I pulled into the carpark of a country café and, getting out, noticed a man who looked like an old friend. I hadn’t seen him for ages, but features, mannerisms – they were all there. Approaching him cautiously, I said, “Excuse me, are you … [Jim]?” No, was his reply. I apologised, explaining that he looked just like an old friend. To my surprise, the guy threw his arms around me and said, “No, but you look like a pretty good friend to have!” We laughed, and that was it, but I came away thinking, what a neat experience. I was touched by his response, and his words.
They set me to wondering how many friends an average person has, and Professor Google gave me some interesting morsels:
Ifthat is a surprisingly high number, the report also said ideas of friendship seemed to vary through different degrees of companionship, and some respondents “seem to adopt a generous definition of the term”. But, by and large, the 16 friends reported were made up of three friends for life, five friends that the respondents “really liked and would hang out with”, and the remaining eight were people that the respondents liked but would not bother hanging out with.
According to an MIT Review, humans can only cope with a maximum of five friends in their closest circle. Having too many friends can result in stress because the demands on a person to fulfil the friendship role can be greater than their ability to enact the role.
It’snot weird to have no friends: some less gregarious people prefer smaller groups, and have simply not found that friend they would enjoy having.
Friends often drift apart because their lives change (new job, marriage, baby …) or when they no longer share the same things in common.
Friend-making ability tends to peak at around 23, and declines as the years go on.
The average number of Facebook ‘friends’ is said to be 338 for adults! (And you can ‘unfriend’ them if they annoy.)
How many friends do you have? Do you care? Some kiwis, social bunnies, have plenty. Others prefer their own company and have few. Do we even need close friends? People have a whole range of contacts, acquaintances, workmates, drinking buddies, partners, old school mates …
I warmed to that guy in the carpark. I wonder if we could have become friends?
Three year old Jason was chasing five year old Robert. R slammed door on J. When J’s fingers were in the hinge jamb. And jammed were J’s fingers, taking on a decidedly flat look. Squeals of shock and pain. Robert’s even greater shock, when he saw the damage he’d done. The consequence he’d never anticipated when he’d slammed the door.
A child’s ability to foresee consequences is limited. Most adults are better at it. Actions have consequences, right? It hardly needs saying, but who knows who is reading this. Donald Trump might well get to our website, because Twitter and Facebook are now no-go zones for him.
I remember my third form geography teacher leading us through anthropological development from hunter-gathering to farming to urbanisation to the need for laws and regulations because, he taught, actions have consequences and one man’s (well, this was a boys’ school) rights must not be pressed at the expense of another man’s rights. He lost us at the use of “anthropological”, but for some reason the memory of the lesson remains, because the need for law and order suddenly made sense. Laws arose to limit bad consequences.
“A man,” said Mr Sinclair, “can do whatever he likes, as long as his actions don’t hurt others. To ensure that, we have laws.”
Some, though of adult appearance, have not learnt nor, at least, embraced, Mr Sinclair’s truth. Whatever we think of Donald Trump, and, amazingly, based on the same presenting evidence, some people love him and some hate him, he is a man who either doesn’t realise that his actions/words have consequences, or he doesn’t care. Did he know what he was doing when he told a crowd of stirrers and ‘patriots’, “… we’re going to walk down and I’ll be there with you. … we’re going to walk down to the Capitol …” and “… you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong”? (You can read the whole inflammatory speech at https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-told-supporters-stormed-capitol-hill/story?id=75110558.)
Did it occur to him that such words would have consequences; or did he know it but not care, or even intend it? That’s what the impeachment process will need to decide, and he may face other further consequences.
But, unlike Robert, I can’t see young Donald learning from his imprudence.
Dearly beloved, you will be forgiven for thinking you have heard this just recently, and indeed you would be correct. In fact it was the reading for the second Sunday in Advent, just a month ago, verses 1 – 8, which our sister Joan preached on so well saying that Mark’s story really is just the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, and that we here today are part of this on-going story, called to participate in the continuing spirit-led, transforming movement of God-with-us in our own time.
So today we continue in the story, and in the next three verses, find Jesus now at the Jordan. Mark doesn’t beat about the bush with any preamble he simply states that Jesus was baptized by John. But as in all good stories it is what happens next that is life changing. In that moment Jesus is situated in the past, present and future of God’s movement. It is not what Jesus does that is of primary significance, but what God does to him. When Jesus comes up from the water he experiences three things, that in Jewish tradition signifies the launching of God’s kingdom. The heavens are opened, the Spirit descends, and the heavenly voice speaks to him.
