Thursday, April 23, 2015

Crossing Boundaries: sermon for the final Eucharist - On Fire 2015

For various complicated reasons which now escape me, my cohort of Gloucester deacons spent our ordination retreat in a collective exercise in crossing boundaries at Holland House, Cropthorne, in the diocese of Worcester.
It was a memorable retreat and a time of blessing for many many reasons – but though I know that the words our conductor spoke were wonderful and helpful ( I often turn to them at times of panic – such as this morning), they didn’t stay lodged in my heart in quite the same way that a postcard in the bookshop did. I still have the postcard in my Office Book It featured some words of Dr Kosuke Koyama of the World Council of Churches
We should be followers of the running God, who causes a commotion by going to the periphery to make it a centre of light”

Followers of the running God…

In this week when we’ve reflected on crossing boundaries, on finding God on the edge – and on ministering on the edge ourselves, it’s a wonderful picture.
Of course, a running God could be heading anywhere…The question is, WHICH WAY? And, a supplementary, - how on earth do we keep up??
If we’re trying to follow that could be quite a useful thing to know (though I’m personally more than capable of setting out on an expedition with absolutely NO idea of where I’m going, it’s not something I’d normally encourage)

When you start thinking about it God does quite a bit of running. When we are still far off…God the Father hitches up his robes and comes haring down the road to sweep each one of us up into a welcoming embrace. He doesn’t wait for us to come to him – neither in the parable nor in his world. Instead he repeatedly comes to where we are…That's what the the Incarnation is all about – and it's made real for us again and again, whenever God comes to us in the Sacrament of Communion.

God comes to us so we may come to God.

God running to find us – wherever we are.

I hope that this has felt true for you often this week...that God has surprised you with a sudden hug just when you most needed it...but even if he still feels a bit far off, don't despair. He's coming to you, of that I am certain, and will delight in surprising you with the joy of his presence. After all, it was just an ordinary day – not a once a year conference, not even a special celebration - when that Samaritan woman went to get water, as she had done so many many times before.
Just an ordinary day – and yet, she found the entire world turned upside down. 

Remember, the running God DOES cause commotion – the earthquake that accompanied the Resurrection of Christ is matched by other earthquakes in our own lives, as we encounter God in our own mini Easters. That's exciting, of course – but it can be alarming too. I very much doubt if any of us would really choose to place ourselves at the centre of an earthquake zone...but sometimes that's just how it has to be as our landscapes are transformed.
In other words - forget the comfort zone!

And if you find you're still left struggling with questions, have spent this week nervously wobbling on the edge of your experience and understanding – that's fine too. When my older son returned from his first term of university theology, he brought with him a catchphrase that has been endlessly helpful to me ever since: “Jesus gets it”... 
He gets what has been going on for you , just as he got what was going on for that thirsty woman 2 millennia ago. He sees into your heart, understanding all that has happened to you, all that other have done to you, all your longings, hopes, fears and dreams. He sees it all, and accepts it all...

Jesus gets it.

But our time here is almost over. Soon the running God is off again. If we take off our shoes (and surely, surely this IS holy ground) we might just catch up with the One who has already gone before us – into Galilee, and a myriad other places too – Abingdon and Northolt, Mansfield, and Southampton, Taunton,Tettenhall, High Wyckham, Cuddesdon - maybe even Coventry!
That is both a reassurance and a challenge. A reassurance, of course, because we need to know that we won't lose touch with God as we return from our time together...That though we may sometimes almost lose sight of Him amid all the STUFF that clutters daily life and somehow seems so hopelessly important at the time, He's there...
He's there, of course, when we gather in worship – in our local churches, in our homes, our schools...                                                                                           He's there in our friendships and in our loneliness.                                               He's there whenever we think to call...pausing , face turned lovingly towards us as we turn towards him...

But – and here's the challenge - he's there too in all the unlikely places, the ones which, on St George's map would surely say “Here be dragons”- those about which you feel anxious even as you think of them.
I'm sure you'll know the ones I mean. Situations that make your stomach clench, and whole flocks of butterflies settle ...places where you feel yourself an outsider, perhaps because you've put someone else into that category: a kind of Peter, Cornelius situation...or maybe places where you expect a hostile reception rather than a drink of water. For me, now that gatherings of cuddly charismatic Christians no longer hold any terror, it's the city centre as the clubs are getting busy on a Saturday night.                                                                                   Predictable, but true. So far the hostility has been entirely in my head – but it's still a barrier for me – though never for God.

For our inclusive God no one - NO ONE is unacceptable, no one is a stranger. no-one an outsider...                                                                                               Each is loved by God as an irreplaceable and incomparable person....
God shows no partiality. None whatsoever.
Remember – Jesus gets it!

So – he's off again. Our running God heads for the periphery – and we, who long to follow, must join him there.
That's what this week has been all about.
After “On Fire” a couple of years ago I wrote on my blog that I felt full to the brim with love and joy – but expected I would leak soon. Bishop Nick's limestone again (but I got there first!).                                                                                                 A wise friend responded promptly that this was the WHOLE POINT - that we are absolutely supposed to leak! This gift of extravagant grace is to be shared...           It overflows, however hard we may sometimes try to confine it, to limit God's work to those places, those people who fit in with our expectations – so really, our attempts to restrict and channel are so much wasted effort.                               Instead, lets go with the flow, follow the Spirit in her joyous redemptive dance, which gradually, I'm certain, will draw everyone in.

Koyama talks of the Church not just as the Body of Christ – but as the Body of Christ that runs to welcome a broken world.                                                             Christ-centred ministry on the edge, indeed.

But perhaps if we get it right there need not be any edges...                           Boundaries, demarcation lines which determine who is out and who is in, have nothing to do with the One who opened his arms wide on the cross, and offers his embrace to all the world. He runs to the periphery to make it a centre of light...and in that light everything looks quite different.

That postcard that I cherish shows circles of colour...dark blue at the centre, gold fading to yellow at the edge. The contrasts are clear but the picture is of one whole...not a series of boundaries that must never be crossed. The centre looks very solid and sure of itself – because that's what centres are like...but as you move outwards it is very hard to tell where the painting ends...the outer boundaries are so blurred that you can't detect them. It reminds me, somehow, of a verse by the American Edwin Markham. It's called “Outwitted” - but for me it has less to do with wit than with reckless mercy, wild, extravagant grace

He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.

We know that the running God will not stop until the whole of creation is included. Drawn in ourselves, we are now sent to drawn in others, and share that boundless love.

Encounter God here.                                                                                   Encounter God on the edges.                                                                           There is nowhere that his love does not reach.                                                   The boundaries are only in our imagination.

So now let's pray that our running God will continue to work in us...and                 Let the whole world see and know                                                                       That things which were cast down are being raised up                                       And things which had grown old are being made new                                        And that all things are being brought to their perfection                                       By him through whom all things were made

To Him be glory now and forever. Amen

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