Tag Archives: God

Let God take the Strain

Lesley and I were recently given a  copy of Richard Coles’ book, Fathomless Riches, and in reading it I came across the following, recounting his experience of confession:

I told him about what had been going on, … and let rip about the foolishness and unkindness of some of the people I had to live with … “Go on” he said, I paused and thought and said: “I am not as kind as I thought I was, I’m not as brave as I thought I was, I’m not as clever as I thought I was, I’m not as honest as I thought I was”.  There was a pause and he said: “Oh, that’s good”.

It reminded me of all the times that I forget to let God take the strain; the times that I think I can do it in my own strength; that without me it would all fall to pieces.  And, of course, those are the very times that I find myself exhausted, and stressed, and when it feels as though the whole world is on my shoulders (which of course it is, because I have put it there).

Of course we all have our gifts, and should use them in God’s service, but it is when we forget God that things become overwhelming.

I was told a story by a wise old priest, which I still struggle to follow:

When monks are hoeing the cabbages, and there is one cabbage left, and the bell for chapel rings, should they put down the hoe and go to chapel, or hoe the last cabbage and rush to chapel?

Alan

Bible Sunday

Bible
Bible (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

A man was in a hot air balloon and lost, so he spotted a woman on a golf course below and reduced altitude.

“Hello”, he called, “can you tell me where I am – I promised to meet a friend and I have no idea where I am”

She looked up and said “You are in a hot air balloon about 30 feet off the ground, you are 51 degrees North and 0.7 degrees West”.

“Are you an engineer?” he called down?

“Yes” she replied, “but how did you know?”

“Well your information is absolutely true but I’m none the wiser” he replied. “Furthermore I am still lost and frankly you have wasted my time”.

So she thought for a minute and called up to him “Are you in Management?”

“Yes” he replied “but how do you know?”

“Well, you have made a promise you have no idea how to keep, you expect those beneath you to solve your problems and you have risen to where you are thanks to a large volume of hot air”.

 

I guess I tell that joke because I want to explore what we mean by the Bible being “True”.

Of course, first of all we have to determine what we mean by “true” in this context.

There is a statue of Abraham Lincoln at one of the American Universities and he is shown wielding an axe about to come down on the fetters that are binding a slave at his feet. It the statue true – yes. Did it actually happen – no.

I get fed up at the moment hearing about the rise of fundamentalism and in particular creationism at the moment. Since when did Christians need to leave their common sense at the door when they came to church?

And then, of course there is the problem of translation. When I was at vicar school I decided to try to learn Hebrew and Greek. Try being the operative word here. Anyway, we looked at some Hebrew texts. It is a rather tricky language for a few reasons, not least of all because they choose not to include vowels in the text. And then they seem to have dots here and there that mean something but get missed off a fair amount – the jots and tittles that Jesus was referring to. And then the language has only two tenses. Not like English which has loads – past, present, future, perfect, imperfect, conditional, and a load of others. No – Hebrew has two. And they aren’t a useful two like Past and Present – they are perfect (ie done and dusted) and imperfect. So we looked at the phrase when God says “I am what I am”. Well… it is in the imperfect. So it could be “I was being what I ought to be” “ I will be what I am being” “I was going to be what I could have been”. Truthfully, I think just about the only translation it can’t be is “I am what I am”.

You probably know that the New Testament was written in Greek and fairly early on that was translated into Latin, and later still the Latin version was translated into English, giving rise to the King James Version, which is quite a literal translation of the text, but carries quite a lot of errors because of the double translation.

Which reminds me of a story that Alan told me from when he attended a church that was debating which Lord’s Prayer to use – the traditional or the modern. One woman said that she wanted to use the traditional Lord’s Prayer which was in the King James Version because she wanted to say the very words that Jesus used.

So there are many translations now – I suggest that everyone should by one that they find easy to read. My personal favourite is the New Revised Standard Version, which is an update on the RSV which is a pretty faithful translation, I feel. My personal least favourite version is the New International Version, which I think has too much interpretation and anti-women interpretation at that.

However, whichever version of the Bible we use, we have to face the fact that it was written by men, for men. I was arguing with a man online a while back about gay relationships. He quoted Leviticus 18:22 at me – “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable”, so I thought about that. “Are you telling me that the Bible requires me to be a Lesbian?” I asked….

And of course you may well notice in the Ten Commandments, especially if you are a woman, that whilst men are not allowed to covet their neighbours’ wives, there is no prohibition on us coveting our neighbours’ husbands. Not that any woman would ever do that, obviously!

I guess, putting aside the problem of who wrote it and why, and putting aside the problem of translation, the question is where one sees the Bible – does God use it in spite of human failings, limitations and errors, or is it exactly as God wishes it to be? Can it be true without it being literally correct, without an actual Noah, or without an actual Adam and Eve, or does it either have to be all true or if not it is not worth reading?

Let me quote a few verses from the Bible and you decide for yourself whether they are true:

Jeremiah 29:11

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.

Matthew 11:28-29

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Romans 8:37-39

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

John 14:27

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

Rom 8:28

“All things work to the good of those who love Him”

Sermon Mark 7:24-37

Mark 7:24-37

24From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

31Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

A journalist once had the opportunity to meet Mother Teresa and so he said “Mother

Philip Tirone kissing the hand of Mother Teresa
Philip Tirone kissing the hand of Mother Teresa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Teresa, you believe in God so I guess you must pray regularly”. “Yes, I do” came her reply. “So what do you say?” asked the Journalist. “Oh mostly I just listen”, she said. Thinking that he now had a great scoop, the very words of God to Mother Teresa he said “Ah, so what does God said to you?” “Oh mostly he just listens too”.

I would like to talk about listening to God, just a little bit, because I am drawn to the word “Ephphatha” that Jesus said – opening the deaf man’s ears – and I feel strongly that we too need to be able to hear God’s voice as a Parish so that we might walk in the right paths.

But I have to first unpack the first story because it is perhaps one of the most fascinating and challenging stories in the bible. It throws up questions of discrimination and questions of Jesus’s divinity and humanity.  So Jesus is possibly tired and fed up, he doesn’t want to be noticed, but a Gentile woman finds him and begs him to get rid of a demon in her daughter. I tend to think that “demon possession” in their terms was either something like epilepsy or mental illness.

So Jesus responds saying that the children should be fed first and it isn’t fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs. What a horrible response – the woman would be well aware that the Jews referred to non-Jews as dogs. There is that famous prayer that Jewish men at the time used to pray – “Thank-you God that you didn’t make me a gentile, or a woman, or a dog”.

Admittedly, the word used in this text is “little dogs” rather than “dogs”, but I don’t think it makes it any better – it is dehumanising – I find it frightening when any group diminishes another, dehumanises them, because once we do that we can make them other than ourselves and treat them badly.

The woman responds that even the dogs eat the crumbs from the children’s table. And Jesus is impressed by this response and tells her that her child has been healed.

There are two possible interpretations of this story – the first is that Jesus is learning – that he listens to the woman and learns from her, and indeed this changes his ministry. The story is set between two mass feedings – and the symbolism and locations of these meals suggest that the first was for Jews and the second for Gentiles, the “dogs” suddenly finding themselves at the table and no longer eating the crumbs. This reading of the story would suggest that Jesus in his humanity had to learn to be Christ in his divinity. I quite like this idea – I am doubtful that when Jesus was a child he had the wisdom of Christ, I doubt that in his essays at school he wrote things like “God is love and all who live in love, live in God and God lives in them”. I doubt he said to his brothers “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called Children of God”. On this day Jesus learned something about equality between races that undid the racist teaching that he had learned before. Jesus then has a time of ministry to the Gentiles, the story marks a turning point.

The second interpretation is that Jesus is testing the woman and she comes through with flying colours. The woman is remarkably persistent – under the circumstances – she has been put down, insulted and she still keeps going. I dislike this because I find it insulting, the notion of Jesus testing her, especially in the context of the insult. But it does preserve the notion of Jesus being unchanging, emphasising the divinity of God.

How do you see Jesus? Do you see him learning? I think that is the reading that I take, in which case if it is ok for Jesus to be wrong sometimes, to learn from others, to be challenged and change his mind, then it is surely ok for us too.

Moving on to the story of the deaf man hearing, the reason I think we need to listen to God, particularly at this time, is because times are hard in the parish. Over the last few years the numbers of people who have attended our three churches has reduced probably from 134 per week to 87 per week. The amount of money we spend has stayed constant at about 45k per year, before paying our parish share, but our income has gone from 108k to 78k over the past four years. Alan will preach about this next week, but we the long and the short of it is we can’t afford to replace Carol, and the Vicarage will be let until the situation changes.

These numbers look depressing, and they need facing, but my belief is that God is with us, God will lead us through this. And in the meantime my hope is that we will come together more closely as a parish, we will need to work together, to help each other. My belief is that churches have seasons, and at the moment it is Winter, but Spring is coming. This belief has been strengthened by experiencing once again such a strong call to come here and it has been strengthened by finding such faithful people and the warmth of the welcome and friendship when we arrived.  I am convinced that together we will have the persistence of the Syrophoenician woman to work though this, the humility of Jesus to hear others and change where we need to, and I believe that Spring will come. I hope that you will also have that belief. Amen.

Sermon – Matthew 11:2-11(Lesley)

2 When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[a] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

John the Baptist baptizes Jesus. The artist Ad...
John the Baptist baptizes Jesus. The artist Adi Holzer created this handcolored etching The baptism in 1997. Today is his seventy-fifth birthday. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

7 As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. 9 Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:

“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,

    who will prepare your way before you.’[b]

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

A Vicar was fed up, waiting for the plumber to come. Eventually he sent him a note that simply said Matthew 11:3. When the plumber  looked it up he found the verse “Are you the one who is to come or look we for another”? So the plumber sent a note back, simply saying Isaiah 50:2a  “why did no one answer when I called”?

Sorry – couldn’t resist the dreadful joke.

John the Baptist was undoubtedly a great man of God – one of the greatest prophets that the Jews had seen.  In fact the New Testaments work hard to say that although John the Baptist was great, Jesus was greater, because there were many groups who followed John the Baptist as their leader even after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

John the Baptist had huge numbers of disciples, his teaching was transformative, he challenged materialism, challenged injustice, challenged the dreadful leaders of his time and was well respected by everyone for it. He ended up in jail, of course.

And jail is not an easy place to be. Not that I have personal experience of it, but in my rebellious teens I dated someone who had been in and out of jail, as had his friends. They spoke of it with horror. To do six weeks was unbearable, to do a long stretch such as a year was unthinkable. In jail they lost their freedom, their choices, their family, their girlfriends, their sense of self, their self-esteem, their ability to distance themselves from those who hurt them. They became completely disorientated and fearful.

So this passage does not show John the Baptist in his best light – Jesus is different than what he expected – are you the one or are we to look for another?

Perhaps it is the difference between his rather sober, austere outlook and rather angry God, who condemns things like adultery, compared with Jesus and his disciples having fun at parties and Jesus whose God forgives things like adultery. Jesus wasn’t doing religion in the same way as John.

And this is of course a huge challenge in the church today – people failing to understand others and the way they worship God – the various factions all too quickly throwing stones.

