Finding your piece/peace

Notes from Alison’s sermon
Readings 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a & Luke 4:14-21

Each person was given a piece of a jigsaw.Each piece fits together with the others in this church to make an entire picture. If one piece is missing, the picture is incomplete. No piece is more important than another piece, all are needed to make the whole. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, encourages them to take their place in the new church, forgetting old labels and honouring one another for what each brings to make the church whole.

How do we identify the piece of the jigsaw that we are holding,metaphorically, in this place, now? How could or should it be used? How can we know the part that God is giving each one of us to play in his church and his world, right here, right now?

We can look at the Gospel for some clues from the life of Jesus.We have heard in recent sermons of the events since the birth of Jesus. Jesus has been baptised, and has performed his first miracle at the wedding at Cana: today’s passage marks the beginning of his ministry.

The passage in Luke immediately before this morning’s tells the story of Jesus alone in the desert for 40 days, thinking about what his ministry will look like, spending time with God to discern his calling. It is quite hard to get your head around this, in that Jesus is fully human and fully God; however presumably at some point Jesus, as a fully human being, had to realise what his mission, as the long awaited Messiah, would be.

He has spent his childhood and early manhood in Nazareth, growing up in a village community and serving that community as a carpenter. But now it seems that the time has come for Jesus to start his teaching, preaching and healing: to start down the path that will lead to the salvation of all mankind. This is what he has discovered in the desert.

Last October Alison was fortunate enough to go to Israel, and as part of that trip she visited the Dead Sea, driving through the desert from Jerusalem. The reality of the desert didn’t correspond with the picture in Alison’s head of flat sand and the occasional oasis with palm trees.The rocky, mountainous desolate reality was scorching hot. It really helps us to imagine more clearly how Jesus might have felt as he spent time there, and the temptations he felt; to turn the stones to bread, to throw himself from a high point, or to take immediate earthly glory by ruling all the land spread out before him. But Jesus tests out these ideas in his time alone with God, and discerns his true path…

After his time in the desert, pondering his next steps, Jesus travelled home to Nazareth. It might have been quite a difficult transition, from being completely isolated from other people, in close and constant communion with God the father….and then to be thrust back into the noise and close human contact that “going home” often means.

Alison has been “home” this week, to Devon, to visit her parents, who still live in the house they moved to when she was three. Inevitably being back in her childhood home, back in the role of daughter and big sister, back in a place redolent with teenage memories, was sometimes somewhat discombobulating.Occasionally the current version of ourselves collides with past versions of ourselves, perhaps when we do not exactly behave in line with other people’s expectations of us. However the small shocks caused by the slight shifts and developments in our character can be as nothing to the seismic change that Jesus needed to declare to his erstwhile friends, family and neighbours!

We were encouraged to think of a time when we had to announce a big change in our lives to our unsuspecting nearest and dearest and to recall how that feels.Alison spoke of a couple of particular occasions on which she has experienced this, including when, having held the post of treasurer for several organisations (including for this church family) she felt called to serve in a new way.

She stepped from the role of treasurer into that of warden, intercessor, and now as preacher. Some people were no doubt surprised by these changes; it is hard to know that people are adjusting their vision of you. Have you made the right move?

Obviously we do not know how Jesus felt as he arrived in Nazareth to make his momentous declaration. We do know that he had taken the time to talk to God and to be sure of his path, resisting the temptation to take alternative, wrong routes. We too can receive that assurance of who we are meant to be by spending time alone with God, listening to his voice and testing our impulses.

To make his declaration, and to leave his listeners in absolutely no doubt, Jesus read from Isaiah in the synagogue:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

This is both a fantastic manifesto and, given that he follows up with the words

“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

It is completely unsurprising that following this declaration
“all eyes were fastened on him”. !!

The Jews had been waiting for centuries for the long prophesied Messiah: his arrival was foretold here in Isaiah. Now here was Joseph and Mary’s boy, someone they had lived and worked alongside for many years, claiming that the Messiah was him!

Alison can remember searching the scriptures a few years ago, looking for Jesus to explicitly state that he was God. She didn’t find the statement she was looking for at the time: she obviously did not read this passage then as she does now. She mentally put her question in a box on a shelf, trusting that one day she would understand. (she has a number of things still in boxes on that shelf!) This one however has been taken down and the Holy Spirit has shone some light on it: there can be no clearer declaration by Jesus that he is God’s promised saviour.

The words from Isaiah reminded Alison of this litany called “The Work of Christmas” composed by Howard Thurman, an African-American theologian, educator, and civil rights leader:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.

This sums up the arc we have travelled in the past few weeks: the movement between the story of Christmas, and the story that Jesus is calling us to be part of in today’s Gospel.

Alison prayed for us all this week that we should have three things:
• courage to ask God to show us the piece of the jigsaw that he is calling us to place in his service,
• discernment to choose the right words to share our message, once we understand what it is
• faith in each other, and in God’s plans, even when our brothers and sisters surprise us with their pronouncements!

God will give us the right piece, if we spend time with him in prayer and trust him; then God will give us deep peace in our hearts. Amen