Epiphany 2: What are you looking for?

3rd Sunday of Epiphany

Isaiah 49:1-7
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

In this Epiphany season, we are being encouraged to look, see and find afresh. The wise men saw a star, followed it and found Jesus, King Herod saw a threat and tried to eliminate it. In John’s Gospel this morning, John the Baptist saw Jesus coming towards him – two days in a row! John called those around to ‘look and see’ the Lamb of God. The Christian life is a continual cycle of looking, seeing and finding; it is part of what we are called to do.

It is rather fitting then that the first recorded question Jesus asks his disciples is ‘what are you looking for?’ I think it is still a relevant question for us today too. In terms of your faith, what are you looking for? In those deep places within, what are the desires and drives of your faith?

As we move into a new year what are you hoping for, expecting, asking for, looking for in your Christian life? Anything? Nothing? Something? Do you know? It is worth giving some time this week to ponder the question as though Jesus was sitting in front of you and asking ‘what are you looking for out of your faith?’

It is not an easy question. Fear not if it has thrown you already! The disciples gave a rather lame answer to Jesus. The best they could come up with was ‘Rabbi, where are you staying?’ As though Jesus was asking them if they had lost their keys or a jumper! No, his question is much deeper than that. The disciples had just heard John the Baptist’s exclamation of ‘here is the Lamb of God!’ and had started to follow Jesus; at least physically follow Jesus if not yet spiritually.

‘Who are you really?’ is more likely the question they were trying to ask. The disciples, as good followers of Judaism, would have been waiting for the Messiah. The reading from Isaiah this morning is among the oldest and best known parts of the Old Testament. There are 4 passages in Isaiah known as the Servant Songs. These Songs introduce and share the profound idea of salvation through suffering. This was not how people thought about suffering or salvation at that time. If you suffered you had done something wrong; think the Book of Job.

The identity of the servant is revealed gradually from song to song but it is still concealed. In Isaiah 49, the servant speaks for the first time in his own voice and in a very individual way. He has been chosen by God to carry on the mission of Israel where Israel had failed. The mission was to restore the people of God (the Jews). God is going to give the servant as a light to the nations, that salvation may reach to the end of the earth. This means to everyone – not only the Jews.

If the disciples recalled any of these passages, it would have been an overwhelming experience and would most certainly require something of them. Jesus’ answer also required something of the disciples as it was an invitation to ‘come and see’. So they went and saw where Jesus was staying and spent the whole day with him. What a day that would have been! The disciples obviously saw something that day that changed them forever. If the answer to ‘what are you looking for?’ ends up being ‘come and see’, will you be willing to go and see?

What about this year?

As a church you will be looking for a new Rector. I need to tell you that it is unlikely to be me. What will you be looking for in that person? Avoid disappointment by looking for perfection or a clone of a past Priest you happened to like the most. What will you be looking for in that person?

How about you as a person? Are you looking for more life? Time? Money? Health? Belonging? Certainty? Affirmation? Consolation?

Jesus’ invitation to come and see is an invitation to leave our comfortable places, an invitation to challenge what we think we know and change our perspectives. Come and see is an approach to life that is expansive, dynamic and exposes us to new experiences and ideas. When Jesus offers this invitation it is to be fully seen and fully loved by the one who created us.

Like all invitations that come to us, we have the option to turn it down. To stay where we are and not see anything new. We have a choice of what we look for, what we prioritise. When Jesus looks at us, He sees our deepest desires, hungers, curiosities, needs and wants. He saw it in those first disciples and called out to them. Jesus is still calling us now. As followers of Jesus we are to take the braver path, the follow where He is leading us.

Epiphany 4: Now is the Time

14th Century fresco from the Visoki Decani Monastery in Kosovo

Epiphany 4

Nehemiah 8:1-3,5-6,8-10
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Luke 4:14-21

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.

We are still making our way through this season of Epiphany. The readings over these Sundays have shown us the Epiphany experiences of various people: the Wise Men, Eli & Samuel, Mary, Joseph and young Jesus, grown-up Jesus and John the Baptist, Mary and the disciples at the wedding at Cana and now Jesus speaking publicly in the synagogue of Nazareth.

What does Epiphany mean? In the everyday it means to have ‘a moment of great or sudden revelation or realisation.’ 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. The Epiphany stories of the people we meet in our Bible readings are the stories of their revelations and realisations of God the Father and Jesus the Son.