But the other thing to learn from this is how difficult it is not to lose our way when we are in situations that feel like prison. Of course they may not be actual prisons, we can get imprisoned in thought patterns, imprisoned in negative relationships, imprisoned by pain.

Being alone can impact on this too – have you heard the story of the man who went to his priest and asked why he was feeling so cold, so far from God. The priest simply got the fire tongs and took one of the coals out of the fire and put it on the hearth. The coal went from burning white hot to red hot to black. The priest then put it back in the fire. And within minutes it was on fire again. We need each other. The spiritual journey is not undertaken alone.

Jesus is very gentle with John – pointing out the evidence and then commending him. He does say that John is lacking something though, those who are least in the Kingdom of God are greater than John – perhaps he is the sense of the Holy Spirit at that time. If you compare John’s experience in prison with Peter’s experience when he was imprisoned then perhaps it is different – they sing hymns and an earthquake releases them, or Paul’s experience of ministering to his jailers. I don’t know.

But perhaps today is an opportunity to ask ourselves whether we have any prisons in our lives and whether we need to ask the Holy Spirit into them to transform them. I’m going to finish with that beautiful poem by Bonhoeffer, articulating his experience of imprisonment:

Who am I? They often tell me

I stepped from my cell’s confinement

Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,

Like a squire from his country-house.

Who am I? They often tell me

I used to speak to my warders

Freely and friendly and clearly,

As though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me

I bore the days of misfortune

Equably, smilingly, proudly,

Like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?

Or am I only what I myself know of myself?

Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,

Struggling for breath, as though hands were

compressing my throat,

Yearning for colours, for flowers, for the voices of birds,

Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighbourliness,

Tossing in expectation of great events,

Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,

Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,

Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

Who am I? This or the other?

Am I one person today and tomorrow another?

Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,

And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?

Or is something within me still like a beaten army,

Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.

Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine!

Sermon – Luke 1:57-66,80 (Lesley)

Birth of St. John the Baptist, depicting Zecha...
Birth of St. John the Baptist, depicting Zechariah writing, “His name is John”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘None of your relatives has this name.’ Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

 The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.

So John the Baptist is born. They are going to name him after his dad, but his mum says “no – his name is John”. They don’t believe her and so his dad writes on a tablet that his name is John and they believed him.

 

How annoying is that?

 

I would venture that if you are not annoyed then you are probably male!

 

I moved house a little while back.. moved to a cottage in Wheatley. Before we moved my prime task was to make sure that my internet connection was going to be available on the day that I moved in. I did everything by internet – banking, chatting to my mates, working from home, finding out information… it was vital to me. So I rang up the week before we moved, and did everything they asked, and rang up on the day we moved, it should be all set. When we got there the phone didn’t work, and so we arranged for a service engineer to come in a couple of day’s time. He said that the line had been accidentally cut by the previous occupant being rather zealous with some shears on the bush around the door and he would put a new line in. He put a new box inside the cottage and took his cable outside but discovered that there was no way he could get it to the pole as there were trees in the way, and hence it needed to go under the road. I was dismayed… it had already been two days and there was going to be a further delay. He sensed my desperation, and booked the work in urgently and taped the coil of cable to the side of my cottage.

 

It was actually 115 days before we got our connection back and I won’t bore you with the whole story, but in the middle of this saga I rang up BT for the hundredth time to be told that the engineer had in fact connected the cable and there must be a problem with the exchange. I told him that the engineer had not connected the cable and it was still taped to the side of the cottage… at which point he said it wasn’t and the engineer had been and it would take a couple of days to trace the problem at the exchange. I then said that the engineer had not been because I could see with my own eyes the loose end of the cable. At this point the man on the end of the phone told me in a patronizing tone that I shouldn’t worry about it and they would soon sort it out at their end. In desperation I passed the phone to my husband who said ‘the cable is still coiled up and taped to the side of our cottage’, to which the man on the end of the phone replied ‘ok sir, I’ll send an engineer to sort it out’.

 

As a woman it is sometimes hard to be heard, sometimes hard to be treated as an equal. And I feel that, living in the 21st century in England… how much harder it is for women across the world and across the ages… how much harder it must have been for the women in the Bible.

 

I heard a talk given by John Bell at Greenbelt a couple of years ago…. He was asked to preach at Westminster abbey at Evening Prayer and was given a sheet with the readings on it. He thought it would be interesting to see what had been preached on at Morning Prayer. So he found that it was Exodus 1:1-12. This text is about how a King rose up that did not know Joseph and oppressed the people by making them work hard. John Bell’s text was Exodus 3:1-12, which is about the call of Moses. Now he was intrigued that so much of the text had been skipped over and looked at what the missing stories were.

 

There was the story of how the King had decided to get rid of all the Israelite boys, and he called in the midwives, two of which were called Shiphrah and Puah, and told them to kill the male children of the Israelite women. However, they disobeyed this command. So, when the King looked out of his window and saw all the little Israelite boys running around who should in fact be dead, he called them back in for an explanation. They said oh, the Israelite women aren’t like Egyptian women, you know. Oh no – Egyptian women make such a fuss, in labour for 28 hours, but not the Israelite ones, a huff and a puff and the baby is out before we can even get there. Guess what – God was so pleased with these two women who disobeyed the Pharoah and lied to him that he blessed them with lots of kids.

 

Then there was the story of how Moses was born and hidden until they could hide him no more, so his mum made a basket and put him in it, then his sister kept watch, and then the Pharoah’s daughter found him and took him in. Another story where three women are active in defying male authority and that gave rise to Moses, the saviour of the Israelites.

