Saturday, 8 December 2007
A taxi passenger tapped the driver on the shoulder to ask him something. The driver screamed, lost control of the car, nearly hit a bus, went up on the pavement, and stopped centimetres from a shop window. For a second everything went quiet in the cab, then the driver said, ‘Look mister, don’t ever do that again. You scared the daylights out of me!’
The passenger apologized and said he didn’t realize that a little tap could scare him so much.
The driver replied ‘Sorry, it’s not really your fault. Today is my first day as a cab driver. I’ve been driving hearses for the last 25 years’.
Surprises are often jolts in what can be a sometimes mundane life. When they come they can force us to think again about priorities, direction in life, values, and spirituality.
We come to this passage in Matthew straight from an account of Jesus early childhood. The previous chapter ends with the comment that Jesus made his home in a town called Nazareth. And then, suddenly, we are launched into the opening of chapter 3 – In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near’.
This is a dramatic entry. Whereas Mark, Luke and John use John the Baptist as part of the opening theatre scene – as a person who is known to the audience before we get going on the journey, Matthew announces the arrival of John the Baptist with trumpets. The doors of the Gospel swing open, and there stands John in the wilderness of Judea, looking for all the world like Elijah of old. For us, it’s a shock to see him. Who could have guessed it?
His appearance is itself a claim that God’s ways with the world are often strange, unforeseen, and unpredictable. Here at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, John the Baptist announces a call to worship in the flesh. Not a benign and cheery Good morning, but a real call to worship that shakes the cobwebs off the pews: ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near’.
And so we are reminded of the action of God in history.
It is often sudden, unexpected, and sometimes we may feel intrusive.
In our comfortable ideas of Western pilgrimage, with an even road that meanders through the English hillsides, there is little to compare with the incoming presence of an awe inspiring God. Sometimes an Elijah appears, a nation repents, a Berlin Wall is dismantled, a Martin Luther King, or a Mahatma Gandhi emerges.
God’s will shatters the comfortable, ordinary ways of doing things, and breaks in on the world in a jarring surprise. I know that some of you will have been shocked by my news today
– and some of you may still be trying to absorb the impact, reflecting on your own experiences of illness.
Always though, when God breaks in this way – He is pointing beyond
– Beyond to somewhere different
– To a different reality
– To a world that is new
This connection to the ‘beyondness of things’ is vital in our own spiritual journey. We look on times when God breaks into our lives unexpectedly as times that can stretch and transform the normal fabric of life so that they let in cracks of eternity – and I think too help us to see those cracks in ordinary life as well. From those signs of eternity within ourselves, and our world, we are then able to speak something of eternity beyond.
How, though, do we describe this beyondness. We need to stretch the language and thought we use. Poetry goes some way towards describing in images what we fail to articulate through sentences. And yet even here, words often fail to describe the mystery that we see.
Perhaps we need to be led into the realm beyond words. As Solzhenitsyn has commented in his work on art, it is like that small mirror in the fairy tales – you glimpse the inaccessible, a realm forever beyond reach where no horse or magic carpet can take you.
(Alexander Solzhenitsyn from Nobel Prize speech titled The gift of art )
John the Baptist also struggled to describe what he was seeing. He knew in his own heart that the one to come would be greater than he, and would transform the world as we know it.
Yet how to describe this image of transformation?
We can almost sense John’s frustration with the Saducees and Pharisees as he tries to articulate what is to come – they can’t seem to understand what he is trying to tell them. What John sees is a little of the beyondness – the mystery of God – that lies beyond human language, and pictures, and poetry, and can only exist in silence.
Those of you who came to the Advent meditation on Tuesday will recognise the words of Walt Whitman :
After the seas are all cross’d (as they seem already cross’d)
After the great captains and engineers have accomplished their work
After the noble inventors, after the scientists, the chemist, the geologist, the ethnologist,
Finally shall come the poet,
The true son of God, singing songs.
There is a sense in which God is beyond all human knowledge, beyond human language, beyond any kind of shape that we can construct.
And yet, especially at this time of Advent we are confronted with this mystery that is God, breaking into our structured world, pointing us to somewhere that we can’t yet see, to an unknown world that seems to be beyond description; to a reality that seems to transcend anything that we can experience on earth.
We are faced with a challenge. In order to follow God on this journey, we have to take a road that we don’t know exists, to find a path that appears not to be there.
It seems to be an impossible task – and yet we are called to follow on this journey.
As John of the Cross wrote in the 16th century (and subsequently made famous by T S Eliot) :
In order to arrive at that which thou knowest not,
Thou must go by a way that thou knowest not.
In order to arrive at that which thou possessest not,
Thou must go by a way that thou possessest not.
In order to arrive at that which thou art not,
Thou must go through that which thou art not.
An impossible journey – and one in which in many ways I feel I am just beginning.
Just beginning to find a path that doesn’t exist;
Just beginning to leave the road in order to find it;
Just beginning to find the emptiness that will support and sustain me;
I think Thomas Merton put his finger on the struggle that many of us face when he said:
“We must live by a power and a light that seem not to be there. We must live by the strength of an apparent emptiness that is always truly empty and yet never fails to support us at every moment.” (Thomas Merton).
And so we wait.
We wait with John the Baptist for the coming mystery;
We wait in the silence that speaks beyond words;
We wait for an all transforming God to break in on the world, in the shape of a baby.
A relighting Christingle, made possible, of course, with a trick candle. What we celebrate today, though, is no trick but reality: the truth of what God has done for us through his Son, Jesus Christ.
‘What has come into being, in him,’ said our reading earlier, ‘is life; life that is light for all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has been unable to extinguish it.’ No matter how dark it may seem, somehow that light keeps shining, bringing strength, hope, courage and peace into even the bleakest of circumstances. As one of the Psalms puts it: ‘If I say, “Surely darkness will steal over me, night will envelop me”, darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as day; for you both dark and light are the same’ (Psalm 139:11-12).
It’s time, then, for us to think about how we are going to be ready to receive this Light of Christ this Christmas time? How can we prepare to receive this Light of Christ? You could join us each Tuesday evening during Advent for Prayers and Meditation prepared by Melanie, you could come along to the Carol Service on the 16th December, you can join us for the Crib Service on Christmas Eve at 3.00pm. But today we are preparing to light up the darkness in the lives of Children who for one reason or another have run away from home and are in need of a ‘Big Bag’. A simple bag containing all sorts of things that will make that child feel valued, loved and saved.
Later we will be lighting our own Christingles, not relighting ones but nevertheless reminding us of light that cannot be extinguished: the light of Christ shining in the darkness of our world. As your candle is lit, ask God to help you prepare and to be ready for His coming. Amen.
