In the beginning was the Word.
What is true in Scripture is sometimes true for us as individuals too.
It certainly was for me. I grew up, amid the bells and smells of South Coast Anglo Catholicism, hooked on beautiful words and beautiful worship….but it wasn’t until my first term at university that I began to really fall in love with God, when a far-sighted supervisor set me an essay on Lancelot Andrewes, as a good route into the joys of 17th century literature. Not only did that period become my literary heart-land – and remains so to this day – but my pleasure in Andrewes writing launched me into a deeper exploration of his world, and his influences. Where would his words take me? It transpired that in addition to having a rather wonderful name, and inspiring T.S. Eliot’s poem “Journey of the Magi” , Bishop Lancelot was part of the committee that translated the King James Authorized Version of the Bible. His gift with words shone through there too...words that carry a magnetism all their own….that can draw readers and hearers deeper into the heart of the mystery of God.
And the same is true of the language of the Book of Common Prayer, which we are using for our liturgy today. There is a beauty and a poetry that can enchant the heart, even as it lifts the soul.
Words matter right enough. It would be madness to deny it – and if you grew up with the Book of Common Prayer, and have been missing its music in the depths of your soul, then I do hope and pray that this morning gives you the chance to drink deeply from its familiar springs and be refreshed. Sometimes it does us good to revisit familiar places, and to touch base with what is precious there...but we need to remember, too, that we worship a living God, who is always “going ahead of us into Galilee”...one who cannot be enshrined and contained by even the most beautiful verbal reliquaries. The beauty of the Prayer Book (modern language for its day) and of the Authorised Version too is not intended to seduce us, or distract us from the inexpressible beauty of the living God...Sometimes it seems we struggle to remember that, for ourselves and for others.
You see, poetry and clarity do not always sit well together. And the things of faith seem impossibly obscure and abstruse to the many who are living their lives quite happily without ever crossing our threshold to pray or worship..so, although I continue to enjoy immersing myself in beautiful language, and celebrate its power in signposting me heavenwards, I’m relieved that our usual diet here is slightly more accessible to newcomers. Only slightly, I’m afraid – because most of what we do in the cathedral or in most other churches is a such a long long way from the normal experience of the majority that there’s still a colossal work of translation to be done.
Thou and I.
Adopted as God’s children through Jesus Christ we are part of his plan to love the world whole once again…
“Part of the plan”?
That smacks alarmingly of a theology that assumes we have no freedom as individuals...but it’s not where I stand.
While I am utterly confident that God did indeed search and know us from the beginning of our lives and the beginning of time, and while I am even more confident that in the end, no matter what, we will be caught up in the wonder of his love, the route that takes us there is of our own choosing. We may be chosen to be holy and blameless – but this doesn’t preclude us making our own choices that take us on a very different route for a while. Actually, there’s huge variation in our patterns of choices and direction every single day...and those choices do make a difference for better or worse...as we allow more or less of Christ’s light to shine in our lives.
You may be deeply uneasy at the thoughts of divine selection too- “Chosen before the foundations of the world” .
Why me? Why us? Does this cut across the whole theology of inclusion on which our reconciliation ministry, and our common life rests? Are we supposed, after all, to think of “us” and “them”, the chosen and the rejected, insiders and outsiders?
For me this would be a deal-breaker. I could not love and worship a God who allowed anyone – anyone – to be lost... ...- but take heart. Even St Paul, who, let’s face it, came from a long line of Chosen People, seems to have grasped that God has a bigger vision
“To gather up ALL THINGS IN HIM”
Nothing lost, nothing wasted…
The best news possible
Jane Williams, wife of the former ABC, puts it beautifully.
In Christ, God has always chosen to be our God. Even before we existed and certainly before we consciously turned towards God, God chooses that we are to be “in Christ” and share that relationship between Son and Father.
...This is what we are made for. We are designed to be part of the ceaseless flow of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
That’s where we belong...that’s what we are for.
In the here and now we are to so live that we make that heritage evident…to live for the praise of his glory, says Paul...In other words, everything we do and everything we should points to the God who has adopted us as his heirs.
Our lives, our way of being, is the best language we have to inspire others to join in the praise that is the inevitable outpouring of hearts and souls awake to God’s presence.
Paul, with his grounding in law, often uses legal metaphors as he reflects on our relationship with God…
The language of legacy is something he turns to again and again, - so we might be forgiven if familiarity blunts its impact. – but it’s pretty mind-blowing when you think about it.
We are heirs.
Inheritors, not just grateful petitioners and recipients of the riches of grace lavished upon us….but INHERITORS, part of the family, adopted children having equal rights with our brother, Jesus Christ himself, who is also the route by which we can come into that inheritance.
We turn to Christ
We receive the Holy Spirit
We become part of that ceaseless flow of love that is the eternal communication between Father, Son and Spirit – and in which we are forever included.
Whatever the language you prefer, whether ancient or moder….and regardless of the way in which you interpret Paul’s theology – this is the best possible news...and its ours to share.
You see, words can sometimes hurt and exclude….and we’re not above using them to do just that.
And religious practices may make no sense, and may even drive people away
But a community whose dominant characteristic is love will draw others in, because there is something unmistakeably attractive about that way of being.
Love is the irrestistable force which will, in God’s good time, gather up all things in heaven and on earth.
Let’s work with God to hasten that day, for his love’s sake.