The Commissioning Service on Sunday at noon SLT was well attended by members of the community who came to support those who are involved in special ministries on Epiphany. Mark Brown, our previous priest-in-charge, was on hand to commission myself as Lay Pastor, new and existing members of the Leadership Team, the Prayer Team, Worship Leaders and Bible Study leaders. Thanks were expressed to all those who had served in the last year.
Despite a few technical problems, those present were able to prepare for worship by listening to Charlotte Church singing ‘Panis Angelicus’, and to take time to reflect at the end of the service aided by the words of ‘Jesus be the centre’ by Michael Frye. We gathered in the new Parish House for a festive reception after the service.
Patapon Monday lit the second Advent candle and said the prayer, Able Shepherd read the first reading – Malachi 3:1-4, ZoeRose Eiren read the Gospel – Luke 3:1-6, and I gave the following reflection (an expanded form of the one given at the 10.30pm SLT service on Saturday).
Today we have lit our second candle on the Advent wreath and the prayer which accompanied that action speaks of the prophets and their message – one of joy as they anticipate the arrival of a Messiah bringing peace.
Of course we do hear lots of joy in the message of the prophets. Every Christmas we remember the people who walked in darkness seeing a great light. We hear of a wonderful counsellor and a prince of peace, of just government, of healing and of freedom for the captives. The messages are enough to make us want to sing our carols with great energy and conviction.
That’s one side of the story but there’s another. Advent is a time of preparation and rightly so. If you are anticipating a guest coming to stay at your home, you usually make preparations. You buy in food which you think they will enjoy. You prepare a room if they are going to stay with you. You clean the house to make it a fit place to welcome your guest to. You may go to great lengths to make your home look good enough. I wonder how many have stuffed the ironing into a cupboard so it won’t be seen, or hidden things under beds for the same reason. The kind of preparation we should be making for Jesus’ coming doesn’t allow for stuffing things out of sight and out of mind. It should be more thorough than just looking good on the surface.
Malachi speaks of preparation for the Lord’s coming and then he goes on to tell us what will happen when he comes. He will purify some people and judge others. The purification will be very thorough and possibly painful. There are two images given. The first is of the refiner’s fire. The metal is heated to a high temperature to make it melt. This allows the impurities to separate out and rise to the surface of the molten metal where they can be skimmed off. Once that happens, a shining surface of pure molten silver is revealed in which the reflection of the refiner’s face shows. The second image is of a launderer washing clothes in strong soap. Next they are placed on rocks and beaten with sticks to complete the cleaning process, leaving them very white indeed, able to reflect the light. Neither being heated in fire nor bleached and beaten sound very pleasant; certainly not something to choose lightly but that is the only way to the desired result.
Malachi is looking towards the coming of the Messiah and probably towards the Second Coming also as that is when judgement will take place. When Jesus was living on earth he, and his cousin John, showed people the impurities in their lives and invited them to repent and live differently. Those who thought they were pure, particularly the Pharisees who thought that being Abraham’s children and following man-made rules was enough, were soon put right, both by John the Baptist and by Jesus. Righteousness had to be more than a special lineage or an outward observance of rules.
At the end of time Jesus will return to judge the earth and he will look at our hearts, not at what can be seen on the surface of our lives. Before that time, we have an opportunity to be refined by Jesus, to be made pure enough for others to see God reflected back at them from our lives.
Opening ourselves to this refining process may mean painful changes for us, not just once but many times. God loves us as we are but loves us too much to leave us this way. He has greater things in mind for us. What he does for us as individuals, he can also do for the organisations to which we belong. They too have a sort of life of their own, and they too can be full of impurities and in need of refining, not once but as an ongoing process.
I hope that each of us this Advent will be brave enough to invite God to show us the impurities in our lives and to help us endure what’s needed to purge them. I also hope that God will do the same for the Anglican Cathedral here in Second Life. I believe we should never be arrogant enough to believe that we have got everything right as individuals or as a ministry.
From what I have observed, taking part in the Posada has had a profound effect on several of the hosts, both those who have already hosted Mary and Joseph and those who anticipate doing so in the weeks to come. I think their preparation may well open these hosts more to accepting God’s action of refining in their lives. I hope if they do, they will be blessed by the process as much as they seem to be blessed by the presence of Mary and Joseph in their homes.
It’s worth noting that Malachi singles out the Levites particularly when talking about purification. They were the leaders of their faith; they were the ones who were put in place to help the people worship God. It was only as the leaders were purified that the worship would be acceptable to God. The offerings of the people had to be presented to the Lord ‘in righteousness’ by leaders who had been refined in fire like gold and silver. Those who have agreed to accept the calling to leadership in various ways here at the Cathedral are taking on a great responsibility, as have those of us who have been on the Leadership Team and in other ministries in the past. It is not possible to take others where you have not been yourself. If the leaders are not prepared for God to work in their lives to purify them, they can hardly expect the people they lead and the ministry they serve to be pure and acceptable to God.
I have felt honoured to serve with the Prayer Team, the Leadership Team and alongside so many others in the past year. Now I feel joyful and truly blessed that Able, Charlie, Joyous, Patapon and ZoeRose have prayerfully considered the invitation to join the Team and have accepted. I believe they will bring talents and insight which will benefit us all in the months ahead as we move from a period of transition to a new phase in our life as a church. It is going to be an exciting time.
Living through the transition of Arkin’s resignation has been part of God’s refining process for the Cathedral. Many Fresh Expressions fail at this point in their life, finding it impossible to appoint a replacement leader. The fact that we have come through this time tells me that God has his hand on this ministry and it’s his will that it continue. I see the expansion of the Leadership Team as another part of God’s way to purify us. The five people who are joining the Team are from different parts of the world and different part of the spectrum which is Anglicanism. They will bring new perspectives and new ideas. Fresh eyes will look at what we are doing and ask important questions which may well challenge us to think again about what we do or how we approach things or what our priorities should be. This can only be good and positive for us as a ministry but it will require generosity of spirit and a willingness to see Jesus in each other.
Useful though this purifying may be on a personal or organisational level, it has a wider purpose and that is to reach others with the Gospel. We minister in Second Life where there is a lot of good but also plenty of the crooked and rough ways, plenty of deep dark valleys and steep hills, which Isaiah speaks of, as quoted in today’s gospel. It’s hard to see what difference we can make, a group of 600 in a population of millions, but with God all things are possible. Together we can make a smooth path for our brothers and sisters to travel on as they seek God.
Listen to what psychologist Oliver James says:
‘The people who are spiritual and ethical – they quietly infect everybody else. That’s what really interests me; the idea that a small number of people in a community can keep everyone else sane.’
He went on to describe what these people are like:
They are those ‘who seem to see through the nonsense of modern life, and who have a good sense of self without being self-focussed or narcissistic. They lead by example – being playful, not game-playing; authentic, not sincere; vivacious rather than hyperactive.’
I pray that God will refine us enough to allow us to be people such as Oliver James describes in this world of Second Life. May we infect the people we meet with the Christian faith and nurture them to maturity, bringing glory to God in the process.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor