Epiphany in the Hambleden Valley

My first Sunday in the new parish on the edge of the Epiphany Season.

This was my 1st sermon as Priest in Charge of the Hambleden Valley on January 24, 2021.

Revelation 19:6-10 John 2:1-11

I think it is somehow fitting that the first Gospel reading on my first Sunday in the Hambleden Valley is about wine & hospitality! I have been told, on good authority, that both flow freely in the convivial villages and pubs of the valley! I so look forward to meeting everyone in the flesh as soon as we possibly can.

It is also fitting that I begin this new season of ministry with you on the edge of the Epiphany season. I love the readings over these Sundays as they show us the different Epiphany experiences of various people – the Wise Men, Samuel, Mary, Joseph and young Jesus, grown up Jesus and John the Baptist and today – Mary and the disciples.

An Epiphany is to have ‘a moment of great or sudden revelation or realization.’ I am not sure if you have ever had an epiphany moment – but they are quite extraordinary! Those moments when something new blows through your mind – you see the world, people, a situation in a totally new way. Epiphany moments can cause a fundamental change in one’s life. They are not always dramatic affairs – they are simply a moment when you know that something has changed in your mind or in your heart. The circumstances might be dramatic – but it not a requirement.

The Epiphany stories of the people in these scripture readings tell of their revelations and realizations of God the Father and Jesus the Son. This is what, we as Christians, should be seeking for ourselves. Religion and even faith can become very dull if we are not watching and waiting for epiphany moments ourselves.

We are going to spend a few minutes unpacking the epiphanies of the wedding at Cana.

‘Epiphany of Invitation’

Mary was the first one invited to this wedding; it is amusing that Jesus and the disciples had also been invited to the wedding. Was Jesus on the B list – surely not? Maybe that is why he is resistant to changing the water into wine?!

There are times when we may have been invited to an event or gathering that we were not top of the list for maybe invited to fill a gap left by someone else. It’s happened to me. It is not the most comfortable of situations to be in. I think that many people feel this way about the invitation to come to church; they are somehow on the B list, everyone around them is a better Christian or ‘in the club’ and there is no place for new members. The Revelation reading speaks of the blessing for those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb. That is one invitation we do not want to miss; we are part of that great multitude.

At my licensing service this past week, I chose Isaiah 55 as the first reading. There were many reasons for this; largely for the opening verses and the very simple invitation to come. ‘Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!’ Everyone is welcome.

Jesus was invited to the wedding and he turned up. He accepted the invitation and something amazing happened at that wedding. When we invite Jesus into our lives, He does amazing things, beyond what we could ever ask or imagine. My hope is that we as followers of Jesus would want to extend that invitation to others. Simply and lovingly.

The Epiphany of Expectation

The second example of Epiphany is the realization of the expectation that God will act. Mary is expecting Jesus to do something about the lack of wine at the wedding in Cana.

Imagine being at a wedding that runs out of wine. Imagine if you are the one hosting the wedding that has run out of wine! How embarrassing! What will everyone think?! In Jesus’ time hospitality was everything; to run out of a wine was a huge social faux pas.

The exchange between Mary and Jesus is somewhat amusing: Mary is concerned for the lack of wine and Jesus is saying ‘Oh Mother – mind your business!’ Mary is having none of this; and she involves the servants to do ‘whatever he tells you to’. It seemingly doesn’t take Jesus much convincing to ‘do something’.

This is good news! We do not have to negotiate or beg or plead with Jesus to act on our behalf. We may have to persist, there are often many other factors at play that we do not know about or see. Again, Isaiah 55, ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’

The position of Interim Priest-in-Charge of the Hambleden Valley Group was the 21st application I made for job over 18 months of looking. I had some really challenging moments of wondering if Jesus was going to do something. Many times of prayer became weepy, sniffly, pleading sessions. My levels of expectation fluctuated widely – of myself, of the church and its structures and of God.

At the end of it, I am so glad that His ways are not my ways. I know that Jesus will do something, even if I need to be reminded repeatedly.

The disciples are the ones who have the biggest ‘Epiphany of Expectation’ at the wedding of Cana. They are new friends of Jesus, he has just gathered them, so it is early days. What were their expectations of Jesus? They had left their families, homes and livelihoods to follow this man. We could assume that expectations were running high.

