Friday, 15 January 2016

Epiphany 1 2016, Luke 3:21-22

Epiphany 1 Luke 3:21-22

New Year is the chance to start again, to wipe the slate, take on a new personality, a new hair dye, new clothes, a new attitude, a new course, to move house, to get married, to have a baby, to make a difference.

It is the chance to draw a line and turn away from the past and what is unhelpful and to move onto to better times.

I will swear less, eat my greens, become an opera singer this year! Beginnings are important in our lives and we often celebrate them.

A birth with a blessing or christening, maturity with a partnership, getting older with down sizing. People like Rudolf Steiner realised that even cutting a new tooth was a very important event for a child.

And so it is in our spiritual journey. At the beginning of any major faith beginning there is a ritual of renunciation, a turning away and of purification and commitment to a new way of being. For the Jews this involved a purification in water, one of the lakes or rivers. Hindus do the same in the Ganges.

We can reckon to date the commencement of the ministry of Jesus, to AD 27-29. God came to Zechariah's son John in the desert - a place of reflection, retreat and revelation. Probably the wilderness is the area north west of the Dead Sea, leading into the Jordan valley. John's ministry covered the whole of Jordan, preaching - communicating, proclaiming. It was authoritative-a baptism by immersion-dunking, but also an overwhelmed in/by/with the Spirit. This represents a turning away from doing wrong, the ouward representing the inward change.

Repentance in Hebrew involves a turning back / returning to God, rather than an expression of sorrow. Good deeds are not a necessary component of the inward act of repentance. Forgiveness does not rest on the deeds (fruit), but on a turning towards God.

John was baptizing Jews with water, but one more powerful was coming who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. The passage speaks of judgment, a cleaning out, gathering up and burning- alluding to the rubbish dump outside Jerusalem that was constantly burning and often used to image the horror of judgment.

Serious spiritual action is taking place on the margins of the story, in the desert. Unlike the good news of the State. We are looking for and telling a different good news.

Jesus goes forward from the crowd to be baptized, an anointed leader who proclaims a kingdom. A challenge to the Imperial gospel. And a voice from off stage, and says ,”This is my Beloved son”, quoting  Psalms, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, this Jesus of Nazareth! From Galillee a poor, marginal place comes God’s Son. Jesus' baptism was followed by the temptation and a call to the wilderness.

The Spirit usually comes upon us to set us hem apart to lead different lives from the crowd. It is often symbolised by a dove, for us of peace and so a sign of the Spirit is peacemaking. The Spirit comes on Jesus, sets him apart, to proclaim good news to the lost, to heal the broken hearted and announce freedom to the captives, Isa.61:1.
So this year go out of your way to make peace, to speak to those who do not speak to you, to greet those who do not greet you and to begin to be changemakers, peacemakers.

As we start this New Year we commit ourselves to Gods path and Gods resolutions even though its an uphill slog because we are on a soul journey that takes a lifetime.

Christmas 1/Epiphany 2015, Wise Men

There is a strong Christian tradition, that would see astrology as suspect. But here are astrologers from the East, traditionally thought to be Persia/Iran visiting the infant Jewish Messiah because their stargazing has foretold a very significant birth. They embark on a long and dangerous journey to find the reason for this large star. They non Jews believed that the star depicted the birth of the King of the Jews, and they went to the palace to find the king-because kings live in palaces. But Herod was troubled by the arrival of the magi. He pretends that he is interested and encourages them on their way to Bethlehem, which means in Hebrew, House of Bread, to where the prophet Micah has foretold that the Messiah will come from.

And so they go to Bethlehem and give the infant Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh and pay homage to him: Myrrh for a kings anointing, gold symbolising costly worship and frankincense prayer. And they departed another way having been warned in a dream of impending trouble, if they went back to Herod. The importance of dreams in the gospel stories of the nativity are striking. Do we take notice of our dreams?

Where would we find such wise men or wise women today? I think they are a rare breed and as such should have protected status! Wisdom is much lacking in our society though revered by other cultures, like ageing. We have much to learn about wisdom and wise guides to help us. 

To find this star and the baby King, the astrologers had to
1.physically travel,
2. mentally adjust to cross cultural differences and
3. religiously adopt another set of beliefs or at least some of them.

They had to journey. They had to leave behind the safety of their homes, their occupations, and in great danger follow their hunch. In doing so they also willingly gave materially, such was their devotion. And lastly they listened to their dreams.

Without a vision, a dream we become as dead people. So any resolutions we make for the coming year should be fired with real belly felt dreams. For me Gods Spirit is at its most powerful in what inspires our imaginations and our dreams and these dreams drive us to think and act in ways that can change us and those around us and our world.

What will drive us like the Magi to foolishly follow the God of Truth and Wisdom. It may involve upheaval, It may involve a change of attitudes. It may involve traveling. It may involve, if temporarily, a leaving behind and moving into dangerous territory and the giving of what is costly. But of such stuff are dreams made of and of such stuff is the journey we are on.

Its scary stuff, being able to peel back the layers and listen to our hearts desires or our dreams because it can result in changing the small corner of our world to follow that dream and others may not be sympathetic.

The Journey of The Magi-T.S.Elliot

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped in away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This:  were we led all that way for Birth or Death?
There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt.  I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.




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