Epiphany

One way to explain the symbol of light is to present children with several symbols,
e.g. a national flag, a symbol for a sports team, and a cross.
As you present each symbol ask what it stands for and what it makes them think about.

Then tell them that the symbol for God is light. Since we can’t make a picture of light, we use things that make light like a star, sun, candle, lamp.
Display a treetop star ornament that goes at the top of the Christmas or Chrismon tree and note its meaning.
Recall Christmas candle lighting services and note that we lit those candles to remind ourselves that God the light is with us.
Then, move to the discussion below of the candles in the worship center. Talk about the Rainbow Candle and what it means.
When we go into the church – watch for light symbols scattered through the space.

In the days of Herod the King, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
There were magi in the East. And they saw a star rise.
Magi are people who study lots of things including stars and what they might mean, so when these Magi started studying what this star might mean, they decided that it probably meant that a King was being born and because of the star rose in the sky, they figured it was probably a King for Judea. It wasn’t uncommon for people to say a star rose when a great leader was born but it was very rare to actually see the star before the great leader was famous.

If you look at the first verse of We Three Kings, you see
We three kings of Orient Are Bearing Gifts,
we traverse afar. – So they’re coming from the East (Orient is an old fashioned word for East) and they’re carrying gifts and they’re covering a lot of territory.
What’s East of Jerusalem? Persia, India, Babylon, China, parts of Africa,…
They could have come from any of those places.

And I don’t know why someone decided they were kings. The story says Magi.

So the Magi set out to follow the star. (start travelling) Well, they were actually going to where the star already was. And if you are looking for a King of Judea then the logical place to start is the main city which was Jerusalem and probably the palace should know where the king is.

So that’s where they went. (allow time to arrive in “Jerusalem” if necessary)

And when they told Herod the king what they were doing, Herod was very worried. He was worried that someone was going to take his position as king away. And when Herod got worried about that, he normally went after the people who were worrying him. So when Herod got worried everyone around him started to worry too.

Herod wanted to figure out where the threat was coming from and he figured that Judean priests and scholars would know about a Judean king and they said, “Well our Greatest and most Famous King Ever was from Bethlehem so if we were looking for another Great King we’d probably start there.” And that’s where Herod sent the Magi.

But Herod was sneaky so he asked those Magi to come and tell him when they actually found the new king.

And off they went towards Bethlehem. And the star was still in the sky and they still seemed to be heading in its direction.

When they got to Bethlehem, they found a house, more or less under a star, and in the house were Mary and a child. They figured this must be the place and this must be the child, so they knelt down respectfully (today they would have bowed or curtsied probably) and offered gifts. They offered gold and frankincense and myrrh – which seem like weird gifts to us, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

The other important thing – before we get to the gifts – is that they had a dream that they should not report back to Herod so they went home by a different route.

We Three Kings – Hymn Study

Now about those gifts – let’s get in the mood by singing the first verse and chorus of We Three Kings

So what about those gifts?
What kind of gifts would you bring to a baby or a young child?

But these Magi brought gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The first thing to bear in mind is that this the king of gifts that people brought to rulers like Kings and Queens. Rulers had (things mentioned for baby presents) or the money to get them. And gifts like gold and frankincense in particular were normal gifts for this kind of situation. You might have noticed in the reading Karen did the line about:
They shall bear gold and frankincense,
And it shall herald the glories of the Lord.
when it was describing how all the rich nations would help the exiles get home and contribute to Jerusalem’s wealth.

Gold is pretty obvious – it means wealth and it pays for stuff. It’s like a $100 gift card to anywhere.

Frankincense is connected with worship and we have seen it as a way for the Magi to acknowledge that Jesus was strongly connected to God.

Myrrh was used when preparing bodies for burial so it was a way to recognize that even kings die. So that’s a pretty grim gift for a baby.

But what if there’s more and it’s not so theological?