Saturday, 24 November 2007
INTRODUCTION TO THIS THEME FOR THIS WEEK
We are following a series of themes entitled “Following in the Steps of the Master” in which we are exploring what it means, as a church – the people of God – to be a Community of Faith, bound together as followers of Jesus Christ.
So far we have considered our need (and our increasing nowadays) to Care for Creation; to be a Community together on the Pilgrim Road; to have an individual (and perhaps also a corporate) rhythm of prayer, work and recreation; to absorb the scriptures; to lead a simple lifestyle; to be a community that helps to bring healing to a fragmented society; and (in order to achieve all this) to be open to God’s Holy Spirit.
What is the object of these admirable targets in life? Naturally, we say, it is because they are good in themselves. Both individually and together, they are basic to a life that is healthy, holistic, enjoyable, and creative.
But there is a second purpose which is just as important. By living like this, we are to commend the God whom we worship; Jesus Christ who stands at the very centre of our faith; and the good news of salvation He came to bring, to the great outside world. We are to be a community of mission and that is our theme for today.
And I have chosen as the Key Text for today, which I hope you will commit to memory 2 Corinthians 5 20: “We are Christ’s ambassadors, as though God was making his appeal through us; we implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God”.
We are not just here for our own benefit. Archbishop William Temple once famously said that the Church is the only institution that exist primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members. That is a fundamental truth that too often gets lost in all the busy whirl of activity, and all the arguments about which form of service we like, which hymns are our favourites, what the church should or should not be doing or saying to the outside world.
Being a Christian community should not be a matter of our own preferences. That is not the way of Christ, who came not to be served, but to serve. Foremost in our minds should be the question: “What best commends Christ to the world outside?” That should shape our policies, our attitudes, our goals.
AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST
Consider the role of an Ambassador. Imagine that you have been appointed British Ambassador to some important country, and this building is the Embassy. You, with those around you, and this building, is to represent everything that is best about Britain.
The building will look as good as it possibly can. It will fly the flag that says Britain is best! No leaking roofs, shabby interiors, uncomfortable seats. And you, as Ambassador, must represent everything that is best about Britain – its attitudes, its policies, its character. And your proud task is – by example and by word – to let everyone know that Britain is a fine and honourable country, to be commended everywhere.
We are Ambassadors for Christ. All the same criteria apply. Everything we are and do and say must commend Him – recommend Him – and (as St Paul says) appeal to everyone outside, to find their life’s fulfilment and salvation in the relationship to God that we represent. Who could imagine a more honourable, proud and wonderful role to fulfil? It should fill our hearts with both pride and humility, and make us work to our utmost to be the best ambassadors we possibly can be.
But it must clearly also fill us with a great sense of responsibility. How will the great outside world know that Christianity is best, is life-fulfilling, and leads its followers to the heart of everything they have always longed for?
And if it is indeed the case that most people neither know nor care much about the Christian faith, the love of God, and the riches to be found in Jesus Christ, whose fault is that? To be brutally honest, the church in this country does not usually present a very attractive or compelling case on God’s behalf. Nor do we always try as hard as we might, to fulfil that ambassadorial role.
OLD TESTAMENT BACKGROUND
If we look back through the Old Testament, we find that this is far from being a new problem. The Israeli nation knew itself to be chosen by God. What they too often failed to remember was why they had been chosen. They thought they were just very special, and God would always protect them, no matter what. But God kept reminding them through the prophets that the reason they had been chosen was so that they could be ‘a light to the Gentiles’ – that they could draw all peoples and nations to the worship of the one true God. They were chosen to be a missionary people. And when they forgot that, they found to their dismay that God was no longer prepared to grant them special status, and they had some hard lessons to learn.
LESSONS FOR US TODAY
It is the same with the Christian Church. When we stop being a missionary church, and simply look to our own interests and preferences, we lose credibility, and God is not going to prop up the life of this or any church which has ceased to fulfil the purpose for which He created it.
THE GOOD NEWS FROM ISAIAH 55
We have such a great and valuable gift from God to offer to the world. Why are we so slow to tell everyone about it? Why do we get bogged down in matters which are ultimately of no concern? Isaiah 55 is one of the greatest chapters in the Bible. Out there is a parched and hungry world, longing and searching for spiritual values. Here are we sitting on them and refusing to share. Isaiah says that God offers water to the spiritually hungry, and bread to the spiritually hungry. And all this comes to fulfilment in Jesus who is the bread of life, and offers to fill our lives with the cleansing water of the Spirit.
JESUS AND HIS MISSION
And in Luke 10, when Jesus sends out his disciples with this good news to share, they find that so many receive it gladly. We read in verses 17 and 18: “The seventy two returned with joy and said: ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’” And Jesus cries out “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” There is no reason why this could not all be true today.
How, then, can we become a Community of Mission? It is, of course, both an individual and a corporate endeavour. As ambassadors for Christ, we act both on our own, and as a body.
ST MICHAELS MUST BECOME AN AMBASSADOR FOR CHRIST
Individually, the ambassador must embody the message he proclaims. It is when people see something different about us that they are attracted. The person who prays and serves God with integrity and humility does not go unnoticed in a brash, violent and sinful world. And when people start to ask questions, we can point to the source of our strength and our inspiration.
As a Church, we must fly the flag, and embody the good news of God, who is alive and well, and among us in Camberley. Everything about our building must proclaim our values, our beliefs, our welcome, our relevance, our mission. We are just beginning work on this, and we have a long way to go.
And as a Church, we must be together the people of God, showing how very different people can live and worship together, in love, humility and honour.
We are called to be a Missionary Community. And there is a priority and indeed an edge to this. So long as we fail, the church will decline. We have been warned that, unless we rise to this challenge, there will be no live church here in 20 years or less. God will not artificially prop us up if we are not fulfilling his purpose. He will find other ways. All the history of the Bible proclaims the truth of this. This is a deeply serious matter.
As we come to Holy Communion today, let us each pray that God will fill us with his Holy Spirit – fill this Church with his Holy Spirit – and turn us into a glorious witness that will bring the light of the Gospel to Camberley; see many needy people coming to a new faith and a new life; and see, here in Camberley, Satan fall like lightning from the sky, defeated by the power of Christ.
Lord, make us each one – and make this church – a worthy and effective ambassador for Christ,
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
What characteristics make a good ambassador for Christ in the modern world?
What do you think needs to change about the life of St Michael’s to make us better Ambassadors?
What do you think needs to change about the building and its surroundings to make us a better Embassy for Christ?
What do you think should be the next step to make us a better community of mission?
Saturday, 17 November 2007
We pray that God would unlock our hearts from within as we respond to his words without. Amen
I wonder if any of you remember reading this passage from Alice in Wonderland?
