Saturday, August 20, 2011

Hmmn....I'm not sure that holidays are good for my preaching

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and perfect.

One of the best things about the narrowboat holidays that have been part of our family life for almost 10 years now is the almost infinite opportunity to catch up on reading. This past fortnight I've worked through a huge pile of fiction – some excellent, some less so, and also creamed off a few titles from the huge pile of books that waits, teetering, in the study.Among these was “Jesus Freak” by Sara Miles – a follow-up to her earlier book “Take this bread”. Both tell a remarkable story of a remarkable woman, whose faith is absolutely central to everything that she says, does and is.

It wasn't always that way, though.
She was a confirmed atheist when she wandered into a San Francisco church one day.
Listen to her own words
One early, cloudy morning when I was forty-six, I walked into a church, ate a piece of bread, took a sip of wine. A routine Sunday activity for tens of millions of Americans — except that up until that moment I'd led a thoroughly secular life, at best indifferent to religion, more often appalled by its fundamentalist crusades. This was my first communion. It changed everything.
Eating Jesus, as I did that day to my great astonishment, led me against all my expectations to a faith I'd scorned and work I'd never imagined. The mysterious sacrament turned out to be not a symbolic wafer at all, but actual food — indeed, the bread of life. In that shocking moment of communion, filled with a deep desire to reach for and become part of a body, I realized what I'd been doing with my life all along was what I was meant to do: feed people.
And so I did. I took communion, I passed the bread to others, and then I kept going, compelled to find new ways to share what I'd experienced. I started a food pantry and gave away literally tons of fruit and vegetables and cereal around the same altar where I'd first received the body of Christ...

Extraordinary, yes?

But actually not so very different from the process that should be going on in each of us.
We are called to be different...
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may discern the will of God
Just think about that for a moment.
We are all, whatever our denomination, invited to be non stand out from the march to the beat of a different drum
And that non conformity has its roots in a new way of thinking, the renewing of our minds til we discover God's agenda for each one of us.

It's as if, through the years, the truth of who we are before God, and of what we are called to be gets overlaid by the complexities of our everyday lives.
In the same way that the inscriptions on the older stones outside in our churchyard can be almost illegible, thanks to the growth of lichen that threatens to blot out the letters, so our own identity as God's children is sometimes barely recognisable.
There are so many things at work to obscure those true selves whom God calls...
Fear, of course...for it takes courage to risk going out on a limb
Self doubt...Is there really anything that I can do, any way in which I can contribute to God's purposes here?
Self interest ...a comfortable, affluent life-style is hard to set aside, even if I have an uneasy sense that my comfort is bought at the expense of others, in poorer countries, poorer communities
And so, gradually, the layers of lichen grow deeper and that fundamental identity as a citizen of God's kingdom is all but obscured from view.
At the same time, the church, that should be a sign of God's radically inclusive Kingdom seems, instead, to be more like the religious branch of the local golf club...full of morally upright, well-meaning people who could blend into the crowd with no trouble at all.

If this is a picture you recognise, then you will have heard our epistle today as a wake-up call.
It's time to scrub off the layers of lichen that have covered the surface of the living stones of God's church.
Time to think straight about where you belong in God's vision for the world...
To consider afresh what part of the body you are?
For everyone, no matter how small and insignificant they feel, has a real and vital role to play.
To those Roman Christians, living in a society where it was very clear the some people were worth more than others, Paul speaks the revolutionary message that all are of equal worth , that we belong together, united in common purpose as we respond to God's gracious love.
Paul speaks of prophets and ministers, teachers and givers, leaders and carers...all essential to the life and health of the body of Christ.
Maybe none of those callings resonates for you – but that doesn't mean that Paul's message has lost its meaning.
Here and now, in Cainscross/Selsley in 2011, we too are show what the Kingdom of God will look like when it is revealed in all its fulness.
As our minds are renewed, they will lead us into the future God plans for us...
As we are transformed in our inner thoughts, we will live the grace filled lives that are God's will for all his children – and find out what our own particular calling may be.

For Sara Miles it is to feed the hungry...
For Mother Teresa to tend the dying...
For you – isn't it time to discover.
For you are remarkable, gifted, created by God to live out a particular purpose, called out from the crowd to live a transformed life as a sign of the Kingdom.

Many years ago a man called Rabbi Ben Yosef was dying. Being a respected member of the Jewish community, many community leaders and other friends came to visit him in his last days. During the course of one of those visits, a man asked, "Rabbi, what will heaven be like?" He thought for a moment, and replied, "I do not know what heaven will be like, but this I do know; when I get there, I won't be asked, 'Why weren't you Moses, Why weren't you Abraham?' What I will be asked is, 'Why weren't you Ben Yosef? Why weren't you fully you?'"

That is our fundamental calling...To be fully ourselves, offering all that we are, our gifts, strengths and weaknesses to God, so that God can transform us, renew our minds, transform our way of thinking and our way of being, so that we too may live out God's will, as signs of his Kingdom.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Healed, restored, forgiven.....walking the Labyrinth once more

I'm not sure how many years it has been since Gloucester Cathedral took to hosting a labyrinth in August - nor how many times I've made the journey there for a Taize service at the end of a long day...
Each year, it seems to be the prayer experience I most need.
Each year, I take away something different from this precious encounter.
This week, at the end of a rather stress filled first day back at work, it brought me peace and reassurance in ways I would never have dared to imagine.

That morning at Mass,having heard the parable of the workers in the vineyard, I'd said something about our incorrigible tendency to judge ourselves in comparison to our consider their triumphs and disasters mostly in relation to our own journeys, to lose track of the beauty of our own surroundings and the grace that we are offered because we are too busy looking over our shoulders to check that our fellow travellers haven't had a better deal.
That evening, I was given a wonderful encouragement to focus on my own journey and never mind what my fellow travellers were getting up to.
Walking a labyrinth in company is always a potentially anxious task for me.
I worry that I will adopt the "wrong" pace, that if I fall over my own feet or wobble as I turn a corner, I will somehow make things harder for anyone walking nearby.
I worry that I'll be in the way, that I'll want to spend too long in the centre....
Or at least that has often been my experience in the past.
This time, though, was quite different.
Yes, I was very much one of a group (more people there than in past years), seeking to cover the same ground, following the same pathway with the same intention....but instead of anxiety that there might not be space enough for us all, that somehow we would hinder one another, I found myself drawing strength and inspiration from those who walked around me.
There was the buttoned up bachelor, taking his shoes off hesitantly, self conscious as he began his journey in black stockinged feed
The small boy, keen to whizz round at his own pace ,but equally determined not to upset anyone else, who gave me a radiant smile as, whispering, I invited him to overtake
The woman who lives nearby, someone with whom I'd shared significant moments in our respective faith lovely to find her walking that same path
And M., the wonderful priest whose ministry had so inspired me when I worked with him during my training. As I walked, I remembered sitting cross legged on the floor of his inner-city church, singing Taize chants quietly by the light of a single candle - and the blanket of peace that had fallen over me
There were many others too...but there was space enough for us all
When I reached the centre, I sat for a while, as the chant continued around me....gaining strength and confidence as other voices grouped around me, lending me courage and assurance by their felow-travellers, whose pilgrimages matched my own
"Bless the Lord, my soul, who leads me into life"