In our Gospel reading for today the whole synagogue in Nazareth has something of an epiphany when Jesus stands up to read the scroll from what we know as Isaiah 61. It could have been a normal sabbath day, worship as usual in the Nazareth synagogue. What is the big deal?

For the sake of an example, let’s say that the Archbishop of Canterbury sent a letter to every church in the land saying we had to feast and celebrate right now because today is a day holy to the Lord. If he then insisted that 2022 is the ‘year of the Lord’s favour,’ what would you say?

‘Are you kidding me Justin!? Today? Right now?’ Looking around at the state of the world, we would not be alone in our scepticism. Covid remains, the NHS is exhausted, national and local economies are in difficulty, the price of heating is rising, threats of wars, natural disasters, violence, climate change, rising epidemics in mental health. Not many would call our current moment holy or favoured by God.

Yet this morning we hear a call to now in both 1 Corinthians and Luke. The first letter of Corinthians is Paul responding to the letters that have been sent to him from members of the Corinthian community. Paul responds to things like: a church divided over its leaders, what it is to be an apostle, how to deal with incest, lawsuits among believers, sexual immorality, married life, food sacrificed to idols, how to conduct communion, spiritual gifts, love, worship, resurrection of the dead.

Paul is making an impassioned plea for them to attempt to think in a completely new way. Instead of always thinking about themselves and their individual needs and rights, instead of always battling to be the most important and gifted person in any gathering, the Corinthians have to learn to think of themselves as one entity, one body, whose health and life depends on cooperation and connection.

Paul is reminding us that we are the body of Christ and we have been called to take up our roles. We may have different gifts and calling but all are as important as the other. All are needed just as all parts of the body are needed. We are part of the one Spirit, one baptism and we all have gifts to share; things to strive for.

Luke has Jesus returning to Nazareth after being away; we don’t know how long he was away for, maybe months or even years. Jesus is, however, returning differently to when He left. He comes back after being baptised, tempted in the wilderness and filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus has returned home with power that is about to be displayed in the synagogue as he is handed the scroll that not coincidentally was Isaiah, the book containing more prophecy about him than any other.

If you replace me in verses 18-19 with Jesus, it is difficult to see how anyone else in all of history fills this position. It has finally been filled by the one written about centuries before when he returns home!

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me (Jesus),
Because he has anointed me (Jesus)
To bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me (Jesus) to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour

This is Jesus’ chosen description of his mission. It isn’t about teaching us a better spirituality but about doing God’s justice and creating God’s community. When Jesus said, ‘today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’ the meaning of ‘fulfilled’ here is ‘to fill a vessel or hollow place’. How many of us know what it is to have that hollow place? He wants to fill it now – not tomorrow or next year or when we feel better or life is back to normal. Jesus means now.

What else has He come to do?

Preach the good news to the poor: Jesus didn’t mean the financially poor. The poor being referred to here those in ‘utter helplessness, complete destitution, afflicted, distressed.’ This has wider implications than finances alone. God created us to need something or someone else and sooner or later any healthy individual will realise that autonomy doesn’t cut it. However, if we subsist only on what others can give us, we won’t be fulfilled. Jesus does not want us to subsist – we were meant to thrive. Until we let Him fill our cups daily, we will only subsist.

To heal the broken-hearted: Broken-hearted here means ‘to break, strike against something, to break the strength or power of someone’. The Hebrew translation of heal ‘to mend by stitching, repair thoroughly, make whole’. Total breakage needs total healing. One stitch follows another, it takes time and can be painful! Healing can be painful.

To proclaim freedom for the captives: Notice that Jesus proclaims freedom, he didn’t impose it. It remains an offer.

Recovery of sight for the blind: We know that Jesus physically healed the sight of many blind people, but this is a different kind of blindness, a more serious kind of blindness. The word here means ‘to envelop with smoke, be unable to see clearly.’ This is about clouded vision, not being able to see the light of gospel or the glory of God. Jesus came to clear our vision so we can see him clearly.

To release the oppressed: to be oppressed is to be treated harshly or unfairly by someone in authority. This release is about breaking the chains of unhealthy attachment.

To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour: That year, those gathering in that Nazareth synagogue were staring in the face of the Lord’s favour – His blessed gift of grace, Jesus. Year here means ‘any definite time’ – not a calendar year.

