Featured sermons from Cyncoed Ministry Area, in the Church in Wales Diocese of Monmouth.
The Epiphany of our Lord
Readings: Isaiah 60. 1-16, Matthew 2. 1-12 (view all)
May I, first of all, take this opportunity to wish you all a happy, safe and healthy new year.
The season of the Epiphany is one that’s traditionally linked to the visit of the magi to the young Jesus, with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. But the season lasts much longer than simply the services held around January 6th, the actual feast day. It also takes in the Baptism of Christ by John in the Jordan and the first miracle that Jesus did at the wedding in Cana. These events are as much part of the epiphany, the ‘making manifest’, as the visit of the magi. Epiphany is a rich season, that gives us time to reflect on the ways in which the true nature of Jesus was revealed. First, to the gentiles, the magi from afar, as king of the Jews; then at his baptism when the voice from heaven was heard declaring, ‘This is my Son, my beloved’; and finally at the wedding as water was turned into wine – the first of his signs, as the gospel writer John describes it.
Epiphany, then, confirms for us that Jesus is not just the new born king of the Jews, but the Messiah – divine as well as human, God’s Christ for the whole world, who comes to transform, to reconcile and to redeem us. As such, Epiphanytide (which will last until Candlemas on February 2nd) gives prominence to the heart of the church’s mission, which is to make manifest, make known Christ in the world. We do that through our worship together and our faithfulness, seeking God’s desire for us in prayer. We try to pattern our lives after the life of Jesus; giving ourselves in love and service to one another and to the communities in which God has placed us. And we work with others to be a voice for the poor, to stand up against the many injustices of our world and to ensure a long term and sustainable future for our damaged planet. All that is good and reflects well the five marks of mission that the Anglican Church across the world holds to. But there is another way.
All those things that I’ve just referred to tend to be about doing. Alongside all that very important doing is our being. Being unashamedly, freely, joyfully the people God created us to be.
The people who’ve taught me most about this are people with significant learning disabilities; some of the people that I worked alongside when I was Chaplain to the Deaf Community and those that I met during my short time in the Manchester L’arche Community on my sabbatical. The thing I quickly discovered in L’arche was that the people living there who have learning disabilities are utterly themselves. There’s no sense in which they try to be something they aren’t or put on a show for other the benefit of others or behave in ways that seek to please. For the simple reason that they don’t have the capacity to do that. In that sense, there is a genuineness and an authenticity about them that makes them a gift. Of course, they’re not perfect; none of us are. And they can be very challenging, as can we all be. But they’re trusting of others, take great joy in the simple things of life and, as I’ve said, are utterly themselves in the moment.
However, the thing that struck me most in those months I spent time with them was how laid bare I felt when I was with them. For I too was forced to be genuine, authentic and real. I discovered that the social niceties that ease our regular day to day conversation and skate around the awkward moments are not there. They’re unimpressed with any of the things that we might think important: our status, gifting or eloquence. The usual masks that we put on, even without knowing it, make no impression on them. In their company we’re invited simply to be who we are and nothing else.
In those months I learnt a lot about myself and about the ways in whi
From darkness into light
St John the Evangelist
Readings: 1 John 1; John 21. 19b-24 (view all)
Our daughter Evie was born just a few days before Christmas on the 21st. It’s a mixed bag having your birthday so near to Christmas, and although Evie has never seemed to mind it at all, we did worry at first that her birthday might be eclipsed by the larger celebration of Christmas.
As I began preparing today’s sermon, I wondered whether, perhaps somewhere in heaven, St John the Evangelist feels similarly — not about his birthday, but about his Saint’s Day, being on December 27th.
But then I read today’s readings, which reflect the heart of John’s character and, in particular, his intimate experience of Jesus as Lord, teacher and friend. And I reflected that, actually, it couldn’t be more apt for the feast of ‘the beloved disciple’ to fall so close to the feast of Christ’s birth.
So, on this, the third day of Christmas, I wonder what insight Saint John can bring us, this year in particular?
In the first chapter of his letter to his followers, John emphasises the same great theme of light and darkness that is so prominent in the first chapter of the gospel that bears his name.
‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it,’ John teaches us, ‘so therefore walk in the light.’ The light John describes is a light which illuminates. In the light, we are forced to be honest, with ourselves and with God.
Many of us, including myself at times, can find the light painful, even unbearable. The light illuminates the parts of us that we don’t like others to see, the parts of us we are scared to confront ourselves. We are scared we might be left exposed in front of others, ashamed as our weakness is laid bare.
Incidentally, people often struggle with silence for the same reason — in the silence, the only person to talk to is ourselves and, if we’re honest, we often don’t like ourselves very much.
The point of the light is not to embarrass us, or leave us ashamed and exposed, but instead to set us free. In the light, we must accept our fallen, broken humanity, and our need for God’s forgiveness.
But the light of God doesn’t just illuminate. The light cleanses and purifies us, setting us free from the darkness within us and around us, to receive a new light — the light of Christ within us. The light of life and hope.
Christ longs to place his light within us. A power source, a well of life, which can never be diminished or run dry. It is this light that keeps us going even when we are in our darkest moments. It is this light that spills over to illuminate those around us, enabling us to also offer comfort, hope and freedom to others.
Perhaps your Christmas celebrations this year have left you feeling inadequate or exposed. Perhaps there have been moments of darkness and despair alongside the brief glimpses of joy and happiness.
Receive the light of Christ, to heal and soothe your soul.
Perhaps your Christmas has left you feeling tired and exhausted. Perhaps you have had no energy to celebrate between busy work shifts. Perhaps you are just done after all that 2020 has thrown at you.
Receive the light of Christ, to renew and restore your being.
Perhaps as we stand at ‘the gate of the year’ you find yourself looking ahead to 2021, and a rush of anxiety wells up within you. Perhaps you find yourself checking the news compulsively, fearful of what the near future will hold.
Receive the light of Christ, a light which, even in dark times, can never be overcome.
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”And he replied:“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”’From the poem:
God of the Poor
The Feast of Christ the King
Readings: Ezekiel 34. 11-16, 20-24; Matthew 25. 31-46 (view all)
At one stage a few years ago, my daughter Evie had a favourite phrase whenever something didn’t go her way — ‘It’s not fair!’ Whether it was being denied a treat or being told she couldn’t do something that she really wanted, in her mind straight away, her fairness alarm was triggered.
As human beings we often bring a strong sense of fairness to ourselves and our own interests. We live in a highly individualised culture, where often any infringement of individual choice is often perceived as unfair or unjust.
However, perhaps something we are not so good at, even in our highly developed culture, is extending our concern for justice to those who are marginalised in our society. Or at least, know how to use our lives to act on those concerns.
So as followers of Jesus, how should we care for those who are most vulnerable? And how can we seek the face of Jesus today, in the faces of those who are poor and marginalised?
Today’s gospel reading is a well-known parable of Jesus, which draws on the prophesy of Ezekiel, the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. In it, Jesus presents us with an image of the last judgement, with himself as King sitting as the judge, separating the good — the sheep — on the one hand, from the bad — the goats — on the other.
But when the final judgement is made, both groups are surprised and confused. There is no mention of individual achievements or legacies — the things that we might expect in today’s culture to be important. In fact the judgement is remarkably personal.
‘For I was hungry,’ the good sheep are told, ‘and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’
You see, what is so surprising, is that Jesus — the King — related himself personally with those who are last and least. An act of service to them, is an act of service to him. And this is the basis on which the judgement is made.
In this picture, Jesus reveals to us that God is not just a God for the poor. God does not practice compassion from a safe distance like a King looking on from a golden palace.
Instead, this is the God of the poor. The God who suffers with the vulnerable and the marginalised.
This God, we discover each Christmas, is born as human being not in a palace, but in a stable amongst the poor.
And this God calls us, Christ’s body, to live out the same radical solidarity with those who are last and least in our society today. Charity from a distance, while admirable, is not enough in itself.
Instead we are called to close the distance, to get our hands dirty even if it means getting wounded ourselves in the process. Just like Jesus, we are called to empty ourselves through loving, sacrificial service of others.