What are your expectations of Jesus like in your current situation? High – middling – low? What are your expectations of the Church? I would really like to know – if you’d care to share that with me at some point. Sometimes expectations need to be realistically adjusted. Low ones to be raised to avoid despondency. Overly high expectations need to be lowered to avoid continual disappointment.

The Epiphany of Covering

The wedding of Cana is incredibly rich in meaning and symbolism and we could be here all day digging around. Yes, Jesus starts his ministry here on the third day (reference to the resurrection). He takes what is common, weddings and water, and make them extraordinary. Mary’s high expectations and belief in her son and what she knows about him. The disciples who go from unbelief to belief and then circle back repeatedly as they follow Jesus.

At the heart of what Jesus is doing at the wedding of Cana is protecting the bride & groom and their families from shame. Hospitality is at the heart Middle Eastern culture and always has been. To run out of a wine at a wedding would be beyond humiliation, it would bring disgrace on a family. There were few things worse than failing to provide for one’s guests.

Jesus, by providing wine for them, he fulfils the need they have in that very moment. Jesus protected them from shame and disgrace in front of their community. He does the very same for us, Jesus covers our shame, our sins. He covers us in his love. Jesus also covers us in the very moment we need him too. He can change your life, He can change your day and He can also change that very moment you find yourself in.

Many people are struggling right now in lockdown, maybe even more this time around. People are losing jobs and relationships; some are unable to feed their children and themselves. Many medical staff feel they cannot provide the care that they desperately want to for the sick and the dying in front of them. My suspicions are that high levels of shame and embarrassment abound for many people.

Jesus covers that shame and embarrassment, when we let him. Whatever situation you are facing that you find shameful or embarrassing, please know that you are covered in the love of God. Please seek help if you need it – there are people in the churches that can help you. I want to help you if I can.

The ending of the Epiphany season does not mean that epiphanies stop happening. We need to watch and wait for them. The Epiphany of Invitation when we realize that Jesus is waiting for us to accept his invitation to join him. The Epiphany of Expectation reminds us that Jesus is at work even when there seems to be a delay, or He is somehow slow to act. Expectations may need to be adjusted. The Epiphany of Covering shows us the love and protection of Jesus. We are loved beyond what we can comprehend. He covers us in love and protects us from shame and embarrassment. We are in this together even though we have to keep apart.

Bless you my friends. I look forward to sharing this new season with you and look with expectation for what epiphanies are in store for us.

Baptism of Jesus: Time & Togetherness

It was lovely to be with my great friend Fr Joseph Fernandes this morning. We lived streamed from St Hilda’s, Ashford.

St Hilda’s Ashford – 10/1/21

Genesis 1:1-5

Acts 19:1-7

Mark 1:4-11

Leonardo Divinci’s Baptism of Christ

Happy New Year! I think it is still okay to say that. As we stand at the beginning of another year, with many unknowns and uncertainties that are certainly going to come our way, celebrating the baptism of Jesus should help us to remember that He is very much with us. He always has been. I am going to begin this morning by reflecting on Genesis 1.

In the beginning’, these famous first words started time rolling. A podcast I listened to this past week had a very interesting take on time. Time was the first thing God created. In the words ‘in the beginning’, the clock started running. Ever since then, humankind has been trying to measure time – it started with light and dark, day and night, evening and morning.

Humans created sun dials, water clocks. The philosopher Blaise Pascal is credited with creating the wristwatch when he took out his pocket watch and tied it to his wrist with a piece of string! The minute hand was added in the 1570’s. In the 1970’s when digital watches were made popular, we started to mark time in seconds! What can you do with a second?! We have become obsessed with time and marking it. Reflecting on the last year and our use of time – many people have more time on their hands than they know what to do with. Others have never been busier and can’t spare a second for one more thing.

Time is the most valuable thing that we have. Isn’t it interesting that time is the first thing God created? It is one of the very few things that every single person has in equal measure and no one can change the amount of time they have been given. The difference is, of course, how we fill our time.

We can wax poetically about time; a quick Google search provides all manner of quotes and statements about it.

