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26th January 2014 - Epiphany - Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs

Sermon for Epiphany 3 - Morning
Isaiah 9. 1-4
Matt. 4. 12-23 3. 13-17

How many of you undertook a 'risk analysis' before coming to church this morning?

You might think "what a load of nonsense - of course I didn't bother with any of that!" - but I'd be prepared to bet that most of you did!

Because as soon as you cast an eye out of the window and look at the weather before deciding what to wear, whether to walk to church or take the car, whether to bring an umbrella - whether to wear one jumper or two - depending on how long you think I might be preaching this am… as soon as you have done any one of those things, you are, in effect carrying out a 'risk-analysis' - thinking of the likely outcomes and possible consequences; possible costs to yourself in terms of your comfort or energy.

Farmers (and for that matter those who make their living on or from the sea) are particularly skilled in this. In fact you might almost say it is 'born into them' - "Red sky at night, shepherds' delight ; red sky in the morning, sailors' warning" being just one popular expression that bears witness to the risk assessing abilities of those involved in agriculture or fishing. An old saying - 'old wives' tale ' some might say - yet we know that it is in fact based on sound scientific principles. Dust and water vapour in the air - in clouds - refracts the sunlight - especially when we see it at a low angle - leaving the red end of the spectrum more visible to the human eye. If we see a glorious red sunset, then the likelihood is that the clouds producing it will blow over and away by the morning - leaving the promise of a fine day. If on the other hand, the sun looks very red as it rises - then the clouds are with us in the sky and likely to deposit their rain on us during the day - maybe even form part of a storm. So ancient folk-lore and modern meteorological method have something in common.

Risk is an important part of life, something we all have to come to terms with. We all have to take risks of one kind or another. Crossing the road, experimenting with a new recipe, maybe changing our job - and what about choosing a life partner?! What could be more risky than that? Even though we dress it up and call it 'love at first sight'!

Anyone involved in education will know that detailed risk assessments have now to be completed before children can be taken out of school for the simplest of school visits - it is a great tribute to our teachers that most children still benefit from school trips away to adventure centres or places of cultural interest or sometimes abroad. Of course all parents want their children to be safe, but child psychologists have now come up with the astounding revelation (!) that children need a certain amount of risk in their lives if they are to grow up properly and be able to make logical, safe decisions. A society that is so risk averse that it tries to eliminate all risk is in danger (paradoxically) of damaging its future. When we look at the worst excesses of youth crime on our streets - maybe this is partly what we have already done. Young men and women seeking thrills and risking their own and others' lives because they have never really experienced a dangerous situation before?

Following Jesus is a risky business. Jesus himself knew just how risky. Those whom he called had no promise of success or fame or even a roof over their heads. In fact, the probability was that they would lack all three!

Jesus himself took many risks. Going out into the desert to fast and wrestle with his adversary, the devil, was pretty risky. And yet it was in visiting the towns and cities of Israel that he ran the greatest risk of being arrested by the authorities and suffering the same fate as his cousin John the Baptiser.

Jesus began his ministry in Galilee - a pretty cosmopolitan area, a known haunt of hotheads and rabble-rousers - yet also perhaps the sort of area where there were more likely to be people used to hearing new and radical ideas discussed.

And in choosing simple folk - fishermen and outcasts like Matthew the tax-collector - for his disciples Jesus was also taking a pretty big risk. How did he know that they would respond? That they would 'lay down their nets and follow him"?

But of course, fishermen know well what it is to take risks. They still do today, and certainly did then, on the treacherous Sea of Galilee with its sudden storms and squalls that could blow up seemingly from nowhere and catch a small defenceless fishing boat very unawares. Was the risk of giving up all this to become one of Jesus' followers and disciples a greater or a lesser one? What criteria would we use to determine this? Do we, indeed, regard it as still a risk to follow Jesus where he calls us to be? And if we don't, is this a problem?

What risks do we need to take as churches as we step out of our comfort zones? After so long of waiting for people to come into our churches, might we do better to take the risk of going outside these walls to where people really are? After all, that is exactly what Jesus did. And in this week of Christian Unity, how many of us will risk exploring what another church, another tradition might have to give us? To enrich our understanding of and Worship of God?

