Rev. Andrew Cunnington
8th January 2017
If You Think You Can Use It… Take It

For the first seven years of my ministry here in Redhill I had the pleasure of taking Holy Communion to Derek Eccles, a long standing member of St Matthew’s who had become housebound.

Derek was a great lover of books and an avid watcher of DVD’s and his home was stacked from floor to ceiling with huge collections of both. He was a man who loved to chat and talk about books we’d read, films we’d seen and cricket matches we’d watched. I looked forward to our monthly exchanges.

When Christmas came Derek summoned me to his house for a special visit. “I have a Christmas present for you”, he said. But when I arrived, he presented me not with a single gift but with a sackful of presents the like of which you usually find at the end of your bed on Christmas morning having been delivered in the dead of night by you know who!

As I sat on Christmas Day afternoon and turned to my sack, there on the front was a label which read. “I simply know you will make use of all these Andrew”.

For Derek had listened intently to all that I had said throughout the year and each gift was related to something I had told him I loved. So there was a Laurel and Hardy DVD, a book of County Cricket’s greatest matches, a pocket torch for long distance walkers lost at dusk, another DVD of Wainwright’s Walks with Julia Bradbury on the front cover (we both had a shine for her!) and a history of steam trains on the Brighton Line. There was a jar of chutney and volume of poetry.

And I was not the only one to be on the receiving end of this sort of thing. Derek spent all year buying presents for people based upon what he knew they needed and thought they would enjoy. His back room was a Santa’s grotto of items purchased and then squirrelled away, of string and Sellotape and wrapping paper through every season of the year.

Each wrapped item, personal to the receiver.

Epiphany Sunday is here. The last knockings of the Christmas story as with great solemnity, we move three plaster figures from their Christmas home on a window sill in the south aisle into their Epiphany pride of place in the stable. In our Gospel reading we hear the magical tale of a new star in the sky, the consultation of atlases and charts, the following to Bethlehem and the unloading of highly improbable glittering gifts surely of little use to a refugee family on the road.

And the story touches us with its familiarity, its safeness and its comfort.

Epiphany, the manifestation of the reality of God to all people.

But surely we need a new Epiphany now for our world.

Our world seems to be increasingly cast adrift from the vital anchor of loving and caring for one another before we turn to ourselves. A world that seems to be parting company of expectations that good things are going to happen, rather living with the growing fear of terror attack imminent.

And if the church is in any way a guardian of truth and love, we surely have to take responsibility for reclaiming the positives we are losing, and that involves liberating Epiphany from a story of fairy tale like safety into something more wild and new.

If you look in the Gospels you will struggle to find Jesus giving anybody anything.

Apart from one instance of producing a coin from the mouth of a fish to pay the temple tax, Jesus never made a donation to anything. He never gave away anything he had. He never opened up his bag of possessions and said “Here, have this!”

Instead, Jesus relied on the gifts other people brought forward. He used the generosity of others as the raw materials for changing lives. It’s the same old procession you know so well.

I have five loaves and two fishes says a small boy – I can feed 5000 people with that says Jesus.

I have six empty water jars and a reliable water supply – I can make wine from that he says.

I have a bucket ready to lower into a well – I can turn what you draw into living water, is his offer.

We are a bunch of fishermen down on our luck – I can make you missionaries before you even know the meaning of the word.

You see, If Jesus had Derek Eccles as one of his disciples, there would have been non stop miracle making. Jesus look, I’ve been listening to you all year, I just know you will find these things useful. Little bits and bobs thoughtfully gathered and lovingly given. That’s enough, Derek, just see what I can do with all these.

Just before Christmas I did a dangerous thing. Not only did I accompany Alison on the major Christmas shop, pushing the trolley along, as she loaded it up, and casting knowing glances with other husbands caught in the same desperate trap, but as we were going round, I spied a Christmas gift for her and had to find a way to slip away from her eagle eye and buy it without her seeing.

I did this whilst she was at the checkout. And going with my one item to a self service till. Foolishly turning down the chance of a fivepenny bag, I had to hide the gift under my coat whilst she completed the transactions I had to walk nonchalantly to out to the car passing the security guard and looking every inch a shoplifter. A gift not yet for the giving, so I hid it under my coat.

The key to making a new Epiphany is where God’s people will hand over the gifts they have for transformation rather than keep them under their coat.
And here’s a truth, whatever it is you have, whatever it is you feel strongly about, enthusiastic about, whatever drives you, whatever is that little thing about you, he can use it. All the little bits and bobs that found their way into Derek’s sack are actually a reflection of all that I have to offer.

He can make Epiphany with them. But we have to disclose the gift. We have to get it out We have to offer it.

Gold, frankincense and Myrrh, did those kings live on another planet? I wonder what on earth was done with them? There are plenty of symbolic explanations given, but what of use were they in reality, in Bethlehem at that moment.

And so we might think about that little that we have.

Faith is now having the courage to follow in the footsteps of those three wise men and go to the stable with the needs of the world ringing in our ears like intercessions, and lay down what we have, whatever we have, knowing that he can use all that we bring out.

For if our gifts remain unoffered, Jesus has nothing to share with the world.

This is where we make a mistake about prayer.

We think that prayer is about asking God to release the gifts he has in his possession, upon our struggling world in order to make things better, and that if our prayer is good enough he might oblige.

But it’s the other way round! It’s about listening to the heart beat of God in the midst of daily lives in need of an Epiphany and its about offering what we have as a result of that listening, even if the offering is incongruous, laughable or paltry. Gospel evidence is that he can use what ever it is we bring out from under our coats, to make things new.

Derek Eccles is at home in the kingdom of God now and has been for three years. I wonder what he would think about being the subject of a sermon like this. I think he would have sat back in his chair, looked me in the eye and said “ Look Andrew, if you think you can use it, take it”.

How about that as an offering of ourselves as a New Year’s resolution before God.

EPHESIANS 3: 1-12 MATTHEW 2: 1-12