Sermon preached at Evensong, Epiphany 2, St Mary’s Fordingbridge

The theme today is very much about gifts and relationships. This morning the gospel was about the wedding at Cana in Galilee when the wine ran out and Jesus produced a miracle – not I might add according to his own wishes but that of his mother, Mary. She knew who he was and what he was capable of but maybe she had slightly misunderstood when he would use his gifts. They have a bit of a difficult conversation where Mary says, it’s ok my boy can fix this” and Jesus says to her “oh mum, not now, not here”, but he realises he has to help so he engineers a situation where the only people who know what is secret is are his few friends and the servants who won’t be believed whatever they say. This morning’s epistle also discussed the varying talents give to us and that we should use them wisely. But the theme of both passages was about relationships. Jesus did what his mother asked because he loved her and he used the situation to show his disciples a bit more of himself before they all left the wedding and it says that he “revealed his glory to them”. I’m sure the miracle he had performed helped them to believe. So Jesus turned a difficult situation into a win-win for everyone although I suspect Mary got a bit of a telling off later.
This evening Paul is still talking about the gifts we are given and the need to use them in relationship with one another to promote the Gospel and to achieve his work, showing the world that the Christian way is service. Paul also tells us that sometimes we may need to tell the world how it is and that may make us unpopular, but we must stand up for what is right. Samuel learned this lesson in our first reading. Eli seems to be a mixture of wisdom and stupidity, he soon realises it is calling out to Samuel and tells him what to do, but Eli has not done the thing he knows he should do – stop his sons’ evil talk, and Samuel has to repeat this to Eli, the man whose roof he lives under, and also that Eli’s family will be cursed for ever. I wouldn’t have wanted to be Samuel. Eli however realises the truth when it is given to him straight and he accepts what will be. It is clear that Samuel has the gift of prophesy and God uses him this way from this point onwards.
Relationships are easy when everything is ok but sometimes it is really hard to tell someone the truth they need to hear because we appear to be judging them and they may not thank us for it, and that relationship may suffer. Clearly some people are better at this than others, and so in our Christian context I guess we should always try to ensure the right person has that conversation, perhaps because they are known for wisdom or we know the person who has to hear trusts them, “use your talents as you have been given them.” I work with some very evangelical Christians who I often think tell it rather too straight which upsets people more than necessary and they simply justify it by saying “that’s what I have been told to do” forgetting they have also been told to have compassion as well.
Where this morning and this evening diverge is about this issue of telling the difficult truth. Being prepared to expose the elephant in the room and to deal with it. The Anglican bishops have been meeting over the last few days and one of the subjects they have to deal with is how the Anglican Communion deals with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender situation, just one of a number of elephants following on from one another, women priests, women bishops and now single sex marriage.

