Gracious God, give us faith to perceive his glory, that being strengthened by his grace, we may be changed into his likeness, Amen
Why is it that when you phone companies today there is a bewildering selection of numbers you can press to supposedly access the service you are looking for? Recently we had to contact one such place and it was, well you know the drill: press one for this, press two for that, press three for something else, and press four for all other options. But then none of the above seems correct or makes any sense; so you press to listen to the selection again, and you are still no clearer. Or you press two and after listening to a whole series of people speaking very fast about new stuff or how you can visit their website to solve all the reasons why you might be calling in the first place, you finally get to speak to someone who tells you that they will put you through to another department (the implication being - you pressed the wrong number).
Not many of us undergo suffering willingly, not many of us enjoy being rejected, yet Jesus allowed this and more, his death on the cross, to happen to him, in obedience to God and for the sake of the world. Perhaps it is a result of suffering or being rejected, that we long to feel included.
The hope is that one place where we can feel included is in the Church. At our Council Meeting on Tuesday night Doni, our outgoing Warden, asked us to think of a word or phrase that best summed up our experience of Epiphany.
Here were some … inclusive, friendship, home, family, spiritual home, vocation, welcome, new beginnings, my sweet home, always there, and a humorous one: have I checked my e-mail.
Being part of the church clearly matters and for this, we should be very grateful. For our community, our church, should make us feel at home, and welcome, and it should be a place of new beginnings. And of course, our church is not so much our building, our poor old, dilapidated building, especially now, when we cannot meet there, but it is the people; those who come on-line or by phone, as well as those who come in-person when services are permitted.
When I arrived at Epiphany the main thing that impressed me was the welcome we received from people and a sense that we could work together.
For it is the people that make all the difference at Epiphany, those who have made their spiritual home at that funny-looking church at the corner of 148th and 105A. It is for some, our church across the street, or our church from wherever we live in Surrey, or our church for people like me, who live a long way away. Well that was until Zoom, as now people on Sunday come from the Island or the United Kingdom, and they are part of our congregation, and able to join us because of Zoom, because of the pandemic.
At Bible Study, on Wednesday afternoon we got a bit stuck with Abram, who became Abraham, who at the grand old age of 99 was about to be a father again. I suggested that perhaps we should not take his age as being factual. As we may remember Abram and Sarai hoped for a child and they waited and waited and no child was forthcoming. However, now this couple is given the wonderful news that they are to be parents. It wasn’t the last time an older couple, who had hoped, finally found themselves expecting. Zachariah and Elizabeth (a cousin to Mary the mother of Jesus) waited and hoped, and hoped and waited before their son, John, later John the Baptist, was promised to them. The advanced age of both couples in part recognizes their faithfulness and obedience to God, which in turn was part of why they hoped and waited, waited and hoped.
This passage also describes a change of name for both, itself a sign of something important happening.
We all identify with our names, which sometimes we like or sometimes we don’t. But it is one of the things we don’t get to choose in life; our parents get this privilege. It is according to one commentator (Webb) a very intimate part of our identity, we are, largely, our names.
In the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, a name change represents a radical change: so Jacob becomes Israel (a name for which the nation has been known for generations), and Saul becomes Paul.
So, says our commentator, as Abram and Sarai become Abraham and Sarah, their whole lives, identity and sense of call are changed.
God makes a covenant with both Abraham and Sarah, the second such covenant in Hebrew Scripture, the first being with Noah. They are named as righteous before God in receiving their new names, and God promises they will the forebears of many nations.
As males would be circumcised from this time on, so in baptism Christians are named for God, for Christ. As we are marked with the sign of the cross, as God’s own, it is a physical sign of our true identities.
Central to the gospel passage from Mark today is the focus on the cross. In our Church, we have a very tangible reminder of what a cross was. But it is hard to fully realize that the cross was a means to end a person’s life in the most cruel and painful way. The cross was intended to a slow means to execute a person.
A cross (used for execution) was placed outside the city where the death was intended to be a public event, to act as a deterrent from those who might see the consequences of breaking the law (that is watching a person die while hanging from a cross)
The reason we mark the three hours of Good Friday is to remind us that Jesus spent perhaps as long as three hours nailed to the cross.
When Jesus speaks of ‘for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel’ this relates to those for whom Mark wrote, namely those who faced terrible consequences for taking the name Christian. This is all about loyalty to Jesus.
After our service today we join together for our Annual Meeting, called Vestry. It is an opportunity to reflect and give thanks for the year that has just ended. We take stock, formally elect our Council, look at our finances, and in part chart our future course.
We have so much to be thankful for when it comes to the common life of this parish. Many people give sacrificially of their time, their skills and their resources. Without all that dedicated work we could not be the church we are today and become the church we can be tomorrow.
Have we got everything right, no not yet? Do we make mistakes, yes at times we do? Are we committed to making life and witness better all the time; yes we are. As our Council members shared the one evening, a question posed by one of the great leaders, Epiphany is to us: inclusive, friendship, home, family, spiritual home, vocation, welcome, new beginnings, my sweet home, always there, and I for one, hope it always will be.