There are some risks worth taking and there are some risks we need to take - stepping out boldly in faith. Jesus gave his disciples risky tasks: teaching, proclaiming, and caring. Giving reality and shape to this. is how we define Mission in our churches today. Jesus called the impetuous enthusiastic (but not always very sensible ) Peter and he also called his brother Andrew - who certainly in the early days was very adept at bringing people to Jesus; his brother, other disciples, the boy with the loaves and fishes and later still a group of Greeks who wanted to learn from Jesus. Andrew is so often the one who brings others to Christ - which may be one reason that he is traditionally associated with the Church's Mission to the world. And the Mission of the Church is the mission of Christ - summed up in these five 'Marks of Mission' :-

To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
To respond to human need by loving service
To seek to transform unjust structures of society
To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth
(Bonds of Affection-1984 ACC-6 p49, Mission in a Broken World-1990 ACC-8 p101)
What is Jesus calling us to do this morning? How risky will it get?

 26th January 2014 - Epiphany - Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs

Address for Plough Sunday - Evening

If there is a time for everything - how appropriate for the farming year! Plough Sunday - can be any appropriate Sunday.... Today less critical when ploughing can take place at any time from Autumn through to the following Spring? But this was the traditional time. When the land was well watered (!) When the frosts had worked on the rocks and soil to break it down. And before the time for sowing - seeds are still dormant (try telling that to the bulbs in the garden!)
'What gain have the workers from their toil?' - at this point becomes obvious written by a scholar and not by a farmer!

But if God puts a sense of past and future into our minds, then ploughing and sowing and reaping are part of that story and rhythm And there is something good and God-given about the sense of timing and 'rightness'.
Jesus - in rising from the dead - gives us new birth into a living hope. Farming relies on the cycles of birth and death and re-birth. Seeds are buried in the ground in order to bring forth their yield - be it 5, 10, 30 or 60-fold.

We can attempt to sow without preparing the ground. Simply broadcast the seed and trust to luck what comes up. Something will - that is the wonder and mystery of creation. But by ploughing the land we become co-creators with God in the enterprise of creation.... when we ensure that the seed falls into the best possibly growing medium, we are working not against but with nature and with the Divine Will.

How do we prepare the soil of our own lives? How can we ensure that God's words find the best medium in which to grow and flourish and yield the best result? How can we ensure that we serve not ourselves, but God in all that we do and say? Through our labour, what will be good news for those around us? In our families, among our friends, in our community, in our industry and land?

It is said that when the nations turn to God they will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

They will give up war ….…and turn to farming. That would be good news indeed….

Millions of people around the world would say "Amen" to that:
Hungry people, people displaced from land and homes by war, people bereaved by war, disfigured, mutilated or traumatised by war.

The plough is a symbol of peace and prosperity.

But even without war there is not much peace in our world.
Not much peace for the stressed out executive who has to keep hitting targets.
Not much peace for the young couple working long hours to pay huge mortgage debts, longing for the luxury of giving up work for long enough to bring a child into the world.
Not much peace for the student leaving university with a debt that forces her to choose a career on the basis of financial reward, rather than vocation.

Not even much peace for the ploughman. (and today we better add, the ploughwoman)
Any romantic notion of 'time to stand and stare' is far from fact.
Reality is the weather and the bills and the low prices.
Reality is calculating the effects of Single Farm Payments, guessing prices in advance and deciding the optimum stocking levels.
Reality is environmental hoops to be set by Government bureaucrats
and the fear that Farmer will be spelt PARK RANGER,
Reality is deciding whether it's worth all the trouble.

Yes, Farmers do stress as well as anybody. ….Better than most.

But at least growing food is more a part of the solution than the problem.
A Plough Sunday is better than a Sword Sunday.
If I can't sleep I would rather think of children being fed
than children being maimed.

Food mountains might be an embarrassment
but weapons stockpiles are an obscenity.
People excuse all sorts of questionable activities at work
by saying it 'puts food on the table'.
Farmers can say that with honesty,
so we ask God to bless their work this year.

We thank God for giving us a time of ploughing, and sowing and reaping.
And we ask his blessing on all those who help Farmers through the stresses of modern farming.