‘At this moment Five, who had been anxiously looking across the garden, called out ‘The Queen! The Queen!’ and the three gardeners instantly threw themselves flat upon their faces. There was a sound of many footsteps, and Alice looked round, eager to see the Queen... When the procession came opposite to Alice, they all stopped and looked at her, and the Queen said severely ‘Who is this?’ She said it to the Knave of Hearts, who only bowed and smiled in reply... My name is Alice, so please your Majesty,’ said Alice ; but she added to herself, ‘Why, they’re only a pack of cards, after all. I needn’t be afraid of them!’
They’re only a pack of cards - and yet to those in this Wonderland, those cards were truly the King and Queen of hearts.
You may wonder what this has to do with this week’s theme – openness to God’s Spirit.
There is a sense in which we live life at two levels – the seen and the unseen. The seen – the ordinary, matter of fact stuff of daily life, is around us constantly. But if we want to see the unseen, we too have to be transported to that Wonderland and to see things in a new light.
When I read passages in the Bible about the Holy Spirit, this passage from Alice in Wonderland often springs to mind, because it shows so clearly how the Holy Spirit can illuminate even everyday objects, and can help us see the hidden-ness, or unseen-ness that is right in front of us - if only we would take a moment to stop and listen to God’s Spirit.
It is the same Holy Spirit that we see in Jesus, who was born both of the Spirit, and was filled with the Spirit. The same Holy Spirit that descended on Jesus at his baptism – announcing ‘This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased’. It is that same Holy Spirit that speaks to us at the very depths of our being:
Casting new light on familiar situations
Calling us out to new things
Prompting us to encounter God in new ways
I have been reading a book by Abbot Christopher Jamieson, called Finding Sanctuary.
Abbot Christopher is based at Worth Abbey, and became known to many people through the television series ‘The Monastery’. On the back cover of the book he comments that many people ask him why he decided to become a monk. It is, he says, a question he finds very difficult to answer, because in many ways it is like asking someone why they got married. It is just something that happens the reasons lie beyond the realms of human understanding.
In a similar way I find it hard to answer questions about why I became a priest. It just happened. I don’t think I had any control over the decision, I just somehow seemed to arrive at my destination. I knew in my heart of hearts that this was the right thing to do. So often in today’s world we skim over the importance of intuition. We look for reasons, logic, evidence. But if we listen to our hearts, we are often tuning into God’s Spirit, who is inspiring us to say or do things we had not planned.
All of this seems to imply an individual response - a calling from within ourselves that we personally take up and follow through. This is true. Yet Paul’s letter to the Corinthians urges us to beware of an emphasis on individual ‘spiritual’ experiences.
He writes to the church warning them that they need to engage together with the scriptures and to play down the prophetic gifts of discernment and teaching. He seems to be reminding them that what they need to emphasise is a shared narrative and a corporate memory.
I think that attached to this should be a government health warning
– responding to the Holy Spirit can cause discomfort.
Nicodemus knew the law; he knew the Jewish traditions; he was a respected figure in the Jewish world; he had a solid foundation. But he knew that something was missing – he knew that in many ways he had to lose the control he had on life, and instead enter into a new world of responding to God’s Spirit. In order to respond to God, he had to lose something that was very precious. For Jesus too, the same Spirit that descended at his baptism, and seemed to bless his ministry, also drove him into the wilderness to be tempted.
There are times when being filled with the Spirit is not always comfortable. Like Nicodemus we may be called to leave behind security, power, knowledge, in order to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit within us. Not only is there often a sense of loss involved with listening to God’s spirit, there is also often a heightened sense of conflict. I’m reminded of the words of Fred Craddock:
‘One has only to love impartially and hatred is threatened and stirred to violence. One has only to speak the truth and falsehood takes the stand with pleasing lies. Invite persons of different social and economic backgrounds around the same table and the fellowship is strained, often breaking apart. Announce freedom in Christ Jesus and some turn a deaf ear to the call for restraint for the sake of the weaker brother or sister. Place in church leadership persons who have never led in any other arena and arrogance often replaces service. Plant the cross in a room and the upwardly mobile convert it into a ladder. Evil, by whatever name it is called, will not sit idly by and allow the gospel to transform a community (Fred B Craddock, ‘Preaching to Corinthians’, Interpretation, XLIV, 1990, p. 167)
Inviting the Holy Spirit into any community doesn’t necessarily produce a harmonious environment.
But through that process of transformation emerges a sense of what it means to live an authentic life.
Just as those characters in Alice in Wonderland saw beyond the pack of cards to something unseen, so we must rely on the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to the hidden world that is in front of us, in order for us to have a sense of authenticity and reality.
How then do we get a sense of the Holy Spirit working in our lives?
There are three possibilities :
First, we need to discover the Spirit’s promptings through personal prayer
– I often think of prayer as being ‘Wasting time with God’. Sometimes we need to dwell with God, to pay attention to him, in order to hear the inner voice of his Spirit.
Secondly, like the Corinthians, we need to return to serious study of the scriptures. Engaging with the Bible and struggling to relate its message to our own world is a lifetime’s task – and yet it is only by rigorous study, and constant dwelling with scripture that we will be able to hear the promptings of the Holy Spirit in our own hearts.
Thirdly, we need to seek the Spirit’s leading in all we do
– as a church we need to think especially of the building project. Perhaps we need to seek ways that we as a church community can come together and have a sense of where the spirit is calling.
May we all seek the promptings of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and have the courage to respond and participate in God’s divine grace.
Questions for discussion:
1. What can we at St Michael’s find as a shared narrative and corporate memory in today’s world?
2. Luther said in his writing on Psalm 5 (1519/20) ‘It’s not reading and studying scripture that makes a theologian, but suffering, dying and being damned’. Is there a sense that in listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit we must all suffer and lose something of ourselves in order to see the ‘hidden-ness of God’?
3. “This inability to pay attention is much closer to evil than the desires of the flesh. Prayer consists in attention.” (Simone Weil). As a society we have become used to inattention/sound bites/visual media etc. How much do we have to return to a concept of attention in prayer in order to discern God’s Spirit?
Sunday, 11 November 2007
We may be praying people, but we are tempted sometimes to think: does God heal today? Is he interested in me and the ones I care about?
The leper expressed doubt that he might be healed. He seems to have believed that Jesus had the power, but he is not sure that Jesus will use it. Perhaps he is too unimportant? Or perhaps Jesus will take seriously the injunctions of the law not to be made unclean by touching a leper.
The way that Jesus responds tells us much about him and reveals the heart of God.
Mark tells us that Jesus responds with emotion. The scholars argue about the Greek here; either Jesus was moved with a deep sense of compassion and pity, or he expressed anger and sorrow. Either way, he was not standing there, robed in immaculate white, slightly distant. He is deeply troubled at the man’s predicament, or he is angry that there might be any doubt that he would want to help. In either case, he is involved, caring, and he shows this by his next incredible move.