Because frankincense and myrrh were also used as salves and medicines that could have been really useful for anyone with a new born baby. Myrrh is used for all kinds of sores and might be really expensive diaper cream. And people use frankincense to make a medicine for colic, which I hear is popular with babies.

And frankincense was the most valuable commodity in the world at that time. Kind of like vibranium in the Marvel Universe.

So what the Magi might have been producing was the Ultimate Diaper Bag for a family that was about to be on the run.

Stay in the Transfiguration a Moment

Transfiguration Sunday

Mark 9:2-9; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6

This story is splat in the middle of the Gospel of Mark. It’s at the beginning of chapter 9 of a 16 chapter book and without actually counting the verses, I’d say that about as central as you can get. In fact, it is so central to the story, that some people think it’s Mark’s description of the Resurrection that got moved to the middle for editorial reasons, and the authors of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke copied the literary choice as well as including their more expansive resurrection accounts as a fitting and hopeful endnote to the story.

If you’re wondering why someone on the editorial board of the Gospel of Mark (probably the author) wanted it in the middle instead of the end I can’t tell you for sure. All I can offer is my opinion which is that the open ending of Mark that has the man in white telling the three women to tell Peter and the others Jesus had been raised and they should go to Galilee and Jesus would meet them there and they were terrified – that ending was hopeful, but uncertain. It was an invitation to action, and Mark’s is the Action Gospel, so it makes sense to end there.

Still we need something to sustain us and that is this – this revelation to a few disciples. Like the revelation at his baptism that voice that Jesus heard, the Spirit that descended like a dove, only to those most necessary to keep the faith and stay strong and believe that Jesus is who they have found him to be: the embodiment of the Law and the Prophets, Beloved Son of God, the Messiah, the one who will lead them to freedom.

They’re going to need that. Not later. Now.

If this was a traditional Methodist 4 hour sermon, we could unpack all that as it was then, has been understood over the ages and may be deconstructed for today’s context, but we have our mountains to go up and slide down so can’t do that. We can’t stay here forever.

Which is often, maybe normally, what we get from this sermon.

It would be AWESOME to stay up the mountain and bask in the glory of Jesus and Moses and Elijah and be as close as we can handle to the face of God.

We just can’t. We have to go down the mountain and discuss theology and heal people and argue church politics and worry about the end and recontextualize the scriptures, challenge the rich and powerful, and wonder what the resurrection looks like these days. And that’s just chapters 9 and 10.

No wonder Peter wants to create temporary permanent housing for the three great figures of his faith. It’s the light of Jesus as Messiah shining out of the darkness of deny yourself and take up your cross if you want to follow me.

Peter needs that mountain. We need that mountain.

We do – absolutely – need to go back to the plain. And we will. But for now, we need that mountain and the memory of that glory to sustain us through the cross and the self-denial and the arguments and the uncertainty and the overwhelming task in front of us. Don’t give up the mountain.

For parents that mountain can take the form of seeing their children sleeping like the babies they were after a long day of needs and runny noses. For lovers it might be make up sex. For someone dispirited by their job it could be that one encounter that brings them back to why they saw in this line of work the sense that were engaged in a ministry that mattered.

For us a time like that was when Craig Perry came and preached a sermon that reminded us of the kind of church we envisioned and have worked to build and what that meant to him and how important it is to Christianity.

We need these moments. Moments when we behold the glory of God and are enveloped in its vision defying glow.

On a good day, those moments can transform us.

Transformation, by the way, is not the same as transfiguration. Jesus was transfigured as his true nature – glorious, rooted in faith, beloved son of God, Messiah – was revealed to Peter, James and John. Peter, James and John were transformed – remade as disciples into people with a deeper understanding of what was going on. Perhaps more hopeful. Maybe more committed.

We are unlikely to be transfigured. We get glimpses in the sleeping children, the make up sex, the work that is also a calling that remind us of the true nature of love and service, but the kind of things that Peter, James and John saw on that mountain is rare. But like Peter, like all of them, we can be transformed when we are able to reconnect to the heart of what we hold dearest and prize most highly.

