Sunday, April 29, 2012

God is greater than our hearts; 8.00 homily for St Matthew's

 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him20whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

Do you know Uncle George?
My guess is that even if you've not encountered him under that name, you may at least have heard of him, and he may indeed be a familiar companion. The Jesuit writer Gerard Hughes introduces him in his 1980s best seller on spirituality, God of Surprises....for Uncle George represents one of the false images of God that tends to lurk at the back of our minds. What do you think?
God was a family relative, much admired by Mum and Dad, who described him as very loving, a great friend of the family, very powerful and interested in all of us. Eventually we are taken to visit ‘Good Old Uncle George’. He lives in a formidable mansion, is bearded, gruff and threatening. We cannot share our parents’ professed admiration for this jewel in the family. At the end of the visit. Uncle George turns to address us.
‘Now listen, dear,’ he begins, looking very severe, ‘I want to see you here once a week, and if you fail to come, let me just show you what will happen to you.’ He then leads us down to the mansion’s basement. It is dark, becomes hotter and hotter as we descend, and we begin to hear unearthly screams. In the basement there are steel doors. Uncle George opens one.
‘Now look there, dear,’ he says. We see a nightmare vision, an array of blazing furnaces with little demons in attendance, who hurl into the blaze those men, women and children who failed to visit Uncle George or to act in a way he approved.
‘And if you don’t visit me, dear, that is where you will most certainly go,’ says Uncle George. He then takes us upstairs again to meet Mum and Dad. As we go home, tightly clutching Dad with one hand and Mum with the other. Mum leans over us and says, ‘And now don’t you love Uncle George with all your heart and soul, mind and strength?’ And we, loathing the monster, say, ‘Yes, I do,’ because to say anything else would be to join the queue at the furnace.
Is that familiar at all?
However much we may say with great confidence “God is love...” in my experience there is a little voice that adds “But even God doesn't love me that much – because I'm just not good enough.”
It's true, of course, that God knows us through and through....He knows the gifts that we struggle to acknowledge (have you noticed how much harder it is to accept compliments than criticism, that admitting that we are really good at something can tie us in great knots of false modesty and discomfort) and He knows those nasty, niggling, secret failings that we'd prefer not to own even to ourselves.
There's absolutely nothing that we can hide from God...because there is nowhere that God is not present.
And if we were to judge in purely human terms – then failure and condemnation might well be the end result. One of the dangers of the life of faith is that, setting before ourselves the great example of the life of Christ, and of the commandment to love, we are particularly conscious of our brokenness...Somehow it seems holier to think of ourselves as miserable sinners, and to stay in a dusty corner on our knees, than to stand erect as God's forgiven children, rejoicing that He calls us to life in all its fulness.
But to do that is to sidestep the wonder of God's grace...grace poured out for us in reckless abandon,
grace that floods the world, and can permeate even the depths of our being -yours AND mine – if we're willing to allow that.
You'll know, of course, that during baptism we pour water over the head of the candidate....water that represents Christ's action in washing away our sin, water that reminds us that we die with Christ to share His resurrection...but water that represents, too, that boundless tide of grace. A long time ago now I baptised D, a lively three year old who had strong views about the indignities that were being heaped upon him as he stood in smart clothes, and had oil smeared on his head not just by the curate but by parents and godparents to boot. D did not accept this quietly...indeed I pretty much had to pin him against a pillar in order to mark him with the cross...but when we got to the font it was a different matter. D loved water...he loved his bath, he loved to swim, and he wasn't going to waste the opportunity for some joyful as we stood he began to splash...he splashed til I was rather more than damp...he splashed til mum, Dad & godparents were dripping...he splashed til practically everyone there was sharing in his baptism........
And you know, he had the right idea.
We tend to behave as if God's grace is limited to the nice polite little dribbles that trickle over a baby's head from a delicate scallop shell...but in fact it's a tsunami, that can and should sweep us off our feet, transforming the whole landscape of our lives til we're not sure if we are on our head or on our heels...til all we are sure of is that we are profoundly loved and need never be afraid.
That is the message that God wants us to carry with us.
We are profoundly loved and need never be afraid.
That is the message of God's grace that speaks into our hearts, to silence forever the sinister rumblings of “Uncle George” and that still more insidious voice of our own that says,
“You fail...Try harder or God won't love you”
Do you know, we have nothing to prove – for God loves us unconditionally
Yes, we are called to love – in deed and in truth...
Yes, we will fail at this, again and again.
But there is grace enough to cover our every failing, grace enough to bring us home singing
Even though our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts.
Thanks be to God!


Chris said...


I keep forgetting this :-)

Thank you!

Caroline said...

This is wonderful - so helpful to where I am just now. Thank you.