A touch! At a time and in a society when you would do anything to avoid contact with a leper, Jesus reaches out and touches him. He pierces the isolation and loneliness that surrounds him.
A word. And he does speak, first to give healing, and then to restore the man to his place in his community. Jesus is bringing him Shalom, wholeness, completeness, integration, peace. Not just his skin, but the whole man must be healed, and the community he came from that has been deprived of him.
Let me share with you an excerpt from the Venerable Bede concerning bishop John of Hexham. Bede describes a remote place where the bishop and a group of fellow Christians would retire for prayer and reading, especially in Lent. “On one occasion when he had come there to stay at the beginning of Lent, he told his followers to seek out some poor man who was afflicted by some serious illness or in dire need to have with them during these days and to benefit from their charity; for this was his constant custom. There was in a village not far away a dumb youth known to the bishop, who often used to come to him to receive alms and had never been able to utter a single word. Besides he had so much scabbiness and scurf on his head that no hair could grow on the crown save for a few rough hairs which stuck out around it. The bishop had this young man brought and ordered a little hut to be built for him in the enclosure of their dwelling in which he could stay and receive his daily allowance. On the second Sunday in Lent he ordered the poor man to come in to him and then he told him to put out his tongue and show to him. Thereupon he took him by the chin and made the sign of the holy cross on his tongue; after this he told him to put his tongue in again and say something. “Say some word” he said, “Say gae” which in English is the word of assent and agreement, that is “Yes”. He said at once what the bishop told him to, the bonds of his tongue being unloosed. The bishop then added the names of the letters; “Say A”, and he said it, “B” and he said that too. When he had repeated the names of the letter after the bishop, the latter added syllables and words for him to repeat. When he had repeated them all, one after the other, the bishop taught him to say longer sentences, which he did. After that those who were present relate that he never ceased all that day and night, as long as he could keep awake, to talk and to reveal the secrets of his thoughts and wishes to others which he could never do before. He was like the man who had long been lame, who, when healed by the Apostles Peter and John, stood up, leapt and walked entering the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God, rejoicing to have the use of his feet of which he had been so long deprived. The bishop rejoiced with his cure and ordered the physician to undertake to heal his scabby head. did as he was bidden and with the help of the bishop’s blessing and prayers his skin was healed and he grew a beautiful head of hair.”
Five brief observations on this story:
First, it took place within the context of a praying community. The bishop and his followers had taken time out for prayer and fasting. How do we know whom we should persevere in prayer and faith for? There may have been many sick around at the time, but as the bishop and his helpers spent time in prayer, they were led to this particular one at this particular time. Do you remember that Jesus went very early to a solitary place and prayed?
Second, the sacrament of touch. When Bishop John healed this man he took him by the chin and made the sign of the cross on his tongue. Now it is perfectly possible to heal without touching, by simply praying, but there is something very powerful about touch. This is especially the case when people have been made outcasts by their illness - there are a number of stories from this period involving plague victims. The touch or even kiss of the healer was a brave demonstration of faith - and yes they did know how contagious it was. I am a big fan of technology, but texts and Facebook are no substitute for real contact with another person. That is why physically sharing the Peace is so appreciated by some.
Third, pragmatism. Bishop John prays for an instant cure, but also gives the time and effort to practice and hard work. Would we call this physiotherapy? All healing is a move towards wholeness, and some comes quickly, while other requires a dogged plodding.
Fourth, the bishop saw no distinction between spiritual and physical healing. Having seen the man’s dumbness healed miraculously he refers him to the physician for his scabby scalp to be put right. All true healing comes from God, however it is mediated. This is because part of the wholeness to which we are journeying is a restored relationship with God through Jesus Christ. This means that methods of healing which rely on occult powers are not true healing, however methods that are faith-neutral or positively Christian are true healing. So when I get a headache I say a prayer and take a Paracetemol.
Finally, restoration of community. No longer isolated by his condition, the young man, like the leper in Mark’s Gospel, was able to be restored to his came from and loved, and to be of use to them..
St Michael’s aspires to be a growing community of faith. I believe that we should be open, welcoming, and provide a safe environment where we can offer friendship, a listening ear, practical care and transforming prayer. Who knows? The one finding healing might be me, or you?
1. How would you define health and healing?
2. Think back to a time when you were ill how did it make you feel - assuming you are now, at least to some degree better, how did you receive healing?
3. In what ways do you pray for healing for yourself or others?
4. Do you believe God heals miraculously today - have you any personal experience of this?
5. What do you think are the hindrances to healing? How might they be overcome?
6. In what ways are you already involved in bringing healing to others?
7. I have spoken of the importance of community in healing — have you any experiences that relate to this?
8. In what ways can we view church as being a therapeutic community?
9. How can we care better for those who are struggling to find wholeness in life?
Saturday, 3 November 2007
Key Verse for Memory: Psalm 86: 11, 12
“Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart. I will glorify your name forever.”
We live in a world that is fast moving and hectic, full of instant and constant communication and action where little attention is given to reflection, meditation or careful thought. We need a Christian counter-culture and it will need to start with us.
Over the last few weeks in our sermon series entitled “Following in the Steps of the Master”, we have learnt that Jesus’ life was steeped in prayer and that he meditated on the word of God so much that he knew it off by heart and was even able to answer the devil back. When he needed guidance and strength to know His Father’s will, he would withdraw and pray, meditate, he would take rest periods. We need that kind pattern in our own lives; of reading, praying, meditating on God’s word so that we are drenched in it, and we need to take times of rest. I think we have our work cut out but I see a pattern in this Pray, Work, Rest and Praise. It seems to flow and forms a rhythm of simplicity which may lead to a simple life.
God is calling us back to a simple lifestyle and in both the Philippians and Matthew readings. It speaks about that and we need to take heed of what scripture is saying to us today and apply it and stop trying to keep up with the Jones’ and worrying about what we don’t have or think we need. Simple, isn’t it! (Of course!)
What do the readings have to say about a simple lifestyle? In Matthew Jesus asks three questions about Treasure, Vision and Loyalty. Let’s look at these one at a time.
A Question of Treasure (6:19-21) Jesus is comparing the durability of two treasures. Jesus implies that it should be easy to choose which to store up, because the treasures on earth are corruptible and insecure, whereas the treasures in heaven are incorruptible and secure. In other words; is it our intention to lay up treasure which will give greater protection against depreciation or deterioration or not? So what things was Jesus talking about when he told us not to lay up treasure for ourselves on earth? It may help if we list the things Jesus was not forbidding.