In this story, Peter, James and John, and anyone who heard the story after, even us, reconnect to that sense that they had when Jesus said “Follow me” – that something amazing and holy and life-giving and salvational was going on.

And beyond that, there is one who calls us to become much more than we know ourselves to be or ever realized we could be. Bask in THAT for a while.

Clean and Faithful

Clean and Faithful

Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Mark 1:21-27

Just before sitting down to start the first final draft of this sermon, I cleaned the bathroom, putting all the towels and mats into the washing machine with hot water for maximal sanitizing effect. I even polished the mirror. As you probably know, cleaning the bathroom is the cleaning job with the shortest job satisfaction time because as soon as it’s cleaned you need to brush your teeth, go the bathroom, wash your hands or do something to mar the perfect shiny surfaces. Even so, as I stepped back to admire my work I felt a tremendous sense of goodness. Why?

Because cleanliness is next to godliness.

I was not raised as a neat freak and I’m not one now unless you ask Rowan right after I’ve bugged her to put something away for the umpteenth time. And I know that God is no more present in my freshly vacuumed rug – even if I take the time to make sure all the vacuum lines go in the same direction – than in my dog hair, dog toy and general disorder covered rug.

But cleanliness is still next to godliness.

This is an Old Testament ideal. And I say Old Testament instead of Hebrew Scriptures because it’s not a faithful reflection of the real underlying theological principle which is that as things get more chaotic they get further from God. Chaos is not the same as untidiness. And it’s not really further from God it just becomes harder to find God in the unpredictability and threats to life that are all around.

We no longer believe that I was closer to God on Friday morning at 10 a.m. when my bathroom was pristine than I am now after two days of use or than I was on Friday morning at 9:30.

All of which is to say that when we consider the man with the unclean spirit, we need to be very careful and about saying that man with that unclean spirit had a mental illness. Because the unclean spirit – we can tell this from the word “unclean” – was something that kept that man from God. It meant he was unholy, profane even, and we need to watch our language because for most of us in some way clean is more holy than unclean. It might not be house, it might be habits – like eating healthily is more pleasing to God and respectful of the life God gives us than eating unhealthily. Is eating healthy foods in moderation better than eating unhealthy foods, eating too much or eating too little? Yes. Does it make us more holy? I doubt it. And if it does, it’s probably for some other underlying reason.

Does going to church make us more holy than not people who don’t go to church or than ourselves on days when we don’t go to church? No. But it does connect us intentionally and communally to what is holy – God, God’s teachings, God’s holiness, God’s glory, God’s presence in our community and in our lives. Yes, we can do it at home, but there is something about reaching out to God together that is more profound and more satisfying.

And again, I’m back to the man in the synagogue, the man with the unclean spirit. The unclean spirit in him made him unholy and unfit to be in the synagogue. It is astonishing that he was there. Did they know he had an unclean spirit but chose to include him anyways or had he been able to hide it from those around him? Did the man himself recognize that there was something in him that didn’t belong? Or did that unclean spirit only manifest in that moment?

We have no idea and we have no way of knowing. What we do know is that when Jesus came in with him authoritative teaching, the unclean spirit recognized that Jesus represented a threat to the community: “‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’

Not me. Us. Later on, Jesus meets another man who lives in a graveyard and is so unpredictable and frightening that the community has tried to chain him and when Jesus asks his name, he says “My name is Legion; for we are many.” But before that, when he saw Jesus approaching he yelled, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.’ (Mark 5:1-13). Jesus can change me. But Jesus can also start by changing us.

I feel like all I do is talk about grammar but do you notice? The man with so many unclean spirits that their name is Legion, which means 20 000, says “me” and the man with the unclean spirit, implying one, says “us”.