I am increasingly convinced that, if there is a future for the Church in our Western society, it won’t be because of the style or quality of our worship, or even the standard of our sermons. It will be because of our loving service to those in need, our solidarity with those whose voices are marginalised, our unrelenting pursuit of justice for the poor.
For some this approach will prove unpopular. Many, including if I’m honest myself, will struggle to relinquish our own power, privilege and comfort.
But we must learn again to see the face of Jesus in those who are least like us. To hear God’s voice in the experiences of those who are vulnerable and marginalised. To be Christ’s broken body, in a world which is broken and hurting.
Because it is in choosing the way of solidarity, sacrifice and service — it is in choosing to wrap up our own salvation with
Your Faith Family
All Saints’ Day
Readings: Revelation 7. 9-12; Matthew 5. 1-12 (view all)
I wonder: Who are your faith heroes? Perhaps a Saint from church history, a friend who you look up to, or someone who supported you through a difficult period.
The faith hero I’d like to share with you is a little old woman from Aberystwyth called Ollie. Ollie had an incredible smile, and, as a retired teacher, she had a real heart for the young people in the church where I grew up.
When I made the big step of leaving home and moving to South Wales, Ollie wrote to me, gave me the gift of my first cookery book, and would make a point, every time I was back home of checking how I was doing, how things were going, and assuring me of her prayers.
What makes her even more incredible, is that I know it wasn’t just me, but Ollie did the same for so many others.
On this All Saints’ Day, in the Church we celebrate the Communion of Saints. It’s a phrase we use to describe our spiritual connection with all of God’s people, not just that exclusive group of historical figures who have been named as Saints, but all Christians, everywhere, throughout history.
These are our faith heroes, but more than that, transcending the boundaries of time and space, they are our faith family.
So what does it actually mean to be part of the Communion of Saints?
And what encouragement and challenge should it bring for us today, living in this time and this place?
In today’s first reading, we find the disciple John’s vision of the throne room of heaven. Not just a select few are present, but an uncountable crowd, people of every nation and ethnicity all together, worshipping God.
This is the great family of faith of which we, in our day, form just a small part. And this is the worship of heaven — of which our own worship on earth is just a pale imitation. But whenever we worship here on earth, we are joining in with the heavenly multitude.
There are some times and places where it is much easier to imagine this than others.
For me, when I come to the part of the Eucharist, saying ‘Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven…’, I can’t help but look up and imagine our own physical congregation being joined by a wonderful heavenly choir.
However, while it may be harder for our minds to imagine, even outside of our church buildings, even now at home — in fact wherever we are — our worship is not isolated or solitary, but forms part of the all-encompassing, universal worship of all God’s Saints.
The first Christians came to believe that this faith family surrounds us. Not only inviting us to join with them in praise and thanksgiving, but also interceding for us. And so the support of our heroes and role models does not end when they die, but perhaps even increases all the more — as they join the great company of heaven.
They are rooting for us, just as God is rooting for us. The God of salvation, the one who shelters and protects, and ultimately the one who saves, who in Christ has and will deliver us from all that challenges us.
In Matthew’s wonderful beatitudes, in our gospel reading, we find a pronouncement of the kinds of people God, and the Saints, are rooting for. ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’, ‘those who mourn’, ‘the meek’, ‘those who hunger and thirst for [justice]’, ‘the merciful’, ‘the pure in heart’, ‘the peacemakers’, ‘those who are persecuted’.
So that, whichever category we happen to fall into at any particular point in time, God is rooting for us, the prophets and the Saints have gone through it before us, and no matter what, God is with us.
No matter what, God, and God’s Saints, are with us. At the times and in the places we might expect, but perhaps most especially in the times and places we don’t expect.
Last Sunday after Trinity
Readings: Colossians 3. 12-17; Matthew 24. 30-35 (view all)
A sermon for Bible Sunday, reflecting on how God’s word can guide us today.
Feast of St Luke
Readings: Isaiah 35. 3-6, Luke 10. 1-9 (view all)
A sermon for Healthcare Sunday and the Feast of St Luke, reflecting on our calling to join with Christ in his ministry of healing, wholeness and reconciliation.