I found this while clearing out my parents house. It’s an old Latin jotter from school (complete with it’s eye watering wallpaper cover). These days the only Latin I can translate is Caecilius est Pater, which answers the question: whose the daddy? Nothing else in the world of Latin makes any sense to me.
Who isn’t trying to make sense of their life? Who isn’t in some way translating what happens, what we do or is done to us, into a meaningful story – even if for some the meaning becomes there is no meaning, which is a pretty dark wood to enter. The human world without God, without Jesus, has a darkness that we run out of matches to light.
Deciphering life into a meaningful story. How do you make sense of yours?
I was thinking this morning how my life only makes sense if God is who Jesus shows God to be in his life, through his death and by his resurrection. My life makes no sense outside of the truth of all this rippling through my experience. The story of my hope, my joy, with its love and loss and flaw doesn’t make sense without Jesus.
To say I’ve decided to live this way feels a bit misleading. As though I’ve chosen between 2 items, both of which are pretty much the same and I just happen to have opted for this one: living as if the world is shot through with the presence of God.
It’s feels more like an ongoing and growing commitment to someone I’ve encountered, that offers shape, gives meaning to whatever else happens in my life.
My life only makes sense as I receive and return the love of God that comes to me in Jesus. That makes the pages of my story. The beautiful thing is how this love has more and more to reveal. It’s a story that never ends. There’s always another chapter to surprise and enjoy. Always more to come after the full stop of a sad sentence.
Evangelism for me is now an entirely positive action: inviting others to step inside the love that God has for them and to live out a loving response to that love.
What is your story? How might God help you know and tell it differently.
The song above again is an older song I wrote and recorded ages ago. It’s a question mark of a song.
kneels in the midnight garden under the Passover stars, waiting to flesh out
what he once told a crowd from a Galilean hillside: “love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who
friends won’t hang around long enough to test those words for themselves, not
least Judas, kissing the cheek of Jesus and the bloodless lips of despair.
noticed that friendship with Jesus isn’t well received by everyone. In fact, to
become a friend of Jesus will make us an easy target for some…
…Blessed are those persecuted for righteousness sake, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
that happen in our experience? Do we even know what persecution is? In Scotland
Christians are routinely dismissed by secular culture, sometimes mocked, mostly
ignored – but persecuted?
Williams described true persecution as:
(the) “systematic brutality and often murderous hostility that means that every morning you wonder if you and your children are going to live through the day”.
Rowan Williams, the Guardian,
On that count the church in Scotland is very definitely not suffering persecution for being Christian.
Does that mean this beatitude of Jesus falls silent before our experience? No, I think it does way more than that. The blessing of the persecuted becomes an invitation to us. An invitation to what?
As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,”
The book of Acts chapter 9
Whatever happens to church happens to Jesus. That is what Jesus is telling Saul here. Whatever you do to that little posse of poor and weary folk you are chasing through Damascus, you do to me. After he became Paul, Saul put it like this: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
happens to one part of the church affects the whole, because we are all a part
of Christ’s body. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.
It was a school show and she watched her son arrive in a group of 3 other boys from his year. They were talking and laughing with one another as they sat down. Her son was there, listening and laughing as if a part of it all. But she knew by their body language he was not. None of the other 3 boys cared if her son was there or not. She knew that her son understood this too as he pretended he was part of the group. Invisible to others, but as real as anything or anyone in the hall, the unspoken sadness shared between them.
To love other people is to suffer when they suffer. What is happening to Christians around the world shouldn’t be ignored simply because of distance. We are more connected than geography. We are family; closer than that – we are part of one body.
The persecution of Christians in other parts of the world summons us to respond. Persecution is an invitation to act: What can we give? What can we say? What can we do? We have something to gift to the persecuted church.
friendship with God…
The persecuted church needs our help. But they have a gift for us. We need their wisdom. We need their witness.
He taught her how to make soup when she was a girl. Good soup. Shirley looked after him as he grew older. She never told him, but he had been the gravity that pulled her out of a destructive orbit.
She took him on holiday. They would fly to Spain. Great. But what he didn’t know was the money Shirley put away each week was how she’d decided to kick her long standing habit. She knew she wouldn’t get any gear through customs. Week on week Shirley put the money away and not in a dealers hands until she and her father caught the plane as spent two weeks in the sun. On that holiday Shirley got clean.
