I’m going to get into hot water in this sermon. I want you to break with tradition and have a brief word with someone sitting near you, right now, and swap a quick picture each of something is typically MU for you. Don’t worry, this is the C of E and I’m not going to ask you to stand up and share it with everyone. On your marks, get set, you have one minute, go!
Wow! What a lot is going on. And it’s really important to celebrate it. Even if the jumble looks strangely familiar as it comes out for the third year running, or the speaker’s got lost in their way to your branch meeting, you’re raising money for really good causes, you’re meeting up, you’re worth it!
And for what it’s worth, just give me a wave if tea figured somewhere in the story you shared ..
A nice big teapot was my own MU picture – alongside the procession of banners at this service that I always find incredibly moving, and lots of world-wide pictures too. But the teapot has a message to it that is I think spot on for us now as we seek to be Inspired for the Future, and for the next three years in particular, in the context of the three themes of that worldwide MU – Prayer and our Christian faith as central to all we are and do; enabling development of all kinds,making our membership but wider too; and campaigning against the social injustices that harm stable family life. The fact that those three themes map precisely onto the key themes of our new diocesan strategy “People Fully Alive” – deepening, growing and engaging – is really encouraging and helpful, and gives me hope that we are listening to God well about our good future in him and will indeed find the inspiration that we nee from him to help it come true.
Our big MU teapot has three main features, and they link nicely to these three themes. Let’s start with … the lid. Have you ever had a senior moment like me and tried to fill a teapot without taking the lid off first? I said I was going to get into hot water… Fortunately I saw my mistake just in time and avoided a nasty scald. Fortunately too I was able to get the hot water where it needed to be, or three result would have been… No Tea; and the world may well have come to an end. Now for hot water read that rather dangerous stuff called the Holy Spirit, and for the lid read all the ways we find, meant or unmeant, to not quite get round to opening ourselves up prayerfully to his presence. No hot water, no tea. No opening up to God, no deepening in the Christian life.
So my first Advent challenge for you and charge for the next triennium is, Get Your Lids off, and be people of prayer, waiting like Mary on what God can do. The Lord’s Prayer is rather wonderfully much in the news at the moment. Get praying it. Ask your friends it they still know it. Use it as a grace or with the grandchildren at bedtime. And watch out too for a little animated film of the Christmas story to show them that is up on the diocesan website now, just two minutes, with a charming voice-over by a friendly bishop, and great for putting Christ back into Christmas.
The second bit for our teapot is of course its body, the bit where we make a brew. And what do you need for that? The hot water of course, but also the teabag – correction, this is an MU teapot so a LOT of teabags, and a decent amount of space to let them swish round and infuse. It’s like St Paul’s picture of the church really, and I’m sure he’d have used it if teapots had been around then. The one Holy Spirit pours abundantly into the body of the church, bringing to life all its different bags, I mean members, who all contribute in their own way to a perfect brew that brings refreshment to the world.
So here’s my second Advent challenge and triennial charge: make the most of your members and their gifts. Let the Darjeelings and the Orange Pekoes among you all burst with flavour and contribute to the blend. Celebrate and support the contributions of those who have strings and labels attached, who we commission today, but don’t neglect a single leaf. In fact, go out of your way to encourage everyone to know that they have a contribution to make, and we’ll all be the stronger for it. When you’re helping make Christingles or making tea for carollers, stop for a moment and think, who else can I ask to do it with me.
Now finally, the spout. You can make tea without it, but you won’t be able to drink any. How frustrating. What a waste of time! Now as you know bishops are all too good at spouting… But they’re not meant to do it for everyone else too, thank goodness. If the tea is going to do its job and refresh the world and not go sour, it has to be poured out and given away. And sour tea is not very nice at all, any more than sour Christians and sour Churches are who’ve got all turned in on themselves too.
So challenge and charge number three. Keep up the good work and be the “revolutionaries without rifles” who overturn poverty and injustice by visiting the sick, which you do, going into prison, which you do, providing food and clothes for the needy, which you do. And tea. Because when you do you are sheep not goats, you are helping every day be be a day when Christ is coming, every day a Christmas Day.