Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Epiphany III - Mrs Lucy Gardner

Homily given by Mrs Lucy Gardner on Epiphany III, 23 January 2011. (Readings:Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 4-12; I Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23)


For all that it is wonderfully made

and contains much that can point us to its Maker,

our world is undoubtedly a murky place.

Distorted love – our own and others’ –

obscures what should be a breathtaking view.

As we allow all manner of good things to take God’s place in our lives,

those things block our view of God;

they themselves become only distorted shadows and silhouettes

which in turn cast shadows everywhere we try to look.

And because we see shades and shadows in every direction

we cast our neighbours as our enemies

and fail to see them as our brothers and sisters.

Insofar as we fail to love and worship God

as the source and goal of our lives,

insofar as we fail to love our neighbours as ourselves,

we are people who walk in darkness.

Insofar as we sin,

and we all do,

we do indeed dwell in the shadow of death.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Or you could say that we are fish,

who live in what should be a beautiful, crystal blue sea

which has been turned foul by the oily, cloying, grit-filled pollution of sin.

And yet, into these murky waters, the light of Christ has shone;

we have seen a great light;

and this shaft of light, as it hovers and swirls before us,

appears as a powerful stream

promising to carry us up out of the murk and shadows

into a cleaner, lighter, more vivid and more joyful place.

For some the promise is too fearful and we turn away,

preferring the well-known shadows

in which what we fear we have become

might lurk and hide, alongside very present,

but in some sense comfortingly well-known,

dangers and troubles,

to the startling, frightening, unknown, untried new light of life.

Many of us need more than a little persuading.

The bright light catches our attention,

but we fail to trust ourselves to the uplift of its current.

We need to be pushed and pulled and dragged into our own salvation.

To the fish struggling in poisoned waters,

to the fish already perishing,

the hook or the net does indeed appear as folly –

you might say

not so much “out of the frying pan into the fire”,

as “out of the boiling pot onto the plate”.

But for the fish being carried to cleaner, safer waters,

to the fish being saved,

the hook or the net is truly the power of life.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Christ goes fishing for souls;

and often the Church has been understood as his fishing boat,

the ark.

But if the Church is the community of those being redeemed,

it might be more helpful to see ourselves

as the fish who have been caught in the drag nets,

we are still being dragged through murky waters.

We do not always come quietly,

and we are not always grateful.

Often we are squirming and jumping,

bickering and quarrelling,

with ourselves, with each other and with God.

Which is a shame,

because as we jump around,

some of us will fall out the nets;

some of will be knocked out.


those of us who have been caught and drawn in

are commanded to go fishing in our turn;

we are instructed to bring others in.

But while we are quarrelling,

we cannot get on with the task

which will contribute to our salvation;

while we are jumping around,

not only will some of us fall out,

others will not be brought in.

And this is why Paul warns the Corinthians about

quarrelling and bickering over claims to be the true Church

in opposition to each other.

At a time when the Anglican Communion

seems to be straining against itself,

when parts of the Church of England

seem to be seething with argument and discontent,

when Churches and parts of Churches seem to be in competition with each other,

and when people are facing tricky and painful choices

about staying within or leaving the net of a particular church,

Paul’s warning is as pertinent as it is uncomfortable;

we are in an uncomfortable, sometimes murky place.

We should not be surprised, for

we cannot go fishing from the safety of the boat;

we are sent out,

and, like Christ himself, must plunge ourselves into the murky waters

and pursue our work there, carrying His light with us.

Since the Church is indeed divided

and does indeed descend into quarrelsomeness,

she often seems just as murky as

the polluted waters around her,

if not more so,

for where the light shines,

the shadows show up more clearly.

But we must not let the Church herself,

neither as a whole nor in her various parts,

take Christ’s place in our lives

and so blot out His light

that we fall into casting our fellow Christians as our enemies

and fail to see them as our brothers and sisters.

We need to get on with fishing,

with preaching the Gospel and serving the world,

learning to share Christ’s mind,

allowing him to draw us ever deeper into his light,

ever deeper into his love,

ever deeper into his mission and service,

just as we get on with drawing others in.

And we shall only be able to draw others in

if they can see that this light is indeed the power of life in us,

if we allow the power of Christ’s love to show in our lives,

and refuse to let it be shut out and obscured

by self-interest, rivalry and jealousy.

It is only this unity of purpose,

this sharing in Christ’s work and the love of Christ –

our love of Him but even moreso His love of us –

which will make us one in Him,

and never our efforts or intentions,

or beliefs or practices.

So, perhaps we should see the many churches

the many parts of Christ’s Church

as Christ’s many nets and fishing devices;

they might be thrown by Peter or Paul, by Apollos or Chloe,

or by any other of Christ’s followers,

but the nets are all Christ’s, thrown for Christ and in his work.

And so, when it comes to the rather tricky business

of choosing Churches,

and the more painful business

of choosing to stay in or depart from a Church,

or the equally painful business of watching others do so,

we should perhaps think not so much of heroes crossing rivers,

nor of traitors jumping ship,

but of so many fish jumping about in and between so many nets,

and of so many fishermen switching between so many different tools of the trade;

if all are following Christ,

then all are travelling in the same direction,

working in different ways on the same task.

We should bear in mind and pray that

choosing between churches

should never be a question

of where we might feel most comfortable

or most at home;

if churches are nets,

then they are simply not meant to be comfort zones;

the question for each of us to answer

is about where we feel called and drawn to be,

about where we shall be most able and most fully

to play our part in Christ’s work

of fishing souls out of the murky waters of sin.

To pray for the unity of the Church, as indeed we must, is to pray just this:

that each of our Christian brothers and sisters

will accept the particular grace that is offered to them

and find the place in and from which they can best serve Christ and thus be saved

and that we shall thereby all come to share together in Christ’s resurrection life.