Sermon for Epiphany Sunday 2021 St Mary’s Walton
Revd. Fiona Pennie
Happy New Year!
I wonder have you followed the usual tradition of making any New Year Resolutions??
I must admit it is not something that I have got in the habit of doing, but it is that time in the cycle of life to pause and to look back at the year that as just gone.
Soren Kierkegaard Danish philosopher and theologian from the 19th Century wrote
Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
And I tend to agree, but I don’t know about you but I’m struggling with processing the year 2020!
As many of you know I took up this post of Interim Ministry at the end of March 2020, just as we entered the first lockdown. The risk that covid brought was thought to be severe, so much so we really did lockdown and we stayed at home. All my plans for my first 3-4 months of IM were thrown into disarray as we went into church survival mode…we learned to live in the moment.
We became very aware not only of our physical well-being but also our mental well-being…BUT we humans are built to look ahead..to live life forwards as Kierkegaard would say…or as Jayne put it the other day when discussing what Graham is going to put on a new sign..Welcome to Walton and St. Mary’s, celebrating the Past, the Present AND the Future.
But how do we live life forwards when the infection rate is soaring once more and the threat to life that Covid brings becomes a daily headline in our news?
How do we live life forwards whilst following the hands face space rules? How do we grow rather than just survive?
Well hope is coming in the form of the Vaccine and for me in the meantime, as it said in our passage from Isaiah, I am lifting my eyes, to look ahead, to move to the next stages of Interim Ministry. I took down notices at the boards at the back of church this morning, some minutes dated from 2011, the Deanery Mission plan from 2008. I think it is now time to plan the next steps after understanding some of the History and heritage of the Team, however imperfectly, for we need to change as a church, as a Team, we need to live life forwards.
But what does the future look like…how can we move forwards? This unlike my first question is not rhetorical. I do expect responses, no heckling from the pews, but perhaps a letter, an email, a phone call…we are all in this time of change and transition together, congregation, choir, clergy.
And so we come to today, Epiphany Sunday 3rd January 2021.
We have not quite reached 12th night..but find ourselves at Epiphany. We have not held the usual procession around the church when we remember the revelation of Jesus as God’s son in the story of the wisemen from the East, the baptism of Jesus and his first miracle in John’s Gospel where he turned water into wine, due to the Covid restrictions. I will focus on the story of the wise men from the east.
Our Gospel begins with the arrival of the men from the East..it may well be that these wisemen were Jewish exiles living in Babylon who had both been reading the scriptures, but also practicing astrology, looking for a physical sign that would signal the birth of the king of the Jews.
But their information was not complete there weren’t exactly sure what, who or where the stars and the scriptures were guiding them to. So they decided to go to Jerusalem to speak to the Roman appointed King of Judea, Herod. A word of warning there though a dream made sure they didn’t go back to Herod, and the story didn’t end well for ‘the Holy Innocents!’
I wonder how are we going to work out where this church and the Walton Team Ministry are going? In the absence of a star, what then?
I went for an amazing walk by Hale lighthouse yesterday..it was beautiful calm sunny day…and I thought about how the lighthouse guided boats along the Mersey. Lighthouses were immensely useful to sailors and date back to the Roman times. Research tells us that Britain’s early lighthouses were often found in religious buildings sat on hilltops along the coast. So it wasn’t until the early 18th century that modern lighthouse construction began in the UK.
The light from the tower would shine out in the darkness with each light having a different timing of flashes to indicate which light the sailors could see. Armed with the right guide book the ships sailors would be alerted to the geographical hazards, such as reefs and rocks and knowledge and light would guide them to safety.
Modern technology means Hale and many other lighthouses are no longer used. Modern technology of GPS has made them redundant.
However the images of the lighthouse and the stars are very powerful.
So to my NON rhetorical questions.
1 What is going to guide us?
Well scripture in particular Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, but new things. I would suggest that this may not necessarily be what has been used before.
How are we going to study the scriptures together? Zoom or Google Teams is beyond most of us but if we stay in lockdown how are we going to study together?
How are we going to pray together?
2 Who are we going to ask to help? Be wary of asking the Herods of the world. We need to be wise to peoples motives, but we do need to work with parents outside these four walls. But we do need to step out, take calculated risks, be ready to get things wrong! We need to hear God’s voice just as the Wise men did in a dream? We need to pray together. Again how are we going to do this?
Graham had wanted to put a specific date on the sign for the churchyard. I struggled to know which significant date to celebrate and the Whatsapp conversation went back and forth between us until Jayne had her idea, which was for me and ‘epiphany’ moment. We will need each other to keep communicating if we are to be inspired by God. Yes we need to look back and celebrate the history of this sacred space, we also need to live in the moment and stay safe, but we also need to remember life must be lived forwards.