 

When John Bell got up to speak in Westminster Abbey he said that he was sorry to announce that between the 11.30 service of Morning Prayer and the 4.30 Evensong, five middle eastern women had gone missing in the abbey. This caused a certain level of blind panic amongst the security people.

 

I could go on about other women in the Bible – courageous women – dispelling the image that all women in the Bible are either virgins or whores… women who stood up to Kings, stood up for justice, defied husbands, ignored gender stereotypes and challenged Jesus. These are women that God did not denounce, but God rewarded them.

 

But I won’t. My question to us is “Why does God favour the weak and the despised?”

 

Why? After all natural selection favours the fittest. When we look for examples to follow, we look for the best – the most successful. What is it about the weak, the downtrodden, the poor, the women, the outcast. What is it about loving them that is good?

 

Obviously, I don’t know. I don’t know the mind of God. But instinctively in my spirit I know it is true that God reaches out to the broken-hearted, the broken reed – God will not snap, the guttering flame – God will not extinguish.

 

And I also think it is true that in loving that which is weak, loving the despised and broken outside of ourselves, we begin to love that which is weak and broken within ourselves. Jesus said that he came to give Life and Life in its fullness, the only way we can be fully alive is if we fully accept the whole of ourselves. When we live without fear or shame.

 

More than that, though, I believe that Life in all its fullness involves courage. And so many places where God commends the weak, it isn’t just that they were weak, it is they acted with courage in spite of their lowliness and weakness.

 

I have been told by a psychologist that there are two themes in the Bible, the first is God saying “I love you”, and for you and me, perhaps there are parts of us that are weak or despised that we find hard to accept are loved. Hence when Jesus loves the Leper or the adulteress we find it easier to accept that we are loved too.

 

The second theme is God saying “Grow up”. And whatever the situation is – an overbearing Pharaoh to stand up to, an unjust King, whoever, perhaps the weak in the Bible can show us that however overwhelming the problem, God is with us and we need to get on and face it.

 

I’m going to finish by reading some famous words by Dorothy Sayers. Perhaps we can use them to remind ourselves how we need to treat the weak in our society and indeed the weak in ourselves:

 

Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man. There never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them either as “The women, God help us!” or “The ladies, God bless them!”; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as He found them and was completely unself-conscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything “funny” about woman’s nature.

Pentecost Sermon 27/5/12 (Lesley)

Icon of the Pentecost
Icon of the Pentecost (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Holy Spirit can sound a bit scary:

 

Holy Spirit – Holy Ghost

 

One of my friend’s husbands called it the Holy Spook.

 

And also it can make us think about people who seem a bit weird:

 

In one church which was quite formal a woman who had just become a Christian, and she was really excited about what she’d experienced, about the Holy Spirit. And in the middle of the service she shouted out, `Hallelujah!’ And the churchwarden was standing at the back, and he came up to her and tapped her on the shoulder and said, `Madam, you mustn’t say that here!’ And she said, `But I’m so excited! I’ve got religion!’ So he said, `Well, you didn’t get it here, madam.’

 

It might be worth looking at the Bible to see instances of the HS.

 

The Holy Spirit was in creation – brooding over the waters… it is creative and brings change.

 

The Holy Spirit gives gifts – in Exodus one of the craftsmen was named as filled with the HS to perform all sorts of crafts – creative again.

 

Gideon was afraid until he was filled with the HS.

 

The HS enabled Samson to break free of his bonds.

 

In Joel it says that the Holy Spirit is for all people – all people – you, me, everyone.

It will result in old men dreaming dreams and young men having visions, and all of us, women too will have this fantastic sense of God within us and of God’s dreams and visions.

 

I was talking to someone this week who told me that she suddenly realised that she had faith, and with this realisation came this sense of God within her. Wow! It made me realise how exciting being a Christian is – sometimes we just take it for granted. We compared notes – I feel the HS in my heart, for her it was partly in her heart and in her gut too – this sense of God with us.

 

Remember the Holy Spirit is for us all – every one of us, those of us who are near and those who are far away, and it will cause something new to happen, something creative, something that frees us, something that gives us a vision for the future.

 

When we try to be Christians in our own strength then it is like a balloon filled with air –we have to hold it to keep it up. That is sometimes called muscular Christianity – we toil, we struggle, we do it in our own strength. But if we have a balloon filled with helium then it will rise up to heaven unless we keep it down. Perhaps it is our fears, or our sins or our circumstances that keep it down. Perhaps we need to be freed of some of this stuff.

 

I believe that the Holy Spirit come to give us freedom. The Bible tells us that it was for Freedom that Christ has set us free, no longer to be subject to a yoke of slavery. It seems to me that it is mostly the fears that stop us being free.

 

When I was preparing for this sermon I looked in a book that gives quotes or thoughts for each sermon and it used an essay about the film Shirley Valentine as the example for Pentecost. Which surprised me rather. If you haven’t seen the film then it is a gentle comedy of a woman, middle-aged wife and mother who is stuck. Stuck in her life. Rather unhappy. She goes to Greece, I think, on holiday with another woman who is her friend and meets a Greek called Costas and has a torrid affair. Then at the end of the film she calls for her husband and he comes out and walks past her on the beach. She calls to him and he doesn’t recognise her and she responds:

“I know. I used to be The Mother. I used to be The Wife. But now I’m Shirley Valentine again. Would you like to join me for a drink?”

The last line of the film is from him “Er… thanks”.

 

I was a bit non-plussed – I’m used to Christian books moralising at me. What was this story saying?

 

I think it is that the Holy Spirit frees us to be truly and wonderfully ourselves. And the real us is beautiful and happy and open and free and finding that person and letting her or him out of the cages that we put her or him in is part of the work of the Spirit.