That was some time back. Here he was in a hospital bed. Unconscious. No more than 24 hours left. The most important thing in her whole world was being here with him. There was nothing more important: No pleasure, no sorrow, no ambition, no fear, nothing else mattered more than being here, now.
Sometimes we are set free to live towards what matters most to us. Sometimes we find the freedom to let go of what we like, prefer, don’t have much time for – all that becomes unimportant as we grasp what really matters to us, matters so much nothing else can take its place.
That is a gift of the persecuted church to us. The gift of their faithful sorting out between what matters and what does not. The gift of finding your true self. And for a Christian who we are is a friend and brother of Jesus and a child of God: a beloved child of God. No pleasure, no sorrow, no ambition, no fear, nothing else matters more, nothing else is more real than the truth of that.
The persecuted Church know that truth in their daily living. That truth is setting them free. Not setting them free from pain, or suffering. But free to know who they truly are, free to know what really matters and what does not, free to let God be God, free to find themselves held and journeying towards their hearts desire. Their witness is a gift for us.
blessed are those persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The persecuted church are already touching the kingdom of heaven: palm to palm. For what is the kingdom of heaven if it’s not friendship with the king? Jesus takes the persecuted into the living room of God the father’s mercy, healing and love.
Is that not a gift we need? to learn in the stupor of consumerism, with it’s plethora of choices, false promises of satisfaction, capricious generosity – how to be put back in touch with what really matters.
The gift the of the persecuted church is the gift of lived freedom. Their witness wants to free us from the chains of ambitions and fears and distractions we’ve given center stage in our story. To know instead God as the center of our joy and peace, God as the relentless hope refusing to be pushed out of our life by pain and suffering.
That’s a gift the persecuted church gifts to us: The gift of seeing clearly and letting go of what doesn’t matter. The gift of entering the living room of God. Learning to trust God to be God for us. Learning to praise God for being God for us. The gift described by the novelist Frederick Buechner:
…trust him. And praise him too. Praise him for all we leave behind us in our traveling. Praise him for all we lose that lightens our feet, for all that the long road of the years bears off like a river. Praise him for stillness in the wake of pain. But praise him too for the knowledge that what’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and that all the dark there ever was, set next to the light, would scarcely fill a cup.
Frederick Buechner, novelist, Minister
the Judas tree
The song above is a few years old now. I think it wants to recognize that the process of learning what matters most and letting go what doesn’t is never going to be painless or easy. Sometimes, waiting for the in breaking of joy leaves us in a vulnerable place of lament. So the song is a prayer of lament. Asking that even when we are tempted to despair (on the Judas tree) God will find us even there.
It was the kind of day no different from the one before… as familiar as your mother’s face. And yet before the sun had set, for some in this town, everything taken for granted would be turned upside down.
Jericho wasn’t the place he was going. It was just somewhere to pass through on his way to Jerusalem. Had it been here Jesus passed through can you imagine?
The shutters coming down on Scot-Mid; people spilling out of the Tom Craig; children freed from the classrooms at primary, as the regulars at the auld store bar finished up their pint and joined the length of the village to catch a glimpse of Jesus passing through.
That’s how it was the day Jesus came through Jericho. People Lining the streets and wondering if he’d do something, something that might take your breath away. People of Jericho- be careful what you wish for.
And here’s wee Zacchaeus trying to squeeze in, find some space to see – but nobody will make room for him. Had it been in Law do you think folks would have said of him: Aye We knew his father…he was a wean when he came to this village…he’s an incomer – the way small places sometimes see the world through parochial eyes.
When the bible calls Zacchaeus Chief tax collector and rich man, these are not descriptions – they are terms of abuse.
A tax collector – he should have a mask on…
A tax collector – he doesn’t care how he makes his
A tax collector – I don’t know how he can sleep at
And Zacchaeus is the chief tax collector.
