Sunday, February 1, 2015

Candlemas

Jesus presentation in the Temple is the last of the baby stories within Luke's narrative of Jesus' birth. Matthew, of course, gives us a different version of Jesus childhood, one which ends with the Holy Family fleeing into Egypt.  These two events come from very different times and places in the life of Jesus. The Presentation, when Jesus is eight days old, and the visit of the Magi and subsequent rage of Herod which causes his parents to flee is likely to have happened nearer to the time when Jesus was two years old.

The Church Year, of course, with its twelve month cycle, cannot reflect this, and compresses the Gospels into a hotch potch of times and seasons with an often almost random attribution of dates. Random and hotch potch might be an unfair way to describe centuries of well considered Christian tradition but we come about things slowly and by experience, we find things as it were. We find things much as these two people, waiting patiently in the precincts of the Temple, would find a young couple and a child among so many other young couples and children and know for certain and for sure that this baby, and this baby alone was the one who would make all the difference in the world.

How could that be?

So we have gone backwards from Epiphany to another baby story of revelation, yes, but a story of finding, a story of those who waited and looked for and noticed. Perhaps that is why Candlemas stands at the end of this Season of Journeys. Finally the Christ comes to the heart of His people, to Jerusalem, to the Temple, to the place where holiness lays, finally those who wait in this ancient place day after day raise their eyes to the God they serve and say Amen on their lives.

As well as being about the Jesus as a baby these stories also hold the theme of light. In colder, darker climes this has a more particular significance as with sparse daylight and the shortest days of the years the Season of coming light - Advent and then these  of the arrival of the Light of the World, Christmas, of the revelation of the light - Epiphany and of the finding of the light to lighten the , Candlemas all make good sense within the Church calendar.

Light is something which we pretty much take for granted in this age of electricity. Even when the power goes out, we expect that within hours, or at most days it will be restored and, at the flick of a switch, we will be able to lighten the darkness of our world. Of course this was not always the case. Procuring light was not always so easy. Light sources were more costly, time consuming and, frankly, more dangerous. There are still plenty of areas of the world today where children go home from school to do homework by the light of lamps powered by some sort of fossil fuel or by candles which produce fumes, smoke and the  of fire. One of the big development goals in many places is to seek ways to promote renewable and clean energy around children's homes and homework.

Our western relationship with light is very different to that of a first century person - hearing that a light never goes out does not seem so impossible to us - a light bulb that burns for thousands of hours has probably been invented and with a continuous energy source, why not. In the ancient world lights always went out - the sun disappeared - not to another part of the globe - but just disappeared. The moon and the stars took their turn. Candles, lamps, fires all provided temporary light against dark  but all would succomb to the darkness in the end.

So for Jesus to be, in the words of John, the light of the world which the darkness would not overcome, This was something outside ordinary experience. But we probably do not hear that. Jesus is the electric lamp you can unplug and which stays on - well that ends up sounding a bit spooky and magical - but you get my drift. This is not small or ordinary.

When Simeon, who has been waiting for all these years in the Temple finally sees Jesus, he knows this is not small or ordinary. I wonder what it would take to make us feel that level of excitement about something? Look again at the words which Simeon says,
Lord, now let your servant go in peace - God now I can die happy - your Word has been fulfilled - you've done what you said you would. For I have seen with my own eyes what you promised your people Israel. Thee light to lighten the Gentiles and the Glory of your people Israel.

Luke records three great anthems of praise in his Gospel, on on the lips of Mary, one on the lips of Zechariah and this one on the lips of Simeon. When Thomas Cranmer wrote the Book of Common Prayer in 1549 he pulled in all sorts of pieces from the Roman Offices and into Morning and Evening Prayer put these three great songs, The Benedictus, Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis. Why? Well, far be it from me to micro-analyse Cranmer, but all three of these songs are praise unleashed. They are from the heart and they bear repetition.

So again I will ask - where is it that we find our excitement. Where is it that we will be encouraged in our own prophetic voice? Where will we find the voice that expresses our excitement at the Light?

Here is the tension which Simeon expresses so well. Lord, he says, let your Servant go in peace. He knows that once he has seen the Light of Christ he is in a different place, much as we are. A changed place. A place, if you like, of no return. We know what light looks like but those who live without light have no clue that there even might be such a light and will resist the idea of such a light with all sorts of anger and ridicule.

These songs of praise are songs of God's interaction and light shining on God's people. Where can we sing in our own lives?

This weekend I was at Diocesan Convention and we sang the hymn "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence." Which is based on Isaiah's Vision in chapter 6 of that book. I found myself pulled into that place of light and reminded that we serve a God of power and light and majesty - it is a magnificent place of wonder where we are left simply to worship and adore with whatever we can manage.

Simeon waited for Jesus - waited to hail the light. We have celebrated these great festivals of light - and now, as we move into ordinary time, we carry the light differently - as part of who we are.

Simeon did not say to God that he was ready to depart because he was depressed and fed up but because , having seen the Light, he held his own life differently, that his own life was only and always in relation to The Light. This is how we live. As those who sing songs of praise to the light. As those who are prophets of the light and understand all that that means. As those who love light and are transformed by it.

