Christmas Sermon: The Story We Need

I preached this last night at Midnight Mass at St Thomas Colnbrook.
Merry Christmas!

St Thomas Colnbrook – Midnight Mass
Set 1
December 24th, 2020

Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalm 96
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-20

Lord Jesus, Light of light,
you have come among us.
Help us who live by your light
to shine as lights in your world.
Glory to God in the highest.
Amen.

I think this year, more than ever, we need to hear the story of the first Christmas with fresh eyes and open hearts. In our world of restrictions, lockdowns and tiers, we are easily distracted by the stressors and anxieties of life.

Yet this story is still told. We see it in the pictures on Christmas cards; we hear it in the words of Christmas carols, even in online Crib, Carol and Christingle services. There is a comfort in this first Christmas story. I am not sure about you, but I find that I need this story more than I ever have. I need something bigger, more substantial to believe in, to find comfort in this year.

I am not sure which parts of this story warms the cockles of your hearts the most. There are so many moving parts – the government, those with power making those without power move around to be registered like cattle (the hauliers stuck in Kent), the loyal and devoted Joseph, the young and heavily pregnant Mary, the birth of their firstborn son, the inn (probably a family home) with no empty space, the shepherds living in the fields, watching over their flocks by night, the angel of the Lord and the great multitude. Glory to God in the highest heaven indeed!

I love to picture the angel and the shepherds in the field. The Good News of Jesus coming to those on the margins, the outside first – in a burst of light. There was nothing subtle about this announcement. It was a dark, probably ordinary night for those shepherds. Nothing but a few baas here and a few baas there, the stars for light, each other for companionship.

This year has highlighted so many people who are on the margins, the unsung heroes – shelf-stackers, delivery drivers, bus drivers, postal workers, cleaners, of course NHS workers, lab technicians, police officers. I am not meaning to exclude anyone – please spare a thought and prayer for those who have been important, essential to you this year. People who, in ‘normal times’ are on the edge of our lives, not often thought of or acknowledged, who have suddenly become much more important to keep our lives and their lives going.

It is to these, the shepherds, that the glory of God first comes when the angel came and stood before them. The appearance of the angel should make one marvel at the creativity and beauty of God – who says Christianity is boring when there are angels! Angels are not, as popular myth claims, recycled dead people – as comforting as this might be. Angels are part of God’s created order, admittedly it takes some imagination for us – but they are real.

The angel knows that their appearance will shock the shepherds. That is why the opening greeting is ‘do not be afraid’. The phrase ‘do not be afraid’ appears 366 times in the Bible. One for each day of the year and an extra for Leap Years.

Both the angel and the good news proclaimed to those unsuspecting shepherds was utterly overwhelming! When was the last time you were truly overwhelmed by something good?

I know and you know people who have been utterly overwhelmed by bad stuff – 2020, unemployment, sickness, separation, anxiety, depression, loneliness, uncertainty, death. Many people at Christmas find themselves utterly overwhelmed and exhausted by the darkness of this world – more than usual.

Yet, as John Pritchard, former Bishop of Oxford, wrote, ‘Christmas is that wonderful time when we enter into another world. Just temporarily we bask in a different glow, and old hopes are reinstated, and the world is a little less chilly. But if it’s true that at Christmas we enter into a different world, it’s also true that for Christmas to be authentic another world has to enter us. ‘Where meek souls shall receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.’ There’s another world, one not made or bought by us, but a gift, given and received, fragile, mysterious, and utterly breath-taking. We only catch a glimpse of this other world; too much of it would blow our fuse, we couldn’t take it. But this much we can receive. This much – Jesus.’

We can receive Jesus again. I love this little line tucked into verse 6: ‘the time came for her to deliver her child.’ The time came. Again, we can receive Jesus at anytime and anywhere, but he was grounded in a time and place. This baby born unto us has come to bring us hope and is the tangible sign that God really is with us. God ceases to be distant or removed or too awesome to encounter. Instead, with Jesus’ arrival God becomes intimately involved in his creation and in our lives too. And when God is with us then there is hope.

The hope of the gospel overcomes the darkness, every darkness. It is not a fairy tale, it is not false optimism. However dark the world is or feels, the hope of God overcomes it. There are few things worse than disappointed hope. God does not disappoint. Hope comes in believing that we are part of a bigger, grander story.