Rich: he’s just take, take, take…
Rich: his clothes cost weans their bread…
his house was paid for by evicting widows…
Zacchaeus was the scraping of a shoe.
reasons for attendance…
So why is the wee man here in the company a crowd who read his character? He wanted to see Jesus. But if he is the town villain why did he bother turning out to see Jesus?What was he expecting to see? What do we expect to see? Jesus: a character from a story like an image in the scrap book of history…
Or Jesus: the presence of God in flesh and blood, passing alongside wherever we are in doubt and struggle; beside our frustration and pain; Jesus in the back streets of our secret heart and hidden selves, where the sundried parts of our failure leave us for dead.
Maybe Zacchaeus wants to see for himself if the rumours about what Jesus said were true:
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.
I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Jesus, Marks gospel
Call them what…call them names? Call them out? Call them for what they should have done but haven’t? Call what they have done but shouldn’t?
Or call like a mother when her children have wandered too far away; call beyond the prison yard of our unstable self-esteem; call out of our being something more than we ever imagined was there.
what’s in the way?
But all that was immaterial because Zacchaeus couldn’t see, because the crowd was in the way…
I wonder what blocks our view of seeing Jesus as the presence of God:
Passing through our hurts with mending…
Passing through our loneliness with welcome…
Passing through our frustration with patience…
our shame with the gift of forgiveness.
I reckon we all have distractions and fears that crowd our view and obscure what we can see of Jesus. I also reckon Jesus comes to the place where our vison is overcrowded by fears of the future and guilt from the past. Jesus meets us where we struggle like shouting Zacchaeus down from a tree, surprising us by wanting to come where we live.
And in that shout the story turns as Jesus is no longer passing through – he is staying: I must stay at your house today.
The story is no longer about Zacchaeus wanting to see who Jesus was but about Jesus coming to where Zacchaeus lives.
Are we ready to come down from the tree? Or are we afraid of the voices inside us as much as outside that question our friendship with Jesus.
“It’s no right”…go the mumbles and moans…Whatever surprises the crowd hoped to see it wasn’t ready for this: Jesus do you have any idea who he is!
He’s the wee guy that lines his pockets with what we’ve not got…he’s the wee guy who works the area for the Romans…he’s not got an ounce of humanity it in him…
And from somewhere inside himself Zacchaeus finds the strength to challenge those voices: that’s not who I am…
Zacchaeus finds a voice…
Sometimes what Zacchaeus says next is translated as something he will do from now on. As if Jesus calling him down the tree changes how Zaccheus will behave. But that’s not what Zacchaeus says, in the original New testament Greek what Zacchaeus says next is in the present tense:
I give half of what I make back to the poor
Not I will give – but I already do…
And if someone pays too much
they get four times as much back…
Not they will get – but they already do..
Zacchaeus finds a voice to say I am not who the crowd say I am. Yes I work with the Herodians. Yes I work with the Romans. Yes I manage the whole thing and I more than get by, but I’m not who the crowd say I am.
I give half of what I make back to the poor and if someone pays too much they get four times as much back…
It turns out that Zacchaeus is as good as his name: Righteous…
And Jesus has a choice. He can listen to the crowd’s opinion: tax collectors are tax collectors after all or he can take Zacchaeus at his word…What’s it going to be Jesus?
who do you say I am?
Wee man, Jesus says, or the Aramaic equivalent, You are a son of Abraham, You belong, You are part of God’s family, You are in, welcome, You have a place beyond the crowds prejudice, beyond their resentment – You Zacchaeus are more than they think and your heart is somewhere God can make a home in – welcome back to the people of God.
That’s some of what it means when Jesus says: Salvation is coming to your house today. Jesus acts out how Zaccheus belongs to the people of God- reconcilled – an act of making peace. Coming to where he lives.
To the prejudice of the crowd he is a tax collector. He Works for the enemy – So the people of Jericho took for granted he was a thief and cheat- they made him an outsider. Jesus says – no – not in my eyes.
I imagine the wee guy walking back home with Jesus feels like he’s the tallest man in the village. He was at peace with who he was, at peace with the God who met him in Jesus. At peace with his community? They had no reason left to treat him as an outsider anymore, but if our troubled times tell us anything it tells us how people sometimes cherish their own warped version of reality. They can’t bring themselves to acknowledge what’s true.
