Sermon at Alloa 8th January

The word ‘about’ is a dangerous word. Bishop, what do you think about …. Do you think the church should be doing more about …. How do you feel about …. Charles Kennedy’s resignation, Celebrity Big Brother, the current level of interest rates, the war in Iraq. Sometimes I think it is a bit like watching the tide washing in and out, carrying with it all kinds of stuff. Faith gets caught up in all this – and becomes a sort of universal idea about goodness or happiness. Never too clear or sharp around the edges and certainly never too challenging because that might exclude some people. And the church becomes pre-occupied with its own life and how it runs, with its gradual decline – and bishops and clergy become pastor/managers rather than leaders of mission.

In those days, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. Classic journalism which puts into the first paragraph, the ‘who, what, where, when, why’ of an event. It happens. Nobody is invited to say what they think about it. It happens. The Baptism of Repentence, the acceptance of the need for recognition of human failure and the need for change. Jesus is humble and obedient and without the trappings of power – he submits to the Baptism of John. The heavens are torn open – as they are on Good Friday – and the voice declares the Sonship of Christ. But we know that this is not to be a sonship of privilege and power but of obedience, suffering and death.

The word ‘about’ averages everything out. It smoothes, mingles and blurs. It sounds like the real thing but isn’t.

Today on the first Sunday of the New Year. We feel the future open before us. We feel a little tinge of fear, of vulnerability, because of all the things that happen and the ways in which we may make a mess of our own lives and the lives of others. But we also greet the future in faith – not just a future of nice ideas and thinking a bit about things. We take a deep breath and instead of just thinking about repentence and saying of the things we are unhappy about and can’t quite get right – ‘That’s Life’ – we say, ‘Yes we failed, we got it wrong, we are sorry, we need to be forgiven and have a new start.’ But we also draw breath and allow the spirit to breathe in and through out lives, changing, shaping and making possible.

What do you think about ….. draws the teeth of faith, makes it woolly and woozy, blurs, relativises, averages, domesticates …. Doesn’t matter how many syllables the words have, the effect is the same. Today we meet Jesus – we meet as he did the challenge to repent – we revisit in faith the baptism in which we became the children of God in a particular way – we feel in a new way the blowing of the spirit in our lives and in the church – and we face the future with hope, energy and expection.

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