William Penn: ‘Time is what we want most, but what we use worst’

J.R.R. Tolkein: ‘All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us’

Miles Davies: ‘Time isn’t the main thing; it’s the only thing’

Jonathan Estrim: ‘The way we spend our time defines who we are’

What does time have to do with the baptism of Jesus? A lot actually! At the beginning of time, there was God, water and light. The three key elements of baptism. God’s timing is everything! He is never late, but he is often not in a hurry, as it has been said. As the wind swept over the face of the waters in Genesis, in God’s timing John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness calling for repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

The time came for Jesus to be baptised, notice the ‘in those days’ Jesus came. We so often ask ‘where has the time gone?’, we count down days or sleeps until x or y happens. Time, biblically speaking, does not go – it comes. The time came for Jesus to be born, the time came for him to be baptised.

For John, Jesus and the disciples time builds up. Time is coming. Time is coming when the vaccines will be in millions of people, time is coming when we won’t have to live in lockdown. I am finding this way of looking at time much more encouraging than counting it down. It unhinges me from the tyranny of counting seconds and hours and the disappointment that inevitably comes when delays and cancellations occur.

There is difficulty in being patient for time to come. It can be a struggle to hold on to hope in the waiting. Proverbs 13:12, ‘hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.’ Leo Tolstoy in War and Peace wrote, ‘The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.’

The time came for the creation of the heavens and the earth, the time came for Jesus to begin his public ministry. The Spirit, breath or wind of God came down at both events to signal the presence and power of God. We all need to know God’s presence with us and in us. This presence shows His great love for us, reveals our purpose, and draws us into His family.

This is what we do in baptism, become part of God’s family. I remember fondly asking a 6-year-old boy I was going to baptise if he knew what his baptism was all about. Without hesitation he said, with a big smile on his face, ‘it means that Jesus and I are friends forever!’ And so much more!

Many of us may not remember our baptisms if we were baptised as babies. We can re-affirm those promises made on our behalf – I am sure Fr Joseph would have loved to have sprinkled you all today!

In his baptism, Jesus enters the dirty, messy waters with us. He didn’t need to be baptised. Jesus’ baptism was called an acute embarrassment by the early church. The gospel accounts are short: Matthew makes the point that John the Baptist tried to argue with Jesus that he should be the one baptizing him and not the other way around. We have this short account in Mark. Luke gives it two verses and doesn’t mention John the Baptist. John has no account at all.

Jesus did not need John’s baptism of repentance. He had not and has not sinned. What was he doing in the waters of the great unwashed, the sinners, the prostitutes and tax collectors?! Did he not care about his reputation?

Apparently not. This is very good news for us. Jesus’ first act was one of radical solidarity. Jesus stepped into a relationship with sinful humanity. He was not apart from it, not standing on the banks of the river waiting for the water to run clear.

In baptism we are all united to God and to each other. We are interconnected into one family. We cannot let go of this; we need to come back to it. That is why the wrong message of our culture and society that independence, doing it my way, is so dangerous. We are not islands unto ourselves.

Having to live distanced from each other is not helping! We can of course do things to mitigate and stay connected in other ways. Focus on what we can do, not what we can’t. Time is coming when it won’t be like this anymore.

The disciples that Paul met in Ephesus were waiting, but they did not know what they were waiting for. They had been baptized into John’s baptism of repentance but did not know about the Holy Spirit. Paul knew what they needed so he baptized the in the name of Jesus. They began to speak in tongues and prophesied. Wild stuff! The time came for them – it wasn’t booked in the diary! These twelve heard God’s Word and it transformed them. They received the light and love of God in that moment. The light and love that gives us a language, a home and a community.

We all need the light and love of God right now, more than ever. We also need to share that light and love with those around us who are living in darkness. God is with us always. The One who started the clock running in the beginning, who tore open the heavens at Jesus’ baptism is still the One pouring out love and grace on us as individuals but also as His Church. We might not be able to meet in person, but the time is coming when we will be able to and, in the meantime, we are still connected by the waters of baptism.

Starting with the Basics: Be Like Solomon, Jesus and Mary

I was hoping to be preaching for the home crowd at St Peter’s Lutheran in Cochrane today.