I may be reading too much into this but to me that says that the man with the unclean spirit at the very beginning of Jesus’ story recognizes that what Jesus is about to teach – for the next 15 chapters of this story – is a threat to the community. Because Jesus has come to set the values system of the faith that has sustained them for centuries, that they have fought for and died for and struggle to live out day to day, on its head. Not to change it into something different, but to transform it into something unrecognizably the same.

This will call people out of families and society and into danger and new communities. This is the word of a prophet who is trying to reinterpret the Word of God for a new time and a new place. And if you ignore it, it will not go away. It is the Word of God and it must be told. To ignore it is to invite some kind of disaster, spiritual, political, geo-political, social – who knows?

So had Jesus come to destroy the community? Yes. Or no.

Yes. Jesus had come to upset the apple cart and put the horse back in front of it. He had come to call people back (Repent!) into a new way of entering their relationship with God through their relationships with their neighbours. Jesus was offering a sense of wholeness and holiness in every day living that had begun to seem distant. The community could be stronger and more godly than ever. Jesus continues to try to destroy our communities in this way.

No. Jesus had not come to destroy the community. He wanted to restore it. To shore it up. To make it strong in those things that make people and places and societies holy, not in the distractions that let us think we’re holy – like clean bathrooms, church attendance and noticing the faults of others.

God was and is not there for the status quo. Personal interests would not be protected. Illusions about our own special sanctity might tumble around our ears. And while that could make space for more spiritual religion to grow, it would come at the cost of self-image and self-righteousness.

If you want the Oscar nominated movie tie in, go watch The Post, in which the struggle to get an unpleasant but important truth out of the hidden files of the government is a threat to friendships, national self-image and personal freedom. But it’s the truth and it’s a movie so it all turns out.

Jesus’ audience didn’t know the ending. They just knew that what he was saying was new and compelling and had the ring of truth about it. But the man with the unclean spirit also recognized that it held a note of menace. A whole hearted buy in was going to change everything. And the struggle to ignore it could ruin all the carefully constructed patterns that held it all together.

And here we are. We are trying to discover the voices that will tell us God’s will so that we can inhabit the glory of God without being destroyed. We are trying to find a new way to be what we have always been: faithful, inclusive, servant people of God, open minded, open hearted, open armed.

And when when we hear the voice, external or internal, ask “Is this going to destroy us?” we get to wonder together – is what new direction might God be calling us that will destroy us as we know ourselves in order to create something new? or have we become so distracted by false promises and false prophets that we are now at risk of no longer being who we are meant to be?

Wrestling with this stuff is what faith, religion and spirituality are all about. It’s not about how clean we are, how shiny we look or how much we are like our own ideal of a Christian person or a faithful place. It’s the struggle to always be paying attention to that voice of God, that call to obey, to draw closer, to be true to ourselves, our faith and our God-given calling – even when it scares us. Even when it feels like it might destroy us.

Because we are not a people of cleanliness. We are a resurrection people, a people of repentance, grace and new beginnings. And it is only in those things that we find God’s abundant life.

Fishers of Humans

Fishers of Humans

Mark 1:14-20; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31

Let’s talk about the difference between a noun and a verb.

According to my Harper’s English Grammar, a noun is the name of a person, animal, condition, material, object, place or quality. There are common nouns like church, coffee, irritability or fish and there are proper nouns like Vancouver or Shannon or Anglican.

From the same source, a verb is “a word or a term with which one may make an assertion in regard to action or in regard to state or condition”. I learned a simpler version: a verb is an action word. Although sometimes the action is “to be”. So things like run, sit, think, climb, speak and fish are all verbs.

And there are words that can be both. Like fish.

But never mind fish for the moment. We’ll get to fish.

For now, let’s talk about you. What about you? What are some nouns that apply to you.

First of all there’s your name (or names). What other nouns are you? I tried this on Rowan and it’s harder than it sounds. As a clue these are sentences that start out: I am a….

  • person
  • man/woman
  • (profession – musician, accountant, teacher, nurse…)
  • (hobby like gardener, knitter, singer)
  • (family status – mother, brother, son, grandparent, aunt)

Now what about verbs – what do you do? In fact, what are you doing right now?