There is an urgency in both of these passages, not so much pressure, but the invitation that what God is offering is available now. We can wait until things get better, struggle on under our own steam or we can go to him now.

Maybe this is our epiphany moment this morning: We don’t have to wait until things get better, Covid goes away, the sun shines. Jesus laid out that day in the Nazareth synagogue of his childhood what He came to do in fulfilling scripture. He came with the Spirit of the Lord upon him to bring the good news to the poor in spirit, proclaim release to the prisoners who want it, recovery of sight to those who had lost vision of God, freedom for the oppressed and to usher in the time of the Lord’s favour – available to all until He comes again. This day is holy to the Lord. Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. May it be so.

Epiphany: Life Changing Moments

Pieter Bruegel’s Adoration of the Magi

Psalm 72 (1-9) 10-15
Isaiah 60:1-6
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

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.

We are shortly coming to the end of the Christmas season as we come to enter the season of Epiphany. Even though our Gospel reading this morning makes it still feel as though we are in the Christmas Season – at least in the church. I have heard rumours that Cadbury’s Easter Creme Egg displays are popping up in the shops already!

However, a new season begins with the arrival of the Wise Men. Over the next couple of weeks, if you pay attention to the Bible readings, we will see epiphany stories in the lives of Eli and Samuel and at the wedding in Cana.

For today, I thought it was fitting to go through a slow-read through the Epiphany story. It is only Matthew who includes the story of the Wise Men or Magi from the East in the Christmas story. Their epiphany was the sudden and great revelation of Jesus and their response is the story being told here.

What does Epiphany mean? In the everyday it means to have ‘a moment of great or sudden revelation or realisation.’ I am not sure if you have had an epiphany moment but they are quite extraordinary! Those moments when some new idea, knowledge or thought blows through your mind and you suddenly and sometimes drastically see the world, people, and a situation in a totally new way. Epiphany moments can cause a fundamental change in one’s life.

Epiphany moments aren’t always dramatic affairs. They can happen in a quiet moment when you know that something has changed in your mind or in your heart.

I grew up in the church: Sunday School every week, my parents were very involved in the church, I sang (badly) in the choir, and was in various youth groups. I knew about Jesus but I don’t think I knew Jesus.

My first epiphany moment came while I was eating lunch in a dry field on a very hot July day at Ephesus, in Turkey. A few hours before this I was struck by the understanding that St Paul had been at Ephesus – not just the Greeks and the Romans – and had written the letter to the Ephesians.

I was where the Bible was. I had always seen it as a book, a story; but to be where the Bible took place – blew me away! I began to think that if the Bible happened in a real place – then maybe God and Jesus were more real than I thought they were.

By lunchtime, with all these thoughts rolling around my head, I had this sudden wave of peace and a sense of relief from all the grief and anger that I had been carrying around from the previous year and a half. I walked out of Ephesus that day totally different from how I walked in. I have never been the same since.
Matthew begins the Epiphany story ‘in the time of King Herod.’ If you are a fan of the soaps like Corrie or East Enders – then you will love The Herod’s. This family played an important part in the political setting of Jesus’ ministry. Several of them are mentioned in the Gospels along with a group known as the Herodians.

The Herodians were from a region that was forcibly converted to Judaism about 127 BCE. The male Herod’s were a talented bunch; they were political power-players who won favour with the Romans. They were also gifted at military strategy; Herod’s father held the post equivalent to Chancellor of the Exchequer.

This Herod became the military governor of Galilee when he was 25, his skills and talents made him friends with the likes of Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, Cleopatra and Caesar Augustus.

These relationships brought him more land and his kingdom grew. Herod’s reign (for part of it) was a time of stability, prosperity and splendour – he founded cities, buildings and most notably rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem.

When we meet Herod in Matthew chapter two, he is about 70 years old and roughly two years away from his death. Herod is in a state of emotional and psychological deterioration as he became increasingly paranoid and mistrusting; so much so that he had 3 of his 15 children executed.
These 15 children came from the 10 wives he had! Herod is said to have died a painful death from kidney disease and gangrene.

This is the Herod that the wise men from the East met when they arrived in Jerusalem. Where did they come from? Persia, Babylon or maybe Arabia. Not sure. They are presumed to be Gentiles (so not Jewish) and come to represent the best wisdom of the Gentile world – they are the spiritual elites.