One of the things this story says to me is: peace making will always involve seeing more than lazy prejudice, seeing beyond the labels people are given. Law parish church should be somewhere in the village where we learn how to see goodness in someone and reflect that back to them…
Where we learn to see the uniqueness in each life, the beauty that has been wounded or crushed…seeing with patience…seeing with understanding…Seeing someone until they see reflected back in our gaze, not as a category but as someone God loves.
Peace-making gives someone a chance to tell their story even when everyone presumes they know it already. Peace-making gives room for more than what we all take for granted about people: migrant, asylum seeker, disabled, gay, pensioner, youngster, socialist, lesbian, nationalist, Tory, brexiter, remainer…whatever the label is: Peace won’t happen until we get to know the person behind the category – until like Jericho, we are surprised how what we took for granted turned out to be wrong -turned out to be ignorance masquerading as truth.
embraces the words of Rowan Williams:
The world is more than you ever thought. You are more than you ever thought. God is more than you can ever think. And you are not trapped in the story you tell yourself about yourself. That’s a vision worth sharing.
Rowan Williams (Luminaries)
come down from the tree…
Something else catches the sleeve of my thoughts. Jesus says: come down from the tree Zaccheus. Why?
Because I must climb up the tree…the tree they plant outside the city walls of Jerusalem; a barren tree, dead tree, where I shall be pinned by three roman nails.
And they shall call up: loser, sinner, chancer, god-forsaken also ran…and they will say come down from the tree- if your the son of god – if you think you can…
But I won’t come down, not until there’s room for everyone to find they are more than the story others tell of them, more than the story they tell themselves, more than we think or imagine, until the doors are unlocked on human heart where I long to come home: it’s called salvation.
I wrote the song above some time ago. It’s called diving for stars. It imagines the aftermath of a village that’s been visited by those who cannot see human beings any more, only categories. It jumps between the aftermath of a vist by “cleansers”, and the time before troubles began when people saw one another as neighbours.
It was a warm afternoon. The town square was busy on what looked like a Latvian bank holiday. An impromptu stage was set for a choir of children, getting ready to sing. Dominating the square is a red bricked cathedral. We went inside to catch a rumour of the holy.
It’s Lutheran decoration was plain, and the air was cool in its cavernous space. For all it had been busy outside, in here there were only a few people scattered, wandering the aisle or sat on the long wooden pews.
I walked down the centre aisle, slow and deliberate steps, to the beat of the old prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Unseen, on either side of the empty pews I sensed the saints gathered, watching this small pilgrimage. Ahead of me waiting in the chancel I sensed Jesus.
It wasn’t until I was upon it that I noticed the rope spread out at the foot of the chancel keeping the whole area in quarantine from pilgrim feet. I walked back along the ﬂagstones and at the back of the church lit two candles: One for my children and one for myself and the prayer that had fallen short.
We noticed a door that led outside and walked through into the quadrangle that surrounds the alfresco heart of the cathedral. In the centre of the quad long dry grass and weeds were growing together. Some steps led down onto its parched ground. We sat on them, and added our presence to the loitering silence.
Behind us a woman and small boy appeared walking along the open air corridor of the quadrangle. They were holding hands. As they approached the door leading back into the cathedral, the boy did something, unremarkable in itself, a little gesture, but it rippled the quiet with reverence. He removed his cap form his head.
A sacrament of intention
At that same moment we heard them. Adrift like pollen all around us ws the music of voices, childrens voices. It was the choir outside, they had begun to sing.
From wherever it is that memories find us I remembered the last time I heard children’s voices carry across the distance. I was standing by the graveside of a girl no older than Jairus’ daughter. That day we were found by the playground hullabaloo of a primary school just half amile away. The childrens voices gently lilting over us as we commended a little girl to God’s safe keeping.
I hadn’t paid it much attention at the time, but here and now, I recognised that same sound and knew how that days blessed cacophony was a sacrament of God’s intention: the sound of children playing at a childs graveside – a crack in the darkness where the light creaks in with this truth:
One day everything will be ALRIGHT.
Evil will disappear in the coming Of God’s alright. Death will die of supernatural causes and no one will mourn its passing. It’s sway over us will end and in ending seem such a trivial thing compared with God’s mending. Our innocence is remade in the alright as we are unwounded.
Like a mother’s arms cuddles a nightmare out of us in the bedroom darkness. It’s going to be alright.
Like a skint knee is dabbed by cotton wool and dirt drawn from it. It’s going to be alright.
Like a hand is held after diagnosis and against its grain we say: it’s going to be alright.
I had caught an echo of St Julian of Norwich:
“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.
Julian of Norwhich, Revelations of Divine Love
We left the cathedral and wove our way through the squares saturday revellers, not wanting to squander what we’d been heard on words. We found an old tavern with stairs Leading steeply down to a basement. Inside was dark and cool and we sat in candle light listening as a girl played music on a chord zither. We sipped black beer L i s t e n I n g; past the delicate zither to what we’d just heard outside: the world rippling with God’s goodness. The coming of God’s alright.
Blessed are the peace makers…for they will be called children of God
When I was wee, if I wanted to call a truce with my family I’d say: Pax? How I learned the Latin word for peace in 1970’s Possilpark is a mystery. I probably picked it up from Asterix the Gaul, something about Roman legions enforcing the peace of Rome – Pax Romana.
If Rome couldn’t seduce you with their culture then they would bludgeon you with their military – Pax Romana. That’s how they secured peace. Nothing much has changed. Today we have our own versions of democratised and totalitarian Pax Romana around the world.
But that’s a very different peace from the one described in scripture. The biblical experience of peace has an eye on what was described as Shalom. Shalom was the Hebrew word for peace. Shalom was a sense of well being between my neighbour, myself, God and the whole created world. That kind of peace couldn’t be imposed by a galadius and legions. Shalom was a gift of right relationship.
Here is how Isaiah imagines it’s coming:
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them… for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
Shalom: Peace is a way of being that grows out of good relationship. And God is at the heart of peace. Because the being of God is always relational.
Pax. Shalom. Two words for peace that need translation into English. But sometimes peace itself needs translated into our experience, because there can’t be many lives that don’t have some shipwrecked relationship on the coastline of living. A friendship you thought would last. A family estranged by something said or done.
Blessed are the rivalrous…
…for they shall bear a grudge. There are ways of being in the world were what I have, who I am, and think I’m due, is in competition with you for the same things. We can live as if there is a finite amount of good, a limited amount of respect, a restricted amount of positive attention to go round. In this view, whatever is given to someone else can’t help but subtract from whats due to me. I was good at…but you are recognised as being good at… suddenly my sense of self esteem is now at risk in this zero sum game.
We are frightened of not being loved, not being valued, not being respected. Other people become competitors for these same things. There can’t be enough to go round can there? This anxious way of relating to myself, my neighbour and the world can leave us envious, bitter, angry and grudging. It’s the opposite of peace. It’s also the way most of us live in our national, social and individual human being. In this way of living our neighbour is a fellow competitor, chasing the same commodity, so that my self esteem is always under threat. Not much room for Shalom there.
My peace I give…
In John’s gospel Jesus tells his disciples:
” Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”
No sooner are these words out of Jesus’ mouth, than he is deserted by his closest friends, tried by a kangaroo court and held over to Pax Romana’s wood and nails. What happens to Jesus peace then? Is Jesus peace a zen like calm that, untouched, hovers above all that’s going on around him? No I don’t think it’s that. The peace of Christ is not immune from suffering. Peace is not a sedative. It’s not a suit of armour.
Jesus peace is a refusal to be anything other than who he is: The beloved son of God. His relationship with God is his peace. He knows who he is and no one and nothing can take that from him. Jesus finds peace in the relationship he has with God the father. His life is fully given over to God the father in love and God the father is fully given to him in love.
Peace be with…
This is the source of Jesus’ peace. A love happening were nothing is held back. There is a mutual self giving love between God the father and God the son. But it is not a possesive or exclusive love. It’s a love that wants to move outwards and share itself. Jesus refuses to treat anyone as a competitor to be defeated. He refuses to be less that what it is: a self understanding that doesn’t rely on others, but is given by God. As Jane williams writes:
only God will define Jesus, and under all circumstances, Jesus will be what God says he is: the beloved son, wanting and needing nothing else.
Jane Williams, the merciful humilty of God
Jesus knows who he is. And who he is is not dependant on anything other than God’s description of who he is: beloved. He is free to help others enter into his love for God and God’s love for him. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the welcome embrace of who we are into that love.