Wherever you find yourself in the Christmas story this day – spend some time at the manger, bend a knee and gaze again at the baby who came at the right time and in the right place to bring us hope and be with us.

We also need to look in the manger – not just at it. Many people, Christians too, come to see the manger – but they never look in the manger. For some, Jesus remains the baby forever. A baby that is easily contained in the manger that gets brought out once a year – looked at – and then put away again.

Jesus is not meant to be contained to the manger. Isaiah 9:6 – ‘For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders.’ Now I don’t know about you – but I have not heard that said about many new-born babies. A baby may be a good eater, sleeper or pooper but has authority resting upon its shoulders?! Jesus did not just appear one night in Bethlehem as if out of nowhere. He has always been around – part of the Trinity. Always more than a baby!

This little lord Jesus becomes the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. I love these names, I can identify with each of them. He is my Counsellor when I struggle; Mighty when I am weak; Everlasting when uncertainty threatens to overwhelm; the Prince of Peace when I am distressed.

I hope that you will know and experience the great love God has for you this Christmas. Not just at Christmas but at every moment of every day of your life – when things are calm and happy but more so when things are sad and messy.

I hope that you will know the Lord’s favour upon you.

I hope the name of Jesus falls sweetly on your ears and off your tongue. May the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace lead you and guide you always. Bless you & Happy Christmas.

Remember Who I Am & Who You Are

It will be 24 years this week since my much loved and wise Dad died. I can’t help to remember one of the most valuable lessons he taught me as I reflect on who Jesus is.

23/8/20 – 11th Sunday after Trinity

Isaiah 51:1-6

Romans 12:1-8

Matthew 16:13-20


I grew up in Canada – just outside of Calgary; and I would say that I was a pretty good kid – a reasonable student, polite, well behaved, didn’t get into much trouble, etc. This carried on largely into my teenage years with the odd scrape, of course. Becoming a teenager means doing things independently of one’s parents and exploring night life. I grew up in a small town, so it didn’t take long to explore! Once curfew times had been negotiated and I got ready to go out, my Dad would almost inevitably say ‘Susan, remember who you are.’

Man! Sometimes it really bothered me! Especially if I hadn’t fully disclosed where I would be going or what I would be doing that evening. It was my Dad’s way of telling me to behave, to remember how I had been raised and what was acceptable behaviour. There were times when that sentence would pass through my mind and – I believe – steered my behaviour. As I grew up and matured, I have come to realise that ‘remembering who I am’ is a very valuable thing to know.

In the Gospel reading this morning we are asked to consider who Jesus is. This is a pivotal moment in Peter’s life and in the lives of the disciples.

Why is Jesus asking this question?

Over the last few weeks in the lectionary we have been talking about weeds, wheat, pearls, treasures, mustard seeds, bread and fish. These are all stories about Jesus taking very little of something and making it very, very big. The miracles displayed in these stories show us God’s power displayed through Jesus in the provision and generosity given to those who choose to follow. We also had the feeding of the 5000 and the woman with the demon-possessed daughter. These stories are pointing to the person of Jesus and who he is.

One of the recurring themes throughout these readings is Jesus having to continually prove himself to the disciples and the crowds. They are still doubting as they do not yet understand who He is and what he came to do in the building of the kingdom of God. Up to this point Jesus has been seeking to prove his claim of messiahship through words and deeds. Now it is time to see if the lesson has been learned. Jesus starts with a ‘public opinion’ survey: ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’

He is given a variety of public opinion answers and this opinion is divided. Some say he is John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. These answers are interesting – people did not think of Jesus, meek and mild; not the cosy friend of little children – but rather like one of the wild prophets of the Old Testament. One who stood up spoke the word of God fearlessly and against the rulers of the day.
Then Jesus cuts to the heart of the matter: “Who do you say I am?” Suddenly there is no public opinion to hide behind. They must make an intelligent, personal choice based on the witnessed miracles and heard messages.

Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’. An answer which gets him some serious praise and blessing. The importance of Peter’s answer is that he acknowledged that Jesus was not just God’s mouthpiece against injustice and corruption, but that Jesus was God’s Messiah – God’s king.

Take a moment now and consider that question for yourself. Who is Jesus to you? A good moral teacher? Jesus meek and mild – the baby in the manger that seems to stay there? Jesus on the cross who doesn’t seem to get down. Jesus the Prince of Peace, wonderful counsellor, Mighty Saviour, Name Above all Names. This is an answer with not only eternal consequences but with consequences for the everyday trials and triumphs of walking around on this planet.

