What’s in a name?

I wonder if you know what your name means? I do, because I’ve got it on a keyring – a keyring which my brother brought back from his Year 6 school trip because he knew how fed up I was that named things – pens, badges, etc – never seemed to have *my* name, but always had his.

Names matter. They are an important part of who we are. When we are baptised, we are baptised by name, as Vince will be this morning. Names matter because who we are matters – matters to us, and to our families and friends, and matters to God.

When you arrived this morning, you were given a card which says “God says _____ I have called you by name” with a space for you to write your name. I invite you to do that now and, if you want, to decorate that card, perhaps with things that reflect who you are.

“God says _______ I have called you by name.”

Today we celebrate Mary Magdalen, and our gospel reading today includes my favourite story about her. When she meets with the risen Jesus, she doesn’t recognise him… until he calls her by her name. And then – straight away – she knows who this is who knows her name, knows who she really is, and she knows who he really is too – “Rabbouni”, teacher.

Because God knows more than just our names. God knows who we really are, and when we say that God calls us by name, we mean that God calls us as our true, God-created selves, whoever we are. We have been thinking about this at Ark lately, as you can see in our new display.

“Whoever you are, you are loved by God and you are welcome here.”

Who we are can be a complex thing. Our identity may be composed of many layers of meaning. For me, nobody captures this better than TS Eliot in his poem “The Naming of Cats”:

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey–
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter–
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum-
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover–
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Effanineffable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

Sometimes the names we are called are not who we really are. When we are called names on the playground, or on social media, when we are given labels which don’t fit, when we are called by cruel, unpleasant, untrue names, it hurts. Many trans people are deeply hurt and damaged by being called by names and pronouns which aren’t right for them, which don’t fit the gender they really are, don’t reflect their true self – and the church is very far from blameless in this.

Names matter. Identity matters. Our deepest, truest identity is found in who we are in Christ. That is what we celebrate in baptism. Today as he is baptised, we celebrate Vince’s identity, both as a unique individual, created and loved by God, and as a member of the Body of Christ. All of us are invited to join in the responses during the baptism liturgy as a reminder that this is our identity too – fellow members of the Body of Christ, each of our individual selves, our gifts and calling, contributing something vital to the true identity of the Body of Christ.

So I invite you to take away your name card, put it either in a bag or pocket, or somewhere you will see it often at home, and consider it further. Go deeper than your “everyday name” to ponder, like the cats in the poem, who you truly are, your own “deep and inscrutable singular name”, known perhaps only to you and to God. Reflect not only on what it means for God to know your name and call you by it, but also on what it means for you that God knows who you truly are, God knows your whole being, and loves you, loves you immeasurably, exactly who you are.

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“It’s what’s inside that counts” – a sermon

Readings: 2 Corinthians 4.13-5.1, Mark 3.20-35

I have two parcels here – one huge and beautifully wrapped, one small and a bit scruffy, wrapped in newspaper. I wonder what’s inside them? I wonder how they will help us think about today’s Bible readings?

In today’s Gospel passage, we have this intriguing image of Jesus’ family trying to get to him, to stop him doing what he’s doing. Essentially, it’s his Mum coming to tell him to come home and stop making such a fool of himself. We are told “they went out to restrain him, for people were saying: “He has gone out of his mind.”” People were saying – what we see here is Jesus’ family’s concern for his (and probably their own) reputation.

But Jesus is not concerned about what people are saying about him. He is concerned with doing the will of God. And that is what he calls his followers to as well: “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Jesus is not concerned with external appearances, he is concerned with what’s going on inside – with the orientation of the heart towards God, and with the actions that spring from that.

It’s a theme we see picked up by Paul in his letter to the church at Corinth. “We look not at what can be seen, but at what cannot be seen.” Again, it’s about caring more about what’s inside – the unseen – than the outside things we can see.

Speaking of what’s inside – let’s open these presents. [Large, beautifully wrapped box contains single sweet, small scruffy newspaper parcel contains packet of sweets.]

We know that what someone, or something, looks like on the outside doesn’t necessarily tell us what it’s really like on the inside. Jesus knew that. God, who knows us inside and out, knows that there is more to any of us than the world sees.

And Jesus demonstrates that in his own life and teaching. In this passage, as so often, it is clear that Jesus doesn’t care what people think of him, even when those people include his own family. It’s a theme we see recurring again and again through the gospels. Jesus doesn’t care what people look like, whether they’re part of the ‘in crowd’ or what other people think of who he hangs around with.

