Sermon from Sunday 15th January from Nicola Firth

Isaiah 49:1-7,  John 1:29-42

May I speak in the name of the Father, the son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

One of the things I have grown to love since becoming a Christian is the familiarity of the church calendar. Not a physical calendar with lovely pictures, helping me to organise my life and commitments, but the liturgical calendar that we journey through each year. The festivals keep us rooted in a sense of tradition and history.  As we mark the events, it helps us to remember and reflect and having the structure of the calendar keeps us on track and helps to stop the church from becoming distracted or unbalanced. The liturgical calendar’s purpose is to celebrate and understand the mystery of Jesus Christ and the expectation of His return in glory. Each liturgical year, we celebrate the entire life and paschal mystery of Jesus Christ.  

The Old Testament reading today is the 2nd reading from a group of 4 from Isaiah, called the servant songs. Written 700 years before the birth of Christ, they prophesy of his birth, life and ministry, telling the story of what is to come, in much the same way that our liturgical calendar draws us back to what has been.  As a whole, the book of Isaiah can be divided into 3 parts – the first part tells of the Good News, the second part announces that the time of salvation has come, and the 3rd part is divided into 2 groups, the righteous and the unrighteous. The servant songs come from the 2nd section, they are declaring the time of salvation has come and point us towards Jesus. 

This week is the 2nd Sunday of Epiphany, last week Revd Jane quoted the Franciscan writer Richard Rohr who said this – “An epiphany is an experience that transforms everything, and before you can do anything with it, it does something to you… it always seems to demand a change in people‘s lives. To live with a faith that makes room for Epiphany leaves us on our heels, ready to step out to wherever it is that God may be revealed.  I wonder, what are our epiphany moments and how have they changed and shaped us?  If Christmas is the season about appreciating the wonder of the incarnation, the season on epiphany is about sharing that wonder with the world.

The pattern of the church year emerged gradually as a support to the church’s ministry of accompanying new believers to baptism and confirmation.  But what does this mean to us individually and as a church?  Last week Revd Jane told us about a film that she had watched and enjoyed. I wonder how many of you then went on to find out more about it, added it to a list of films you would like to watch, or maybe even found the time to watch it?  In life we find it easy to do this, tell others about films, books, restaurants or maybe even a show we have been to – something that through experiencing it, changed us in some way.  Our human nature is that we want to tell others. We want them to experience what we have, these things are too good to keep to ourselves. As we live our lives, sharing these moments and experiences with others, we can influence them, and in turn they can influence us.

How often would we worry about sharing the kinds of things I have mentioned?  Yet, when it comes to sharing our faith and the Good News, we can find it difficult and be hesitant – often trying to second guess how it will be received, or worrying that we may be judged – we do not live in a society where Christians face real persecution, but in a time where headlines would have us believe the church is in decline, it can feel awkward to stand up and be counted, so we keep it to ourselves. How many times have you heard people talk about having a personal faith and not wanting to push it on others?  There is a difference between sharing and pushing – If Revd Jane rather than just giving us a brief synopsis, had come with a DVD for each of us of the film she spoke about, forcing it upon us we might have felt uncomfortable and under pressure. The invitation given was to hear about it and make a choice, and so too with our stories of faith – our real life lived experiences, they are gifts from God, to be shared with others. It is not for us to force the outcome on others, we are simply called to speak out and share, leaving the rest for the work of the Holy Spirit. 

As I read the scriptures from Isaiah, the first verse jumped out to me – it reminded me of psalm 139, it is one of my favourites and plays a huge part in my first epiphany moment in my journey of faith and I felt called to share it with you today.  My parents do not have a faith, when I was born my Mum wanted me to be christened, getting as far as meeting with the vicar, after which my Dad, and his friend Brian decided that it would be funny to pretend to my Mum that they had given their lives to Jesus and had become Christians. I am not quite sure what that looked like, but whatever happened it was enough to change my Mums mind, I was not christened and we never went to church!  I have some faith related memories in from my childhood, visiting St Nicholas Church with a friend, singing and praying in assemblies. Then when I received my Gideons New Testament and P-Salms (as I thought it was pronounced) in secondary school, I actually thought that the old testament must have been replaced (not that I even knew there was an old testament, until then) I opened it and could not make head nor tail of what I was looking at, so it stayed on my shelf until one day I must have decided to throw it away. 