So the peace of Christ can have everything stripped away until there is nothing left but death. It’s a peace that death can’t extinguish because there is nothing more real than the love of God shared between father and son. God finds his way back into the world. The risen Jesus arrives in a locked room with those who are hiding from what happened to him, and their own part in it all, and he tells them:
Peace be with you…
The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ is not threatened by others, not destroyed by what happens to him. Because the care and love of God isn’t hamstrung by human capacity to deny it.
Jesus’ peace proves itself deeper and more resiliant than whatever challenges his relationship with God.
The shalom of Jesus…
Jesus doesn’t just show us the peace of God – he is the peace of God to us.
We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you. How? you ask. In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.
Second Corinthians 5: 20-21
Jesus is God’s peace. The peace God makes with the world. The peace that the world cannot give. Because the world’s peace is based on winners and losers, worthy and undeserving, posession and competition. That’s always a fragile peace that needs protecting, makes scapegoats and ends in violence. Peace made on the cross.
Children of God…
Jesus makes known how every single person is uniquely precious to God. No one is superior. No one is inferior. All are welcome and given a love unique to them. Our peace comes when we let we allow ourselves to be embraced into the beloved-ness Jesus brngs.
Letting God tell us who we are means we are no longer at the mercy of the worlds opinion. Peace makers become the children of God by recieving their belovedness. We don’t have to compete. We are gifted who we are: beloved.
Peacemakers begin to understand how no one can love God with my love. No one can love God through my life. I can’t love God through your life. I can’t give God what only you can – your love. We are made to give God something no one else in the universe can – the love that’s ours alone to give. That is the most incredible thing when you think about it. There is only something you can give God – no one else. Your love. And Jesus has made that possible for us. That’s how we become children of God. Children of our father. Peacemakers. Who find our peace in Jesus.
Is peace then learning to make peace with myself: receiving the gift of my life, what I’ve lived and learned and offering that up to God with gratitude. Offering the love that only I can give. Receiving the love that only I can receive. Is peace learning to make peace with my neighbour: no longer grudging or seeing them as a rival. Is my task helping another see how unique and irreplacible they are to God. Then my task is to help others receive that gift of peace. Is that not what children of the father do?
Jesus is the presence of God’s peace in my life. This kind of peace knows there is no need for me to hold onto a grudge, because the love of God is moving us towards a full and final reconcilliation: the Shalom that Isaiah imagined. Jesus is our peace. In Christ we make peace with ourself, peace with our neighbour, peace with our world as he brings us into his endless eternal relationship with God.
the wee song above was written a few years back from the perspective of two people trying to let go their grudges.
When faced with this beatitude I reckon we count ourselves out. Because who isn’t a hullabaloo of yearning and longing? We are grey hounds chasing a mechanical rabbit in a race around the track, running and running – but after what? Even if we caught the thing, a few sniffs later and we’d wander off distracted by something else.
I have run, I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
only to be with you…
but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.
U2 – the Joshau tree
Human beings are all about insatiable desire. And so is this beatitude.
a restless heart…
So this beatitude is about us. Purity of heart is not ridding ourselves of desire. It’s about following our deepest desire. What do we truly desire? Superficial satisfaction never lasts for long. Our satisfaction is always overrun by something we can’t control, passing time, chance and circumstance. In the company of Jesus we discover that beneath our superficial desires we yearn and long for something more – for someone…
You made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you…”
Augustine, the confessions: book
deep calls to
The deepest centre of ourselves cannot be satisfied by anything less than God. The deep and secret interior of our heart calls out in yearning, longing. You catch yourself calling in the presence of something beautiful. You catch yourself calling in the presence of loss. Only God is big enough to satisfy a human heart by keeping us on the journey from where we’ve been towards our deepest desire.
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.
Getting to know God is a journey were the joyful anticipation of what’s next to be learned, next to be received, next to be released, happens in a way that makes us more ourself. It’s not jus that we learned things about God. We are changed in the presence of God. That journey of knowing God never arrives as a final destination. We never say, well that’s that then. With God there is always more. God is inexhaustable. We can’t get to the end of God. There is always a further horizon. Knowing God and being known by God is like dropping a pebble into fathomless ocean of love. It endlessly falls.