 

Each night I use an Ignation style of prayer, and in this prayer the first part is Consciousness – becoming aware of God, then the second part is freedom – which still surprises me. God is not foreign to my freedom – God wants to set me free.

 

But the HS also is about sending us out. It is interesting that the HS enabled everyone to speak in languages that others could hear. It was like a reversal of the Tower of Babel curse, where people could no longer understand each other. The HS allows us to connect more deeply with others. Psychologists tell us that the most important thing for us all is to have connection. As Christians we might say love.

 

So where is the HS leading us as a church? It makes sense to try to see what the Spirit is doing and join in.

 

Unlike the vicar who enjoyed sitting at the bottom of his garden where a train line ran past. And when asked why he liked watching the trains he replied that it is the only thing that moved through his Parish without him pushing it.

 

It isn’t like that here – much is moving, it seems like loads of trains are happily moving and building up steam and it is nothing to do with me or Alan – we didn’t touch them!

 

Let us watch and pray and asked to be filled and freed and join in with what God is doing to serve those who we live alongside.

 

Amen

 

 

Sermon – John 20.19-31 (Lesley)

The Resurrection of Christ
The Resurrection of Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

 26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

 

There is a great deal going on in this reading:

–          Jesus says “as the Father sends me so I send you”

–          He breathes on the disciples and says “receive the Holy Spirit”

–          There is the rather peculiar bit about forgiving sins

–          There is the lovely story of Thomas

–          John reveals the reason for writing the Gospel – that through believing you may have life.

I can’t focus on all of these things and so I will focus on the words “As the father sends me, so I send you”

As the Father sent Jesus, so Jesus is sending us…

I once heard a sermon from Stephen Cottrell, who was at the time newly the Bishop of Reading, now the Bishop of Chelmsford and he said that these words troubled him…

As the Father sends me, so I send you.

So he got out all his commentaries and he translated back from the original Greek and he looked for all the possible shades of meaning that this verse may have, and in the end, after much work, he concluded that what the verse actually means is…

As the Father sends me, so I send you.

It is shocking. God sent Jesus to minister to His creation, to proclaim the Good News, to heal the sick, bind up the brokenhearted. God the Father sent Jesus – the Messiah, some sort of superhero… and as the Father sent him so Jesus sends us. Little old us. And not some of us, not just the courageous and the articulate and the brainy and the holy ones…. ALL OF US.

No wonder people run away from ordination. Almost every ordained person I know ran from God for as long as they could. For Alan it was six months and then he made the mistake of going to a Vocations Day to prove that he wasn’t called to be a priest. For me it was a year, for a friend I know at the moment it has been two years. The reason we run is because we know that if we say “yes” then we have to face the fact that.

As the Father sent Jesus, so Jesus sends us.

But, of course, our baptism is our ordination. For all of us. Or perhaps we might say that our Confirmation is our ordination.

In this text is the model for our confirmation

For those of us who have been confirmed, the bishop says:

God has called you by name and made you his own.

He then lays his hand of the head of each saying:

Confirm, O Lord, your servant with your Holy Spirit.

God calls us and God sends us. It is interesting that we tend to focus more on our “calling” than our “sending”, and yet the Bible is full of the question “who shall I send?” not “who shall I call?”

The deeper we go into the meaning of God’s call for us, the more we find that God is sending us – God called Moses at the burning bush then sent him to set his people free.  God called Isaiah in the vision in the temple and then sent him to be a prophet to his people. God calls us at our baptism and sends us at our confirmation. The sending isn’t optional – it is part and parcel of being a Christian. When we baptise children it is on the understanding that they should be confirmed when they can declare the faith to be their own. The coming of age is a symbol of each of us accepting our sending.

A psychologist priest I know reckons that the Bible has two messages for us.

The first is “I am with you”, the second is “grow up”.

God has called us by name and also God sends us. But we are equipped by the Power of the Holy Spirit and we are equipped by the fellowship and love that we have for each other.

Furthermore we are an Easter People, a group who are formed by the Resurrection. Richard Rohr says:

“To believe in the Resurrection means to cross limits and transcend boundaries. Because of the promise of the Resurrection of Jesus we realistically can believe that tomorrow can be better than today. We are not bound by any past. There is a future that is created by God, and much bigger than our own efforts.

We should not just believe in some kind of survival or immortality or just “life after death”—but Resurrection, an utterly new creation, a transformation into Love that is promised as the final chapter of all history.”

But you will notice that Jesus’ resurrection body carries the scars of his crucifixion. As we all carry scars, I’m sure. Life becomes ever more complex and perplexing, to borrow two words from our Lent book. We end up with scars. These scars don’t evaporate, even in the light of the resurrection. But perhaps they do have their uses. Macabre as is sounds, they helped Thomas, and Jesus offered him exactly what he wanted – to put his hand in his nail marks and in his side. Perhaps, believing in the resurrection, even our scars become part of our sending.

I guess it is a lack of trust in God, this running away from the sending – if we give in to this Hound of Heaven who is gently pursuing us then what will happen? It reminds me of that story of a man who fell off a cliff and half way down he managed to grab hold of a branch. Suspended half way down he called up “is there anybody there?”

“yes” boomed the reply, “it is God, let go and I will catch you”

The man thought for a moment “is there anybody else there?”

The truth is that it is by accepting our sending that we find life in all its fullness. Accepting it without complaining, accepting it without grumbling, accepting it as God’s grace to us. Too often we moan that there are too few of us, or two few doing all the jobs, or complaining that people don’t see things the same way as we do. In these circumstances, if our church life feels like a burden then perhaps we haven’t determined our sending. Once we have stopped running away, stopped fearing that we will be taken, blessed, broken and given to others, then we wonder why we ran in the first place.