So what should our response be? It is easy to quote the bible and say, it is there in black and white – marriage is about a man and a woman and any other relationship whether married or not is not in accordance with the Christian view. But at the same time those very same passages and books do not condemn slavery or treating women as chattels of men. I’m not sure any of us in our culture would continue to support either of those two issues, yet in Jesus time and both before and after, they were acceptable.
And that is why reconciling an evolving life with a book whose words are set in aspic is an issue. So we then have to look at how we treat interpretation. Some will argue that the bible is true in every word and some will say that stories are there to explain situations. Was the world created in 7 days or has it evolved over billions of years, some will argue “yes” to one and “no” to the other and others will have the opposite view. For me I have to say it is academic, the point is God created the world and all that is in it. I’m also quite happy to accept that the sea creature that swallowed Jonah could have been a complete one off created by God for the purpose.
In 200 years all sorts of things have happened, take a simple one – lifespans, when the prayer book was written and “til death do us part” was introduced into the wedding service, many would only live into their thirties or forties. Apparently divorce is now quite significant in the over 60s could that be partially because 400 years ago no one ever assumed two people would have to live together for maybe 60 or even 70 years? Divorce and remarriage in churches is now accepted. I’m not arguing that it is right or wrong, I am simply saying that the church has modified its view. I well remember when Michael Barratt, the Nationwide presenter took over presenting Songs of Praise and he was divorced. I recall my mother threatening to never watch Songs of Praise again, but of course she did and I suspect if she was still alive as she would be under 80, she would now accept that divorce happens and not deny someone happiness following a church wedding.
So given the decision of the Anglican Primates this week to suspend the abilities of the American Episcopalian Church to make its own decisions for three years because they allow single sex marriage in their churches – what do we think we should say. The primates have not expelled them; their statement simply says there is to be a working party to work out what to do next. So at the moment it appears there is more concern that the American church has done something on its own than the actual act itself because no one is seeking to stop them. And in that same statement the church apologises for the hurt it has cause to people who don’t fit the biblical norm.
Is the solution inevitable – does the church change its stance and allow everyone equal rights or does it say, “no this is a line we will not cross”. It seems to me that it has to do one or the other – another fudge like women bishops won’t do.
Should we be worried about being out of step with the world or should we move with it, do we see ourselves as a moral compass or a church of compassion that reaches and welcomes everyone. As far as I’m concerned it is quite difficult to say we love you as you are and then add a “but”. Clearly someone’s sexuality isn’t an illness or something they have brought on themselves. As an example, we met someone at the Trust about 3 years ago, she was on drugs, she was in a bad place, she had no money and no food. Some organisations would have turned her away but we exercised some compassion and we fed her despite the fact she had money but it was going to feed her habit because she wanted to get clean. But it was a risk, she might have just been saying that to get some food she could sell to buy more drugs. So we took the chance, and in time she became a volunteer and then we had a job going she was qualified to do and she applied and we appointed her. She needed some dentistry as drug addicts often do and so her appearance wasn’t great and she was now going to meet people, but over time as she conquered her habit, which involved us having to give her time off to get her methadone, she started to make progress. She is now drug free, has had the dentistry done and has just been able to buy a half decent car to replace the wreck she used to drive. We were able to intervene, take a risk, show some compassion, and turn a life around. But in matters of sexuality that isn’t possible, we either have to accept or not, and if we accept I really don’t think we can set boundaries for that acceptance.
I don’t envy our leaders at all. But I do think that we have to start from a point where we seek to build relationships and encourage people’s talents and let God be the judge. And finally we need to decide if the Bible is an instruction book we can never change or a rule of life which allows interpretation and change as a living thing.

Sermon preached at St Giles’ Godshill and St Mary’s Hale, the wedding at Cana

Most sermons I have heard relating to the wedding at Cana, indeed most I have preached relate to the actual miracle itself but this morning I want to concentrate on relationships. There are a number of relationships in this passage, Jesus to his mother Mary, Mary to the servants, Jesus to the servants, the servants to the steward and then the steward to the groom, and finally Jesus and the disciples and his brothers. Each relationship makes the story work.
It doesn’t get off to the most auspicious of starts really, or at least it appears not to. Mary notices the wine has run out and knowing what she does about Jesus, she decides he has to do something. This appears to be one of those conversations I and my mother might have had when she was embarrassed by something and felt I had the power to resolve it and would say “don’t just stand there, do something!” If I had replied “why me, you do something” she would have simply got even more cross with me. Mary on the other hand just says to the servants “do as he tells you”. This implies to me that she knew what he was capable of already, that somewhere in the last 30 years they had spoken about what was to come. Could it be that Mary had jumped the gun? For Jesus replies “don’t tell me what to do, it isn’t time yet”.
I had been the servants and anyone else standing nearby I would have tried to sink into the background lest I should be witness to an embarrassing confrontation. But fortunately for everyone Jesus bites his tongue and realises he has to do something. But his point is – I’m not doing this publicly because this is not the given point for me to reveal who I am, I suspect for one thing he didn’t want to upstage the event. It’s a bit like the Queen turning up at your birthday party and becoming the centre of attention rather than the person with the birthday. Proclaiming “I’m the Messiah” wasn’t the thing to do here, and in any case most of the guests were very merry already and I suspect they would have replied “yeah, right and I’m the Emperor of Rome” and laughed in his face.