Along tough roads, through hard questions, in sore tear falls, we are moving towards our hearts desire: Knowing God is what we most want and need.
No thing, no place, no human being can meet our deepest desire in themselves. But in somethng, in a place, in a person, the God we are made for comes to draw us deeper into him. And sometimes the experience of that will take your breath away and sometimes it will be as ordinary as getting up and getting on with your day, caring for your family, trusting God’s care is with you one more step along the way.
the desire of God
To be put in touch with our deepest desire for God is to be put in touch with God’s desire for us. God desires us. That’s what I hear in Rowan Williams words:
The whole story of creation, incarnation and our incorporation into the fellowship of Christ’s body tells us that God desires us, as if we were God…We are created…so that we may grow into the wholehearted love of God by learning that God loves us as God loves God.
Rowan Williams – the body’s grace
God desires us as if we were God.
blessed are the pure in heart – they shall see God…
…See God in the beauty of the world…See God by coming home to themselves… See God in the fragility, hurt, care and laughter of our neighbour… See God in the tired and sore as much as the peaceful… See God in the tear drop as much as the smile See God as a pure love that desires us.
Blessed are those who follow after what we are made for – to know and be known by God. That’s where Jesus wants to take us. That’s purity of heart.
the power and the glory…
I wrote the song above some time ago. It’s central character is borrowed from Graham Greene’s “Whisky Priest” in the novel, the power and the glory. The priest is a man of conflicted desire – maybe like you and I -trying to work his way through the distration of what he knows can never satisfy. Wound and fear are conspirators against him, and yet he finds a way of unheroically trying to find what’s he is looking for. A bit like you and me?
Some years ago now the singer songwriter Peter Katz came to stay with us at the manse in Stonehouse while he was over playing the liquid ship in Glasgow. This is one of his songs.
From one Peter to another…
Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven? Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.
Matthews Gospel (the message)
Many of us are kept prisoner by memory. What we’ve done or has been done to us becomes a kind of permanent captivity. We can’t imagine a life free from constant reference to what once happened. Forgivness sets us free. But who finds it easy to forgive?
Peter thinks he can hold out maybe 7 times. Jesus says there’s no limit on the number of times Peter should forgive.
How do we hear Jesus’ answer? Do we hear: “Whatever is done to you just let it pass – forget it?” Because permitting people to treat us badly and then not holding them to account sounds like an invitation to become a victim.
the memory of forgiveness…
Forgiveness is much more than letting someone off and trying to forget. Forgiveness doesn’t immediately forget what’s happened. What happened matters. Forgiveness wants to name what’s been done because only then can we begin to find a way of moving on. Forgiveness invites us into an honest conversation with God, with ourself, with someone else. A conversation that leads into a way of being free.
The forgiveness Jesus embodies and teaches is a way of being free…
Free from the past as final judgement
Free from memory as constant accusation
Free from the burden of anger, hate, guilt and shame
Forgiveness, as Jesus lives it out, brings freedom.
But this way to freedom is not a cheap, painless or easy road to take. And sometimes we are so wounded that we don’t feel we have the strength to walk the way of forgiveness. Forgiveness as the road to freedom doesn’t come easily for us.
Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness
it took me years to understand
that this too was a gift.
Mary Oliver: the uses of sorrow
What do we do with the box full of darkness given to us? If we allow forgiveness to happen, however slowly, we grow into something more than the darkness has allowed.
When we forgive, an incredible power for new possibility is released. That possibility doesn’t forget the box of darkness, less excuse it, but finds a way of being free – no longer confined and defined by the darkness I becomes more than the box allowed. My life is no longer a victim of it’s power.
Mercy- who needs it anyway?
Jesus follows Peter’s question with the parable of the unmerciful servant. He tells his disciples about a hard human heart that wanted release from it’s own debt but refused to release the indebtedness of another.
It doesn’t turn out well for the hardend heart. It’s a story full of massive exaggeration about the debts involved (in the untranslated Greek) and the punishment meeted out. At the end of the story Jesus says:
“…that’s exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.”
Matthew 18: the message
It might be hard to forgive someone who asks but not forgiving has a cost to our humanity. It imprisons and tortures us. It shrinks our heart.
