Sunday, October 31, 2010

Address for "Journey On" 2010

Psalm 46

1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.
10 "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."
11 The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

My father spent his early years in Charlton, London SE7...It was a part of town so close to the river that it was heavily bombed during the blitz, and I grew up with stories of the family emerging from the air raid shelter to a world that seemed quite different. A neighbour's house received a direct hit and was flattened as though it had never been, while in my great aunt's house windows were blown out, ceilings collapsed – but, amazingly, a Bristol blue glass decanter survived intact on the dining table. But what intrigued my father, and me in my turn, were those houses which had one wall ripped out by the blast, but continued to stand. You could, he told me, look straight into those homes, in the same way that you see inside a dolls house when you remove the front...
I imagined sitting in one of those ravaged drawing rooms. If you looked away from the damage, you could pretend everything was normal....only a draught from the missing wall to give things away.
But if you turned to look directly at the 4th wall – the wall that wasn't there – well then you would grasp just how total the devastation that had hit this family as they went about their daily lives.
All jagged edges, chaos and rubble.
I think that all of you who are here today will have some idea of what that experience feels like.
You may have spent many days trying to focus on the things that are still the same...the dear friends and beloved family who are trying to support may have tried to return to familiar routines but found that somehow they just didn't work.
People will have encouraged you to focus on the three sides of the room that are still intact...but always, always you have been conscious of the gap.....where someone vital is missing...
The architecture of your world has been destroyed and, even on the best days, there's a chill wind blowing in.
But the amazing thing is that, like those blitz ravaged homes, you have managed to survive.
You may have wished sometimes that this was not so...have wondered why you kept on keeping on, when the journey seemed so much harder and darker than you'd ever imagined.
But you have survived.
And, whether you've been conscious of it or not, I'd say that God's love and God's strength will have been a huge element in that survival. The writer of our psalm was clearly familiar with some pretty cataclysmic changes in his life and that of his nation
though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
That sense of being swept off your feet, of losing all the familiar landmarks can be utterly overwhelming...and nobody would want to minimise that...BUT, says the psalmist, there is another power at work too
To set against the destructive waters of grief and loneliness
“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God”
You have had to deal with powerful feelings – the flip side of that most powerful feeling – love - and it seems to me that our psalm can be applied to both the experiencing of loving and of losing. You could choose, of course, to shut away your turn away from love because it carries, always, the risk of pain...but to do this would be to allow part of yourself and your humanity to die as well.
But to embrace love, with all its dangers, is to allow that other river – the river that makes glad the city of God – to carry you along once more.
And then you'll find it's not all up to you.
You do not have to rebuild the ruins of your life single handed, even if there doesn't seem to be anyone among your friends and family who truly realises what you are going through.
You aren't alone...because that river is the tide of God's own love for you.

Be still and know that I am God
God at the beginning
God beside you on the days of golden gladness
God so close to you that you cannot recognise His presence when times are tough.

For Christians, where there is water thoughts of baptism are never far away .
When I baptise an adult or an older child I say these words

“ God has touched you with his love
and given you a place among his people.
God promises to be with you
in joy and in sorrow,
to be your guide in life,
and to bring you safely to heaven.”

I know, as I speak them, that our God always keeps his promises...that he will never desert anyone who call to him for help, whether formally part of his family through baptism or no.
In a few moments you'll be invited to come forward to light a candle as your own quiet act of remembrance...
You might choose, too, to dip your finger in the water here and mark your hand, or perhaps your forehead, with a cross, and to take a paper heart from the basket.
When you do so, focus for a moment on that tide of love that can carry you through no matter what life sends you...
though the fabric of your world may be torn and broken
though things will never be the same again
yet you are not alone and you will reach home safely.

The LORD Almighty is with us – with you - today

May he bless you on your journey.


Nik said...

Good stuff Kathryn - thanks for posting it. Thought the 4th wall illustration really powerful.

Songbird said...

Kathryn, it's almost like you wrote it for me. Thank you so much, my friend.