Jesus had a word for Peter after his announcement. Tom Wright writes: ‘if Peter was prepared to say that Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus was prepared to say that, with this allegiance, Peter would himself be the foundation for his new building. Just as God gave Abram the name Abraham, indicating that he would be the father of many nations, so now Jesus gives Simon the new name Peter, the Rock.’

Peter went on to do just that. This was not – of course – without trials and tribulation for Peter. As we know he denied Christ before the crucifixion and had to live with that guilt and shame. Never forget that Jesus restored Peter on the beach.

This is really helpful for as and when we forget who Jesus is – we – like Peter can be restored to the body. We need to take ourselves to Jesus, ask for the forgiveness and start again.

The opening verse of the Isaiah reading tells us to look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look at Jesus again. He loves us – loves you. His grace is sufficient.

It is through God’s grace that we have been restored and redeemed and it is also through grace that we have been given the gifts of God. Anyone need to hear this today?

In the Romans reading we are reminded that we are one body with many members and being members of one another. We have been given gifts – ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading and compassion. This list is by no means exhaustive and there are many, many more gifts of the Spirit. These are the gifts that we need, our families, friends and the wider world need us to use. The body of Christ is desperately needed! This is why we need to know who Jesus is – we are part of his body – best to know something of the person in whom we dwell and dwells in us.

By knowing who Jesus is – we can have a clearer picture of who we are. We can remember who we are and who we were we made to be when we know who Jesus. The beloved children of God.

The Generous Sower

Yesterday’offering…

We have some extraordinarily rich readings this week! The images provoked are beautiful, profound, and full of joy. Who could not use a little more joy at this time? Images of growth and freedom – the work of rain and snow, the earth being watered, joy, peace, the mountains, and hills singing, fields clapping their hands. These things are not concerned with social distancing, what is opened or closed, R rates and travel corridors.

There is great joy in Paul’s declaration to the Romans that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus and that a mind set on the Spirit is where true life and peace are found. Jesus telling the vast crowd before him about the sower who flung seeds all over the place with joyful abandon. Some of this seed ‘brought forth a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!’ Listen to a God who is generous, full of compassion and working out his purposes in those He loves.

There is not much we can do in these days with reckless abandon. Everything we do seems to require advanced planning and preparation, taking along gloves, masks, and hand gel. We had to be vigilant of everything we touch and who is around us. The freedom of the sower to go wherever they like is shocking! His freedom makes me envious for the freedoms that we had, that seem a distant memory. I need the boost of joy that the sower gives!

There is also something about the extravagance of God shown in Isaiah and Matthew. Again, we are not living in extravagant times. Many are in financial hardship if not ruin, people will be losing jobs and then living with the consequences that follow. Prices are rising as incomes fall – hardly a time to be thinking of extravagant or wasteful spending.

In Isaiah, God is generous with the rain (maybe a bit too much this week) and the snow to water the earth, bring forth the sprouts to give seed to the sower and bread to the eater. God has an endless supply of these things and he is generous with them! I think sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that God is somehow stingy or a minimalist. I have been reading through Job with a group I share Evensong with. We are in the final chapters where God finally replies to Job with a series of questions such as: ‘have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail?’ In Job chapters 38-40, we get a sense of the greatness, the generosity and extravagance of God; there is nothing he has not thought about!

We see this same extravagance and generosity in the Jesus’ sower. Often times, and I have done it, we rush through this parable to focus on the four types of terrain and ignore the sower.

American essayist Debie Thomas writes: ‘If your experience is anything like mine, you’ve read this parable many times, and focused exclusively on the four types of terrain Jesus describes. You’ve thought about the people you preach to week after week, and worried over who is hardened, rocky, thorny, or “good.” You’ve agonized over how to find and cultivate more fertile soil in your church or community. Or else — also like me — you’ve read this parable and walked away, feeling bad about your own faith life. Feeling judged. Feeling inadequate. Feeling anxious. You’ve wondered how to make your spiritual soil less hard, less rocky, less thorny. You’ve designed all sorts of self-improvement projects to fix what’s “wrong” with you. More prayer. Less Twitter. More Bible study. Less cynicism. More church. Less television. You’ve read the parable as an indictment of your relationship with a Sower who just can’t seem to find an appropriately hospitable environment in your messed-up heart.’