As the father sends me… sends me, takes me, blesses me, breaks me, gives me… as the Father sends me, so I send you.

I will finish with a story from a book called “Cutting for Stone” where a boy in an orphanage is talking to his Matron. She tells him that his must play the Gloria. He responds by saying:

“But, Matron, I can’t dream of playing Bach, the ‘Gloria’ . . . ,” He’d never played a string or wind instrument. I couldn’t read music.

“No, not Bach’s ‘Gloria.’ Yours! Your ‘Gloria’ lives within you. The greatest sin is not finding it, ignoring what God made possible in you.”

I pray that individually and together we all find our Gloria. Amen.

Ash Wednesday Sermon (Lesley) John 1:1-8

Deutsch: Christus im Hause des Pharisäers, Jac...
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John 8:1-11
but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about sin, in preparation for this sermon…. And a memory came back to me that characterises sin for me. I was eighteen and an engineering apprentice. We had to learn how to weld and used various techniques, and it all went pretty smoothly, but the final type of welding required very, very high electric currents. I was with my friend Audrey and we were in a booth that had a metal table and a metal cage around us. The idea being that the welding stick had a high voltage that was earthed when it touched anything metal. So we were wearing protective clothing with a visor that was so dark that you could literally see nothing – it was pitch black and I stood in the total blackness in the booth waiting for her to begin welding. I did see one flash on the table and then after that there were flashes of light from over my head, to the right, to the left, back on the table, then over in another corner… all over the place – accompanied by crashing and banging. I was terrified. I couldn’t run because I couldn’t see and I couldn’t take the visor off because of the flashing arcs of light that would blind me. When Audrey had finally stopped she told me what had happened. She had accidentally welded the welding stick to the specimen, and then she was trying to shake it free, in the process she managed to crash it into the cage in various places and everywhere it made contact with the metal it earthed and so the arcing started.

Why is this like sin? Well because I think what happens to me, and sometimes to others, is we have some issue that is perhaps unseen, a bit like getting the welding stick stuck to the specimen. Let’s say that issue is crushing unworthiness, or fear of the future, or a bad marriage, or a deep grief, or perhaps a desperate shame. But you don’t see any of that, you don’t know about it because it is hidden so deeply. What you perhaps see is me grumpy with my kids, super sensitive about certain things, you see me overworking, or eating too much, or you see me sullen in meetings… All these things are like sparks flying all over the place, and sometimes these are the things that we focus on as sins… but they aren’t ever going to be solved because they aren’t the real problem. The real problem is what happened in the darkness, the wrong thing got welded..!

Turning to the passage, I have struggled more and more with it as the years have gone on. I’ll try to explain why.
For a start Jewish Law says that people can only be accused of adultery if they were caught actually in the act. The law also said that both parties were guilty. So why is only the woman accused of it. Where is the man? It isn’t as if he wasn’t there when the Pharisees turned up. Why did he get away Scot free? Well presumably because being a man he was worth more than her. But what sort of betrayal is this? Betrayal of justice, betrayal of love….?

Or is it worse than this. Is this whole thing a set-up? After all it is only the Pharisees who accuse her… and it seems very convenient that a bunch of Pharisees catch a woman in the very act of adultery in close proximity to where Jesus is teaching so that they can publicly test him and force him to choose between obedience to the Law and the mercy that characterises him. Perhaps she was forced to commit adultery?

Then she was brought before Jesus. The text tells us that Jesus was sitting down and that she was forced to stand. My guess is that as they brought her straight from the act that she was naked, which is why Jesus mostly seems to be leaning forward, bowing his head, drawing in the sandy soil and protecting her modesty.

It is a horrible scene of betrayal and humiliation, all with the aim of catching Jesus out. As a woman and as a priest I have heard horrific stories of abuse and humiliation such that I don’t think I can be shocked any more. For me, these stories wash over my consciousness as I read this story and I am transfixed and appalled by the scene that has developed.

Perhaps you too know stories of shame and humiliation. I confess that as I read this story I have a growing anger towards the Pharisees. We don’t know whether the woman has transgressed in this way or not. But what about the sins of the Pharisees? What about the way they let injustice rule and they let the man go? What about the way they are publicly humiliating this woman just so they can continue their vendetta against Jesus? If they were concerned about her sin and thought Jesus could help then why not let her be clothed and go to him privately? Anger begins to burn in me.

But of course I am doing exactly the same thing as the Pharisees. They are drawing tighter and tighter circles of sinfulness around her and I am doing the same to them.

Jesus is different. He drew an expanded circle of sinfulness that included everyone present and then an even more expansive circle of forgiveness in the words “Neither do I condemn you”.

Once we judge someone then it is difficult to hear God over the clamour of our own ego. Once we have judged then it is difficult to change our minds without losing face. We are called to be open and expansive, not to judge, that we might be able to discern God in amongst our everyday lives. To do this we need a soul that is at peace, not one that is awash with judgement, anger and pride.

But two questions remain for me:

“Is the woman really guilty?” I find myself asking – I’m still struggling to get away from this judging mentality. Jesus said “Go and sin no more” – does he think she was caught doing something wrong? And how could he possibly know if he was clothed in the same humanity that we have, how could he know without asking more questions?

Well, the truth is of course that all of us sin, including her. All of us fall short, and we flail around creating sparks here and there… perhaps some of us have deeper hurts that drive these things and we need to find the courage to deal with them.

I heard a story about a woman who said to her Orthodox priest that she thought confession was useless for her – she didn’t do all those disgusting things that other people do. The priest replied that she should tell this to her husband and children and come back in the morning to tell the priest her decision on whether she wanted to confess. In the morning she came back a different person… and with a very long list.