For instance Private Property: There is no ban on possessions in themselves. Nowhere in Scripture forbids private property. (see Acts 5:4) Insurance Policies "Saving for a rainy day" are not forbidden to Christians either. Life assurance policies are only a kind of saving by self imposed compulsion. On the contrary, Scripture praises the ant for storing in the summer the food it will need in the winter, (Proverbs 6:6) and declares that the believer who makes no provision for his family is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Tim. 5:8). Material Blessings, we are not to despise, but rather to enjoy the good things which our Creator has given us to enjoy. “Everything God has created is good" says Paul to Timothy. (1 Tim 4:3-4, 6:17) So neither having possessions, nor making provision for the future, nor enjoying the gifts of a good Creator are included in the ban on storing earthly treasure. So what is Jesus talking about? Selfish Accumulation Notice the text says, "do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth." Jesus is criticising extravagant and self-centred living; the hardness of heart which ignores the cries of the poor, the foolish fantasy that a person's significance and value is determined by how much we earn, by the clothes we wear, the car we drive, or our postcode. To "lay up treasure on earth" does not mean being prudent but being covetous. Jesus is not saying ‘no’ to making sensible provision for the future, but being greedy and always wanting more. The earthly treasure we covet, Jesus reminds us, "grows rusty and moth-eaten, and thieves break in to steal." (6:19) Simple isn’t it?
So what is this "treasure" in heaven? Jesus doesn't explain, but I believe it must have something to do with earthly activity which lasts for eternity. We can make deposits in our spiritual bank account that prepare us for eternity. Worship is never wasteful in the eyes of God. Every act of private and corporate worship is a deposit in your heavenly bank account.” May I encourage you to make deposits daily in private and weekly with your Christian family. Would you buy a used car with no service history? Bit of a risk isn’t it? Ignore the service history and you are heading for trouble. A breakdown is never convenient. You need a service every seven days. If you want treasure in heaven, make the minimum of weekly deposits. We need a Christ-like CharacterThe Bible clearly teaches us that if we want to lay up treasure in heaven, one of the best investment strategies is personal character development. The apostle Peter put it like this: “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:8-9) Christ-like character, and those who come to know Jesus through us, are the only things we take with us to heaven. Expressions of Generosity Every time we show an act of compassion, we build up our treasure in heaven. There is a record of your deeds in heaven. Listen `I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' (Matthew 25:40). We might also consider the investment we make in leading other people to Jesus who will share eternity with us. Simple isn’t it?!
Vision - What is your Ambition in Life? (6:22-23) Jesus turns from the durability of the two treasures to the benefits received from two conditions. For the way we view the world will determine what we treasure. The contrast here is now between someone who is blind and someone who can see. Read 6:22. Almost everything we do depends on our ability to see. We need to see in order to walk or run, drive a car, cross a road, etc. The eye illuminates what the body does through its hands and feet. In the Bible, the eye is frequently synonymous with the heart, motivation, our desire. Just as the eye gives light to the body, so a Christ-centred heart throws light on everything we do. A money-focused life on the other hand leads only to fear and darkness, to introspective self-centredness. What do you want to be known for in this life? Greed or generosity? And it’s all summed up in the last question.
Loyalty - Who are we Serving? (6:24) Jesus explains that behind the choice between two treasures (where we store them) and two visions (where we fix our eyes), there lies the still more basic choice between two masters (who are we going to serve). It is a choice between God and money, between the Creator himself and any object of our own creation. We cannot serve both. When I was in my late teens, one summer, I had two part time jobs on the go at the same time. I worked in a pub at night, three nights a week collecting glasses and washing them up, and served in a bakery during the day. Neither knew of the existence of the other. It worked out fine. Until August Bank Holiday Monday. Both employers assumed I would work all day and neither was happy to learn I was working for someone else. I had to choose. It may be possible to work for two employers, but no slave can be the property of two owners. Anybody who tries to divide his allegiance between God and money has already given in to money, since we can only serve God with an entire and exclusive devotion. To try to share him with other loyalties is to opt for idolatry. God has entrusted us with all we have. When the choice is seen for what it really is - a choice between Creator and creature, between the glorious personal God and a miserable thing called money, between worship and idolatry - it seems inconceivable that anybody could make the wrong choice. Yet many do. Which God are we going to choose today? For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Simple isn’t it?!
In both readings Jesus talks about worrying and some people are more prone to worry than others. Do you worry? I do. Jesus has a word for us this morning. The main worry Jesus is concerned with is the worry caused by materialism. This is clear from the Verse 24 it says “you cannot serve both God and money.” What does Jesus mean? Why are we not to worry? Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. Jesus gives us several reasons why we should not worry.
Worry is to Miss the Point of Life (Matthew 6:25) Jesus tells us life is far more important than material things. So often our worries are about relatively unimportant and trivial matters, such as food, drink, clothing, houses and cars. Worry is Illogical and a waste of time (Matthew 6:26, 27) Worry is actually a slander on God's character. Worry suggests that God is more interested in his pets than in his children. Worry is illogical because it is futile, unproductive and pointless. Jesus reminds us we cannot add anything to our life. Worry can only subtract from our lives by causing things like ulcers or a coronary thrombosis. Most things that we worry about never happen anyway. Worry is incompatible with Faith and is sub-Christian (Matthew 6:28-30, 32) Faith and anxiety are like fire and water. Faith means trust. Trust in God's care and provision. To be a Christian is to walk in a trusting relationship with God. But sin interferes with that relationship and leads to worry. So worry is not only incompatible with faith, it is actually sub-Christian. Having a primary concern with material needs is the characteristic of unbelievers, says Jesus. Some of these worryies may be modest, such as food, drink and clothing. But others are more commonly found in Camberley: a bigger house, a new car, a better salary, reputation, fame or power. But all these are pagan because they are self-centred and do not satisfy. Oophs!
When we trust in Jesus and receive him as our Lord and Saviour we are born into his family and become children of God. We can be assured that God knows our every need. If our loving Father knows our needs we can trust him for them. Not our wants but certainly our needs. God promises to provide for our needs if we get our priorities right. Indeed, the Bible is full of such promises. For example, the apostle Paul writes, 'We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.' (Romans 8:28). Sometimes, as Paul knew only too well and Jesus experienced, our situation may be difficult or painful. Yet God will walk with us and hold our hand and use adversity to build our character. The result may be increased intimacy with God, greater spiritual insight or far deeper faith with which to encourage and affirm others. Worry Contradicts Common Sense (Matthew 6:34) God intends us to live one day at a time. God has given us our lives in units of twenty-four hours and we should take life a day at a time. If we wish to live a long and fruitful life, we should respect and live by the biological clock he has built inside us. Fiona Castle, who had to face the stress of her husband Roy's battle against cancer, wrote this in her book ‘Give Us This Day’:
“Recently a friend commented to me that many people live their life as though it were a dress rehearsal for the real thing. But in fact, by tonight, we will have given the only performance of 'today' that we will ever give. So we have to put our heart, our energy and honesty and sincerity into what we do every day. As a show business family, we find that a very suitable illustration. And every show comes to the end of its run, when we must lay aside the costumes and step off the stage, into another, larger world. So as we pray the prayer Jesus taught us, we ask God to 'Give us this day' - thankfully receiving one day at a time - looking to him to sustain us with everything we need, whether it be food, shelter, love of family and friends, or courage and hope to face the future. And at the same time we echo the words of the psalmist: 'This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it' (Psalm 118:24).