When we turn from the pressure of external concerns, and turn towards God’s will, we are freed, liberated, to be fully the people God calls us to be, living to God’s glory. We do God’s will when we are more concerned for building God’s kingdom than we are for our own reputation. We do God’s will when we care more about serving others than about what others think of us. We do God’s will when we speak out against injustice even if we know it’s going to make us unpopular.

“We also believe and so we speak,” says Paul in our reading. But how often do we believe and not speak? How often do we know something needs to change, but not want to speak up because we’re worried about what others think, or we don’t want to be the ones to stick our necks out and say something.

The church has very often been far too concerned with what people think, focussing more on the seen than the unseen. At it’s most extreme, that is what we see in the terrible cases of child abuse, covered up to protect the reputation of the church, and with it the perpetrators. The process of repentance and change which has been a very necessary response to that is still ongoing. It is out of that process that we have developed our current commitment to safeguarding, including the formation or our Safeguarding Team, and a commitment to regular and thorough training for all volunteers.

But at its less extreme, the church’s concern with external appearances results in  new, perhaps God-given ideas never getting off the ground because “what will people think?” or “it’s just not how we do things?” And of course that’s not limited to the church – it’s a situation which I’m sure most of us can recognise from any workplace, school or organisation.

We live in a world which is very concerned with external appearances. I wonder if you ever worry about what people think of you? Whether you’re cool? How many likes you’re getting on snapchat or twitter? I think most of us do at some level.

But we are called by Jesus to live a different way, freed from the tyranny of “people are saying”, to do the will of God, to live in ways which reveal the glory of God and draw others to Jesus.

This week on Twitter, the brilliant American Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber said: “Let us not confuse the wrapping with the gift.” That is the message I want us to take away from these readings. Let us see beyond the ‘wrappings’ to the gift of God within each person – ourselves included.

Amen.

“And a little child shall lead them…” – reflecting on children’s participation at On Fire Mission

A few weeks ago, I went, as I do every year, to On Fire Mission Conference. There was the usual superb blend of the catholic and the charismatic, the spirit-filled and the sacramental, inspiring teaching and life-giving worship. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone, and booking is now open for next year’s conference…

But this year there was something else: children! I brought a box of resources, several parents brought their pre-school children (aged 10 months to 3 years), and God did something rather extraordinary. There were more fabulous, breath-taking, very-obviously-of-God moments than I can mention individually, but here are my reflections on the experience as a whole: 

 

When one of the speakers at Conference asked us to consider “where have you seen God’s glory alive and active this week?” my answer was obvious: here, on this rug on the floor at the front of the hall. The presence of children at Conference has revealed something more of God’s glory, something more of what it is to be fully alive in Christ, which could not have been revealed in an all-adult gathering.

Five years ago at Conference, I very clearly heard a word from God: “renewal, starting with children.” Just that. At the time, it didn’t make much sense. It has since been hugely significant in my own vocational journey, but now I realise that it could be important for On Fire as a whole as well. At the time I had a sense that the next wave of renewal (in a sacramental context, at least) would come from children – not from children’s work, or from adults ministering among children, but from children themselves, and the Holy Spirit working through them. At the time, it seemed too far-fetched even to talk about, except to a few. After experiencing this year’s Conference, it doesn’t seem far-fetched at all.

One of the greatest joys of this year’s Conference was the spontaneity with which the children engaged  with worship, and the way in which that drew in adults (including some of the more unlikely ones) to play and worship alongside them.

Play, as an aspect of worship and of spiritual life, seemed to me to be one of the gifts the children brought. I wonder how God might be calling us to develop our playfulness, and how that connects with what it means for us to be a sacramental and charismatic community? There is lots more that could be said about play as a gift of the Spirit, and about the sacramental dimension of play. Playing with God could certainly be an aspect of what it means to be “Called to Holiness” (next year’s conference theme).

Another dimension which I felt that the children brought to our worship was a greater freedom and spontaneity. They were, by and large, engaged with almost every aspect of worship but engaged very much on their own terms, which is exactly as it should be. Whether that was searching for sheep-themed stories and toys during the sermon, blowing bubbles for the intercessions, or lying on the floor to wait on the Spirit, it was apparent that they were participating in a shared encounter with God. More importantly, they were doing so as their authentic selves, not constrained by adult ideas of what worship should be like.

