Rev. Nigel Robb June 10th
Post Easter Resources 5 for a locked down Church
1. A poem by Clifford Swartz, in Prayers from the Nave, 2005
If I were faced with death, Lord,
And, of course, I am,
I would worry most about
The projects not yet finished.
I know it is presumptuous
To imagine my own schemes
Are especially privileged in this universe,
And that my work will somehow matter,
But it is a common delusion.
We go from project to scheduled project
The way a schoolchild goes
From grade to grade.
And after graduation there is
Marriage and the children
And their schooling and the job
And the house and cars with
All the little projects in between,
Followed closely by retirement plans.
Our frantic fear of death
Is that we might fall short
In all of this, with the world’s work-
Our share at least – undone.
St Francis had an easy answer:
‘If my soul was required tonight,
Why, I would till my garden.’
But how can one be sure that
Other hands know how to reap the harvest
And not abandon seedlings in the ground?
We require philosophy or faith
Assisi never doubted that
Where he sowed, the master would provide…
We trust with time, in time, over time, through time, the seeds we plan will flower:
A gracious word spoken,
A well timed smile,
A needed embrace,
A deserved reprimand,
An act of moral integrity,
A self-sacrifice seen,
An old family story told,
A bedtime prayer prayed over and over,
An admonishment deserved
3. What is important in Church?
The physical condition of the building is important
It matters that the church’s budget is more or less balanced.
Fine prayers and music are important.
Faithful theology is critical…
But nothing – nothing but nothing – matters like simply doing the right thing to other human beings:
Love, justice, mercy, kindness, compassion.
4. Knowing that we are valued by God
If we recognise that we are infinitely precious to God, that we are loved no matter what,
empowers us to live life to the full extent of our intrinsic worth.
Value yourself …because God values you.
Accept yourself... because God has accepted you.
Love yourself… because God has loved you.
5. The temptation to decaffeinate the Gospel
The Church is often tempted to decaffeinate Christianity.
We do this to make it more attractive to the world. We dress it up in the clothes of the culture, thinking it will be more readily accepted. We are tempted to file down the sharp edges of the Gospel to make them smooth, and to water it down if it is too intense for the modern palate. We shrink God to find God more acceptable, slim Jesus down to size. We may even attempt to shape God into our own image.
We eventually realise that this is a vain attempt to accommodate Christian faith to a world whose values are simply not all that compatible with Christian faith.
Many people have tried to rewrite the story of Jesus. Perhaps the most famous person to attempt to do a ‘Jesus edit’ was Thomas Jefferson. In his retirement, the former President took a pair of scissors to his personal bible, cut and pasted, and produced a Jesus more to his liking. In Jefferson’s bible there was a lot of teaching about morality, but no miracles. Jefferson edited out the transfiguration. There was no Easter. Eventually Jefferson refashioned Jesus into an Enlightenment gentleman from Northern Virginia in the 18th Century who taught virtue and met an untimely end.
What can we do to counteract this?
In a world where so many are homeless, I am thankful for a roof over my head.
In a world where hunger is no rare exception, I am thankful for food on the table.
In a word of loneliness, I am thankful for my family and for the congregation.
In a world where summary people live lives vacuously empty of much real meaning,
I am thankful for a faith that shapes my life into one of purpose and meaning.
And I am thankful for God’s unmerited love for me – a love willing to give Jesus’ life for my sake.
Hans Kung, the Swiss Roman Catholic theologian writes about Jesus:
‘He did not belong to the establishment or to the revolutionary party… He was attacked on all sides, he had not played any of the expected roles: for those who supported law and order, he turned out to be a provocateur, dangerous to the system... He disappointed the activist revolutionaries by his non violent love of peace…. He offended passive, world- forsaking ascetics by his worldliness. And for the devout who adapted themselves to the world, he was too uncompromising. For the silent majority, he was too noisy and for the noisy minority, he was too quiet; too gentle for the strict and too strict for the gentle.’
8. Doubt and Faith
Frederick Buechner, the Presbyterian minister and novelist, wrote:
‘Whether our faith is that there is a God or that there is no God, if you do not have any doubts,
you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are what keeps faith awake and moving’.
Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi :
‘ To be without questions is not a sign of faith but a lack of depth.’
Martin Marty the theologian writes :
‘My vocation is to do my doubting within the context of faith’.
9. God is love
If God is love, if God is relationship, if God is communion, it means nothing less than this:
Everything that promotes, nourishes, deepens and sustains relationships of love, trust, communion,
and intimacy is actually God-like.
Everything that severs, kills, demands, trivialises and hampers relationships of love is actually un-Godly.
10. What is Important
Being right matters, but relationships matter even more.
Ideas are important, but people are even more important.
Truth matters, but love matters even more.
Christianity teaches humanity that love is more important than intelligence.
11. Real Life
In common conversation and discussion people talk about what real life is and what it means. Often we hear the following :
‘Real life happens after I graduate
When I land the dream job
When I receive the pay rise or the promotion or being made a partner
When I find the perfect spouse
When we have the children we long for
When they are off to kindergarten,
When we survive adolescence and they go to college
When we do not have any more mortgage payments
When we retire.
This kind of thinking sees ‘real life’ never as now, but always tomorrow. How we spend our days, is how we spend our lives. We need to look and realise that life is not a dress rehearsal, but is happening now and we are expected and offered the opportunity to live now, not later or in some distance future. No one lives forever, so it is best to do it now, whatever it is, or it may be never.
We are not alone, we live in God’s world.
We believe in God:
Who has created and is creating,
Who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh,
To reconcile and make new
Who works in us and others by the Spirit?
We trust in God.
We are called to be the Church:
To celebrate God’s presence,
To love and serve others,
To seek justice and resist evil,
To proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope.
In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God.
In one of these popular management books, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, an unusual exercise is presented for the reader. The reader is asked to set aside thirty, sixty, or ninety minutes to be alone, and in silence. Then the reader is asked to imagine that they are attending their own funeral service. They are seated at the back of the church, and are to imagine four speakers talking about them. They may be drawn from their family, a friend, someone they work with, or went to school with, and a member of their church or a person with whom they work as a volunteer. What would they hear? Would the understanding and the evaluation of the life be as we would hope?
It is a provocative and worthwhile exercise for us all to engage in, no matter our employment, or lack of a management position. What qualities of adjectives might be used to describe the legacy we are going to leave behind?
Barbara Tuchman’s, A Distant Mirror tells of one of the greatest disasters ever recorded in history – the Black Death of 1348-50. The Black Death swept across the world killing over one third of the population from India to Iceland. She writes of that tortured and tragic fourteen century and the causes of their maladies: ‘Plague, war, taxes, brigandage, bad government, insurrection and schism in the church’. The intriguing part of her work is in the parallels she draws between the 50 years following the Black Plague and what has happened in our world since the First World War.
She writes that almost the same complaint could be found in our age,’ Economic chaos, social unrest, high prices, profiteering, depraved morals, lack of production, industrial indolence, frenetic gaiety, wild expenditure, luxury, social and religious hysteria, greed ,avarice, maladministration, decay of manners.
Powerlessness seemed too sweep over people, nations and even the whole world like a great tidal wave. They did not know what to do. The feeling of powerlessness, the horrors of the past few months, the death and the suffering and the injustice stalking supposedly civilized countries seem bound to make us a people impotent and unable to deal with the situation creatively. The Gospel is Good News if we are prepared to listen to its implications.
What can the Church do to offer a means of addressing this?