Mercy intuitively knows the complexity and contradiction in the world finds a similar complexity and contradiction in us, mercy knows its own complicity. My life needs mercy too. And doesn’t that widen my heart just enough to offer that to you.
It was in Ireland, at Corrymeela, I began to better understand. I was at a conference given by the theologian James Alison. The Corrymela centre is Nothern Ireland’s oldest peace and reconcilliation organisation. It’s history stretches back before “the troubles.” and they describe their community as:
teachers, writers, people looking for work, retired people; we are young, middle–aged and old; we are people of doctrine and people of question. We are people who seek to engage with the differences of our world.
We are people who disagree with each other on matters of religion, politics and economics. We are people who wish to name our own complicity in the fractures that damage our societies. We are people of dedication and commitment.
We are people of prayers, conversation, curiosity and questioning. We are people of truth telling and hope. We are Corrymeela. And you are always welcome.
Corrymela community: who we are
That’s soil out of which genuine forgiveness can grow.
It was here in the course of a group conversation I began to better understand how as I receive forgiveness from God, and offer forgiveness to another, the power of God’s forgiveness comes to and through me: Blessed are the merciful, they will be shown mercy…
the nature of forgiveness…
I receive forgiveness from God as I give it away -that’s not a clause in a contract: “If you don’t forgive then God will refuse to forgive you.” I think it’s more like this. We will struggle to hold forgiveness for ourselves if we refuse to give it away to someone who asks for it.
Forgiveness gives the freedom of God a place to stand in the world. As we receive mercy we become a source of mercy for others. It’s not a transaction. It’s just the nature of how forgiveness works. In the same way if I throw a ball up the nature of gravity will always draw it down. That’s how it works.
Jesus is not saying, “if you don’t forgive then I’m going to withhold forgiveness from you.” That’s not how forgiveness works. Isn’t it more as I am forgiven by God, that forgiveness comes to me and through me wants to reach out.
forgive us our debts…
So where are you with this forgiveness thing? Have you ever given someone the slow torture of accepting their apology? I’ll forgive you but I’ll make sure with every gesture, silence, we don’t forget what you did and that I am forgiving you.
That’s not releasing someone that’s making them indebted. Forgiveness is a release from debt: Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
Forgiveness helps us be honest with one another in a way that opens up a future that the past closed off. It’s not easy. It’s not pain free. But it is life giving.
No one can force you to forgive or has the right to even try: ” Your a follower of Jesus so you better forgive...” Forgiveness won’t come by way of that kind of moral blackmail.
How are you doing with this forgiveness thing – I don’t find it easy. But neither is it easy to live with the torture of a heart indebted to anger, hate, guilt and shame.
the flower of mercy…
Somedays it’s all we can do just to be willing to forgive, willing to move in the direction of forgiveness and to say have mercy on me because I’m struggling to forgive, because the person who hurt me doesn’t care or isn’t around. To say to someone I’m willing but I can do it yet.
Sometimes forgiveness is a flower that slowly opens and needs plenty of time and space and nurture, before it gradually opens up it’s beauty to the light. You can’t force it’s petals open.
learning to forgive…
The beatitudes say that in the company of Jesus we will find people learning the power of forgiveness. Learning how to practice it with one another. Making space in their heart for mercy to grow. Learning is not an insignificant word here.
Church gives us plenty of opportunity to practice forgiveness and find ourselves on the road to freedom. Church is committed to practicing forgiveness. We have received mercy and that mercy works on us and through us. We become a place where God’s forgiveness finds room in the world.
it is no secret…
Jesus says one day what was kept secret will be shouted from the roof tops.
One day the whole human story will be told and known for what it is: where the hurted get to say what was done to them and what that meant; where the hurters are shown what they did and what it cost someone.
And then we shall all fall silent as we are shown how God reconciles the debt between hurted and hurter and himself…Jesus body hung on cross. The price and gift of God’s forgiveness cancelling our debt -the debt of hurted and hurter. And who is not at one and the same time both of these.
Blessed are the merciful
For they shall be shown mercy
And they shall show the mercy of God who died that we might be free.
There’s always more to be said. So these words are no more than pointing in the direction.