Mary obviously has insight because even after this exchange she says to the servants “do as he says”. So Jesus says, ok, fill up those empty jars with water and they do – now they aren’t his servants so why do they take notice – the must feel something about him. Then he says – right go to the steward and get him to taste the water. If I was one of the servants at this point I think I might be thinking out my life plan from here – “So Ok, I filled the jars, fine, but now you want me to take a cup of the water to the boss and get him to taste it, are you serious, he will have me strung up for insubordination, insolence and stupidity – not me mate – you take it to him”. Jesus of course doesn’t want to do that because he doesn’t wish to be “outed” as the miracle worker. But again the servants do as they are told – maybe Mary has influence over them – it has been suggested it was a family wedding, but we don’t know that. So why did they do as they were told?

So the steward then proclaims this to be the finest Chateau Lafite he has ever tasted and the servants no doubt sigh a huge sigh of relief. The steward then calls out, presumably publicly, to the bridegroom and says, “hey man, you have style, this van rouge is amazing – where did you get it from?”

We don’t find out what the bridegroom said in reply, and maybe that’s the point, the bridegroom has no idea what has happened and nor have the guests, the only ones who know are the servants and they have no ability to tell the gathering what has really happened. But of course the disciples have seen what he has done and this caused them to believe in him. It then says that they left as a group with Jesus and Mary and went to Capernaum where they stayed for a few days.

So what can we learn from this, well, even if Jesus was annoyed with Mary he respected her and found a way to do as he was told without compromising himself – the option would have been that embarrassing row. So they clearly had a good understanding of each other which is why I suggested earlier that Mary was fully aware of Jesus’ mission on earth, but he was telling her, I’m not here to fix social disasters, I’m here to save the world. Which is why he comes up with this plan which will solve the problem but not expose him to the world. Who knows, maybe Mary knew the disciples needed a nudge to understand; maybe she engineered this seeing the opportunity. Jesus clearly cared for the servants because if the steward had tasted water they would have been for the chop and they understood that it would be ok. They trusted in him. As a by-product the steward and the groom’s relationship also flourishes and everyone else just has a great time.

But of course the real relationship that is built is between Jesus and the disciples with whom the penny drops a little bit further, if not yet all the way, and they all go off for some peace and quiet together.
So what on earth has this to do with the epistle which talks about us all having different gifts. There is probably a much more theological overlap than the one I’m going to consider, but for me it is quite simple. Paul tells us we are all different and we can all do different things. You’d be much better trusting Bill Templeton in a balloon than me for example, as I have absolutely no idea how to pilot a balloon. Mary, Barry and Alice both have amazing talent with music and again, you wouldn’t want me accompanying you.
And the point Jesus was making was simply this – use your gifts for their best purpose. If Barry only ever played the piano in a soundproof room they joy he could bring would be lost to everyone but himself. So he says to Mary – yes I can do this but that’s not what I came for. I have been given something really precious and it wasn’t intended to make me the local off-licence, it has been given to me to do my father’s work here on earth.

And the challenge to us all – use your talents for the greater good. I know a number of musicians who have wonderful talents but are too shy to use them. I know people who have real wisdom but who cannot bring themselves to stand in front of others to impart it. Our gifts are from God and we should use them to his use. And if you are sitting there thinking “I don’t have any special talents” I suggest to you that you do – they don’t have to be spectacular. You may have the ability to listen or to comfort; you may do something quite un-noticed – Tony putting the heating on at Woodgreen – we all benefit from his talent for remembering to do it.

And I’m going to finish by revisiting the end of the Gospel – then they all went away for a few days – and it was only then that Jesus revealed his glory to them, in the private space they had created and I suspect he told them, I’m not here to be hailed as a great king, I’m here to serve in any way my gift can be used. We do well to follow that example now and again – to go off together and discover more about our relationships, who we are, what we can do, and then use them to work out God’s purposes.

Jesus took the humdrum of life – a wine crisis, he turned it into something beautiful and that enhanced the experience of all who were there. He added flavour, fragrance, strength and beauty to situations which benefitted those he touched greatly. In relationship together we can do the same in his name. Amen.