Why is this important? Tom Wright explains ‘Matthew wants us to be clear about something from the start. If Jesus is in some sense king of the Jews, that doesn’t mean that his rule is limited to the Jewish people. At the heart of many prophecies about the coming king, the Messiah, there were predictions that his rule would bring God’s justice and peace to the whole world.’

Right from his birth, Jesus is meant to rule the world. All people. Every nation. Matthew wants us to know this. It makes sense then that people outside of the Jewish faith see and experience who he is too.

Herod is frightened by the arrival of the Wise Men. The news of a new ‘King of the Jews’ has rocked his world. Herod had had this inscribed on his coins and to claim this title was treason. The title ‘King of the Jews’ was also on the cross of Jesus at the crucifixion. Herod had the title on his money; Jesus on the cross.

Who do you think the real king is here? This is Herod’s epiphany moment – he is not the real King of the Jews! Herod sends the Wise Men to Bethlehem with his made-up story he wants to pay homage as well. Herod is making an attempt to destroy Israel’s true king by employing foreign magi (oh foreign workers forever causing problems!) – but they only bring honour to the king’s rival – Jesus.

The Wise Men were obedient – this was a new thought to me. They followed the star even though they didn’t know where it would take them or what it meant but they followed it anyway. It made me think about what and who I follow.

Am I fully obedient to what God is calling me to do – even if I am not sure where it will lead? How far out of my way do I go to meet Jesus? Would I follow a star?

We know that the star that went before the Wise Men and came to rest over the place where Jesus was born was not an ordinary star. Sometimes you need some imagination to help picture these things. This star does not stay still – but moves as a guide.

Finally, the epiphany moment comes, notice it starts to happen before they even lay eyes on Jesus – simply the promise of him seems to be enough. It is when the star stops moving, Matthew tells us the Wise Men ‘were overwhelmed with joy.’ When was the last time you were overwhelmed with joy?

Does the thought of Jesus bring you joy? If not – then why not? What is missing? Maybe at the start of this new year it is time to ask for your own epiphany?

The Wise Men entered the house, overwhelmed by joy and knelt down before Jesus. They opened their treasure-chests and offered him gifts.

Gold – to show He was a king.
Frankincense – to show He deserved to be worshipped.
Myrrh – this is a strange gift to give a baby. Myrrh was used at the time when someone died. Jesus was the baby who would grow up and rescue us by dying in our place.

These were gifts of substantial financial value and the Wise Men expected to find what they were looking for at a royal court, and perhaps win favour there, but they were not disappointed with what they received.

What do we bring to God this morning? The Wise Men brought the best of what they had. Do we present our best? The best of our time, the first of our money, the greatest of our love, the first of our thanks? This is not to point out any deficiencies – I often get the order wrong myself.

The whole of the Christmas story from Mary & Joseph, the birth of Jesus, the message of the angels to the shepherds and their arrival at the stable to King Herod and the Wise Men – is a story of Epiphany. Great moments of realisation that do not leave us the same.

When we present ourselves to God – this is the most valuable thing we have – this is the only thing that He wants. You are more precious to Him to gold, frankincense and myrrh. When we encounter God we are never the same again. Thank God for that!

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.

Epiphany 2: What Are You Looking For?

Happy New Year one and all! It might feel like a long time ago – but I hope that you had a nice holiday.

We are on the tail end of the Christmas season depending on who you talk to. In the Epiphany season we have the opportunity to consider and study what happened after Jesus was born: the Wisemen coming to visit, the family fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod and their return.

The Gospel jumps around a bit as we have a few weeks of Jesus in the early days of his ministry featuring John the Baptist and the gathering and calling of the first disciples. The season ends with the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple when he was a baby.

Through these readings runs the theme of new beginnings and the changes and challenges that beginnings can present us with. Not every new beginning, as many of us know, is welcome or wanted.

It can take time to adjust to a ‘new normal’. I think that a lot of the difficulty stems from the changes that are forced upon us and we either lose or have no control over them. Change ultimately requires us to adjust our behaviours, attitudes and expectations; which – if we are honest – we don’t want to do unless we must because it is hard work!

Change can initially bring uncertainty, confusion and can take away our confidence until we learn new ways of living and being.

However, we are not alone in the changes of this life!

