Sunday, July 26, 2020
Sunday, July 19, 2020
"God is here as we his people meet to offer praise and prayer…" I’m rather fond of that hymn (not just because it’s set to Blaenwern) and though we can’t sing in our worship at present, it has been going round in my head as I prepared my thoughts for today, when I will share them both at the online Welcome to Sunday and face to face at the Cathedral Eucharist. Two very different contexts to shape and form our thoughts about place, presence, engagement. The story of Jacob speaks loud and clear into our current situation. He’s really in trouble. He has fled from the family home to escape the righteous wrath of his brother, whom he has cheated of his birthright. Ironic, when you come to think of, that his theft of the privileges of the elder son has actually forced him into exile from the family altogether. We don't have to look far, either, for stories of family separation, of loss and grief...of sons and brothers stranded far from home in an alien landscape where nothing seems quite as was hoped or imagined. Jacob, our fugitive, finds himself overtaken by night in the wilderness. Things must be pretty bleak if picking a rock as pillow is your best hope of an easy night. Small wonder his sleep is filled with dreams…So many have reported vivid, extraordinary, troubling dreams during the pandemic…perhaps inevitable given the degree of collective anxiety abroad…but Jacob’s dream is of a different order. A ladder reaching up to heaven – the angels from our West Screen and beyond making their way ceaselessly from heaven to earth and from earth to heaven…a picture of an unbroken connection which exists whether we are attentive or not. And God. God standing there beside him, in that place of desolation and fear, to confirm the promise made first to his grandfather Abraham…a promise of homecoming and of future blessing. Amazing, baffling, wonderful words that spoke the comfort Jacob surely needed most “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. And I will not leave you til I have done what I have promised…” Suddenly a barren place of exile and despair is transformed. Just like that. "Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it." Perhaps, like me, you’ve been on a similar journey of discovery in recent months. In the Cathedral there are so many cues, so many concrete reminders of God’s presence, the endless love affair with humanity, the divine initiative to reconcile all things and make them new…When we closed the doors on 23rd March there was such a strong sense of exile…I left the cathedral to take a funeral and as I said the words of committal that day, part of me was also laying to rest our old ways of being, our former practices of community and worship. Whatever lay ahead, it was clear that one chapter had ended. Then, of course, we had to find new ways of being Church…of gathering for worship together though apart…of singing the Lord’s song in a strange land. And at times, if I’m honest, it felt as if that ceaseless stream of heavenly beings travelling between here and there, between fearful broken humanity and the presence of the most high, had in fact taken the opportunity of lockdown to have a break. Were we still connected with God, as we anxiously explored ways of connecting with each other? What was God up to, in this barren, stony landscape that we’d never expected to arrive in? We started livestreaming worship from our homes and a new way of being emerged, as the cathedral family was enhanced by people we’d not met before, who began to engage with this new ministry, to ask for prayers, to share something of what was happening for them as we all began to find ways axross our stony ground. But it was bleak for all that, not a place to linger for the night if we could help it. It seemed, though, that we had no choice but to be there in the moment, regardless. Easter approached and we agonised about how we might celebrate it “properly” away from our beloved buildings. My dining table was all very well but…it wasn’t really church, it wasn’t anyone’s spiritual home. But in Holy Week, things changed for me. And like Jacob, it was as things were lost or laid bear that I discovered something really important. At the end of an impromptu Maundy Thursday Eucharist, shared online with a couple of friends, we read the Gospel of the Watch and then I stripped the altar, extinguished all my candles, took down each icon, removed everything that spoke of "church" and left it heaped to one side. I listened to Psalm 22 to the Wesley chant, as I do every year and as I unmade church that evening in the gathering dusk, that very ordinary dining room in my suburban semi became non-negotiably holy ground, as much church as anywhere I've been. I left the room in darkness at the end of the Watch on tiptoe - not wanting to disturb the deep layers of God's presence that I was suddenly and wonderfully aware of. And all through Good Friday and Holy Saturday I passed the dining room door reverently, removing my shoes, knowing that this was holy ground. Surely, the Lord WAS in this place – and I knew it not. Extraordinary. The bottom of that heavenly ladder propped up in my dining room. God’s angels heading up and down from my house, that connection as lively and unbroken as ever And, of course, what I found in my home is true of yours too. That traffic from earth to heaven, from sheltered flats and noisy family kitchens, from care homes and hospital wards where weary staff draw breath and pray to escape a second wave of the pandemic. And from the shanty towns where the virus is having its way. A constant stream of messages, pleas and praises rising to God, an unbroken flow of love coming down A reminder that there is nowhere – NOWHERE – where God does not stand beside us and assure us “I am with you and I will keep you. I will not leave you” For now, some of us are back in this precious, demanding, beloved building…and some of us need to remain at home. "Surely the Lord is in this place." And this one. And this. That traffic from heaven to earth is as constant as ever – its tides diminished neither by lockdown nor by the ebbing faith of humanity. Wherever you go – you are walking on holy ground. Set up a pillar if you like, to remind you – but expect to meet God as you go forward too, whatever our future landscape may suggest...God's love poured out unstintingly, transforming the ground of our desolation to a fertile bed of hope that heaven is at hand, that surely the Lord IS in this place that this, this very spot, be it kitchen or cathedral, is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven. Wake from your dreams and see for yourself.
