1 Corinthians 12:12-26; Mark 1:4-11

1st Sunday of Epiphany

St Barbara’s 10.1.2021

Rev Tulo Raistrick

Last week we began our series on growing in love. We looked at growing in love for God. This week, we are thinking about growing in love for each other. I had planned this series a few weeks ago and little did I realise then how pertinent and practical such a theme would be for us today.

As I wrote in my email to many of you on Wednesday, going back down into lockdown this week will not have been easy for any of us. Even if we think it is the right thing to do, it does not prevent us from feeling wearied, exhausted, perhaps depressed and anxious about the whole situation. Such feelings are entirely natural and it is right that we own them and bring them before God in prayer.

Going into lockdown can also have the effect of turning us in on our ourselves. Our world shrinks as our regular social contacts diminish. Enforced isolation can make us insular. It is possible to lose ourselves in our own difficulties and concerns. And that is perhaps even more the case with this lockdown. With the first lockdown, there was an injection of energy in having to cope with something new; some described it as a return of the “war-time spirit”, coming together in the face of shared challenges. But maybe this time there is less energy, more weariness. What the charity sector sometimes call “compassion fatigue”. And yet the needs still remain. Love for one another is still essential.

Our bible readings this morning speak into our situation. The story of the baptism of Jesus, which is traditionally read on this Sunday in January each year, reminds us that baptism is a sign not only of individual repentance but also a sign of shared identity. It is a sign of our entry into the community of God’s people. When Jesus was baptised, he was identifying with us. When we are baptised, we are identifying with Him and with His people. It is about being a community where the love of God is at the very centre and is what binds us together.

And our reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians expands upon that theme. We are all different – some of us may be ears, others eyes, others hands, others feet – but we are all part of one body, we are all united in Christ. That sense of being scattered, some of us here in church, others at home, and from next week, all of us in different places, that loss of physical contact, does not change the truth that we are still one body, one community, united in Christ. We are one.

Paul goes on: we are all different, but we all have a part to play. The body needs the ear to hear, and the eye to see. We need everyone of us if we are to truly be the functioning, living body of Christ in this community. We may bring different gifts and skills, but everyone is essential to the wellbeing of us as a whole.

We are all different but we are united in Christ; we are all different but we all have a part to play; and we are all different, but we suffer and rejoice together. Those of you who have experienced toothache will know how it can feel like the whole body is suffering agony, even though the part hurting is only a tiny part of us. We are called to be a community where we weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice, where we share in each other’s concerns and joys. It is one of the ways that shows us whether we love one another.

And so, how at this time, do we express our love for each other in practical ways? When we don’t see each other, or only for very limited periods of time, how do we grow in our love for each other?

Well, the most important thing, and the thing that all of us can do, is pray for each other. You may be someone for whom spontaneous prayer comes naturally – someone comes to mind and you immediately pray for them – if that is you, delight in that gift and use it. For others of us the act of praying may require a bit more discipline, creating time and space in our day to do so. For those who are ultra-busy, whether with work or childcare, the two minutes twice a day when you brush your teeth may be a place to start – maybe place a post-it on your bathroom mirror with the names of two or three people you want to pray for, and do so while brushing your teeth. Or if you just find that other things come along and crowd prayer out, leave a note by the kettle, and pray while you wait for it to boil. And take some time today to think about which people in our church you want to pray for and jot their names down.

I’ve noticed a phenomena in my life, and I wonder if you have too. The act of praying for people causes me to grow in my love, concern and appreciation for them. They begin to matter to me more. That sense of suffering with them when they suffer and rejoicing with them when they rejoice that Paul wrote about comes more naturally. The act of praying for others somehow changes how | feel about them, as well as making a difference in their lives. So at this time, lets be sure to pray for each other.

A second way we can grow and express our love for each other is through keeping in touch. I know that this is a message that I have said many times before over these last few months, but it is worth saying again: keep in touch with one another. Phone each other; write to each other; zoom or what’s app each other if you can do that. We don’t need to talk for long – just that brief “how are you doing?” If you’ve found your level of contact has dropped off in recent months, then this may be the time to pick it up again. If you want people to ring, or if you want to receive calls, then let me know and I can connect you up. And do join in the quiz nights or home groups as ways of keeping linked in.

Let us be a community where no-one feels forgotten, where everyone feels loved. May our aim during this lockdown be to maintain physical distancing but to increase our social closeness. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if when we are finally able to come back together as a whole community, we discover that we have grown closer to one another, got to know each other better, grown in our love for each other, during this time.

We can express our love for each through our prayers, our keeping in touch, and by helping each other. Most of us may feel we are better placed this time to cope practically with the lockdown. We have the experience of before and we have got systems in place to help us get what we need.

But there may be times when all of us may need some extra help. Maybe you or your household suddenly needs to go into self-isolation and you are short on essentials; or a prescription needs picking up from the chemist and you don’t feel quite well enough to go; or you have a child who is struggling with their homework, and you need someone to ask; or you are struggling with new technology – a computer, or how to use zoom or what’s app – and you could do with some advice; or the family member who normally gets you your shopping just can’t do it this week. All of those are examples where I know people in this church have stepped forward to help one another in recent months.

It brings far greater joy to the giver to give than the receiver to receive, so if you need help, please ask. See it as doing someone a favour of giving them the opportunity to help out. You are not being an inconvenience; you are not being a bother. Instead, you are helping someone else to feel useful, needed, and we all need to feel that at this time.

So if you do need help, ask someone, and if you are not sure who to ask, let me know and I can put you in touch with someone. And if you would like to help others in anyway, please do let me know.

Let us be a community where we are growing in our love for each other. During this lockdown, may we be a community who, more than ever before, are expressing our love for God by caring and supporting each other.