Jesus calls us to a higher, nobler ambition - to seek God’s kingdom, in his way. We are to seek his rule and reign in our lives, in our marriages, in our home, in our family and in our lifestyle. We are also to seek it in the lives of others - our friends, relations, neighbours, and in the community. There are many examples of men and women who, in God's strength, have made a great impact on society because they have been passionate about God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness. These men and women lead simple lifestyles to seek God’s Kingdom in all that they did. And on one hand it is easy to say let’s lead a simple lifestyle but we know that in order to do that we need to make changes in our own lives seeking the Father to lovingly show us what to change for Jesus said 'Seek first my Father’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well'. That is how to stop worrying and start living a simple lifestyle.
Father, you told me not to be afraid because You are with me, You will uphold me, and those who come against me will not succeed (Isaiah 41:10-11). You said no evil would come upon me, nor any plague touch my home for You have ordered Your angels to protect me (Psalm 91:10-11). You said when I walk through the rivers of difficulty (when I’m in over my head) You won’t let me drown, and when I walk through fires of adversity (when the heat is on) You won’t allow me to get burned for You are watching over me (Isaiah 43:2-3). You said no weapon formed against me shall prosper (Isaiah 54:17). I cannot keep the enemy’s weapons from being formed, but I know You will keep them from prospering. You said if I ask anything according to Your will, You would grant my request (1 John 5:14-15). You said when I walk in obedience before You I will be blessed when I come in and when I go out, blessed when I lie down and blessed when I get up (Deuteronomy 28:6). You told me to give all my troubles to You and You would take care of me (1 Peter 5:7). So here they are! Today I’m standing on Your Word. You said it! I believe it! That settles it! Amen.
SMALL GROUP WORK for SIMPLE LIFESTYLE
I have made several references to bible verses in my script and perhaps you may like to look them up as an exercise and learn them for yourself.
A Question of Treasure – 6:19-21 Christ-like Character – 1 Peter 3:8-9
A Question of Vision – 6:22-23 Generosity – Matthew 25:40
A Question of Loyalty – 6:24 Vision – Matthew 6:22-23
Private Property – see Acts 5:4 Loyalty – Matthew 6:24
Insurance Policies – Proverbs 6:6 and 1 Timothy 5:8 Worry – Matthew 6:25, 26, 27,28, 30 32
Material Blessing – 1 Timothy 4:3-4, 6:17 Romans8:28, Matthew 6:34
Selfish Accumulation – Matthew 6:19 Psalm 118:24
1. Jesus placed the words of scripture on his heart and looked at what His heavenly Father did and was doing and recited them and acted has His Father did. In your own lifestyle what areas need changing? Are you content (See 1 Timothy 6:3-10) with what you have or do you find yourself hankering for more of ……whatever?
2. Do you find being generous or Christ-like easy? Does it depend on who it is?
3. What do you value most: prayer? meditation? silence? Is there any of these you would like more of? (If yes, does anyone in the group have any tips or books that can be of help to you?)
4. Do you find the following prayer (slightly tongue in cheek) helpful or not? Why?
you told me not to be afraid because You are with me, You will uphold me, and those who come against me will not succeed (Isaiah 41:10-11). You said no evil would come upon me, nor any plague touch my home for You have ordered Your angels to protect me (Psalm 91:10-11). You said when I walk through the rivers of difficulty (when I’m in over my head) You won’t let me drown, and when I walk through fires of adversity (when the heat is on) You won’t allow me to get burned for You are watching over me (Isaiah 43:2-3). You said no weapon formed against me shall prosper (Isaiah 54:17). I cannot keep the enemy’s weapons from being formed, but I know You will keep them from prospering. You said if I ask anything according to Your will, You would grant my request (1 John 5:14-15). You said when I walk in obedience before You I will be blessed when I come in and when I go out, blessed when I lie down and blessed when I get up (Deuteronomy 28:6). You told me to give all my troubles to You and You would take care of me (1 Peter 5:7).
So here they are! Today I’m standing on Your Word. You said it! I believe it! That settles it! Amen.
Saturday, 27 October 2007
(This series, intended for sermons, groups, cells & individual study, is entitled “Following in the Steps of the Master” – see separate leaflet with all 10 titles to place this in its sequence.)
28th OCTOBER 2007. READINGS: PSALM 1: 1 – 6 LUKE 4: 1 – 13
KEY VERSE FOR MEMORY: PSALM 119: 105
RECOMMENDED BOOK : THE LIFE YOU’VE ALWAYS WANTED (Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People) by John Ortberg (Zondervan Press for Willow Creek)
Today – 28th October – is ‘Bible Sunday’ and so we turn out attention to the Bible, its foundational place in the Christian Faith, and how we may use it best to understand our faith, and apply it daily in our lives. The Key Verse from Psalm 119: 105 states:
‘Your Word is a Lamp to my feet, and a Light to my path’
1. THE PLACE OF THE BIBLE IN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH
It tells us everything we know about God, especially as He has revealed himself in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
It places us in the tradition of revelation, worship and faith that stretches from Genesis to Revelation
It is God’s guide for our lives, helping us make true judgments in everything from moral to practical decisions.
Crucially, Christ shows us himself as we read and pray, so that we experience his presence, his glory and his will for our lives, leading us to place our whole trust in him.
2. THE PLACE OF THE BIBLE IN THE LIFE OF JESUS
It is clear from the New Testament that Jesus had absorbed the Scriptures of the Old Testament from childhood, and was able to draw on them for strength and guidance at all critical times of his life. See the Gospel for today. Consider also his use of references to the Old Testament when debating with his opponents, praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, and on the Cross.
If Jesus needed a thorough grasp of the Scriptures for leading a life within the will of God, how much more do we?
He would have ‘absorbed the scriptures’ from earliest childhood, learning them in the original language of the Old Testament – Hebrew. Most of us have not had that advantage. The Bible is taught less and less in school, there is little committed to memory, and many now are ignorant of the basic facts and stories of the Gospels, and the meaning of Christian festivals.
This means we need to make a very special effort – not to become experts – but to develop a simple strategy for absorbing key parts of the Bible into our daily rhythm of life and prayer.