For St Peter’s Lutheran Church

Christmas 2


1 Kings 3:4-15
Ephesians 3:1-12
Luke 2:40-52

O God, we give you thanks because,
in the carnation of the Word,
a new light has dawned upon the world,
that all the nations and peoples may be brought out of darkness
to see the radiance of your glory. Amen.

Happy New Year to my St Peter’s family! It is lovely to be with you this morning from across the pond. Would have been lovelier if I had actually been able to be with you in person as I had hoped up until a few weeks ago!

None of us can be too certain about what 2021 holds – we are only three days in after all. On New Year’s Day 2020 I posted this quote from Beth Moore on Facebook: ‘We have no idea what the coming year holds but this I can promise you based on the unsurpassed authority of Scripture: our God’s going to be faithful. He’s going to be good. He’s going to love us and be our light in the darkness. He’s going to keep His word. He cannot do otherwise.’

This is still very much true as we head into 2021. Many of us have no idea what is coming. I have decided to only use a pencil when putting things on the calendar! We can be sure that God will be faithful, He is going to love us, He will be our light and He will keep his word. Amen!

So where do we start at the beginning of this new and uncertain year? Let’s start with the basics. Many people have learned a lot over the past year, we have learned new ways of doing things, new technology, what we can and can’t live without. We might have learned where our limits are – so many people have been pushed right to the edge of theirs. Some people have never been busier in their lives, others have never been so bored. Some have discovered new activities and hobbies; others have barely made it through each live long day. Some haven’t made it at all.

We need to do something with all this learning. There are a few golden threads running through the readings this morning and we will pull on a few of them. Wisdom is the overarching theme; where and how do we get it? I suggest this morning that we Be like Solomon, Be like Jesus and Be like Mary.

Be like Solomon! Thank you to Pastor Paul for his excellent summary of 1 Kings from his reading. Wisdom comes through asking. As one favourite preacher of mine puts it ‘Go to the throne before you go to the phone. Or Facebook, Twitter, Insta, etc. Much bad advice abounds! I fondly remember a young homeless man when I lived in London. He would sit on the floor in the Tube station on a pile of old sleeping bags. He held up a cardboard sign that said ‘£1 for bad advice’. It was funny and he made some good money, but it was undeniably sad too. Bad advice abounds.

Solomon had it all, he came from a good family, he was likely attractive, rich, intelligent, established a kingdom. Yet, he was smart enough to know what he was lacking. Solomon had been given immense responsibility and power, well beyond his great ability. Solomon wanted an understanding mind to govern his people. Now you might be tempted to think, ‘Oh, if only our politicians had God-given, understanding minds!’ Before you go about calling the kettle black – honestly – how much God-given understanding do you currently have?

In asking for an understanding mind, God blessed Solomon with much more. Solomon sought God, he didn’t go to his advisors, or military leaders. He went to the source of all knowledge and understanding. Solomon went to the throne before he went to the phone.

I had a call from a woman recently who wanted to meet up to talk, let’s called her Sarah. Over the last three years, Sarah has made some unwise life decisions based on some poor advice she was given. The source of the poor advice is her husband. Sarah has a Christian faith and attends a local church when she can. At the end of our first session, I asked her, if at any point she had invited God into her situation? The look on her face spoke volumes. She hadn’t. Sarah had closed this particular compartment of her life to God and was paying a price for that. We ended that first session by praying that she would ask God into her situation, seek his wisdom for the way forward. Her situation is not resolved and likely won’t be for a long-time, but her outlook is different, she has included God, and this is making a difference.

Seek God’s wisdom first, invite him into your situations where you need wisdom. Not the wisdom of the world or heaven help us, social media or even the news. Even the people we love the most and should be the closest can give bad advice. Use God’s wisdom to interpret these other things. Wisdom plays the long game, we build it up, it is collected and gathered along the journey. If you read further on into 1 Kings, Solomon starts well but he goes off course – it would be remiss of me not to tell you that. Had Solomon continued to seek God’s wisdom, the outcome may have been different.

Be like Solomon and keep asking for wisdom, for a discerning mind and heart for whatever tasks lie ahead for you this year.

Be like Jesus in the Temple! This is one of the only stories of Jesus’ childhood in the New Testament. Very little is known other than the flight to Egypt in Matthew and his Presentation in the Temple also in Luke. It is often thought that Mary was one of Luke’s sources for his gospel which makes sense given the detail of this story. As only a mother could tell!