Anyway, I digress! Fast forward quite a few years, I am married with a baby son, through taking Hayden to groups I made a new friend who was a Christian. We had many conversations about faith – her sharing about Jesus and me talking about my experiences with new Age practises I was engaging in, mediumship, tarot cards and the like.  We respectfully listened to each other, agreeing to disagree.  A couple of years into the friendship (and another baby for me), I attended a workshop at what was described as a Christian spiritualist Church in Southend. Whilst walking to the station to travel there my boots, that I had worn many times before gave me a blister. I had attended many workshops like that, but something about that day had me feeling uncomfortable, but I couldn’t quite pinpoint what. At the end we were invited to take part in a meditation to connect with our souls. I simply could not settle, all that kept popping into my head was a question – Why have my favourite boots given me a blister?  At that point, I heard in my mind a voice – I can’t quite describe it, but it was different to the voice that my mind usually uses for thinking – the voice said “You are walking the wrong path”  As the meditation ended, I opened my eyes, and they were drawn to a painting on the wall – The last supper. I started writing in my journal, not really processing the words as they seemed to fall from the pen – when I read them back, I had written things about my own life that I had forgotten, or tried to bury deep and I had written that I wanted to read the bible – madness! – I didn’t even own a bible, that was never going to happen. 

I didn’t realise at the time, this was my first epiphany moment in my journey to faith in Jesus – I had experienced something big; something had changed and life would never be the same again, I had to do something about it.  At first, I tried carrying on as normal, pretending nothing had happened, but there was this constant niggling feeling that I had to do something. I spoke to my Christian friend, explaining what had happened and she bluntly told me that the voice I had heard was Jesus. I am so thankful now for her boldness, even if at the time I thought she was mad and told her so too!  Around this time my friend’s young son had torn a page from her Bible, it was one that held great sentimental value to her, and she was upset. As she told me what had happened, using what I believed from my new age practises, I said that perhaps there was a message for her on that page. A few days later my friend gave me a piece of paper with the scripture from the torn page written on it, she said that she felt  there was indeed a message, but it wasn’t for her, she believed it was meant for me. I read it, there was no earth moving moment, no epiphany I simply thought they were nice words and tucked it away in my journal. 

Things still felt different, I couldn’t shake the feeling from the experience that I had at the workshop, and my friends’ words stating that Jesus had spoken to me. I had questions, my friend suggested that church might be the place I would find the answers.  The first Sunday I walked into church, it felt strange and completely alien to me. I had no idea what was going on, when to stand or sit, it was all completely alien to me. I was regretting sitting at the back; escaping was just not possible – I would just have to get through it. Then it happened, it came to the sermon and instead of the vicar getting up to speak it was a member of the congregation.

Chris got up and shared his story, linking it in with the scripture he said had guided, sustained, and upheld him throughout his life with Jesus. I didn’t know this person or anything about him, but there was something about the authenticity in the way he spoke that not only made me sit up and listen, it spoke into my own life and heart. I spent the rest of the service holding back the tears, I was definitely not sad, I had experienced something good, that I didn’t have the words to explain. I left the service, clutching the news sheet – I needed to be able to take something with me that might help me to work out what had happened, and I cried all the way home! 

When I next saw my friend, I told her what had happened and how I had felt. I handed her the news sheet, as she saw the scriptures for that week, her face lit up and she rushed off to get her bible, she opened it on the torn page and showed me Psalm 139, the very same scripture that Chris had used to share his story only a few days before. It felt like the pieces of a puzzle fell into place, it was my second epiphany moment, that page from a torn bible was a message and this confirmed that the message was for me!  I still didn’t have the answers I craved, but I knew that Jesus was real, and I wanted, no, needed to know more, my life was changed and there was no going back! 

This was over 11 years ago, through my friend sharing her story walking alongside me, living out a life of faith and by Chris standing up and sharing his story that Sunday, I gave my life to Jesus.

As we move to the Gospel reading, we see John the Baptist pointing towards Jesus and telling his own disciples the story of when he baptized Jesus, speaking of the voice that came from heaven, telling him that Jesus was the one for whom they had been waiting. The two disciples heard this and made the decision to follow Jesus.  As they followed, Jesus asked them questions and invited them to “come and see” One of these two disciples was Andrew, who went to his brother Simon Peter (who we mostly know as Peter) told him his story, what he had seen and experienced, extending the invitation to “come and see” and brought Peter to Jesus.  

We see it in the scriptures, and in our own epiphany moments and testimonies lives can be transformed when we share experiences and invite others to come and see.  This week, I ask you to try and take some time to reflect on your own faith journey, recall and remember your epiphany moments and how they have shaped and changed you.  Reflecting back to the words of Richard Rohr, I pray that we will be bold enough, individually and as a church, to live with a faith that makes room for Epiphany leaves us on our heels, ready to step out to wherever it is that God may be revealed.  And may we be bold enough to share our own stories, telling the story of Gods love and goodness and be humble enough to leave room for the transformational power of the Holy Spirit to work in the lives of those we meet, in Gods time and for His glory.


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