A Sermon for the Baptism Of Jesus, January 10th 2016 preached at St Mary’s Fordingbridge

What does baptism suggest to you? Give me some words:
(Being cleansed, welcomed, under the protection of God, known by God by name, water the sustainer of life).

I often think how cocooned we are here against the realities of the world for many people. Yes we have as a community suffered at least two family tragedies in living memory which have come to the eyes of the world through the press, but normally, day to day, we don’t see much of struggle or difficulty do we, except for what we hear on the radio and see on the television screens and we have become immune to most of that. I have to admit when Hugh Edwards says “some viewers may be upset by the images you are about to see” I’m often not even when it is dead and mutilated bodies – why because I’m removed from it, it’s on the television so it isn’t real, because it actually doesn’t affect me.

The very person of God who we come here to meet each week began life as a refugee in a foreign land because the ruler of his own land feared him and set out to persecute him and as a result many families’ lives were wrecked as their young boy children were systematically murdered. Well Jesus, Mary and Joseph escaped and- in time returned home and for 30 years lived a relatively normal life before we come to the place in history we remember today – out of the barren wilderness of Hebron comes John the Baptist, and he begins to baptise people in the name of Jesus, and then he and Jesus meet and Jesus offers to be baptised himself I guess to cleanse the world as he is of course already very well known to his father, but it gives his father the opportunity to bestow the gift of the spirit on Jesus and to proclaim “you are my Son and I love you”.

But he was a refugee. If we lived across the channel in Germany, in France, Greece, Italy and other Eastern European countries as well as in Scandinavia we would now be surrounded by refugees. Here we have absolutely no idea what that is like for either the refugee or for those who live in those places. Only days ago there was the issue of mass violation of women in Germany by a large crowd of men who seem to be mainly identified as refugees. But even without that atrocity what must it be like to suddenly become hosts to tens, hundreds or even thousands of people who have arrived with just what they can hold. What do you do – do you shut them out or welcome them in? The rest of Europe, possibly through circumstance appears to have been far more welcoming than we have here, although many are now closing their borders, but they are doing so because they claim to be over-run not to keep everyone out. The plan to accept refugees here over 5 years is a fraction of what the rest of Europe already has. Our government says it is more concerned to make it possible to enable people to stay where they are – which is all very noble and quite logical, but in the present situation, let’s be honest, it’s not going to work is it? Libya, Syria, Eritrea, are all violent places and as yet the western powers and their allies have failed to make any of them any more safe, in fact they we, may have made them more dangerous. The current refugees cannot go home.

But what has that to do with the Baptism of Jesus? Well, I suggest everything. I’m guessing, because we know little of what happened to his family whilst it was in Egypt but there is no suggestion that they were not welcomed and clearly when Joseph was given the message in a dream that it was safe to go home they were allowed to leave Egypt and return to Galilee. And one would assume they were then welcomed back into that society when they arrived. Baptism is a cleansing from the past and a welcome to the present, and an acceptance of who you are in the community in which you live.

Of course the refuges now in Europe are of many faiths and none and some will settle in places where their faith is very much in the minority. Just imagine for a few moments that 100 refugees were going to arrive here later today, and that we weren’t sitting here in neat rows but had turned this place into a welcome centre with food and clothing at the ready. We know they are of another faith which we may not understand – what will we do? Well in true British spirit we will do the best we can for them today, but would we welcome them into our homes to use our spare bedrooms until something more permanent was available, would we welcome them living in our community in the house next door or round the corner? Would we say, come on share our building here for worship? Or would we be too afraid of the consequences?

John baptised all those who came to him, as did Jesus, and they came to him because what he said appealed to them – he was preaching Christianity, not Judaism. I’m not suggesting those 100 people should only be welcomed if they are prepared to be converts but what I am saying is that those people of other faith must have felt sufficiently welcomed by Jesus, accepted by him, to trust in his faith.