God’s dramatic acknowledgement of Jesus makes it clear that through the words and deeds of Jesus, we humans are encountering the enacted intentions of God. The word became flesh, and this baptism marks the defining and indispensable start of Jesus ministry.
Jesus’s ministry thus begins with the voice of God ringing in his ears: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
What a wonderful thing for a son to hear from his father! I suspect that there are many adult children today who are walking around with a big empty space inside, because they just aren’t sure whether or not their parents are pleased with them. In some cases those parents have been dead for years, but it doesn’t matter; that big, empty space is still there. But here we have God the Father, right at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, before he had healed anyone, or told any parables, or done anything out of the ordinary at all, saying, “You are my beloved son, and I’m very pleased with you.”
So the first thing we notice about the baptism of Jesus is that it was God’s assurance to him that he was indeed God’s beloved son. The second thing is that it was the beginning of a new life for him. Up until that time, he’d lived quietly in Nazareth with his family. But now, at the age of thirty, he came to the Jordan and was baptized by John. From that point on, he left his old way of life and plunged into three years of public ministry, in which he announced that God’s kingdom was coming, and showed by his actions what God’s kingdom was all about.
Baptism speaks to us today of becoming God’s children, welcomed into the family of God, His beloved sons and daughters .
A young son of a Baptist minister was in church one morning when he saw for the first time baptism by immersion. He was greatly interested in it, and the next morning proceeded to baptize … you guessed it … his three cats in the bathtub. The youngest kitten bore it very well, and so did the younger cat, but the old family tom cat rebelled. The old feline struggled with the boy, clawed and tore his skin, and finally got away. With considerable effort the boy caught the old tom again and proceeded with the ‘ceremony’. But the cat acted worse than ever, clawing and spitting, and scratching the boy’s face. Finally, after barely getting the cat splattered with water, he dropped him on the floor in disgust and said: “Fine, be a Methodist if you want to!”
Quite cute isn’t it, but shonky understanding! We are followers of the way, and worshippers in a tradition. The point of this little aside is to remind us that Jesus did not go under the waters of baptism a Jew and come up a Christian but, rather, Jesus went under the waters of baptism and came up empowered by the Spirit and filled with the love of the Father, to live out the will of God for us on earth. ‘The word became flesh’, and the flesh brought the Word.
Our Anglican service of Baptism begins, “Dear friends in Christ, God is love, God gives us life. We love because God first loves us. In baptism God declares that love; in Christ, God calls us to respond.” And just as Jesus received the affirmation of his sonship before he had done anything spectacular to earn it, so too God declares that we are his children as a free gift, an act of pure grace – which we don’t have to earn.
So when we were baptized, we too were set down at the beginning of a new way of life. And the way will be, according to Debbie Thomas, “wild water”, because if indeed our baptism involves a participation in Jesus’s baptism, and if Jesus’s baptism launches his ministry of suffering and obedience, then our baptism must include a similar expectation and acceptance of self denial. From baptism onwards we and all those others who follow Jesus inherit the mission of declaring and embodying God’s reign. And how should we do that? By loving God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and loving our neighbour as ourselves. The best way I know to love God is to love what God loves—which is everything! Surely this is the way that Jesus loves. You are chosen in Christ (see Ephesians 1:4), and one purpose of being chosen is to let everyone else know that they too are chosen! Love begets love.
In Mark, we see the new order is coming in: Jesus says, “See, I am making all things new” … you and me. Are you ready for the wild water? Well I hope I will be able to follow my dear grandson’s example in this. Remember the story I told you about Steffan, when he jumped off the Tairua bridge for the first time, aged about 7, and nearly drowned? When I asked why he had jumped when he couldn’t swim, his answer was, “I didn’t know I couldn’t.” Let us, beloved family, have that same trust to plunge forward in the wild water of discipleship, following the way of Christ, bearing his message of love. Let us trust that we too can participate fully in the continuing, Spirit-led, transforming movement of God-with-us in our own time … we are, after all, God’s beloved. Amen.