This requires the use of notes and guides, which are available in the form of books, daily notes, audio tapes, through the Internet, and resources which have not been available to previous generations. We are very fortunate to have such resources readily available, and have to find out which are most suitable for us personally.
3. THE PLACE OF THE BIBLE IN OUR OWN DAILY LIVES
The title for today is ‘Absorbing the Scriptures’. The Dictionary tells us that to absorb is to ‘incorporate as part of oneself’. In medical terms, not just sticking on a plaster, but swallowing a healing medicine which will be integrated into our whole system.
Easy to use read only favourite passages, find proof texts, and look for particular verses for guidance. But we need to find a way to absorb the principles, the heart of scripture so that it governs our attitudes, our thoughts, our actions. John Ortberg: “The goal is not for us to get through the Scriptures. The goal is to get the Scriptures through us.”
Romans 12:2 : Paul writes: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
John Ortberg suggests 5 points to use when using the Bible on a daily basis:
Ask God to meet you in Scripture
Read the Bible in a repentant spirit
Meditate on a fairly brief passage or narrative
Take one thought or verse with you through the day
Allow this thought to become part of your memory
We are bombarded every day with WORDS. Radio, Television, Advertisements, People. Allow GOD’S WORD to permeate your mind and soul and it will become ‘a lamp to your feet and a light to your path’.
Questions for Meditation/Discussion
1. What picture does Psalm 1 give of the person who has absorbed the Word of God? Do you wish to be like this?
2. What instances can you find in the Gospels where Jesus draws on his knowledge of the Scriptures to guide or strengthen him at critical times?
3. Consider/Discuss how you might evolve a daily pattern for Bible reading and Prayer.
4. What version of the Bible do you find most helpful, and why?
5. If you haven’t started a daily pattern yet, when do you intend to start?
Readings 1 Kings 19:1-18. Mark 6: 45-56 (Key verse Psalm 119:164)
Rhythm of Prayer, Work and Recreation
This week we are looking at the Rhythm of Prayer, Work and Recreation.
At the heart of a rhythm of life is the desire to know and to follow Christ wherever we are, whether we are praying, worshipping, at work or at home with family or friends or relaxing in one way or another. We need to have balance in our everyday living and not just a balanced diet. For all of us at St. Michael’s this morning, this means living and working in a busy town Camberley, with all the many and various challenges that presents.
In this busy town it is easy to see our Christian spirituality as a part of our life, a Sunday affair. However, as St. Michael’s community, living this rhythm of prayer, worship and teaching, it can helps us to see God in every moment of life, and to hear the voice of the Spirit beckoning us to come and follow in the footsteps of where God is already at work, beckoning us to join in. In that sense it is also a call to mission, in bringing the good news to this broken and fragmented world.
But we need to step back out of the box because we need to look at the rhythm in our own lives and find out if it is in tune with God and his desired rhythm for our lives.
For God desires us to have a balanced life, a ‘Rhythm of Life of Prayer, Work and Recreation (Rest) and Christians for many centuries have been inspired by those great Saints that have gone before us: St Benedict and St Francis, whose vision for Christian community are the foundation of the monasticism movement, and the great wanderers Aiden and Cuthbert and Hilda, are reminders to us that a life spent in pilgrimage towards God is also a life spent in pilgrimage with those around, both inside St. Michael’s and out, for we journey together not in isolation.
We all know that prayer is good but we struggle with it and I suspect that Aiden and Hilda and many other great Christian leaders did too. I know I do. We live in an age which demands a 24/7. 365 day culture, longer working hours which increase output and increases pay but it also destroys family life and other relationships, leads to stress related illnesses and we deny ourselves the proper place of prayer and recreation in our lives. We needs to establish our roles in life and in the work place and where and when necessary learn how to say ‘No’ when unrealistic demands are being placed on us. It is very easy to get out of step with prayer and our relationship with God and others. I know it is hard to be counter-cultural but I firmly believe that we should be standing up for a more healthy balance in work and life just as God ordained in the Book of Genesis six days of work and one day of rest.
In Psalm 119 verse 164 it says ‘seven times a day I praise you’ and I have been reminded of this verse quite often in recent years. When training for ordination we went on two different types of retreats, one a Benedictine retreat and a silent one. Both of these retreats had something in common; we learnt the value of being in communion with God on an individual basis, as a community and more importantly on a regular basis; seven times a day we prayed. On our own, together in groups, and as a whole community. Reading scripture, taking time to ask what God was saying to us for ourselves, and others, praying for ourselves and others and the church world wide. Prayer has sustained me through many difficult times over the last four years and I know that without a regular prayer time things would have been a lot harder.
When we look at Mark chapter 6 Jesus moves from one thing to another, times of business and stresses, hearing the devastating news of John the Baptist’s death, Feeding the five thousand, and of walking on the water, and all are followed by times of rest and prayer.
The disciples spending the night on a storm-tossed sea with their Master on the shore. The boat bouncing on the waves and for nine hours they were rowing for all they were worth. I am sure the disciples were wondering, "Are we going to survive this storm? Where is Jesus? Why do I mention this? Because we are like the disciples in our reading. We face the winds, the waves and the storms of life just as they faced them out on the Sea of Galilee. And like the disciples, we wonder why we have to struggle. We question where Jesus is through all of this. We ask ourselves are we going to survive. Is our balance, Rhythm out of step?
In our reading we are told how to respond to the storms of life. More specifically, we are told what the Lord does. For Jesus knew their predicament. He knew about the wind, the waves, how long they had been out there. He knows everything each of us faces too, our concerns, trials, heart-aches, tears, pains, sorrows.
What was Jesus doing during those hours the disciples were out there? And, what does He do while we endure the storms of life? He was praying. Jesus was not with the disciples because He had gone into the mountains to pray. He took time out to pray because he knew it was necessary and important for him to keep a balance, a rhythm in His life.
Whenever Jesus faced a crisis of some sort in His ministry He spent time in prayer. He did this after the excitement of healing on the Sabbath in Capernaum (Mk 1:35-39). He did this after the miracle of the loaves and fish (Mk 6:45f). He did this after the Last Supper as He awaited His betrayal by Judas (Mk 14:26-42).
What did and what does Jesus pray about? When we study Jesus' prayer as recorded in the Gospel of John (Jn 17) we see that Jesus prayed for Himself – that He would not fall into temptation. For His disciples (family, Friends) – that they would remain faithful during trials and storms. For all believers – that they would be one and see His glory. And, when the disciples were fighting for their very lives Jesus kept right on praying. He heard their cries. He knew the danger they were in. And, He kept on praying. Is this something we do?