Donald Trump has said we have no go areas in the UK, which is as with much of what he says, sensationalist and out to provoke reaction, but, he is right to the point that we are a segregated society – all our big cities have groups of ethnic communities who live in a certain isolation within much bigger communities – why, because we haven’t integrated them and sadly to a large extent that must be because when they first arrived we as a nation didn’t make enough effort to integrate them. Jesus spoke openly to the Samaritan woman living outside the morals of the Jews, he healed the son of the invading Romans, he brought those from his own society back from isolation because of their past actions – Zacchaeus for example – shunned by his own because he was both working for the enemy and robbing people blind for his own benefit. No one was beyond the love of Jesus – “you are welcome here”, “I love you”.

By our own baptism we have become part of a family, each one known to God by name and if we are true to that gift then it is my opinion that we should welcome those who seek safety amongst us, not into a ghetto, but welcomed into our midst and respected for who they are and what they believe, and then the rest is up to God.

I hear of so many people daily who visit foodbanks and they cannot understand why people want to volunteer to be there to meet them, or stand outside supermarkets in the cold collecting food, or spend hours in a chilly warehouse sorting that food – and these are our own people – and because most of those foodbanks are led by Christians those volunteers can reply – “because I am called to look after you and to love you. It doesn’t matter if it is your own fault you are here or just circumstance, we are here for you”. And that response can often lead to tears flowing from the strongest and initially surliest of people who in their time of trouble have not met anyone that has said to them “come inside, we will help you”.

So there will be issues like that in Germany on New Year’s Eve, and there are no excuses for them, but if we can extend the generosity of care to them that we receive through baptism we can change their attitudes and their actions, not by threatening them that they have to comply or else, but showing them compassion, mercy and love. Am I just a woolly liberal, maybe I am but I don’t recall Jesus turning anyone away, even the murderer who hung beside him.

Being welcomed in and loved is the greatest gift we are given and it is the greatest gift we can share. I don’t know how we do that for the refugees of Europe here in Fordingbridge, – salving our consciences by having a clothing collection isn’t really the answer because it is just a gesture – maybe we should ask Mr Swayne back here 18 months after the husting he came to and say to him, please arrange for some people in need to be offered the option of coming to this community and we will welcome them and love them and respect them.

But I do not think being cleansed by God and accepted into his family and being given the gift of the Holy Spirit allows us to sit idly by. Amen.

Christmas Eve, Midnight 2015 – hope, St Mary’sFordingbridge

I wonder what brought you here tonight. What brings us to places like this week by week or just now and again? Is it perhaps because we feel safe? Of course it may be that it’s just on the way home from the pub and if that’s the case you are just as welcome. Or just maybe it is because we want some hope in a broken world?

You would have needed to have spent the year on the planet Zog to have not noticed some of the dreadful things that have happened in the last 12 months. I’m sure if I asked you all we could think of a huge list which would include two dreadful atrocities in Paris and countless mass shootings in America not to mention the dreadful plight of those fleeing violence in Syria and other war torn parts of the world. And on top of all that Donald Trump.

So is there any hope? Is there any point in being here tonight because if tonight is about anything surely it is about hope. But are we beyond that, are we “doomed” as Private Fraser was fond of saying in Dad’s Army.

But let’s just go back in time. A man agrees to marry a woman who he knows is pregnant to stop her being disgraced or worse. They have to travel a distance to register for the census of a foreign invading power and the only transport they have is a donkey. When they finally arrive at the place of registration the whole place is full up, there’s nowhere to stay and the baby is coming. When someone does finally take pity on them they end up in a barn – not one of those lovely little manger scenes we all have but in a dirty smelly stinking unsanitary barn surrounded by animals. Doesn’t look too hopeful does it – not if you are destined to be the saviour of the world. But against all the odds the baby survives its birth, survives a mass murder attempt by a jealous and insecure king, and the journey home. Hope is born.

Of course t’s not all bad is it – the climate change deal was signed a few days ago between almost 200 countries, who knows if it will succeed but surely there is at least hope that we now have a whole world prepared to do something. We see examples to us of how we can all make a difference – the Pope in a Fiat 500 not a 7 litre gas gussler – who knows we might see the Queen going down the Mall in a Nissan Leaf electric car next – we can hope!

