God is greater than our hearts; 8.00 homily for St Matthew's
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
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.
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.
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
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 play...so 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.
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,
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
Even though our
hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts.