Archive for January, 2010|Monthly archive page

Homily for Ordinary Sunday 2C

In Uncategorized on January 17, 2010 at 12:36 am

Several years ago I went to a friend’s wedding in Southland.
It was a funny sort of affair,
a civil celebrant and all over in 5 minutes.
And then the party started. And some party…
Maybe two hours in, the cry went up that the bar was exhausted,
– not quite in those words –
so the Best Man organised a posse of the few sober drivers to remedy matters.
… The only evening wedding I’ve ever been to
where the wedding breakfast was almost exactly that,
certainly the food didn’t emerge ‘til the other side of midnight!

Now, I’d never thought of semi-rural Southland
as having much in common with the Holy Land,
but perhaps that’s rather what it was like…

Certainly, it’s the temperance movement’s nightmare,
Jesus at a wedding in Cana.
Not simply uncritical of the use of wine, veering towards the immoderate…
At this wedding, Jesus actually facilitates the appearance of *more* of the stuff!

A wedding celebration and, we are told, the wine “gave out”.
The demands of hospitality,
even stronger in the Middle East than in Southern climes,
would have made this a major faux pas.
More than this, shame would have fallen on the happy couple’s family
on what should have been a day of honour.
Into the breach steps, with the gentle direction of Mary, Jesus.
Water becomes wine. The day is saved. The party can continue…
We end with a piece of off the cuff, slightly cynical, popular wisdom
from the steward, about saving the best wine ‘til last…

This is not just a miracle,
it is for John, that most allegorical of writers,
most definitely a metaphor.
John says as much.
This is a “sign”, the first, in fact, of Jesus’ signs.

We’re still in epiphany mode,
the revelation of the glory of God in Jesus of Nazareth.
And this is not wise men at a cradle.  Gifts for a baby.
This is an adult Jesus, making a statement, enacting a parable
about who he understands himself to be.

This is also about John, the writer,
and his telling of a story he demands we hear,
with resonant echoes of a lived faith that knows all the story,
knows of the Cross & the empty tomb,
that knows too of the Eucharist.

You don’t, as the writer of John’s Gospel, especially,
tell a story about water and wine
and pretend not to know about the Last Supper and the Cross.
In fact the very reason why the Gospel of John
doesn’t contain the same narrative of the Last Supper as the others
is because the imagery and theology permeates the whole.
His readers are grounded in worship and sacrament.
For them and us he makes the whole story resonate.

Symbolism abounds in this far-from-simple story.
This is Jesus’ manifesto,
his first revelation of what he is about.

What does he do?
Taking the implacable stone vessels of ritual purity,
of division and delineation,
Jesus brings forth the vibrant richness of the marriage feast,
of inclusion and unity and new life.

The marriage feast has always been a biblical image
of both blissful reconciliation with God and the heavenly promise this implies.

Wine is the rich sign of celebration.  New wine.
And there is more of this than can be fathomed,
scholars have tried to do the maths and simply put
– John tells the story of a *lot* of wine,
more than enough to satisfy the thirst of those who drank all the old stuff.

More than enough to cater for guests at the banquet
who may not have known they were invited.
Maybe this epiphany is, as is the story of the wise men,
the opening chapter of the revelation of the God of Israel to the Gentiles.

A narrow, guarded, closely-held cultural faith
is given at this marriage feast the beginnings of a new life.
Water is invigorated with life.

The reading from Isaiah we heard rejoices at the return of exiles to Israel,
offers a vision where the very land itself – and all its people –
will no longer be desolate, but themselves married to God,
a vision of that great wedding feast, the image of the Messianic Kingdom.

Jesus uses that image, you’ll remember, of the wedding feast, in his parables.
In this epiphany season, we who were, as gentiles, excluded,
exiled even beyond those who would return from exile,
are reminded that in this Jesus we are embraced.

Jesus, by transforming the narrow interpretation
of what it means to be the people of God,
of what the new wine of the Kingdom might be like,
reveals God’s call and claim to each one of us,
invited – as every one of us is – to the wedding.

We who were once far off are brought close by the revelation of God
we see in and through this Jesus of Nazareth.