Sunday, July 12, 2020
Reading the gospels, there are so many times when I wish I’d been there. To have really got to know Jesus the man, to discover what made8 him laugh, or cry, whether he preferred lakeside or mountain-top, fish or vegetables, cats or dogs… But there are other times when my envy of the disciples is balanced by sympathy with their predicament ….They get it wrong so often and hearing that they’ve failed again, I’m kind of relieved that I don’t have to face the disappointment in Jesus’s voice, as he realises that i’ve missed the point once more. Because, his teachings aren’t always that clear are they!
Let’s think about that story of the Sower, we call it. Jesus seems to think it’s obvious….and that’s where I’m suddenly very very glad that I’m not part of the crowd. I'd feel so stupid
Let anyone with ears listen.
Are you listening, Kathryn?
What did I just say???
Cue shuffling feet...embarrassed looks...because honestly, I’m not sure.
That’s the trouble with parables.
When introducing Scripture to children, it’s tempting to say that Jesus taught in parables to make it easier for people to understand the huge and abstract concepts of the kingdom of God. Parables provide hooks on which we can hang concepts that are beyond our everyday experience...in the words of the old definition...A parable, is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.
But the trouble is that parables don’t always have an exact one to one equivalent meaning….
If they are a code, well, sometimes the key isn't immediately obvious. Know what I mean?
Let's go back to the story.
The image of the prodigal sower, just chucking the precious seed to the four winds regardless is really attractive. It might seem a tad irresponsible but it’s his seed, and clearly he has full confidence in the harvest…
It's a wonderful illustration of God's reckless grace....
perhaps That could be something to hang onto, but it's not quite enough...It sort of prompts a “So what?” question
I guess in the original story we're intended to think of the sower as Jesus, scattering words of hope, love and transformation whether people are ready to hear them or not. He has just illustrated it, really, preaching to a crowd so huge that he has to take refuge in a boat to avoid being crushed as they surge forward to hear more...and we have no idea what they did with the words of life that were offered to them that day. Some people may have been changed in an instant...Some may have wandered off, bored, focussed on a beetle creeping over a rock...Some may have reflected on his words for many years before finally coming to a decision, for or against the gospel.
We don't know...and at that moment, I’m guessing, neither did he.
If you judge labour by results, it does sound as if our famous sower was a bit rubbish though. Three-quarters of the seed – 75% - is set fair to amount to nothing.
He has to sow – if he doesn’t, how will people be fed – but he’s not getting a great return...so is this a good use of resources?
That’s quite a question for us to ponder in a season when the Church is wondering how best to use (“deploy” is the popular verb) HER resources – of money, yes, but also of people.
It’s so tempting to invest where there are likely to be measurable, successful outcomes. It’s just common sense, really and
I don't think that either farming or management gurus would think the sower was doing too well...for the ratio of return to investment seems pretty useless in some quarters, though there are signs of promise in that “30, 60, 100 fold”.
So – what are we to make of that.
Would a wise sower focus only on the most promising soil?
Perhaps he would…but I seem to remember St Paul saying something about the relative wisdom of God and humanity...
It might be tempting to smile and congratulate ourselves on being GOOD soil...We are here because we've heard God speak, even if we're not always certain exactly what He said....We're trying to live with at least one foot in the Kingdom. Maybe, on a good day, we think we're even bearing fruit for God.
Hooray for us!
But I don’t think that’s the point, do you?
Of course, this is our story – the gospel is ALWAYS our story - ..but it's not one in which we can just wait passively, content to be the soil
We're living in the age of the Spirit, and Jesus calls us to be his witnesses throughout the whole earth.
And that means, that we- you and me- are now cast in the role of the sower, charged with sharing the word of the kingdom.
So...what are we to do? As individuals and as a Church?
Well – SOW of course.
It's our turn...our turn to sow the seed, to squander the gifts of the kingdom, to share God's good news not just with a receptive audience but with those who will obviously ignore it, or reject it or even be openly hostile to it.
It may not be that telling them the good news in as many words is always the best approach – nobody likes being beaten over the head with even the most beautiful of truths...but we do have to make absolutely sure that they are aware of it, one way or another.
So – my invitation to you this week is to think about what difference it would make to your way of being if you were deliberately trying to show everyone you encountered something of that wild, profligate love that God lavishes upon us...how might you change your behaviour if you were the only version of the gospel that your neighbour would ever encounter?
Because the truth is – you might be.
We're not told to be successful...
We can't actually control the soil (maybe that's up to God)...
All we have to do is to Keep. On. Sowing.
The danger is that we'll get discouraged - will say to ourselves, well, it's just not worth it..... the last time the birds descended...the place was overrun with brambles...nothing came of our efforts. Forget it...
If that's the case, then we need to listen to another voice...the one that says
“Yes, but this time might be different. God never gives up on us...so how can we give up on one another?”
If discipleship is a process, then sharing faith isn't always going to be a one-off either.
So just keep going.
Look back along the route that brought you to this point in your faith. For most of us, there will have been many twists and turns..
Though you may have encountered God in an amazing Damascus road experience, you may equally have found yourself moving towards Him, almost without noticing, as the words of friends, the life of a faith community, the silent gospel of love at work began to have an impact.
And what was true for you will be true for others as well.
Seeds can take a long time germinating...and it's not up to us to judge the quality of the soil.
We're just called to keep on sowing, no matter what, because in the end it is God himself who brings home the harvest.