Then there are the small but life-changing events. I can think of two small pitch invasions, one at the Rugby World Cup where a lad ran on in his excitement and ended up with an All Black winner’s medal. Another small boy aged 4 runs on to a rugby league game in Australia. One of the players gives him the ball and sets him off running towards the posts, he has almost the whole field to run and the players from the opposing team keep trying to tackle him and unbelievably they mistime every tackle so they land behind him or just in front. He gets just past the 22 line and runs out of puff so one of the players picks him up and carries him beneath the posts where he scores to an almighty cheer.

I can tell you of a story I heard about 10 days ago of a visitor to a foodbank in Lancashire. The lady had been ill and lost her job. She didn’t realise she could get benefits and she starved. She became depressed and she thought her life was over. She received a letter to say she was being evicted. She wrote a note to her family and made a sign to put on the front door asking someone to look after her dogs and she left home intending to end her life. Well she met someone who took her to the foodbank and at that foodbank they have a debt adviser. That person just sat and listened and then they picked up the phone and got hold of the Citizens’ Advice Bureaux specialist for housing issues. They made an emergency plea to the court to delay the eviction, went to a hearing the next day, got the delay and then they set about applying for benefits and sorting out her debts – all started within 2 days. She kept her house and she didn’t die, why because she now has hope. I could tell you many stories like that one.

Through his actions that baby we celebrate tonight brought hope to many, he healed the sick, he mended the broken hearted and he set people free from all the bad stuff they were involved in. He gave them hope.

None of us are Jesus, none of us I suspect have the power of healing nor can we make everything right but if we work together, if we believe that together we can make a difference, then we can make a difference. I know I can’t do any of that on my own and I get my strength from knowing that there is a God that watches over us and who will help us if only we can trust and hope. I suspect not everyone shares that faith here this evening but even if you don’t share that faith, have hope that together we can achieve something. I mentioned foodbanks because I work for the charity that runs over 400 of them across the UK. They were all started by churches, churches that many people thought were completely irrelevant because all they did was talk, or so it seemed to people on the outside. Those churches galvanised communities church going and not, Christian and Muslim and Sikh and Hindu and atheist to all work together and in the last three years over 3 million people have been saved from starving or worse as I talked about a few moments ago, because each of those communities suddenly had hope and hope sprang into action and generosity.

New birth gives us hope and the birth we celebrate tonight is the best example of hope, and triumph over adversity that I can think of. He became known as the light of the world. You should all have a tea light. I’d like you to take that tea light home and at some point tomorrow put it on a windowsill as a light to the world and a symbol of hope.

Mark Ward

A Sermon preached at St. Mary’s Church, Fordingbridge on the Third Sunday in Advent , 2015.

A Sermon preached at St. Mary’s Church, Fordingbridge on the Third Sunday in Advent , 2015.

A glance at the TV screens this week has brought home in a dramatic way the need for agreements in Paris on global warming and climate change. The protracted negotiations for such an agreement also spell the costliness of such change which is required to reduce the emission of gasses into the air by as little as 1.5% by 2050.

Important and crucial as that is I want to reflect on a different kind of ‘climate change’.

Some words of John the Baptist from Luke’s gospel this morning,

“…bear fruits worthy of repentance”

I love words and language. Language changes over time and comes to change meaning over time. There was a time when the Prayer Book was composed by Cranmer that ‘to prevent’ meant to ‘go before’ as opposed to our modern meaning of ‘obstruct’. Take the word used by John and subsequently used by Jesus-‘repentance’. What images does that conjure up for you? Doing something seemingly naughty and feeling guilty? Had a bit too much to drink and made a fool of yourself? Flew off the handle at your best friend? And then feeling sorry!

