Second Sunday of Epiphany Sunday 17th January 2016

Sermon by Fr Peter Wolton, Second Sunday of Epiphany Sunday 17th January 2016

What a week it has been for headlines! The deaths of David Bowie and Alan Rickman –Rickman who shot to fame with his portrayal of Revd. Obadiah Slope, the malevolent sneering scheming chaplain to Bishop Proudie in the Barchester Chronicles and Bowie whose contribution to the Arts was recognised by a V&A exhibition, and who according to this headline in the Evening Standard “As he faced death, (Bowie) understood the role of God.” And in case you missed it, the country’s leading wine merchants launched the 2014 Burgundy vintage; reportedly this vintage for white Burgundy and Chablis has been the best received for a decade.
Which conveniently brings me to today’s Gospel, the turning of water into wine on this second Sunday of Epiphany
The season of Epiphany, the moment of revelation or personal realisation, today moves on from the Baptism of Christ to this astonishing transformation of water into wine at Cana of Galilee, and in coming weeks to Simeon’s epiphany at the time of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.
Before considering the gospel in more detail, I want to return to this weeks’ headlines.
It has been a difficult week for the Church of England, at least according to the Times:
Here they are:
·       Tuesday - Church should practise what Bowie preached
·       Thursday - Soppy Christians are their own worst enemy – this from a believer
·       Friday - Thank heavens we’re all losing our religion.
·       Saturday editorial “Unholy Split – on gay marriage, Justin Welby misreads history and his job description”
The papers reported on Tuesday that church attendance in 2014 had slipped below a million for the first time.
I thought of this as I visited a vicar based in one of the most deprived areas of London. He is rebuilding a rundown church just a few miles from here. He’s set up youth clubs, a food bank and a group to assist victims of domestic violence. And because it’s not so far from here, house prices are rising very fast and change is taking place with some doors being painted in Farrow and Ball colours. In the words of the vicar, “the new owners scurry into their homes after a day’s work.” But the new people moving in are not aware of his church. A friend of mine lives close by and so I have asked her to meet the vicar to explore ways to bring the community together; the church can be an agent of community transformation. She’s has accepted my invitation because she understands how the church works but at the start of the meeting she said that most of her friends know little about the church except as, to use her words, “a discriminatory organisation full of double standards.”
Well – what to say?
Four things.
The Church matters. And I do not think I am being blind when I say that what happens here each Sunday fits with N.T. Wright’s vision of church which includes the following:
“It’s where you’ll find people learning to pray, coming to faith…it’s where people bring their own small faith and discover that when they get together with others to worship the true God, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.” I think our last years’ “Why me?” series really helped in this regard. And the church matters for all the reasons that the work my vicar friend is doing not far from here.
Our challenge is to do as St. Philip did after being introduced to Jesus for the first time. He rushed off to his friend Nathaniel, and said “We have found him who Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote. Come and see.” Encourage your friends to come to St. George’s/ St. John’s.
The digital media revolution. If we embrace it, it can be a blessing, and if we don’t, it becomes a curse because social media now is the time filler of choice for most people. Everyone on public transport is studying their phone. No one need be bored – there is always information and video to amuse and inspire. If, for example, you are inspired by leaders, you can learn virtually all you want to. From Alec Ferguson to Mahatma Gandhi, to business leaders and art and music it is all there for the taking.
The Church needs to use social media much more actively as a Christian community to help people discover our true nature, which is that we are built on love. Last Tuesday we had a 100 people come to our Gallipoli evening. But with proper promotion we could have got even more. We are putting in place a Communications group and look forward to them getting started.
To know Christ is a completely different experience to studying inspirational human leaders on a handset. To know Christ is to know the son of God, and that is life changing and transformational.
William Temple in his commentary on St. John wrote:
“Our first intercourse with Christ brings about a change like that of water into wine. Christ is not a grim taskmaster in obedience to whom life becomes gloomy… Joy is one of the fruits of His Spirit. We wholly fail to represent Him to (the world) if we fail to make people see this in our lives.”
This is why Christians celebrate with joy the incredible achievements of our fellow beings, of the arts and the fruits of the earth, and this week, among many wonderful things, the lives of Bowie and Rickman, and the joy of drinking good wine. Let us be seen as joyful.
Trusting Christ.
Today’s Gospel ends with the words “and his disciples believed in him.” The sense of “belief” at this very early stage of Jesus’ ministry for the disciples, is not so much of believing that what Jesus said was true, but rather that they were now prepared to place their personal trust in him and thus become disciples – a journey into the mystery of the love of God.
The season of Epiphany is about revelation, personal trust and transformation. As we join the Magi, those present at Christ’s Baptism and those who witnessed the wedding in Cana, we place our trust unconditionally in Christ. Thus we become transformed, like the water was into wine.
I will draw to a close reflecting on the words of St. Teresa of Avila:
Christ has no body now, but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth, but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which He looks
With compassion on this world.
That is why the church matters. We are Christ. We see the world through the lens of Christ. Let us remember this reality when we take the bread and wine at the Eucharist.
And as we sing our last hymn “Take my life, and let it be”, let us really focus on the words. You will see that they absolutely echo the prayer of St. Teresa.
Her prayer continues:
Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing frighten you.
All things pass away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Those who have God
Find they lack nothing;
God alone suffices.
I am confident that we will overcome this period the church’s history, and in 2000 years’ time, the message of the miracle at Cana of Galilee will still be being heard
And at the end of the service, as we go in peace, to love and serve the Lord, please put the service sheet in your handbag or coat pocket and when you return home, study it closely. Break the habit of putting it on the table as you leave. And not for this week, but for all weeks to come!

Fr. Peter Wolton

17 January 2016
Holland Park Benefice