It seemed that children and adults together created a sort of ‘virtuous circle’. Because of the sense of openness already present in our worship at Conference – including the relaxed attitude of those presiding, preaching and otherwise leading worship – the children felt able to be fully themselves before God. Because of the freedom, spontaneity and playfulness demonstrated by the children, the adults (some of them at least) felt able to worship more freely themselves.

This was expressed most noticeably by adults ‘borrowing’ bubbles, ribbons, shakers, toys, etc and using them not ‘for the children’ but for their own worship. It was also evident in those adults who chose to join the children on the floor and/or to join in with their play and worship. These tendencies among the adults definitely increased as the week progressed, and they became less inhibited. It would be interesting to see what effect it would have if it were explicitly made clear at the start of Conference that things like bubbles and ribbons can be used by all ages, and that all are welcome to stand/sit/lie on the floor/dance/move around as they choose. I wonder what sort of holy chaos might ensue?!

Tied in with this freedom and authenticity in worship, I sense that God was showing us something important about what it means to be “Anointed for Action” (this year’s conference theme). It was evident in the children – and is equally true for all of us – that their vocation and anointing does not lie primarily in a particular action or ministry, but in being fully and truly their God-created selves. That is something which many of us adults find it hard to grasp about ourselves, and the lived example of the children among us could perhaps help us to understand it beyond any verbal, adult-led teaching on the subject. This might lead us to reflect on the balance between didactic and experiential elements to what we offer at Conference, and in the church more widely?

I feel that the presence of children at Conference this year has been an important turning point for On Fire (and perhaps the church more broadly). Again, as so often before, the phrase “renewal, starting with children” came back to me, but this time with the conviction that this is what it looks like, or at least the first steps of it, and that this is the direction in which God is calling us to travel.

I hope and pray that we can be brave enough to follow this call (in ways which will almost certainly require us to give up some of our adult illusions of being in control), trusting in the Holy Spirit and in what she is doing through the children in our midst.

 

Church ‘upside down’: what if…

Sometimes you read a blog post (or an article, or a book…) which makes you just want to yell “YES!!! This!!! This is what the church needs to hear, this is what the church needs to be.” For me, Rev’d Al Barrett’s post “Church ‘outside in’: what if…” is one such post.

But I want to go a step further. I want to ask another “what if…” question: what if, as well as being turned ‘outside in’, the church were to be turned ‘upside down’?

Regular readers of this blog will be unsurprised to hear that what I’m thinking about here is the position of children in the church. Al writes: “I have a hunch there’s something significant here about children too.” Too right! But I’d go further. I have a hunch that in re-imagining the church ‘outside-in’, in dreaming of an ecclesiology which radically disrupts the accepted flow of power, we need to start with children.

Church is adult-centred. Church is built on the assumption that adults are better, stronger, more mature, more knowledgeable, wiser, more capable than children. Church is (in common with most of society) a structure which creates what adults need – or what it believes adults need – and then (hopefully) tries to fit children in, either by adding something on, or by adapting the ‘adult stuff’ to include them.

Some churches are more obviously like this than others. Some may be reading this and thinking “not my church, surely not!” If that’s you, I would ask you: who is your furniture designed for? whose head-hight are your notice boards at? who is on your PCC (or equivalent)? who wrote your last parish profile? I’m guessing it’s not children.

Some churches are very good at including children. That is not the same as centring children.

What would a truly child-centred church look like? I don’t know. Sometimes I am fortunate enough to catch glimpses of it, bubbling away beneath the adult veneer of “church”. I’d like to get closer to finding out what it could really be like. In the meantime, here are some of my “what if”s…

What if adults viewed and treated children as spiritual equals? A lot of churches and a lot of adult Christians have (thankfully) moved beyond seeing children’s contributions as “cute” to realising that God speaks to us profoundly through the words and actions of the children God has placed in our midst. But is there a danger that “deep” has become the new “cute”? That rather than adorable soundbites we are now looking for profound soundbites from our children. When we really see someone as an equal disciple, a fellow-pilgrim, we look holistically at who they are – not just what they can teach us or what we can teach them. What if relationships between adults and children within the church were less about who can teach what to whom, and more about what we can all learn together from, and about, God? More about being-together, more about recognising God in each other and in the space between us.