In all three of our readings today we see various changes and challenges faced by the people in them. The great comfort is that God is with them and with us!

It is well into the book of Isaiah before the prophet tells the story of his calling. Most of the other OT prophets usually start by giving their credentials: who they are, usually some family information and how they came to be called by God.

Isaiah seems to save his story until he needs to tell it. Isaiah needs to convince the Israelites that God is faithful and has chosen them; so he uses his story, his testimony.

It is not always easy to talk about our faith. We can get awkward about it, make excuses, feel embarrassed or under-prepared. Most people want to know our story though. Who doesn’t like talking about themselves?!
Sharing our stories is an effective way to talk about faith and what it means to us as people can’t argue with personal experience.

Isaiah knows that he has been called by God. This wasn’t easy, he had his challenges, doubts, frustrations and wanted to give up on the people more than once. But he knew, in that deep-down knowing way, that God was faithful and had chosen him before he was born. He wanted the people to know that too.

Corinth was one of the most important cities in Greece with a population estimated at 500,000 people. It was a leading seaport and centre of commerce. Paul had evangelized the city on his third missionary journey.

The church that Paul founded was growing and they needed guidance and reminding on the central themes of the gospel. Paul is writing to the Corinthians to correct and encourage the newly established church.

It wasn’t going to be easy as there were many outside influences – not always positive ones clamouring for attention. Again, God would be faithful and had called and would strengthen the Corinthians to follow him. Paul was speaking to patterns of behaviour in church and at home, dietary issues, sexual issues, how to handle arguments and issues around death.

Sometimes we need correction and guidance that lead to changes in lifestyle or habits. We can need correction and guidance as a church too. God will be with us in the trials and changes.

Paul, in this letter to the Corinthians, wanted them to know that too. God is faithful and that he (God) had called them into fellowship with Jesus.

I was able to get to Canada for 2 weeks of vacation which was great. While I was there, I was able to do some shopping. Compared to shop assistants in the UK, the Canadians are a bit more polite. I was asked numerous times (sometimes in the same shop) ‘can I help you?’ ‘did you find what you are looking for?’ ‘is there anything else I can help you with?’. This is all very normal of course.

I didn’t think much of it, until I read the Gospel reading for this morning. What caught me was Jesus’ asking the disciples of John the Baptist (who happened to follow him), ‘What are you looking for?’ This is the first ever question Jesus ever asks. I think it is a good one – especially at the start of this new year.

It made me think of being in the Canadian shops and being asked that question. ‘What are you looking for?’ Sometimes I had no idea what I was looking for. Other times, I thought I knew but then couldn’t find it or if I did find whatever it was, I thought I was looking for – it wasn’t right.
On rare occasions I did find what I was looking for. Happy day! A rare event indeed!

Here is the third challenge we might be facing this morning and my first question to you this year – what are you looking for? This year, in life, in a situation – whatever it might be.

In order to finding something that we are looking for – as in a shop – we need to look and see what is going on around us. John the Baptist saw Jesus coming and knew immediately who it was and tells his disciples the story of how John knows this.

John had experienced Jesus, they were cousins, born within a few months of each other. I don’t want to speculate how much time they spent together growing up; that information is not known to us. John’s life had a purpose and there was a calling which he fulfilled – ‘to come baptizing with water, that Jesus might be revealed to Israel.’

With the appearance of Jesus, John’s ministry begins to shrink. His calling had been fulfilled. John’s disciples (including Andrew – brother of Peter) are pointed in the direction of Jesus and they follow him. It is at this point when Jesus asks them the question ‘what are you looking for?’

Andrew and the other unnamed disciple obviously found what they were looking for in Jesus. I am not sure they even knew that they were looking for anything. After a few hours with Jesus, they knew they had found something. And a new beginning was begun.

We will find everything we need in Jesus. I am saying that to you as much as I say it to myself. Everything we need will be found in him. I can’t say that enough. Even when it doesn’t feel like it or we can’t see it. Jesus is enough.

I know that many of us are facing change and challenges at the start of this new year. Know that God is faithful and has called you – even if you don’t know to what yet. He was faithful in the Old Testament, in the New Testament and to us today. There is a calling on your life; we are never too or too young to be called. We might have to go looking for it – rest assured it is never that far away. So whatever it is that you are looking for this year – let’s start looking for it and let’s start with the Lord.