Repentance is such a central word to the message of both John and Jesus and yet it means much more than being sorry. In fact it means something a bit different. Now for the Greek lesson-are you ready? The Greek word which is normally translated as ‘repentance’ is a lovely word called, ‘metanoia’. It comes from two Greek words: ‘meta’ meaning ‘change’ and ‘noien’ meaning ‘to think’. You might recognise our word ‘nous’ when we say, ‘didn’t show much ‘nous’’ meaning he didn’t think or use his head. ‘Metanoia’ means a profound change in the heart and mind of an individual what I want to call a personal ‘climate change’. So all you have to remember is that ‘repentance’ means a personal climate change a total change of the heart and mind of the individual.

The crowds came out to see John the Baptist-he must have been quite a sight with his camel hair tunic and his sandals and probably wild hair blowing in the wind. I imagine he was a fearsome character and somewhat uncompromising. He comes inviting the crowds to baptism and repentance. There are many records attesting to Jews involved in ritual washing to remove pollution that would defile the temple. John connects repentance with baptism a sign of renewal and cleansing.

John is calling for climate change on a large scale. He somewhat dismisses superficial attempts by the Jews’ appeal to Abraham as their illustrious ancestor. And he has strong words for the crowds-if you have two coats share with anyone who has none; a warning for tax collectors not to cheat and for soldiers not to exploit the weakness of others. Repentance and baptism involves a total change in perception and behaviour.

What might climate change look like for you and I? As climate change takes hold in our planet creating ice floes to melt, ocean water to rise, creating freak storms etc we witness a slowly developing change to what we can expect in the life of our planet. It is the same with the climate change which John and Jesus invites of us through the notion of ‘repentance’. Let me explain.

Two examples. One, Beth runs a local choir. She is very good at choosing an appropriate repertoire of music for different voices. She has a knack of being able to get the choir to raise the game to great heights especially at local concerts. She knows in her heart of hearts she has more in her, greater things to achieve and she decides to enter a national conducting competition, and wins. She becomes a conductor, no mean achievement for a woman in today’s world. She is realising the huge potential bursting to get out of her and she begins to lead a more deeply satisfying life albeit a more demanding one.

Two, Alex and Annabelle espy one another at a local gig, like the look of each other and begin dating. Each in their way are embarking on a journey in which each is risking themselves to each other, discovering that life together is more satisfying than when they were single. Each evokes in the other deeper and richer ways of being and living. Their life becomes more demanding as they start a family with the inevitable costliness of their love for one another.

I want to suggest that both undergo climate change-a kind of metanoia as they begin to see themselves and others differently and realise that they themselves are full of unrealised potential, Beth with her talent in conducting and Alex and Annabelle in their new found partnership.

Both required a willingness to open themselves to new possibilities they never dreamt of. Both required a willingness to surrender to a past life. Both had a vision of a more fulfilled life.

The crowds, the Jews, the tax collectors and the soldiers were all warned by John that real change of heart is required for those who would follow ‘the one is to come who is more powerful than I’, Jesus himself. It is a combination of climate change and renewal, repentance and baptism.

Would that a message that our political leaders and church leaders could hear. Let us cut out the spin about how brilliant our policies and plans are and somehow just what people need right now. John and Jesus call for a climate change.

What might metanoia look like for the Church right now? We much work to do and issues to resolve-church unity, styles of ministry and how to pay for it, the real acceptance of those in the ministry with gay and lesbian orientation, how to maximise the use of our church buildings and plant. John and Jesus call the Church as a community to a real climate change in their attitude to these questions.

John the Baptist was not a popular character in his day and don’t suppose he would top our X Factor chart today. John like the prophets before him challenged his hearers to take responsibility for their actions and urged them to change the world to the kind of place it was meant to be. He offered them the possibility of a changed heart, a climate change, and a mirror of themselves in the pool of water in the Jordan River to encourage them to make a renewed attempt at life by gazing on the one who is to come Jesus who ‘will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire’, both images of cleansing. Of course like his master he came to a sticky end. Living with uncompromising people like John shows up the seamy side of us and the cracks in our veneers.

Our Advent journey then is not a smooth path. The path is uncertain in places but full of possibility and hope for a better future to help us ‘bear fruits worthy of repentance (metanoia), that divine love may rule our hearts and minds as we seek to serve God and his church