What if children, including the youngest children, shaped the worship of the church? I am very fortunate that my worship is often, to some extent, shaped by the children with whom I worship. Recently, I was worshiping in a predominantly adult congregation, alongside a 10 month old friend. He was lying on the floor watching an older child blowing bubbles during a contemplative part of the service. So was I. When the service moved on, I thought we should sit up and ‘join in’ – but he didn’t (and, as he was lying on me, nor did I). That part of the worship hadn’t finished for him yet, and he didn’t feel compelled to move on when everyone else did. If worship was shaped by children, I think the whole pace and tone would be very different – freer, less constrained, more chaotic, more ready follow the promptings of the spirit, and in less of a hurry to explain or put into words the mysterious experience of the Divine.

What if we all became a bit more like children? It’s what Jesus says – “unless you change and become like one of these little ones, you will never enter the kingdom”. But we adults find that change so very hard to make. Perhaps it is because children don’t value the things we have come to value – intelligence, experience, knowledge, power, privilege, responsibility… And if we don’t have those things, those ways of measuring ourselves (and others) how will we know who we are? We’ll have to fall back on the realisation that who we are is nothing to do with any of that after all – that being human is being made and loved by God, in God’s image. Full stop. Which is, of course, exactly what we need…

What if we cared less about adult ways of doing things? “Am I doing this right?” is a question which occupies a lot of our time as adults, and one which we impose on children at an alarmingly young age. But if you look at my 10 month old friend lying on the floor in the middle of worship, I’m pretty sure it’s a question that has never crossed his mind (and long may that continue). I also see little or no evidence that it is a question with which God is greatly concerned.

What if the church could let go of its adult anxieties and embrace uncertainty? “But we can’t do that – it would lead to chaos” is one of the objections I hear most about any steps to make the church more child-centred. I suspect it is a frequent objection to anything which disrupts the flow of power. Sometimes I have made changes which lead to chaos. More often I have been too afraid or too constrained by expectations. We need more of the holy, God-revealing chaos which shatters our illusions of being in control.

What if all this was reflected in the structure of the church? Returning to the original topic of Al’s blog post, I reckon an ‘upside down’ church would necessarily be an ‘outside in’ church as well. Among the many criticisms which could be leveled at the current ‘inside out’ model, it is very definitely an ‘adult’ way of being. I can’t see relationships which flow from “the powerful”, from “the centre” outwards, having any place in a church which takes seriously Jesus’ teaching about the place of children in the kingdom.

Church, at its best, puts Jesus in the centre. And Jesus, in one of his clearest pieces of teaching, puts a child in our midst, and tells us “change, and become like this”. A church which truly followed that teaching, a child-like, child-centred (dare we even imagine child-led) church, would radically disrupt the structures of power within and beyond the church. It would break down all our adult-centred notions, of “them and us”, of “how things are done”, of “what works” and “what’s possible”. It would tell a new story, sing a new song, about who we are and who God is. It would be a Magnificat sort of church – raising the humble, putting down the proud, and proclaiming the glory of God.

Come, Holy Spirit…..

“Abide in me” – a sermon for Easter 5

“Abide in me” says Jesus, “as I abide in you.” And he uses this striking image of the vine and its branches.

What does it mean to abide in Jesus?

‘Abide’ is an interesting word. It’s not just about being friends with Jesus, or spending time with him. It’s something deeper, more rooted and grounded, more intimate than that. The branches of the vine are not just close it, they are part of it, just as we are part of the body of Christ.

And what does it mean to abide in the risen Jesus?

“We are an Easter people and alleluia is our song.”

What does it mean to abide in Easter, to dwell in the resurrection, to know ourselves to be part of the risen Christ? One of the things I think being an Easter people must mean is that we make ‘alleluia’ our song in all things – in times of difficulty or sorrow or grief, as well as in the more obvious alleluia moments. Because in all those darker times, Jesus is still risen, we are still an Easter people.

I noticed this year that the ‘alleluia’ banner which the children made at Ark has sad faces on as well as happy ones. I was surprised by that at first, but perhaps I shouldn’t be. It speaks to me of a God who is as present and as risen in our pain as in our joy.

Easter, as we know, is not just a day, but a season. Perhaps that is because we need time to discover how to abide in it, to know the resurrection as a state of being rather than an historical event, to know the risen Jesus whose body we are part of.