It is easy to let pride get in the way of our relationship with God. This is why in every mosque, when they do those beautiful mosaics, they always have some flaw in the pattern somewhere – to remind them of their humanness, their brokenness, their incompleteness.

My second question is why the woman remains there once all her accusers have gone. Jesus is sitting down, the woman is standing there, possibly naked…. the text says that everyone goes – including the disciples and all the people who Jesus was teaching. They all slip away and the woman is alone with Jesus. What has happened to her? At the beginning of the story she was dragged along and forced to stand, now she is there voluntarily.

Somehow, in all her nakedness and vulnerability, being with Jesus is safe. Knowing that she was a sinner and an accused woman, she still remains.

I find this surprising, and then I wonder why.

I wonder whether I can be naked before God, real and vulnerable.

Is that an issue for all of us… and if so why?

I wonder whether this Lent we can hear the words of Jesus “Go and sin no more” but also hear the words “neither do I condemn you”..?

Sermon on John 1:1-14 (Jennifer)

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...
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1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

In the beginning……..

During this last week we have been reminded of at least two reasons to celebrate 2012.

It’s 200 years since Charles Dickens was born.

And it’s 60 years since Princess Elizabeth became our Queen.

In order for us to appreciate these occasions
and to celebrate them fully
it seems necessary to go back to the beginning of these events.

We have heard that Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth,
that he experienced poverty in his childhood.
That his father was locked in the Marshalsea prison for debt,
and that he was put to work as a boy in terrible conditions in a factory.

And because of this beginning,
Charles Dickens used his narrative genius,
his brilliant character portrayals,
and vivid sense of humour,

not only to give us a series of gripping good reads,

but also to raise awareness of the dark, murky, side of Victorian England,
and to help bring about social reform.

This week we have also seen, pictures of the young Queen, on hearing the news of the death of her father, flying home from her holiday in Kenya.

Dressed in black, she is met at the airport by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and the members of her Government.

We have once again seen pictures of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation,
when she dedicated herself in service to God and her people,

And because of this beginning, 60 years later, we can thankfully celebrate this faithful dedication to our country.

In today’s readings we are invited to go back to the beginning

to be reminded of all that we celebrate here in our worship today.

In the beginning God created……

So begins the Bible….

The Old Testament reading from Proverbs is full of light, beauty and joy
as the voice of Wisdom talks about rejoicing in the world at the very beginning of creation.

“Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.”

One version of the Bible uses the word “playing” and speaks of Wisdom being God’s darling and delight.

It speaks of a new creation where everything is as it should be and anything is possible.

A world created with wisdom,

Personified as a desirable woman,
holding the symbol for life in one hand
and riches and well-being in the other.

An image of order, justice and righteousness.

God’s beautiful creation we can surely celebrate today.

The tragedy is that things are no longer as they were at the beginning,

Unspoiled.

There is darkness around us:

in the damage we have done to our world;
in the tragedies and disasters we hear about daily;
in our own lives and in the lives of others.

But God seems to have taken this into his planning as well!

In the beginning was the word…..

So begins John’s Gospel

Unlike the other Gospels, John begins not with human time, but with eternity. .

Here we find wisdom personified as Jesus
the eternal word of God.

Jesus who embodies wisdom in his person and his teaching.

This Gospel message is that even in our battered world the light of life and beauty still shines
– the darkness has not overcome it.
– God still delights in the human race, in each one of us.

And it’s in the nature of love, in the nature of God,
to want to enjoy fellowship with us,
to want the very best for us.
For us to become children of God.

So he comes to live among us, to draw us to himself in Jesus.

In Jesus we see what God is like in human form – concerned about people’s lives and welfare;
willing to forgive and heal;
always ready to offer a new start,
with new possibilities opening before us,
as it was in the beginning.

And if God delights in us then surely it matters to him how we respond .

Cardinal Basil Hume says, in his book “Mystery of the Incarnation”, that we mustn’t worry about whether or not we have love for God.
We just need to remember the simple truth that God is in love with each of us.
It’s an amazing thought – that each of us can say “God is in love with me” “God delights in me”.

It’s a mustard seed of faith which grows and begins to change us and our lives.

It’s not something that happens overnight.

We’ll probably each of us spend our whole life receiving God’s invitations
and we’ll probably miss a few because we can’t or won’t watch and listen.

Or maybe we’ll recognise the invitations but are afraid of saying “yes”, because that would mean having to change and grow
and change and growth are very often uncomfortable or downright painful.

But we are not alone.
Jesus, the Word and Wisdom of God made flesh, is with us.

He is our light and his life is the life that will never die.

No darkness in our lives can overcome that light

Sometimes though, it does seem as if the darkness is all there is
and that’s when we need each other.

Our own light may go out for a while leaving us lost in the darkness.
But being part of the body of Christ means that someone else nearby is carrying a light
and can hold that up for us until our darkness passes.

Then it may be our turn to hold the Christ light for someone else.

There is darkness around us: but in that darkness a light shines and refuses to be overcome.

A light which offers us new hope, new strength, new courage and new starts.

The light of eternal life.

God delights in us: there is no darkness that can overcome that light.

So here and now in 2012, let us celebrate God’s love for us,
his delight in each of us,
His light which cannot be extinguished by any darkness of this world.

Sermon on John 1:1-14 (Lesley)

Image of Jesus, the Divine Word.
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1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Light and Darkness

I must confess that I struggled with this sermon all week. I had a hunch that I wanted to speak of light and darkness… and eventually I realised why I was struggling to preach on this… it is the concept of darkness – what does it mean, and are the models helpful?