We all need times to consider the condition of our hearts and what is growing in them. Of course we do. There is nothing wrong with some honest and humble self-assessment. There are also times when we need to consider the love and lavishness of the sower who we often overlook in the quest to be better, less rocky, or thorny or hard. We tend to forget there is good soil too! This is a place that hears and understands the Word and ultimately bears fruit. We all have places in our hearts that bear good fruit. And we can overlook these parts as we get overly wrapped up in where we need improvement.

Consider again the sower as they sow the seed everywhere. Everywhere. In all type of places and circumstances – hospitals, prisons, grocery stores, schools, flat blocks, fields, meadows, car parks and playgrounds. They do so with an open hand and endless supply of seed. There is no way to sort it or save it, it will scatter everywhere. And you know what?

The sower does not seem to mind in the least! Debie Thomas again writes: There is in him a confident realism, a sense that what needs to flourish will flourish. Maybe not all at once. Maybe not everywhere. But that’s okay. In other words, the sower in Jesus’ parable is wholly unconcerned about where the seed falls or lands or settles — all he chooses to do is keep sowing. Keep flinging. Keep opening his hands. Why? Because there’s enough seed to go around. There’s enough seed to accomplish the sower’s purposes. There’s enough seed to “waste”.

I think that as Christians and as a Church we need to reflect on our view of God as the sower in these times. How do we view God in the wake of Covid? Robin spoke about this two weeks ago after reading Tom Wright’s book ‘God and the Pandemic’.

God has not changed – he is still in charge of the storehouses of snow and hail; He is still watering the earth. True life and peace are found when we set our minds on the Spirit. There is still no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. He is still the most generous and lavish sower and giver we can ever imagine. Our hearts, our mental health, our sense of security, our finances may have taken a pummelling in these last few months, but God is still good. I cannot let my circumstances dictate my theology, my ultimate belief in the goodness and love of God.

The sower, I hope, reminds me and us that despite our own stinginess of Spirit or belief, God is still generous. I hope, that despite a lack of confidence that is His word will go out and achieve his purposes, no matter where it lands – that it really will. I hope that God’s ability to clear or soften whatever ground there is of rocks and thorns – outstrips the doubt I have.

I will finish with Isaiah: ‘As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving the seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.’

God’s word will not return empty to him and shall accomplish its purpose and it will succeed. Let us receive the seed that He is sowing, the lavish gifts of love, joy, peace, grace. God is at work in the world, through Jesus and through us and this work continues. Sometimes it takes some time and thought to work out what exactly this means for each one of us. Trust the sower and his seed!

We have been freed from sin and death to live in the Spirit – to have life and peace. To have hearts that are soft and not hard, heart that are free from rocks and thorns – but full of good soil with seed to share.

Salt & Light: Made to be Given Away

9/2/20

 3rd Sunday Before Lent   

Isaiah 58:1-12

Psalm 112:1-10  

1 Corinthians 2:1-16   

Matthew 5:13-20

Christmas is finally over and so is Epiphany and we have this little gap in the calendar as we begin to turn toward Lent. In these weeks, we look at some of the teachings of Jesus as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel. So far, according to Matthew, Jesus has been born, baptised and tempted in the wilderness, Jesus begins to preach, calls the first disciples, begins to heal the sick in public. People are starting to follow him as large crowds are gathering at the end of chapter 4. The news of Him is spreading!

Chapter 5 is the beginning The Sermon on the Mount. We are told that Jesus is sitting on the mountainside with the disciples and the crowds.

Create a mental picture of this scene.

Is it a hot day? What does the ground feel like? What does Jesus look like to you? His voice sound like? What is the mood of the crowd?  Jesus has just given The Beatitudes to the crowd – blessed are the poor in spirit, the mournful, the weak, the merciful…

These words have a corporate feel to them like they are addressed to groups of people. The address changes in verse 11 and Jesus’ message becomes much more personal: ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you’. This carries on to verse 13, ‘You are the salt, You are the light’. It feels as though Jesus is speaking directly to individuals in that crowd. And he is speaking to us now.

Notice it Jesus says, ‘you are the salt and you are the light.’ Not you will be the salt and the light. You are the salt and light. No guess work here! We are the salt and light to the people around us. Even if we don’t feel like it!

