January 23rd2011

Isaiah 9. 1 – 4; 1 Corinthians 1.10 – 18; Matthew 4.12 – 23;

In recent years I've had a bit more time to try the cryptic crossword in the newspaper most days and while I wouldn't claim to have got good at them, I've certainly got less bad with practice – I do finish some of them now, though I confess that equally often I have to accept defeat. Sometimes too, they can be surprisingly entertaining. There was one a week or so ago which featured this clue with an answer spanning two numbers:

It was clues 14,16 Drenching my own missis, ridiculous sport (12,8)

got that? repeat

I did get that one quite quickly – the word ridiculous acts an indication that it's an anagram of drenching my own missis so it must be a sport – synchronised swimming, of course.

But then there was another clue providing a five word answer with a repetition – quite unusual, and it referred back to that first one I mentioned:

So, clues 10,11,10 again, 23 Motto of the un-14 16 team? Whatever rocks your boat! (9,7,3,9,5)

So motto of the un-synchronised swimming team then? Whatever rocks your boat. Well, I couldn't get that one so carried on elsewhere till I found I'd got two letters in that last five-letter word – f*l** - must be folks, it's a motto, something might rhyme – folks strokes perhaps. Something strokes, something folks – those of you who were listening to pop music in the sixties will be way ahead of me - Different strokes for different folks

Who remembers that song? It took me a while but gradually it came back to me:

There is a blue one who can't accept the green one
For living with a black one tryin' to be a skinny one
Different strokes for different folks
And so on and so on and scooby dooby dooby
Ooh sha sha – we got to live together!

Everyday people by Sly & the Family Stone. A classic plea for peace love and understanding which still sounds pretty good today. And the line sounds so sensible, doesn't it – different strokes for different folks, true in so many walks of life – different people respond in different ways, have different needs; different things speak to different people in totally different ways.

So what are we to make of a passage like the epistle we heard earlier – the appeal from the apostle Paul that that all of us be in agreement and that there be no divisions among us, but that we be united in the same mind and the same purpose? One common response to that sort of passage is to tut and shake our heads, and lament the lack of church unity these days and bewail the fact that we can't be more like the early church and so on and so on and scooby dooby dooby. But do we really need to be so react like that? I don't think so – different churches can share a purpose and basically agree what they're about even though they may well have strikingly different ways of doing things and even different ways of understanding things. Sure I know it can get a bit more tense than that, disagreements can get rather intense, but having a variety of church styles isn't of itself a bad thing, provided we remember the purpose part of it. Church unity doesn't have to mean church uniformity.

Which brings us to our other two readings – both, if you remember, referring in similar ways to people being in darkness and seeing a great light. This reading is so familiar – you probably heard it several times in the run-up to Christmas and now here it is again. Indeed it is so heart-warmingly familiar that it is very easy to let it wash over us as one of those comfortable, nostalgia-inducing passages that make Christmas what it is, and that can make it hard to analyse and ask sensible questions, like what is that light? What is it to us?

As an aside, I find that can be quite an issue with the church year and its cycle of readings. In general I'm quite a fan of say, reading books twice, watching a good film again, and so on and so on and scooby dooby dooby – you often see something fresh and new second time round, or take a different message on closer inspection. And that ought to be the case with revisiting familiar bible passages but that will only happen if we bring a fresh eye to each revisit. The danger is to assume we know what it's about because we've heard it so often.

Anyway, what is this light to us? I suspect that I can't answer for you, but to me it's about the insights, the truths and the inspirations that come from the life of Christ, from the scriptures, from our church and from our worship. I've no doubt some would want to express it quite differently but I think we'd agree that the purpose of our church is to reflect this Godly light to those who pass through or nearby in whatever way speaks to them. Reflecting and reflection are an important part of what of what a church can offer.

Last week I was driving up to Stourport, a journey I do quite often and I got to the bottom of Ankerdine Hill to find it closed for tree felling. And if you know that neck of the woods you'll know that provokes the question "where on earth do I go from here?" But fortunately I had a map with me and wandered through some alarmingly narrow lanes and suddenly I found myself so taken by the view that I stopped and had a look around, unable to believe that I was barely half a mile from that road which I've driven so often, the view was so different with such a remote feel to it.

I know, it wasn't exactly an Epiphany, and it's a pretty obvious analogy but often a bit of difference can be greatly refreshing. I think we should embrace difference – allow that different people see different facets of the light of God's truth in different ways and conversely sometimes allow ourselves to look at things differently, take a different route perhaps and see the light in a new and illuminating way.

Shall we be synchronised swimmers or allow different strokes for different folks? There's a time and a place for both, of course.