And those of us who feel we have long been guests here
are offered invigoration.
That God in Christ Jesus might do something unexpected,
something fun, perhaps a little irreverent
to stir up the joy and celebration that we are invited to.
The wedding feast is not a sombre affair.

So in this new year, we are called to be open to transformation,
stale and stuck in our ways though we may be.
For in this season of epiphany, we are reminded that Jesus walks among us,
we who might be thinking that the wine has all but given out,
waiting to stir from safety the waters of our faith.

There is better wine to come.

Our Prayerbook has a prayer I hope we might pray together,

We pray you, Jesus, take the old water,
our busy, conscientious lives, and turn them into gospel wine,
that everyone may see your life
and thirst.


Homily for The Baptism of the Lord C

In Uncategorized on January 10, 2010 at 12:43 am

Just in case you didn’t get enough of him during Advent,
John the Baptist is back, reprising his role at the Jordan.

Advent is well and truly gone,
and while the cards, carols, and calories of Christmas
may still be visible here and there,
last week the Magi laid their gifts before the Christchild.
And went home.

Now, we jump from nativity stories to Jesus the adult.
Now we meet once more John the Baptister,
last seen in the wilderness calling on those around him to repent.
He’s still there.    He’s still baptising.

And among those who come to John for baptism,
noted almost as an afterthought in Luke’s Gospel,
is one Jesus of Nazareth.

Luke has prepared us from the very beginning of his gospel
for their meeting:
their paths and stories are intertwined from before birth.
Remember Elizabeth greeting Mary and the unborn John
leaps in welcome to the unborn Jesus.

Why, though, baptism?
Of all those who heard John’s call to repentance,
Jesus alone need not have been submerged in the River Jordan, surely?
It was undoubtedly the cause of some embarrassment.
How could Luke and his audience contemplate,
given who they and we hold Jesus to be,
a baptism for the Messiah at the hands of the prophetic John?

T.S. Eliot ends his famous Epiphany poem The Journey of the Magi,
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, …
And it almost seems from the story that Jesus,
bringing the new dispensation,
enters through this Old Testment-like prophetic figure,
and of course there’s a clear link to the other ‘water’ stories of the Bible:
the Creation, the Flood, the Red Sea, the entry into the Promised Land.

The very fact that all four gospels allude to this story,
embarrassing though it might have seemed,
is a measure of the event’s authenticity and its importance.
But what does it mean?

Jesus’ baptism is a revelation.
It is a continuation of the “Epiphany” theme.
Jesus the adult breaking into the public sphere in which he will
undertake his ministry and mission.
Where next Sunday we will him claim the words of Isaiah as his manifesto.

It is also very emphatically a messianic revelation.
This is, quite literally, the public anointing of Jesus as the Christ,
with water and with the Holy Spirit.

The anointing of kings in Israel was always the task for the prophet.
From Samuel anointing Saul and then David, the ideal king,
such was the pattern.
This is precisely why Jesus is baptised, anointed, by John,
last of the prophets of Israel, the Forerunner.

Anointing and baptism were and are a recognition,
a sign of relationship, of covenant.
As between a ruler and God through a prophet,
so, too, in our gospel, Jesus is recognised and acknowledged
as the bearer of the Holy Spirit of Israel’s One True God.

The Spirit descends on Jesus in the form of a dove,
calling at once to mind that scene from Genesis
as Noah sends a dove in search of life.

Remember the story: the dove is sent out and returns fruitless.
It is sent again and returns carrying a sign of promise.

When it is sent a third time and does not return,
Noah understands that there is new life out there.
The time of exile in the Ark is ended, the Covenant is restored,
and humankind begins again, reconciled to God.

Baptism has always been about repentance and reconciliation.
Jesus’ baptism is not for repentance on his part,
but a sign of reconciliation breaking into human history.
So it is that the heavens
— so long seen as closed, hiding God from humanity –
open .. and the dove descends.

With the beginning of the adult ministry of Christ, things are different. Baptism has marked the beginning of a new way.
A new way for Jesus’ mission in the world.
A new way for us who have been ourselves baptised.
A new way for all humanity.