We need time to learn what it is to be an Easter people, because alleluia is not always an easy song to sing. When we hear terrible, shocking news like we heard this morning, we may not feel much like singing alleluia. When we see friends or family suffering, when we ourselves suffer, through bereavement or bullying, mental or physical illness, it can be hard to feel like an Easter people. When we look at the world around us and see unjust immigration laws, and underfunded schools, and countries poised on the brink of war, and people going without food when others have so much, we may not feel much like singing at all.

But we sing alleluia because we have Good News to share. And that good news – that perfect love not only casts out fear, but has already overcome all evil, even death, in the resurrection of Jesus – is good news forever. It is good news which doesn’t depend on the circumstances, which doesn’t fade or change, even when everything else around us seems to be changing.

Jesus is risen still bearing his wounds. We, his body, participate in the resurrection still bearing our wounds. Being an Easter people, with ‘alleluia’ as our song, is not about “making it all ok”, and certainly not about pretending it’s all ok when it isn’t. Rather it is about a deep transformation towards God-reliant life in all its fullness, a transformation which can only be brought about by the Holy Spirit, abiding in us as Jesus has promised.

As we are transformed by abiding in Jesus, so we transform the world by abiding in it as the body of Christ. That is why we must live out the resurrection in ways which bring hope and show love, sharing our alleluia song.

We are the body of Christ, a risen body, bearing the marks of suffering, the wounds and the scars, but redeemed even in our brokenness and grief by the glory of God’s Holy Spirit abiding in us. It is only from that place of ongoing, lived transformation and resurrection that we are able to sing, and to keep singing: alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

 

Justice, love, and bananas – a sermon for Mothering Sunday

A sermon on Mark 7.24-30.

Happy Mothering Sunday! Or, perhaps not. For some, this is a happy day, when we celebrate and thank our mothers, and tell them how much we love them. For some of us, it’s a sad day, when we mourn mothers or children who are no longer with us. For some of us, it’s uncomfortable day, when we feel we don’t fit in, or can’t participate, for a whole host of reasons. All of that is part of Mothering Sunday, because all of that, the whole range of human emotion, is part of the way people relate to each other.

But if you look at the card displays in the shops, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s all – Mothering Sunday, relationships between mothers and children, between any of us – all much simpler, fluffier and more two-dimensional than that. You could be forgiven for thinking that being a mother is all about cooking the dinner, cleaning the house, enjoying a glass or two of wine and – above all – being the “Perfect Mum”, “Best Mummy Ever”, just like all the cards say.

Hopefully we can all see beyond those stereotypes, can all recognise that mothering, whether it’s done by our biological mothers or others, is very much more than that.

Certainly today’s gospel reading should challenge any twee images of motherhood, along with any lingering ideas that ‘Biblical womanhood’ is something meek, submissive, or bland. Here we see a woman, a mother, challenging a man – challenging Jesus himself – and standing up for her child. It’s a risky thing to do. But she’s prepared to take that risk, to make herself vulnerable, in order to stand up for justice, and for the daughter she loves. She’s brave, she’s feisty, and she’s not about to take any rubbish from anyone.

I want to tell you about another mother, who perhaps has something in common with the Syrophonecian woman. This week is Fairtrade Fortnight, and the woman I want to tell you about is a Fairtrade Farmer called Rosemary. She’s a 43 year old widow with 3 children, and she grows bananas. This is what she has to say about Fairtrade:

Being a single parent, a permanent employment contract and a secure income is incredibly important to me and my children.

Fairtrade has changed a lot, Women and men now have the same rights. There are regular working hours, fixed leave days, and significantly improved safety regulations. It is especially important for the women workers, as they were often not aware of their rights. Now they are much stronger than before.

I am happy and proud that my sons have been able to study. Fairtrade has had a very positive impact not only on our working conditions, but also on our family life,

Rosemary, like the woman in our gospel story, is involved in standing up for justice for herself and her children. For both mothers, their willingness to speak out, to stand up for their children, and to seek justice for them, is part of how they show their love for their children. It’s all a long way from your typical Mother’s Day card, isn’t it?

But it’s not a long way from the love of God – not at all. In God’s kingdom, love and justice are very closely connected indeed. “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice,” says God through the prophet Isaiah. “Let justice roll down like waters,” says Amos. And the prophet Micah couldn’t be clearer: “What does the Lord require of you? Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God.” Jesus himself is very often shown standing up for the people who find themselves on the receiving end of injustice.