  • Sitting, listening, making notes, doodling, texting, tweeting, knitting

Other things you do –

  • Cook, clean, pay bills, walk, run, swim, paint, write….

Now – there’s a difference between what you are and what you do. Except maybe for breathing, what you are you are all the time and what you do, you do while you are doing it.

So you can be an accountant or a retired account but you are still an accountant. It’s how your mind works, it’s the things you notice, it’s the way you like the world to line up. Your mother can be dead or have dementia or be estranged for years but you are still a daughter. You can have too much arthritis to be able to garden much, but your tendency will still be to pull up that weed, to imagine how it would look if that plant were over there and there were some daisies over here. And if you are a real fan, you are fan no matter how badly your team is doing.

But the things you do, you do while you are doing them. You walk for an hour every day at 7:30. You sit while the other thing you do works better sitting. You cook when it’s time to get the meal ready. You listen when there’s something worth listening to . You pay bills before they’re due (probably) but not all day every day.

Do you see the difference? There are things that you are all the time, even when you’re not doing them and there are things you do while you are doing them. I garden but I’m not a gardener. I pay bills but that’s not who I am.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled fishing program.

Do you remember the King James Version of this story?

16 Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, [Jesus] saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.

17 And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.

Now think about the way we just heard it, in the New Revised Standard Version:

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’

Do you hear the difference? Are we fishers or are we going to fish?

Normally, the New Revised Standard Version is a better translation from the Greek.

However, the New Revised Standard Version also tries really hard to use inclusive language for people. So we get brothers and sisters unless we’re talking about males with a sibling bond (like Andrew the brother of Simon) and we get people unless it’s clearly and specifically men.

Given the number of female followers Jesus had, and welcomed, it seems unlikely that Jesus was really focusing his ministry on males. So the great minds (and I say that with a complete absence of sarcasm) who put together the New Revised Standard Version translation thought they’d make that clear from the get go. They probably tried “fishers of people” and “fishers of folk” and maybe a few other things and eventually decided that they’d better just go with “fish for people”.

So which is it? The proper response at this time is always, “Well what does it say in the original language?”

I’m glad you asked.

It says “fishers”. So Andrew and Simon were fishers of fish and Jesus was going to make them fishers for people.

This is crucial for us and for our understanding of ourselves as people who heard Jesus say “follow  me” and did, because we do not go fishing from 5-7 a.m. on Saturdays, rainy evenings and for a couple of hours on Sunday, longer if the food is good.

We are fishers. We are constantly evaluating our environment to see if the fish are likely to be biting. We carry worms in our pockets and wear funky hats and vests with lots of pockets for those worms.

At this point I need to drop the fishing analogy because it’s getting ridiculous and the idea of baiting and hooking doesn’t really work so well. I can work with worms and hats and now I have to quit.

The worm, by the way, is not the food or the singing or the idea of going to heaven. It’s the story – the story that brings meaning and purpose and hope to our lives, to this community and to the world.

What Jesus was calling them to be was disciples who were going to wander around telling a story. And in that process they would find find others who wanted to be part of that story and follow in that same way. And they were not going to (forgive me) “disciple” from 5-7 a.m. on Saturdays, rainy evenings and for a couple of hours on Sunday, longer if the food is good. They were going to be disciples all the time. 24/7/52. Even when they didn’t really understand what it meant to be a disciple they were still disciples. Even when Jesus was shaking his head at their complete inability to get the simplest concept, they were disciples.

The reading from 1 Corinthians comes from a larger passage about how to live in this world with an allegiance to another world. Here, Jesus tells us in the big picture what Paul attempts to break down to a bunch of smaller pictures. We are here for now. We are disciples for always. It’s who we are and it’s more than just what we do when it works into our schedule. We are disciples.

Jonah: the Reluctant Prophet

Jonah: the Reluctant Prophet

I keep thinking of Jonah as The Reluctant Prophet which certainly was – but so was Jeremiah and so was Isaiah and especially so was Moses.

What Jonah was – and the Godly Play people  nail it with this title – is The Backwards Prophet:

  • He was meant to go to Nineveh, so went the other direction to Tarshish;
  • He was meant to tell people what God had said he refused to say a word;
  • As a prophet he was supposed to be close to God, but everything Jonah did was with the goal of getting as far from God as possible;
  • He was meant to be getting people to respond to God and change their ways, but then he got mad when they did.

In a tidy story, there would be a final scene where Jonah’s eyes and heart and whatever else were opened to the transforming and compassionate love of God, and he realized what a gift he had been able to show Nineveh on God’s behalf and went back to that great city and they threw him a ticker tape parade that lasted three days.

Or maybe he would experience that transformation and then live quietly in a hermitage on his hill, keeping a watchful eye on the city, being consulted by the King on ethical matters and awaiting further instructions from God.

But this is the Bible which is not long on tidy stories so we don’t know what happened with Jonah. He point is not to live happily ever after but to show us that God changes things and then to represent for us the person who hates change, even when they are part of it, even when it is good, even when it averts the destruction of 120 000 people who do not know their left hand from their right and also many animals.

Because in a story of transformation –

  • The sea from stormy to calm;
  • The sailors from pagans to God fearers;
  • The fish from eater to saver;
  • The people of Nineveh from lost to reconciled;
  • The King from full of himself (I assume) to humble;
  • The domestic animals from property to creatures of faith –

With all that change around him, only the agent of transformation remains unchanged. As far as we know.

In the film The Darkest Hour towards the end Winston Churchill says, “A man who cannot change his mind, cannot change anything.” It turns out he was quoting George Bernard Shaw.

Jonah messes that theory up because he changes everything but does not change his mind. He knew this was a bad idea in the beginning and as far as we know he is just as sure it was a bad idea at the end.

How many of us live through change stubbornly refusing to like it, accept it, or even see it as it happens all around us and changes even us?

Most of us – like Jonah – dislike change. There are a few people who love it and they’re called the Early Adapters or sometimes Bandwagon Jumpers. But most of us resist it – at least at first.

Eventually we might come around, but just because we do doesn’t mean we like it. And just because we get used to it and forget that it didn’t used to be that way doesn’t mean that we like it. It’s more that we forgot we didn’t.

Our resistance to change comes from many things – one of them is simply a preference for the familiar, even when it means that we are living with some kind of pain whether spiritual, physical or psychological. It’s easier to do the work of squashing what we don’t want to deal with than it is to look at it and discover what new lease on life might come out of it, what seas might be calmed, what might stop giving us a bellyache.

Or maybe we had a bad experience – we’ve seen what they do with the prophets and agents of change, we’ve tried to be open and gotten eaten up in the process.

And maybe there’s just nothing wrong with things the way they are. I’m sure Jonah had a pretty good life.

But more was possible. More is possible.

And the thing is – this faith of us? It’s built on change. Three of the four narratives of the adult ministry of Jesus start by harking back to the prophet Isaiah (How can I be a prophet? I am a man of unclean lips and I come from a people of unclean lips.) who spoke of a God who would flatten mountains, raise up valleys, and smooth out the rough roads. Immediately followed by “Change your direction! The Imperial Reign of God is here!” and a call to change priorities, self-image, relationships and understanding of what and who God cares about most. An invitation to trade our worry for trust, our separation from God and one another for reconciliation and our sense of doomed inevitability for an appreciation of possibility. And the promise that if we can do that the Kindom of God can come so close that we’ll be able to taste it.

We never see Jonah embrace that kind of possibility. He worries about how it looks, about whether God will believe in a God who follows through on promises when it could look like the follow through is actually a failure, who knew he was right all along and it was a dumb idea to reach out.