Now, Lord, you let your servant go in peace: your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people; A light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.



Sunday, January 25, 2015

Of boats, boots and following Jesus

When my parents retired twenty or more years go they moved to a small seaside town on the English coast called Brixham. It is a picturesque place with a houses carefully laid out over the hillside down over the fishing port and now the much more modern marina, a perfect picture postcard spot. Every year tourists flock in to enjoy the old-fashioned feel of winding streets and quaint cottages and to watch the fishing fleet come and go.
Aquaculture and agriculture were the traditional industries of that area of the country, long before anyone thought of tourism, farmers and fisherfolk went about their daily tasks. The fish quay in Brixham is still a vital part of the local economy.

If you have ever seen a commercial fishing vessel you will know it is not a comfortable creature. They are great hulking masses of metal, huge chunks of this and that, great rivets, not much  aesthetically pleasing about them. These vessels are designed to withstand the ravages of the ocean not the vagueries of fashion. They are practical to the core. They are a place of work, often much loved work, but hard work and dangerous work. In the UK, deep sea fishing comes out as one of the most dangerous occupations you can have.
When Jesus calls Simon Peter and Andrew, fishermen, he is not calling people who are engaged in a Sunday afternoon line and bait hobby activity, he is calling men engaged in a hard and physical task. The Sea of Galilee, whilst not a true sea, can be a treacherous body of water. Simon and Andrews boat was probably not enormous and their nets would have been handmade from natural fibers which would have meant they were heavy when they were wet.
To fish they would have cast out the net and hauled it back in, time and time again, searching through to see if they had caught anything worth keeping. A day's fishing would involve repeating this process twenty or more times until, perhaps, enough was caught to eat and to sell. The image of a net full of fish would have been an extraordinary day - most days would have been much slower, much more laborious. Of course, there were the days when nothing was caught and the nets were empty.

Jesus calls the disciples to a world of ordinary, to a world of ups and downs which they already know about. Some days they will find full nets, other days they will return to shore with no fish, this is simply the way life is. They will feel tired, there will be storms. Why would it be any different - this is fishing. They know this.
Somehow though, we have neatly dissected this to the Sunday afternoon Bass Pro version of fishing. We have found our tree and our chair with our cup holder, and our shelter in case of rain. We might have invested in a some fancy gizmo to find fish, or a rod and reel which glows in the dark - who knows. But we barely move unless a fish swims right into us - we snooze, we read a book and if we catch nothing we will simply stop for pizza on the way home because, after all, it really does not matter.
There is such a big difference in those two sorts of fishing - fishing because life depends upon it - and fishing because, well, I might feel like it sometimes. Jesus calls the Disciples to that first sort of fishing - and that sort of fishing is hard to make up - it is something which has to come from deep inside.
And that comes down to a story. What net are we drawing folk into - what story are we telling? What net are we casting, what words are we weaving together? Jesus asks his followers to look at Him - follow me - he says. It is simple. They have someone to look to - someone to look at.

This is a little bit scary for us perhaps - because the only people we can invite people to look at is us - we are not inviting people to follow us - we are inviting them to follow Jesus but what we are saying is - hey, look, this really works for me - perhaps you could give it a try too.
This is what full-time fishing looks like - being willing to wade-out waist deep - even when the water is freezing.
Yes, we would love to invite people to Church. Yes we would love all sorts of memberships and clubs and episcopal things but more than that wouldn't you love all the people you love to love Jesus - and you know what - you are in the best position to make that just a little bit closer to happening by telling them that you do. Carefully, kindly even subtlely - but that is fishing. Fishing is about being patient and understanding the fish because if you thrash around like an idiot you won't catch anything but if you pay attention and know how fish work you will do much better.
"Come and I will make you fishers of people." So, OK - we will get a bit wet, and a bit cold, and sometimes we will wonder whether this fishing gig is such a good thing after all - but then there will be those days, those glorious days, when the sun sits big on the horizon, and the ocean lays like glass and we hear the whispered voice of God calling our name, reminding us of home.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

grace

Today the Church remembers Richard Rolle, a monk from the early fourteenth century in England. A quote I came across from him caught my attention today, " If thou wilt be well with God, have grace to rule thy life." The thought of a grace ruled life is appealing. Not that I am entirely sure what that means - but it seems like a nice idea.
What after all is grace? Everything that I cannot be by myself, I suppose. Everything which makes me the better part of myself, perhaps. Grace is that which lends me to myself, that part of God which whispers life and leans into me. Grace and wisdom twine together - much like that breath which breathes over the chaos of those first waters at the beginning of creation in Genesis, grace breathes over those chaotic, fire breathing parts of me which seek to cause havoc, which seek to tear away from God.
Grace is that thing which creates and recreates constantly, that piece of God which calls me back to God. A life ruled by grace is a life under a constant call, a life with a constant breath and voice. Grace is a leveller and an inspiration. A small space. A separation from the ordinary and yet a very part of ordinary stuff. Breath. Creation.