One of the things that causes a sense of stress at work is a lack of proper rest and recreation, sleep and let’s do nothing time. We all know that we cannot ‘burn the candle at both ends’, but we all do it. Our spouses or friends tell us we doing too much but we just smile sweetly and nod knowingly but we really don’t take any notice. We need to find out what activities we can engage in that refresh and energises us. Do I need solitude in order to be refreshed or do I need to be with other people? St. Anthony, one of the desert Fathers was conversing with some brothers when a hunter came upon them. He saw Anthony and the brothers enjoying themselves and disapproved. So Anthony said to him ‘Put an arrow in your bow and shoot it.’ The hunter did this. ‘Now another; and another.’ Then the hunter said ‘If I bend my bow all the time it will break’. Abba Anthony replied, ‘It is like that in the work of God. If we push ourselves beyond measure, the brothers will soon collapse. It is therefore right from time to time to relax.’’
A rhythm of life should be exactly that, a rhythm, not a full concerto with every instrument written up, but rather the background beat that keeps everything else in order, that calls things back on track when they deviate, that reminds us of the type of music we are wanting to play, or perhaps more accurately, what type of lifestyles we are wanting to lead.
Simplicity is the key, the rhythms of life that have worked, and continue to work are those that are easily understood and grasped, The simplicity means that it is far easier to work Prayer, work and recreation into everyday life, as they are easy to memorise.
Sunday have always been seen as a day of rest and for most of us Sunday is a day when we have the opportunity to be refreshed spiritually as well as mentally and physically. We lost the battle back in the 80’s to keep Sunday Special but there is much that we can do to regain the ground. And it starts with making changes in our own lives.
A PRAYER A DAY, helps you work, rest and praise.
We pray that God would unlock our hearts from within as we respond to his words without
Earlier this year I went to see a production of The Tempest. It was part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s cycle of all Shakespeare plays. I was especially taken by a character in the play called Miranda. She was the magician, Prospero’s daughter, and had lived all her life with her father on a remote island after the family had been put to sea to die by her uncle Antonio.
In the play Miranda was portrayed as a young girl – her movements were awkward and stiff (a bit like a puppet on a string, or a wooden doll) ; she chopped wood ; obeyed instructions given by Prospero in the same way as a dog would do – sit, stand, get up ; and in an almost childlike way had no idea what to do when faced with other men.
In many ways she was portrayed as a human, but without any idea of relating to others.
The actress who played Miranda gave a short after the show talk, in which she said that the character was based on some interviews that she had had with a child psychologist.
Through talking to the psychologist she was made aware that children brought up in this context, without ever having seen another human ; totally separate from civilisation ; living on an island ; would not know how to react to people, how to be in relationship with them, or have the social skills necessary to survive in a civilised world.
- The portrayal of Miranda had taken our modern trend towards individualism to its extremes.
So often today people see themselves as objects of interest not because they have accomplished something or witnessed great things, but simply because as individuals they are of consequence.
- They write confessions that aim not to testify to faith, but rather reveal an inner self ;
- if they are artists they paint self portraits ;
- they live in private rooms, and sit on chairs rather than on benches.
For many people in Christianity too there is an emphasis on the salvation of the individual – where the focus is on the individual being precious in God’s sight
Loved by him and accountable to him.
This is important, and right -
And yet in our journey of faith – our own pilgrimage – we cannot afford to let ourselves be turned into a Miranda.
As we walk the road, we must at some point interact with others on our journeys. Living in relationship to others is not a choice we make, but is an essential part of being human. From the beginning we were created to love our neighbour, and to live in community.
When Jesus called the disciples he must have had this in mind. Not only did the disciples need to learn from him ;
but he also needed the disciples in order to
- support him in his ministry. When his disciples were not around (for instance in the Garden of Gethsemane), we see Jesus being deeply disappointed to find them asleep.
- There is a sense in which the disciples were needed for companionship – think of all those snatched conversations that we have in the gospels between Jesus and his disciples, parables that needed to be explained, answers to questions on prayer etc.
- The disciples were a source of encouragement for Jesus. Imagine how excited Jesus must have been when Peter declared ‘You are the Christ’. Here was someone to whom God had clearly revealed an overwhelming truth.
- The disciples were around for warning and danger (think of the many times when the disciples warned Jesus not to go to Jerusalem for fear that he would be killed)
- They gave help for the weary – remember when the disciples urged Jesus to come away from the crowds – to take some time out
Perhaps too, the disciples saw in Jesus not just a teacher, but someone who could mirror their humanity.
As Karl Barth said ‘Man is the creature made visible in the mirror of Jesus Christ’.
As a side note to this – I think we need to give some thought to the idea of a shared story that is essential in any discussion on community living.
None of us exist in isolation. I think a growing question for society in general is ‘where do I fit’ – in other words, what story do I belong to. I suspect that this is as a result of our fragmented lifestyle today, in which there is
a masculine version,
a British version,
a human version,
a Christian version,
a university professor version,
a feminine version,
a Black version,
a Third World version,
a Jewish version,
a blue collar version ...
This leads us on to deeper questions about shared narratives, and identity, that I think would be worth discussing another time – but are probably beyond the scope of this talk.
Perhaps it’s enough to say that there is a constant theme emerging, both in scripture, and in the world around us, of a shared community travelling a journey of faith.
How then do we put this into practice today?
A quick cup of coffee after the service on Sunday is barely enough to build up community and relationships. There needs to be other opportunities in a busy secular world where we can interact with others on the pilgrim road.
One of the ways that we have started investigating is the Group or Cell meeting regularly – and I know that some have expressed an interest in some small group work within the church.
Another way is to start thinking about a soul friend or a spiritual accompanier – someone who will travel with you along your spiritual pilgrimage – someone who is able to listen, discern, notice patterns, help us to find the finger of God in what can be a complex journey.
More radical ideas have been tried by other churches. I can think of one church that has a text messaging service based on the monastic hours. So for instance at 10am there would be a text message with a short bible verse, and an encouragement to sit and pray for a few moments. Another one would follow at 1pm, and then another at 3pm etc.
Perhaps over the coming weeks you can find space to think about how you would be able to engage in community whilst travelling on your pilgrimage or journey of faith. It’s not a new challenge – it is one that has occupied man for hundreds and thousands of years. As long ago as St Augustine who lived between 354 and 430, we find the comment that
‘Men go abroad to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering’. (Augustine, Confessions, X.8).
And yet the challenge for us today is perhaps more immediate. If we continue to be pre-occupied with self, and individualism, we are very much in danger of being modern day Mirandas, cut off from other people, and unable to relate, or to find mirrors of ourselves in others. The urgency then for us is to find a way of living a community based life that reflects the biblical principles of our gospel passage that we heard today.
May God be with us as we endeavour to seek his way today. Amen
Melanie Groundsell 14 October 2007