Commanded by God, with Jesus as our example, we are called to justice, to make justice part of the way we love our neighbour. But how? The injustices which surround us can seem too huge to know how to start tackling them: poverty, homelessness, violence, inequality, discrimination. But we can and must do our part to stand up for justice, like the two mothers we have heard about today.

One of the ways we can do that is by supporting movements like Fairtrade which, as we have seen, make a huge difference to farmers like Rosemary and their families and communities. But there is still a very long way to go before all the people who produce our food live in the conditions we would want for our neighbours. We all have a part to play in seeking justice through the choices we make when we buy food and other things.

Another way we can make seeking justice part of the way we love is by speaking out against unjust situations. Many people in our local community are speaking out at the moment against plans to close our local children’s centres. Many are mothers, many are not, all are driven by care, concern, love for local children and families, and a desire to see a just allocation of resources, especially for the most vulnerable families.

“Let justice roll down like waters.” Our small attempts to make the world more just may seem tiny, not enough to make a difference. But if justice is to roll down like waters, an ever-living stream, then that stream of water must be made up of a million tiny droplets – each of our individual actions and prayers joining together to become an unstoppable force, a tidal wave of grace, the kingdom of God breaking through.

Amen.

Recognising Jesus – a sermon for Candlemas

What is the longest you have ever had to wait for something? How does it feel to wait for a long time? How do you feel when that long-awaited thing is finally here?

Now picture Simeon, in the temple. He had been waiting years and years for what he had been promised by God – that he would see the Messiah. And now, at last, the moment had come. Among all the crowds, all the other parents bringing their new babies to the temple, Simeon saw the one he had been waiting for, that one special baby, Jesus, the Messiah.

There is a moment, a moment of recognition, when Simeon looks into the face of this little baby, and sees God. We don’t know exactly what it was he recognised, what divine spark he saw, how the holy spirit spoke to him in that moment. But that moment of recognition is key – it’s key to today’s celebration of Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple – but it’s also the first of a series of moments in the gospels when people recognise Jesus for who he really is.

Peter: “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Martha: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah.” Mary Magdalen: “I have seen the Lord.” Doubting Thomas: “My Lord and my God.” (Not-so-doubting anymore.)

Perhaps you can relate to those moments of recognition. I wonder if you can think of a time when you have recognised Jesus? Or realised something about who Jesus is? Maybe a sudden “aha” moment, or maybe the slow dawning realisation that Jesus is who he says he is; the son of God, the Messiah, God made flesh, God with us, the Light of the World.

Today we celebrate the recognition of Jesus as “a light to reveal God to the nations”. But the light, and the revelation of that light, doesn’t stop there. Each of us in our baptism is given the light of Christ, and we must take seriously our call as the body of Christ to “shine as lights in the world to the glory of God”.

[Light candles from central candle.]

The light spreads and multiplies, and the more light there is, the more we can shine God’s light in a world which often seems rather dark and dismal, the greater the chance of people seeing that light and recognising it for what it is.

Jesus became like us – “flesh and blood”, as we heard in our first reading – so that we can recognise him in his divine human body, and recognise the divinity in our own fragile humanity, the spark of God’s Holy Spirit in each of us.

It may be hard to recognise ourselves – and each other – as bearers of the divine image, made and known and loved by God, carriers of the Christ-light, filled with the Holy Spirit. But that is the reality. And until we learn to recognise ourselves as who we truly are in Christ, we will find it very hard to show others who Christ truly is in us.

There is a wonderful moment in an episode of Dr Who, where the Doctor asks “who’s that?” and receives the reply “no-one important”. His response is brilliant: “in 900 years of time and space, I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important.”

It can be tempting to think of ourselves as “not important”, not clever enough, not old enough, not good enough. But that’s not true. You are important. You do matter. You matter so much to the God who created the whole universe that he was born as a vulnerable baby, lived a very human life, died and rose again, for you – so that you can know how loved you are and how important you are. The truth is, each of us is vitally important in God’s plan for the salvation and transformation of the world. Each of us has a role to play, a calling to fulfil.

We may recognise Jesus in many places and people, in ways that amaze or challenge us. I know I have done, and will no doubt go on doing so. But we must also learn to recognise Jesus in ourselves, in the work of the Holy Spirit in each of us. Recognising God – in ourselves, in the world around us, in the sound of sheer silence, and in the busyness of life in all its fullness – is the work of a lifetime. May God give us grace to recognise those glimpses of glory. Amen.