Monthly Archives: June 2020

Something for Sunday

Trinity Sunday is not an occasion looked forward to with great joy by preachers. Strange analogies will be shared: water=ice, liquid, steam. Egg= yoke, white, shell. Three leaf clovers and so on. Here is the most recent I have spotted:

The Trinity is like a Telephone

We experience

Shiny, shapely, shatter proof

Together, one phone

We experience

Father, Son, Holy Spirit

Together, one God.

All of this stuff leaves me completely cold so how about a joke instead-a Jewish joke told by Rabbi Lionel Blue and shared with Falcon Lodge last year.

A Jewish man was hit by a bus: A kind priest rushed over to him bent down and said:

Do you believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit?

The Jew looked up and said; “I’m dying and he’s asking me riddles!”

The Rabbi then delivers his punch line: A lot of Christianity is a riddle if you are outside it!

 But then Judaism can seem a riddle to those who are outside that. So there Rabbi!!

But so far as Christianity is concerned we are insiders. And from the inside we can only say that in our experience this is the account of God’s being that seems true for us. That God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit may seem a riddle to them but from our vantage point it seems true for us. We have felt the power of God moving in our lives and we have been caught up in love and praise. This isn’t about intellectual speculation it’s about relationships. Ourselves and God. God and us. You and I together.

Firstly God has come amongst us. God has given himself to us in Jesus Christ. If you want to know what God is like look at Jesus. He’s the best image of God we have. As Jesus says in John’s gospel; he who has seen me has seen the Father. This is what Christmas is about-a celebration of our faith in a God who is not only the creator of the universe but also one of us. This is quite an extraordinary idea but it makes all sorts of things possible. God in our understanding is not throned above, remotely high, a distant lawgiver or a judge. He has entered our life! Consequently things could be different: we could be changed; indeed the whole world could be changed. That’s well worth celebrating and it’s particularly worthwhile to celebrate it with others.

Secondly: God is still with us. He’s with us in the Holy Spirit sent by Jesus. Christianity is not a set of stories about a figure from the past that we are invited to admire. Christ is alive-the story of the coming of his Kingdom is an unfinished story and we part of that story. We feel the Spirit’s presence in our hearts prompting our actions in the name of love.

And thirdly Gods love is all around us. The whole created order is an expression of God’s love not only for us but for all the creatures he has made. We look upon the world and it is beautiful and good. And its goodness is an expression of the good God who made it and sustains it moment by moment. Our involvement in environmental causes stems from this

In the famous Russian icon of the Trinity are shown three angelic figures sitting around a table. But the fourth side, the side facing the viewer is open. That’s our side: God’s life of love is incomplete without you and me. God come amongst us, God for us and God inviting us to share the divine life.

This then is our faith. God is one: Father, son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

(Don’t ) Breath on me breath of God.

Pentecost Sunday is one of the high days of the churches calendar. This is the day when the disciples received the Holy Spirit, or was that a few weeks ago? – John 20:22. Some people celebrate Pentecost Sunday as the birthday of the church, or did that happen earlier in Jesus ministry? – Matthew 16:17-19. I appreciate Pentecost because it is the only one of the ‘big three’ church celebrations which has no commercial overtones.

In past years I have celebrated with with churches filled with bright red balloons or decorated with scarlet banners and red flames hung from the ceiling. Or have been in large outdoor circuit services. Non of that this year thanks to Covid-19.

Much of the imagery of the gift of the Holy Spirit seem counter to our present situation – breath, wind, crowds – all would be frowned upon by our current lockdown instructions. But there is another side to the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Writing to the churches of Rome and Galatia Paul spoke of many different gifts from the Holy Spirit that could be used to build and maintain the church. Practical gifts such as preaching and teaching, but also the deeper gifts that bring a church together – love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

If Pentecost is, as we are fond of saying, the birthday of the Church, then what does it mean to be the Church? Paul’s exploration of gifts is worth probing. There are “varieties of gifts,” so there’s no one spirituality or service model for everybody. Many churches do “spiritual gifts” inventories, assessments of “strength finders” etc. so people can see what gifts they may have and thus find their path to service. All good: but I always wonder if we might be getting it backwards. Is it that God has made me a certain way, so that’s how I serve? Or do I stretch and learn to serve God more profoundly if I do what I’m not gifted at?

Does God use my strengths? Or my brokenness? Leonard Cohen’s “Everything has a crack in it, that’s how the light gets in,” and Ernest Hemingway’s “The world breaks everyone, and then some become strong in the broken places” come to mind. How do we unearth people’s gifts – all the people’s? I worry about the way churches and their groups are geared toward “marathoners,” people  who will sign up for 35 week studies or 3 year weekly commitments. What about the “sprinter,” who get nervous over a 3 week commitment. And then what times of day do we have things? A young parent, or a surgeon, or a night nurse: how do we employ their gifts, and time?

Not surprisingly, in our culture, “difference” feels threatening. The Methodists seemingly struggle to get along with people who think or act differently. But difference is God’s good gift; difference is how we know God, not merely through the challenge of reconciliation, but even just hearing God’s voice. I love Hans Urs von Balthasar’s wisdom: “We cannot find the dimensions of Christ’s love other than in the community of the church, where the vocations and charisms* distributed by the Spirit are shared: each person must tell the others what special knowledge of the Lord has been shown to him. For no one can tread simultaneously all the paths of the love given to the saints: while one explores the heights, another experiences the depths and a third the breadth. No one is alone under the banner of the Spirit, the Son and the Father; only the whole Church is the Bride of Christ, and that only as a vessel shaped by him to receive his fullness.” (Hans Urs von Balthasar – ‘Does Jesus Know Us? Do We Know Him?’ – Ignatus Press, 1986)(*Spiritual gifts)

As we begin to contemplate what life will be like as we come out of lockdown perhaps we can reflect on the gifts the Holy Spirit has given us and how we might use them to build our church once again.

God bless and stay safe,

Alan.