Preacher: Ruth Martin
Readings: 1 Samuel 3-10, John 1 v43 to end
May what we think, feel and say always be acceptable to you Oh Lord
Can anything Good come out of Nazareth?
I was in Leeds last autumn in the week of Jimmy Saville’s funeral there. Crowds lined the streets , sometimes 8 deep, and the City Centre on a wet day of persistent drizzle, was simply unpassable as tens of thousands lined the streets ready for his funeral. Most of us over the age of 30 will remember him on the TV and in the news; from the 1950s right through to the 1990s he was a TV personality, a DJ, who for twenty years hosted the ‘Jim’ll fix it show’ to grant wishes.
But he will probably go down in history as a rather eccentric fund raiser who wore bright track suits and smoked large cigars; he raised £20 million alone for the spinal injuries unit at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, and £40 million from running marathons; his bequests include a new cardiac unit at Leeds Royal Infirmary, where he worked as a volunteer porter. If you asked anyone in Leeds has anything good come out of Leeds, there is a strong chance that it will be his name that will be recalled. He gave a staggering 90% of his income away.
Epiphany is the season of how God revealed himself to the world and reveals Himself now. Through a tiny baby whose family fled from Bethlehem and settled eventually in Nazareth , we know that something amazingly Good came out of Nazareth and God continues now to reveal himself through unlikely people and unlikely places.
So in our own community of the people of God, can anything good come out of Richmond?
We might immediately think of the establishment of our own local charity for the Homeless, Spear, founded by Penny Wade. However we might also ponder that we have just emerged from a Christmas where more people than ever before came to our service aimed at children and their own families, our Christingle service. Thanks to lots of people here who prepared everything , both that service and also on Christmas morning , they poured through our doors and collectively we welcomed them. Here we are in the Epiphany season, the season when we reflect on how God reveals himself to us, like me you may be wondering how can we connect our faith to those who only come once a year, those who perhaps only reconnect again with God by bringing their own children to glimpse God through the baby of the Christmas Story.
For them and us we need to see that firstly God reveals himself in Hope.
Whether we are parents or not, one of the extraordinary features of nurturing a new baby is that the baby holds a power over us; the baby’s power is in being loved; as we respond in love we feel not only an obligation but a real sense of caring. The baby is a symbol for the future; a sign of hope.
The numbers who worshipped with us in the Christmas season in our own church are a sign of hope that in our community, in Richmond, something good can come from the efforts we make to welcome, to connect, to avoid cynical judgement of occasional churchgoing.
Some of us in our team ministry are involved in Christ’s school, fewer than 50% of Richmond parents use the state schools in the borough, yet many more people apply to Christ’s school than can possibly be accepted.; what attracts parents from many miles around is the fact that it is a faith school, where values and attitudes and beliefs are shaped through Christ; that too is a sign of hope in our community. human.
Secondly, God reveals himself in Joy.
In our Christmas story, those rough hewn Shepherds-outsiders- were drawn to the baby by seeing a multitude of angels; they found Him, and returned to their work with joy. In a recent British Social Attitudes Survey published just before Christmas, regular church attendance has dropped again, almost all due to declining numbers in the Church of England. Yet millions watched the royal wedding in a church last year, and thousands sang in Hyde Park to hymns they had never sung before, to a God who they glimpsed through human joy.
Rowan Williams says
‘When our joy is liberated so will our generosity and compassion be’……..
So Thirdly God reveals himself in generous giving.
We have the generosity of those magi still to be seen at our crib by the All Souls chapel. They had seen a sign of God’s generosity in the sky and set off on a long, probably difficult journey to discover it for themselves. They then presented gifts to show how much they saw God revealed through this tiny human being.
Can there be such a thing as joyful giving? The one question that all 20 or so of us who are Street pastors on our streets have been asked is ‘what do you get paid?’ It is a source of genuine amazement that people will go out and give their time just to help others particularly in the ugly side of drink on a cold dark night, whereas those of us who do so find it joyful; so addictive can it be that we are advised to do so only twice a month! And it is through a generosity of time that people who know nothing of church, can connect to the significance of faith held by others.
The joy of giving is so different to the resignation of compliance with rules. After all no one thrills to the chance to pay more tax, but gifts offered freely attract support. In my own sector, finance, a sector that needs to re-learn how to give and share, there was a boost last week when the head of Lloyds bank this week asked not to be given his bonus this year, some £2 million.
So we must learn what it is to provide for others not out of compliance with rules , not even in pursuit of targets for social corporate responsibility, but from a genuine desire to care, a real love for other people born from the hope, joy and generosity that God is revealed through humanity.
In our Old Testament reading we heard young Samuel finally realising that God is calling Him by name and we- like him- need to listen and discern right action.
Just as we celebrate God revealed as human, so today amongst the bling of showbiz, the rough and the drunk, God can be found and we can respond if we wish by joyful generosity and compassion. Can anything good come out of Richmond? Plenty has and plenty more can.