Jesus is found in the temple, sitting and listening and then asked questions. Please notice the order in which Jesus did these things.
He sat, he listened, he asked questions.

We live in a world of noise, so much information comes at us all the time. The platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, You Tube, Tik Tok, Snap Chat, What’s App, etc give everyone an opportunity to have a voice. Fair enough, we have the right to free speech. Let’s not confuse free speech with cheap speech. Rights come with responsibilities. Use your voice and your thumbs wisely. Even a small amount of time online highlights that so many people are incapable of either of these things. I hope that we have not lost the art of conversation and good disagreement permanently.

When was the last time you just sat and listened? Try it! It is good for the soul. New Year’s challenge – set a timer for 10 minutes once a day, every day this week. Sit down and invite God to speak to you. Listen for his voice. There is no magic, just a bit a discipline.

Be like Jesus at home with Mary & Joseph!

There has always been much debate over how much Jesus knew about himself. Jesus knew that day that he had to be in his Father’s house – as much as this answer confused Mary & Joseph. Jesus then went home to Nazareth and was obedient to them. As Elaine talked about in the children’s story, Jesus grew up and did things that would set him up for his later ministry.

I am not sure what your reaction is when you hear the word obedience or obey. I suspect it is not too popular. Especially in our current world situation with constantly changing rules and opinions. What and who are we to obey? Obey can have negative connotations for many people, especially if it was meant as a form of control or abuse: do as I say, not as I do.

I see obedience to God like the way I see an umbrella. I live in England and it rains a lot, year-round. A good umbrella is an essential tool of living over here. On a rainy day, when my umbrella is up, I stay dry, I can see where I am going as my head is held up, I can see the way ahead of me and walk with confidence.

Under the umbrella of obedience to God, I am protected, I have enough space to live freely within the limits of that umbrella, I don’t worry about getting wet or losing my way and I know that I am loved.

On the same rainy day, I can decide to not put the umbrella up or leave it at home. I will get wet, instinctively my head will drop to keep the rain off my face and out of my eyes. I will not fully see the way ahead. I am not protected from the rain or the wind as I have removed myself from the benefits of protection given by the umbrella.

If I decide to remove myself, either consciously or unconsciously, from the under the umbrella of obedience, I am no longer guaranteed God’s protection or blessing.

God has not moved, I have. My problem is that I don’t always want to stay under the umbrella! Even though I know it is better under it than outside of it. I used this analogy with Sarah who I mentioned earlier, and she very kindly gave me these umbrella socks for Christmas!

Are you operating under or outside the umbrella of obedience? Jesus’ obedience to his parents led to an ‘increase in wisdom and years, and in divine and human favour.’ Forget five minutes of Facebook fame or infamy in most cases, go for divine favour, human favour of the right kind.

Be like Jesus – sit, listen ask and obey.

Finally, Be like Mary! Mary is a great one for pondering and treasuring ‘all these things in her heart.’ Maybe for many 2021 will be a rebuilding year. Some things will have to be left behind and ‘going back to normal’ – whatever that means – might not happen the way we want it to or ever. Treasure what is good, leave out the rubbish that clutters up our lives – whether that is physical, emotional or mental clutter. Pondering means thinking, thinking deeply. It is a form of discipline – think and listening before we speak. Not everything we think needs to go directly from our brains to our tongues and thumbs. Don’t bypass the heart! We are going to need more heart in 2021, more wisdom, more love, more understanding, more gentleness for ourselves and each other. Ponder before you pontificate!

I will end as I began: ‘We have no idea what the coming year holds but this I can promise you based on the unsurpassed authority of Scripture: our God’s going to be faithful. He’s going to be good. He’s going to love us and be our light in the darkness. He’s going to keep His word. He cannot do otherwise.’

My prayer is that we will be like Solomon and seek God’s wisdom first; go the throne before we go to the phone.

Be like Jesus and sit, listen and then ask questions – in that order.

Be like Jesus and operate under the umbrella of obedience to God, stay dry and keep our heads up!

Be like Mary, ponder and treasure that which is good and let go of the clutter that distracts. His words are sweeter than honey.

Happy New Year! Go well and wisely into this year.