What does it mean to be salt? Salt is essential to life. Our bodies need a certain amount of it to function properly. Salt is also one of our basic human tastes. Salt also creates thirst; you know this if you eat salty snacks!

Salt needs to be balanced though. Too little and things can be tasteless. Too little in our bodies can lead to muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, shock, coma and death. It’s a big deal!

Too much salt and foods are made inedible. In the body, salt makes it hold on to water which in turn raises blood pressure. High blood pressure can result in heart attacks, strokes, dementia and kidney disease.    

Salt needs balance!  

Salt is one of the oldest seasonings and is an important method of food preservation – it prevents decay and corruption. This is what Jesus is calling the disciples and the crowd to be. One writer put it like this ‘Disciples, if they are true to their calling, make the earth a purer and more palatable place. But they can do so only as long as they preserve their distinctive character: un-salty salt has no more value.’

In this passage Jesus is calling the Jewish people of his day to be the people they were called by God to be. People who were poor in spirit, in mourning, meek, desiring righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers and the persecuted. This can, of course, be applied to us Christians too.

When we refer to someone as being ‘a salt of the earth’ guy or woman, we mean those people who are kind, down to the earth. These people get things done, do the right thing in any and all situations.

Jesus’ used the analogy of salt to challenge to those listening to his teachings. God had called his chosen Jewish people to be the salt of the earth; but they were behaving like everyone else, with power politics, factional squabbles and militant revolutions. The Jewish people were his chosen salt, but they were losing their distinctive taste. Jesus is saying the same to us – how are we to prevent decay in the world around us if we lose our saltiness? If we become un-salty then we can have no influence on the world.

I think we lose our saltiness when we buy into what the world tells us we need to buy, look like or be like. We lose our saltiness when we become petty, easily insulted or slighted by others, withhold forgiveness and judge others by standards we ourselves could never meet. You have a new Vicar starting soon! Is St John’s going to be the right kind of salty?  

Light, like salt, affects its environment in a distinctive way. A disciple who is visibly different from other people will influence them. You are the light of the world! We have to be careful with the language of ‘good works’ here. It is not to show off or attract attention to one’s self – but rather to point to God who inspired the works. By showing the works, the disciple will give light to all.

Can you think of anyone that you know who is visibly different because of their faith?

To be a light to people – we don’t have to do big things! There is no excuse to not be a light to those around us. Paying attention to people, chatting with the cashier in the grocery store, saying hello, smiling. Easy stuff!

There are some people that can light up a room when they walk into it. Do you know anyone like that? What is it about them that can do that? In reference to the Beatitudes – those who are merciful, pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who take abuse for standing up for what is right. They are the lights.

Jesus is the ultimate light of the world – and if we believe in him – them we need to reflect that light. Being salt and light is challenging – I know it is. There is a warning about becoming un-salty salt. There is also a warning about hiding our light literally ‘under the bed’. We are of no more use to the world if we hide our light than one who has lost their distinctiveness.

In Isaiah, God is asking people share bread with the hungry, care for the homeless, clothe the naked and not to hide from their families. Then their light would break forth like the dawn, healing would spring up quickly. God’s people have been asked to care for others, at their own expense, for centuries. It is not any different today.

If we are to take the words and teaching of Jesus seriously, we need to do the same. We are blessed when we give. It doesn’t always feel nice or good. That is not what God is asking for in our giving. It is going to be a sacrifice.

At the end of Isaiah, he tells the people, ‘if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your needs in parched places.

This is what giving does, what being salt and light gets us – God’s guiding, satisfaction of your needs in parched places, bones made strong, you will become a watered garden.

It is by being salt and light that Jesus will fulfil the law of God on earth. The scribes and Pharisees did teach a way of faithful to God and had a way of behaving in accordance to God’s covenant with Israel. Through Jesus, God’s kingdom is breaking in. This kingdom goes way beyond anything the scribes and Pharisees ever dreamed of. They thought it was about behaving through the law.

It is not about primarily about changing behaviour but about changing the heart and the mind itself. Jesus brought this into reality in his own person. He is the salt of the earth. He is the light of the world – becoming a beacon of hope and new life for everybody, drawing people to worship God the father, embodying the way of self-giving love which is the deepest fulfilment of the law and the prophets.

That’s why these sayings now apply to all of us who follow Jesus and draw on his life as the source of our own.

How and where can we be salt and light in the world today?

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.