If the Feast of the Epiphany tells us anything, it is that truly holy gifts come from surprising places. Why else would the bearers of gold, frankincense and myrrh not only be Gentiles – unclean foreigners, from other nations – but also Magi to boot? Recent Christmas tradition has called them the Wise Men, or the Three Kings, but there is nothing in the text to say that they were kings, or only male, or only three of them, or even ‘wise’ in typical Jewish understanding. In fact the word Magi may indicate the word ‘magician’, as used, disapprovingly, elsewhere in the New Testament. So we have a story today where the main bearers of the revelation of Jesus Christ, and its symbols, are potentially very dodgy outsiders indeed. Of course this is highly intentional. For, from the very start, in its genealogy of Jesus, Matthew’s Gospel is keen to tell us that God’s revelation, and salvation, involves surprising people and surprising divine moves. So it was then and remains now, if our eyes, ears and hearts are open. When I begin by saying my address this morning is inspired by a funeral I attended this week, you may therefore recognise something of that same surprising movement of our surprising God…
In the northern hemisphere our season of Easter corresponds with spring time and the returning to life of plants and flowers from the deadness of winter. There is a natural resonance between the message of resurrection and the blossoming of the natural world.Here in the Southern Hemisphere of course things are a little different, as we enter autumn and with the shortening of the days prepare to welcome winter. For us this is a time of fruitfulness, of gratitude for all that the earth has given through the spring and summer, and of letting go. At this season the trees are letting go of their seed pods, so that what we have is not so much new life as the potential for new life. When we look at the little sunflower seeds we are been given this afternoon, it is not immediately obvious that they are even related to the magnificent sunflowers we see in the vase here.
When Mary encountered the risen Jesus in the garden, she did not recognise him. He looked so different from the Jesus she knew, that she thought he was the gardener. Only his voice remained recognisable to her. He had been utterly transformed. We too are being transformed, hour by hour and moment by moment. Different aspects of ourselves are in a constant process of change and transition. We know that biologically speaking every cell of our body changes every seven years. We are not the same people we were seven years ago. Spiritually speaking we are changing and evolving too - readying ourselves at some level for the greater transformation that death and resurrection will bring. Pastor Steve Garnaas Holmes expresses it this way.....
The seed of you,
released in life's gracious sowing,
descends in darkest soil,
where the fingers of God,
earthy and rank,
smelling of root and rot,
work open your shell,
pry loose your outer being
and let you spill into earth,
blood outflowing its veins.
Hands of darkness hold you
still, deathly still,
longer than you want,
close and unknowing,
until you are earth.
The grave that enwraps you
knows it is purely in the hands
of the One who changes everything
who has the only power.
In time the original light,
set free, swells in you,
and who you are,
who God is in you,
drains upward into light,
and a green blade appears,
reflection given by Penny Jones at the first Sanctus gathering, 29 April 2017
I may have told the following story before but it is worth re-telling. For it vividly expresses particular ways of being open to growth, or otherwise, in God’s world.
There once was a very old man with multiple heart problems. Towards the very end of his life he had a particularly massive heart attack and was essentially detained in hospital indefinitely. His sons and daughters had largely lost contact with him and, even after this last heart attack, they visited infrequently. Somewhat reluctantly they ran little errands for him, including buying him his weekly Lotto ticket. Then, one day, the Lotto ticket turned up trumps. The old man had won a multi-million Lotto jackpot. The family were thrilled, and then they were chastened. Who was going to tell the old man? If they didn’t tell him right, the shock and surprise might give him an other heart attack and kill him. Then there would be not time to persuade him to change his will if, from their point of view, he hadn’t got it right. So they ummed and ahhed, and, in the end, decided they’d ask the local Anglican priest to do the job. For they had to know who he already had as beneficiaries in the will and the priest, they reasoned, was experienced at handling delicate and weighty pastoral matters with sick and dying people. ‘Please find out for us’, they said, ‘and make sure you do so in a way which doesn’t mean he has a heart attack and dies.’
So the priest went in to see the old man and talked with him for a little while, until he had just enough confidence and the right opportunity to make the urgent enquiry. ‘I know you still like buying your weekly Lotto ticket’,, said the priest. ‘What would you do?’, he asked tentatively, ‘if you were actually to win a huge jackpot? To which of your family would you leave your money?’ ‘Oh’, said the old man without a second’s thought, ‘that’s easy. My family are a bunch of wastrels and hangers-on. In that circumstance, I‘d give all the money to your Church.’ At which moment, overtaken by the shock, the priest himself had a heart attack, and died.
Well, its a joke, isn’t it. and dark humour at that, yet there’s a certain truth in it too, isn’t there? How much expectation do Christians, including Christian Ministers, sometimes have? Do we anticipate that God is seeking to give us gifts, or do we often simply fear the worst, or, at least, the same old same old thing? Do we believe in a generous God, and a God of growth, or just a God of making do?
sermon by Jonathan Inkpin for Pentecost 5, Sunday 13 July 2014
Sometimes the names we are used to calling things keep us from seeing their full value. This is certainly the case with Jesus’ teaching. A few years ago for instance, in some Christian quarters, we stopped referring to one of the Jesus’ great stories as simply ‘the Parable of the Prodigal Son’. It had become too predictable and limiting. Instead we also started referring to it as ‘the Parable of the Father’s Love’ and the Parable of the Two Sons’ as we started noticing other features in the story which are very life-giving. I suspect it is the same with the story Jesus tells in today’s Gospel reading. Maybe we should look at the so-called ‘Parable of the Sower’ in other ways, if we want to hear more of what God is saying to us through it.
Here are three suggestions…