(Based on Matthew 2:1-12 and the Anglican Collect for first Sunday of the year)
All of us are welcome in Christ’s Church – His Love is for everyone.
The three readings today emphasize that we are all welcome in Christ’s church, irrespective of our natal culture. Isaiah prophesied, “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn”. The Matthew reading is the story of the visit of wise men from the East, possibly Zoroastrians, to honour the birth of Christ, and Paul, a Roman citizen and a Jew, having been converted on the road to Damascus, writes to the Christians in Ephesus that they, and we, have become fellow heirs and sharers, in the promise of Christ Jesus in his power and Love.
These words are reiterated in the ‘Collect’ for this Epiphany season:
“Almighty God, revealed to the world through prophecy, sage and star,
Open our hearts to see your presence in all humanity,
to bow down in adoration
and bring unity and inclusion to a divided world,
For you are alive and reign with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit , one God, now and forever.”
The beginning, ‘Open our hearts to see your presence in all humanity’ is a prayer we should remember each morning, as we face our children, or friends, going on about their favourite theories over the meal table, or we watch Donald Trump making amazing fictitious statements, or wonder about Putin’s motives.
I’ve been privileged to watch at least 600 births and the joy of the crowning moment and the safe delivery, never diminishes. It’s felt by everyone in the room. Even though a couple of days later you will be watching a new mother struggling with breast feeding, and coming to terms with her new responsibilities. Responsibilities which change over time but never leave us as parents. It’s certainly easier to cope with children if you look for the Christ in them, the moments of innocence and the spontaneous demonstrations of love. My three sons all changed for the better when they became fathers. The love that you give children in infancy will set them up for life: if a child never experiences love, in that first year of life, they will find it very difficult to feel love themselves, and towards others.
Alternatively, I’ve met women who I feel were born with a double dose of oxytocin, the socializing hormone: they are able to extend and surround you with warmth. Not forgetting the men I’ve met who must have inherited a natural warmth, have had it nurtured in infancy, and not had it suppressed by school or work experiences. So my message for today is, demonstrate love at all times and look for love in all you meet. For God loves life – His creating never stops. God is Love: the enduring, patient kind. God is beauty; let’s be aware of nature’s beauty all around us each day, and develop our passion for beauty. We must seek, absorb and trust love in all its ‘humanizing’ forms; this helps us strive towards the divine. We will trust the stranger, and welcome him into our hearts. We will not be afraid of the different, the ‘not-us’. We who pray together already know this. And let us thank Bruce (Gilberd) for sharing his book of prayers with us, giving us a thoughtful, heartening start to each day.
Today’s Collect goes on to ask us to ‘bow down in adoration’.
The wise men brought their treasures as gifts: gold, symbolizing earthly Kingship, frankincense, a very expensive perfume, and myrrh, used for anointing, recognizing the birth of a very holy person. They may have been Zoroastrians, a Persian religion then 500 years old. They knelt down to present their gifts, an act of honour to the child. Joseph would have known the value of these gifts: which one would have been the lightest? Would he have buried the gold and carried the frankincense with them to Egypt as housekeeping money?
And the prayer continues: ‘Bring unity and inclusion to a divided world’.
Unity begs the question, what divides us ? Difference. When I was eleven my mother invited a Nigerian couple to share Christmas with us. I’d never seen a black person before and I was conscious of a reflex withdrawal, which I hadn’t had with strangers before. I realized it was innate. But in time I changed. As a medical student I worked in a mission hospital in the Transkei, one of the Bantu areas in South Africa. Meeting the nurses and working with them meant that reflex disappeared. My enduring memory is of going on the annual official medical visit to the leper colony to see who was fit to be discharged: I was horrified, that all these men had to walk past us, white coated medics, naked, to have their nerves in their arms and legs examined for thickening. They were sweating profusely. I never knew if it was from fear or embarrassment, but I felt as one with them.
So how do we create unity? What brings us together? Common goals, shared worship and regular hospitality offered to all. God’s top priority is the creation of a world in which material goods are shared equally. Where no-one is forgotten or left out. Our commitment to the spiritual journey is not a commitment to pure joy, but to taking responsibility for the whole human family, its needs, and their destiny. We are not on our own. No man is an island unto itself. We belong to everyone else. May we all work together in unity in this coming year, and act on the Collect for today, opening our hearts to see Christ’s presence among us. Amen.