He sees all the people of Nineveh, their king and their livestock, trust God’s compassion and faithfulness as they put on sackcloth and ashes as a sign of their desire to draw close to a God who is not even theirs and turn a doomsday saying into a whole new future.

He sees all that and sits there complaining about his bush. That he had nothing to do with. Instead of getting exciting about the new possibilities that this God of his has set the stage for.

Of course it’s ridiculous. But that’s God for you – always up to something that will blow your mind.

Precious, Beloved and Called

Precious, Beloved and Called

Genesis 1:1-5; Mark 1:4-11

There are a lot of directions a preacher can take with the Baptism of Jesus. A lot of erudite theological,

homiletical and exegetical points she can make.

And if you pick up a copy of the Bible Background Sheet you’ll get some of those and maybe you’ll like them and want to hear (or preach!) a sermon on them.

Someday.

Today I want to talk about this candle.

This is our candle, that we process in every Sunday in front of the Word,

and the worship leader;

and then place,

front and centre,

on our communion table.

 

This is the Shiloh-Fifth Avenue United Church candle,

representing God in our midst.

Reminding us that once there was a man

who said such amazing things

and did such wonderful things

that people followed him.

But they didn’t know who he was.

One day they asked him and he said “I am the Light”:

the light which was the first act of Creation

when the Spirit of God moved across the the waters,

when all was formless and void.

 

That’s why we have a candle.

We have this candle because we used to have a candle that was a white plastic column with an oil canister insert. When we ran out of oil canisters, Vilma and I were appalled by how much it cost to get more and how much more you had to get as a minimum order. I forget where Vilma pulled this candle from when she said “Let’s use this” and I said “Okay”.

 

The rainbow was obviously a good choice for us –

it fits with our logo,

it fits with our inclusivity,

it reminds us of God’s promise after the flood, of a time when sunshine streams through grey skies after rain.

 

But now it is many years later.

The colours are faded, and they kind of run together.

It’s a little wonky on one side on the bottom.

And the wick started to drown

so Vilma dug out a space

and we stick a tea light in it.

The tea light sometimes runs out during the service.

 

I have suggested that we get a new one.

So have other people.

A nice crisp, maybe white? new one –

fresh and with a wick that works.

One that looks like a church candle.

 

But first Vilma and then Rowan have pointed out –

separately and independently

– that this is theologically unsound.

They ask (indignantly) if I am implying

that only the fresh, the crisp, the beautiful,

the white (metaphorically not racially) (I hope) belong here?

If I am suggesting that anyone who doesn’t fit

the traditional mould

of what a church person looks like isn’t welcome to stay?

 

And they are right.

 

We are not here because of our good looks

and we do not get to stay only as long

as we look or feel beautiful.

We come and we stay even when we are not

fresh and shiny and perfect.

Especially then – this is the place for us.

 

We are here because we fade and blend

and are a little wonky in spots

and sometimes need a little outside help

to be able to shine.

We are here because we are imperfect.

Especially to the wider world.

 

We are here because here we remember

that we are much more

than our tired, wonky, imperfect, un-beautiful bits.

 

We are here because here we remember

that God has made us in all our glorious wonkiness

and because here we can be seen as God sees us:

Beloved,

Precious

Children of God.

 

Here we know that with all of our imperfections,

the light that is God’s first act of creation,

the light in the darkness,

the light that shone through the man who said such amazing things and did such wonderful things,

that light shines in us.

 

And while baptism may be the rite of initiation into the church

it is also intrinsically bound up with these words:

You are my child.

You are my beloved.

You are precious in my sight.

 

 

Baptism is a sacrament.

That means that it is the outward sign

of an inward grace.

That inward grace is in those words

and they are true with or without the water.

They are true even if you cannot imagine

God calling you any of those things.

Because – remember –

God is far beyond our imagining.

So never mind your logic or you life story

or what your parents told you.

Just believe.

 

Just believe and remember what is said at the baptism of Jesus and what is true for us even when it is not said:

 

You are God’s.

You are beloved.

You are beloved.