So the passage speaks of light shining in the darkness, and the darkness not overcoming it… but what is the darkness?
Is the darkness evil? Perhaps, but for me, I find the concept of evil doesn’t help me very much, it tend to make me fearful, or paranoid. Sometimes it makes me project all my problems outwards instead of dealing with the root cause which is probably me. Sometimes I find Christians a bit illogical – they will say that you can tell something is worth doing because it is very difficult and the devil is clearly attacking it…. And then about other things they will say that you can tell that the Spirit is blessing it because it is so easy. I end up wondering if the Spirit or the Devil has anything to do with it or whether it is really their own desires….

Is the darkness sin? Perhaps, but for me, I find focussing on my sinfulness can leave me feeling guilty and worthless. Of course, there are times when I feel convicted of something that I have done wrong and I change my ways, I make amends, I confess what was hidden, I know God’s love and forgiveness and I feel so much better. “Better out than in” is an expression that comes to mind, but perhaps that is not such a nice expression….
But there are other times when I find that I just mess up a bit every day. I find a flash of anger and I shout at the kids, a flash of resentment and I get shirty with my husband, a moment of stupidity and I hurt a friend, a time of business and I neglect my own needs. For me, every day, there is the sincere desire to be the wife, mother and priest God has called me to be, and every day I mess up. I love that quote by Samuel Butler that “Life is like playing a violin in public and learning the instrument as one goes on.” I feel like I am a slow learner… but is that really darkness?

Another possibility is that darkness is unbelief. But, I also find this concept of darkness unhelpful… because I think doubt is critical for growing in faith, and I believe that too many churches try to suppress doubt, saying that it is either sin or from the devil…

You see, most of us, at some stage in our faith journey experience agonising doubt. It feels like we have lost our faith. It is a period of questioning, exploring, falling apart, doubting, dancing around the real issues, sinking in uncertainty, and indulging in self-centeredness. People around us think we are utterly lost. This sudden uncertainty is normally precipitated by a crisis, it makes former truths look like sham, we can’t make any sense of God and we can find no new direction, every route we take only results in more questions. Faith is no longer a support for us, it crumbles before our eyes, we feel remote, immobilized, unsuccessful, hurt, ashamed, or reprehensible. Prayer doesn’t work, church doesn’t work, whatever formula we previously had is now useless.

This is a stage of faith and at the end of it, we hit something that some researchers call “the Wall”. It is impossible to go over, around, or under the Wall. One can only go through it. For me, when I had this experience, I called it “the abyss”… a sense of letting go of faith and of God and falling into the utter darkness. We don’t know it at the time, but it is the point where we integrate the spiritual part of ourselves with the rest of us, where we face our own and other’s demons… it is so unpleasant that we only enter this phase when we are forced to because of a crisis.

The only end to it is when we fully and completely surrender to God’s will, even though we don’t even know whether God exists, and even though we remain in the dark. After the Wall we are never the same…. Is this darkness? I don’t think so.

And so what is the darkness? Let me digress for a moment.

A few of us watched a video by a preacher called Rob Bell up at St Mark’s the other day, and he had a concept of faith that is like a rhythm. And this song, this rhythm has been playing since the dawn of time, it is a song that moves us, and people throughout the ages have heard this rhythm and played along with it… and when we do something mean or we gossip or we steal or we lie, it is discordant… and when we see something kind or loving, it lifts our souls because the person is playing the song, the song that is within our soul. And it can be that people who say they have no religion play to the sound of the song, and others who are very religious confuse us because they seem to be hitting all the wrong notes…. And the song just keeps on playing.

I think this type of idea fits well with the passage that St John wrote…

In the beginning was the “Word”… what on earth does that mean? Well it has strong resonances with the passage in Genesis… In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth… the passage takes us back to the beginning of time, when the song was playing, even before anything was created… But why “the Word”? What does that mean? Again, it takes us back to Genesis, where things come into being when God’s intentions are spoken. St John chooses to call Jesus “The Word” rather than “The Son” because in a sense, “The Word” makes Jesus and God more closely associated than “The Son”, after all many fathers and sons are quite different in nature. The Greek word translated “Word” in this passage is Logos, and it was common in both Greek philosophy and Jewish thought of that day. In the Old Testament logos was personified as the instrument of God’s will and in Greek philosophy logos described the intermediate agency by which God created the world.

I see “The Word” as God’s breath, God’s intention, God’s song, God personified.

The passage then tells us that in the Word was life and light and the light shines in the darkness… the song plays whether others are playing it or not… it resonates through everything.. through us…

Now John the Baptist came as a witness to the light… and that is the same for us. Our job is to try to listen to the song and to try to play in tune, even if we aren’t joined by others.. we need to keep playing. And we are the priesthood of all believers – each of us has a priestly duty to try to listen as best we can for the song, listen for God, look for the light and then to order our lives to that rhythm.

It is my belief that we are most ourselves when we are in tune with God. We are Children of God – it isn’t that we have to repress our personalities, or put a Christian mask on… when we are most in tune with God we are most ourselves. I don’t think that when we are in tune with God we are all clones of Jesus either, we are all created differently, unique, each like a different instrument in the orchestra, playing our little bit as best we can…
And so what is darkness? I believe that it is the places in our communities, in our families and in our hearts where that tune doesn’t seem to reach. It isn’t the odd wrong note, more it is the places where fear or hatred or hopelessness dominate. But we have hope – we need to keep playing the song.. and we have hope – in the words of St John “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” or in the words of Desmund Tutu:

Goodness is stronger than evil;
love is stronger than hate;
light is stronger than darkness;
life is stronger than death;
victory is ours through God who loves us.
Amen