ready to see those fleeting moments of God’s glory; not moments to be held on to and bottled but moments that fill us with joy and hope; moments that remind us …..

“Since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart”. 

Such moments serve to strengthen and encourage us in the work we are called to do.

Michael Ramsey, reflecting on the Transfiguration, said ‘Here the Lord, as Son of Man, gives the measure of the capacity of humanity, and shows that to which he leads those who are united with him’ (The Glory of the Transfiguration of Christ).  In the transfigured Christ, we see the full glorious potential of humanity.

Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth is, in some ways, an anguished letter reflecting pain and deep sorrow.

The events precipitating this second letter to the Corinthians is the subject of great debate among scholars.  There is, however, a suggestion that between the time of his first letter to them (when he endeavoured to address problems involving community division and behaviour), and the second, Paul made an ‘emergency’ and sorrowful visit to Corinth, possibly the second occasion on which he visited them.  This visit did not go well and it would appear from implications in 2 Corinthians that he followed it up with another letter, a letter probably now lost, which seems only to have made the situation worse.  There is hurt, anger and pain all around as the young Corinthian church community continues to struggle with the tension between the values and power of  God’s kingdom and the transient power of what their culture can give them!

‘Remember’, Paul says to his struggling community:

All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit Therefore, Since it is by God’s mercy

that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.

Even when we think things can’t get any worse, we do not lose heart!

Christ calls us all, by virtue of our baptism, to be stewards of creation, to serve others, especially the poor, the marginalised, the outcast; we are called to seek right relationships with God and with each other; to be agents of God’s transfiguring, transforming love in the mess and the dirt of our wonderful yet broken world.  We only have to look at the experience of Jesus, to listen to the anguish of Paul to know that this work is not necessarily easy or pain free.  With Lent beginning on Wednesday, we are challenged afresh to reflect on how we live out God’s costly call to each one of us to be agents of His transforming Love.

BUT  since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart  – for if we look, we may glimpse God’s glory in the faith communities, individuals and organisations, teachers and healthcare workers  going to places like Grand-Synthe, offering their time and their skills to do what they can, supporting practically and emotionally, enabling people to know they are not forgotten; and to speak of the injustice and lack of humanity to the wider world.

We do not lose heart – for we look and glimpse God’s glory in voices of  scholars and students worldwide who challenge the injustice and discrimination that drove a brilliant young man to take his life.

We do not lose heart – for  we look and glimpse God’s glory in a theatre company performing Hamlet  outdoors in freezing temperatures amidst the mud and squalor of the Jungle – an act of loving solidarity that lends dignity, strength and hope to people driven from their homelands.

We do not lose heart – for we glimpse God’s glory  in our worship and in the many acts of kindness shown and expressed among us here in this place; among our neighbours and the wider community; so often quietly, unseen and unsung; we glimpse God’s glory through the continuing work of our soup kitchen.

We do not lose heart   even though the path ahead seems messy, tangled and unclear

We do not lose heart because in the cross we have seen that the glory of God cannot be extinguished by indifference and fear, injustice or cruelty and so are confident that Christ in whom we glimpse the fullness of glory, will strengthen and encourage each one of us in our continuing efforts – however great or small – to be agents of transformation who shine with the light of Christ.

Amen

What do you want me to do for you?

Preached by Lesley McCormack on October 25th 2015.

The work of the Holy spirit never fails to surprise and amaze me!!  When this date was agreed for Flynn’s baptism, I had no idea what the readings might be but as the time drew nearer and I began to prepare for this morning I was delighted, because in many ways, there couldn’t be more perfect passages of scripture for a baptism than those we have heard this morning.

The words of Jeremiah speak comfort to a people struggling to find meaning in the national catastrophe through which they are living and their struggle for survival.  Thank God, we are living in relatively peaceful times, and certainly we are not experiencing disaster of the magnitude that was the backdrop to Jeremiahs writing about 600 years BC. But all of us experience challenges of one kind or another in our lives at some point; being a follower of Christ (for that is what baptism is about) does not give us immunity from the pains, sorrows and challenges of life; while we might hope otherwise neither Flynn, nor indeed any one of us here this morning, will be immune from this.  And it is at such times that the words of Jeremiah continue to be a source of comfort, hope and encouragement to pilgrims on the road of life.

And in the story of Bartimaeus we glimpse both the trusting faith of a would-be disciple and the blindness of those who already are followers of Christ and yet struggle to comprehend the full reality and implication for their lives of his life, teaching and example.  In this story we glimpse the darkness and light within each one of us and hear those wonderfully intimate words of Jesus saying “What do you want me to do for you?”.  As these words transformed the life of a blind beggar who then immediately responded by following Christ ‘along the way’ so those same words,  spoken to each of us at different times throughout our lives, have the same power to transform our lives and draw us ever deeper into that relationship that comes from being part of the Body of Christ.   But the story of Bartimaeus is also about the blindness of those who were following Jesus, who had been listening to his teaching, and yet were unable to see as Jesus longed for them to see.  The crowd surrounding Jesus were blind to the needs of the most vulnerable, blind to the reality that the Kingdom of God turn the values of the world upside down and inside out.  Jesus asked James and John ‘What do you want me to do for you’.  Their response was to ask for places of authority, honour and status.  They were blind.  But when that same question was asked of Bartimaeus, all he wanted was to be able to see, and when he regained his sight, he immediately followed Jesus on the way, on the road that would lead to Jerusalem.  But it was a blind man, vulnerable, regarded by so many as a nobody, it was this person who showed the crowd what it really meant to be a follower of Christ.

So the story of Bartimaeus reminds us too that it is those whom we least expect who will teach us most about what it means to love God and follow Christ.  The story of Bartimaeus reminds us that it is the most surprising people who will teach us most about what it means to be a part of the community that Christ called into being – the common life of the church, the community of the baptised.  And it is into this community that in a few minutes, Flynn will be baptised.

Through the waters of  Baptism we are drawn in to a relationship with God who calls us by name and longs for us to become fully the person he created us to be.  When I visited Gayle and Steve at home recently I was entranced by a glorious photo of Flynn – an underwater picture of him swimming – completely at ease, completely and fully himself.  It was for me an image of something of what baptism means.

In Baptism, our lives are bound to the life of Christ and we commit to a way of life that gives life – that shines like a light in the dark corners of our lives, our communities, our nation and our world.  In these early years, Flynn’s parents and Godparents through God’s grace,  will teach him by their example what this means.

Throughout the journey of this little boy, stories will be shared – stories of the family, of life, stories of faith and hope, strength, courage and love.  As he grows, he will hear stories about God’s relationship with his children, as they endeavour to make sense of their lives and the circumstances in which they find themselves; a narrative that speaks of God’s constancy and love for all his children; a narrative that speaks of light and hope; a narrative that,  I hope with the encouragement, Flynn will continue to return to throughout his life.

But we begin with water, the stuff of life itself, without which nothing can survive.  Yet water can also drown and destroy.  Baptism is about both these – symbolising the movement  from death to life – from being self-centred  to God-centred.  This morning, the water flowing over Flynn’s head will symbolise that movement to new life; and in that action is brought together all the mixed stuff of life – joy and sadness, life and death, human frailty and God’s transforming love which says to this little boy and to each of us – “What do you want me to do for you?”  Amen