The ecumenical movement in this last century has affirmed wholeheartedly that Baptism is the root of all ministry.
All the baptised are called to ministry,
wherever and however that is for us.
That is an inescapable privilege,
which no-one – clergy or lay – can take from us,
but also a responsibility each of us bears.
In this congregation, too, all the baptised are welcome at the Lord’s table.

Jesus’ baptism touches us through our own.
The font we pass as we enter the main doors of this church building reminds us of our own entry into the Church itself,
the Body of Christ.

Not as Anglicans,
nor as members of a parish or diocese,
but as Christians, bearing the name of Jesus the anointed.

We are called in our own baptism to become sacramental.
We are partakers in and workers for God’s reconciliation.
We too are invited to be bearers of the Spirit,
like those Samaritan believers who had been baptised,
but had not experienced the Holy Spirit,
we are challenged to give ourselves fully in God’s service,
given impetus to ministry,
called to the servanthood that Christ lives and dies.

We are, each one of us,
to make the work of the Kingdom

Homily for The Epiphany

In Uncategorized on January 9, 2010 at 12:39 am

Preached at All Saints, Dunedin, 2008

‘How laboriously you came, taking sights and calculating,
where the shepherds had run barefoot!
How odd you looked on the road, attended by what outlandish liveries,
laden with such preposterous gifts!

‘You came at length to the final stage of your pilgrimage
and the great star stood still above you.
What did you do?
You stopped to call on King Herod.
Deadly exchange of compliments
in which began that unended war of mobs and magistrates against the innocent!’

Words from Evelyn Waugh’s novel Helena
where the title character, the Roman Emperor Constantine’s mother,
muses on the oddness of the wise men, their journey, and their gifts.
And of course, King Herod’s unwelcome attention.

In this year of Matthew’s Gospel,
we might pay special attention to why it is that he alone
tells this story of pagan sages
visiting the Holy Family.

And sometimes the opening of a story is most closely related
to where we have got to by the end.

How does the Gospel of Matthew end?

It’s intimately linked to something we will be doing next Sunday.

And to missionaries and evangelism.

The Great Commission.

The very last words of Matthew’s Gospel:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In the Wise Men, the magi,
we have the nations, the Gentiles, coming to acknowledge this King,
travelling and offering their gifts;
and at story’s end the disciples are sent out to all the world,
to offer their gift of good news and to baptise and teach.

Human wisdom bows before the infant Christ,
and God’s wisdom, the Logos, the Word that was from the beginning,
news and experience of God’s wisdom is set free into all the earth.

The wise men are astrologers,
are pagan,
are rich.

God’s wisdom offers something deeper
than fanciful ideas and systems about how our fate is shaped.
God’s wisdom offers knowledge of the only One True God,
but a God who knows us from the inside out,
who is in this Jesus somehow bone of our bone, blood of our blood.
God’s wisdom turns the wisdom of the world on its head.
Blessed are the poor, the meek, the sorrowful.
Helena, in the novel, has a prayer for the wise men and for herself:
‘For His sake who did not reject your curious gifts,
pray always for all the learned, the oblique, the delicate.
Let them not be quite forgotten at the Throne of God
when the simple come into their kingdom.’

Hymn for Epiphany

In Uncategorized on January 6, 2010 at 11:50 pm


What starlight lies here? What pilgrim of ages
traverses the cosmos to guide and to glimpse
a greater light rising,
salvation surprising
a darkened world waiting to see peace’s Prince?

What wisdom comes near? What mystical sages
bear knowledge from far-off to greet the new king?
The heavens’ foundation
is found in creation:
the Word shares our substance, true wisdom to bring.

What gifts do we bear? What wealth and what wages
are brought, paradoxic, to poverty’s cot?
Of gold’s regal glory,
of frankincense holy,
of myrrh and the cost of Redeeming our lot?

What evil and fear, what scheming and rages
lie strewn in the wake of these innocents’ quest?
Perversion of power
holds sway this dark hour,
but Righteousness born in our midst shall not rest.

What love will appear? What awe will amaze us,
when we bow in wonder; when idol kings fall?
The child of this story
shall show his true glory
proclaimed from a cross when Love, conq’ring, claims all!