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Thy Kingdom Come

I have been sharing Thy Kingdom Come posts on the church Facebook page but didn’t think to post it here! So I’m starting with today – Better late than never…

 

Monday, 29th May – #Pledge2Pray #Offer

The Rt. Rev. Griselda Delgado del Carpio
Bishop of Cuba

‘God loves a cheerful giver.’
Let us offer our whole selves and work for the purposes of God.

(Two Videos Below)

A short video from Bishop Griselda: https://vimeo.com/218623586

A short Thy Kingdom Come video: https://vimeo.com/217821068

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What is good news?

What is good news? What would be good news for you?

It could be a surprise party, with all your friends and family, or that might be your nightmare. Good news could be finding that you’re pregnant after years of trying. To someone else finding that they are pregnant could be devastating news; an abuse victim for example.

Good news is so many different things. It is never the same for everyone, and rarely even the same for most people. This is so self-evident in life, but seems so often forgotten in the Church.

Christians rightly look to the Bible to find what God’s good news might be. The Christmas angels proclaim that the good news will bring peace. I have often thought of this as an absence of fighting and war, good news in itself. But I think the angels meant more, perhaps something more all encompassing, like the Hebrew word, “shalom”. Shalom doesn’t just mean an absence of strife, it is a far more positive word. Shalom implies a deep sense of contentment, of all being right with the world. Shalom means people being at peace with one another. Shalom means people being at peace with the rest of creation.

God came to us in Jesus to lead us to a way of living that truly is good news. It is this sort of Shalom peace that I think Paul was getting at when he wrote this,

Always be filled with joy in the Lord. I will say it again. Be filled with joy.

Let everyone see that you are gentle and kind. The Lord is coming soon. Don’t worry about anything, but pray and ask God for everything you need, always giving thanks for what you have. And because you belong to Christ Jesus, God’s peace will stand guard over all your thoughts and feelings. His peace can do this far better than our human minds.” (Philippians 4.4-7).

Paul is talking about a way of living and thinking that allows God to bless with a peace that is beyond human understanding, but not beyond our experience. It seems impossible for us humans to be peaceful for long, but the good news is that God’s shalom peace will watch over our thoughts and feelings, making peace possible for us.

This is to be good news for all the earth, not just for the clever or the religious professionals. This good news does not need more fancy words, it needs the right words and actions for the right people. Everyone is different but this peace can be just as real to each one of us.

This is the sort of practical good news that John the Baptist was famous for. A practical good news that met the needs of all the people that he met, good and bad. He warned the religious people not to be arrogant. Their religion meant nothing without that peaceful way of life that is good for all. Let’s go back to John himself (Luke 1.10-14 & 18):

The crowds asked John, “What should we do?”

John told them, “If you have two coats, give one to someone who doesn’t have any. If you have food, share it with someone else.”

When tax collectors came to be baptized, they asked John, “Teacher, what should we do?”

John told them, “Don’t make people pay more than they owe.”

Some soldiers asked him, “And what about us? What do we have to do?”

John told them, “Don’t force people to pay money to make you leave them alone. Be satisfied with your pay.”

In many different ways John preached the good news to the people.

That is amazing. John realised that they weren’t going to be able to change everything in their life. A soldier is a soldier, even a tax collector (and Roman collaborator) can’t just change how they make a living. John spoke to the well-off in life, saying share with those who have nothing. To the soldier and the tax collector he said, be honest in what you do. To all of us he says, as much as it is in your power, live at peace (shalom) with everyone.

John understood that everyone is different and found a way of offering them good news, “In many different ways John preached the good news to the people.

John was far more radical and caring that many people give him credit. He seemed to care passionately about the people who came to him. He took the time to find what good news would look like for each person. John was able to find what was good news for them; what would lead them to shalom peace. The sort of peace includes a deep sense of contentment; of all being right with the world; of people being at peace with one another and at peace with the rest of creation.

Now to me and my churches. Now I need to listen to John’s warning about trusting too much in my religion. I also need to take the message from Paul and John the Baptist: I need to see what is good news, not just for me but for each and every person that I meet.

What is good news? It is the news that brings that shalom peace into your life, nothing less will do.

So in this time of Advent I pray for the good news for me, and all people.  The good news of the peace that brings contentment and harmony between people and people; and between people and creation.

God bless…

Living Prophecy

Without language it is very hard for us to understand or see what is right in front of us. I’ll tell you a story to show what I mean. I took a groups of people, young and old, out on nature walks to appreciate the wonders of God’s creation. One of the games that we played was to choose a colour swatch (the ones that you get when you are trying to choose the right paint for your home). Almost every conceivable colour was available. Each person chose a colour and then had to match it exactly with something around them, a leaf or flower or stone, or whatever. Before I did the exercise I would often ask people to describe the colours that they could see. They would often describe the trees as being green; occasionally green and brown, but rarely more than that. Afterwards, there was an appreciation of the thousands of different greens, browns, reds, yellows and blues, all around them; the colours they had just found and matched to the small coloured cards they had been given.

Without language it is very hard for us to understand and that is true of faith too. That is true for the Christmas story that is celebrated all around. The words are said, but the hope and meaning seem to be lost. This is most true when it comes to the wonderful thing that is prophecy. We hear the prophecies leading up to the coming of Jesus, and they become children’s stories to be left in the nursery as we grow up. This is so sad because prophecy is a living thing, something to be reinterpreted again and again. True prophecy as the living word of God, given through a human prophet but once spoken that prophecy has a life of its own. Once spoken, a prophecy is reworked by the Spirit to serve the needs of generation after generation. That is what prophecy is, it is God’s gift to us, to change lives.

To show what I mean I will use the example of the words of the prophet Isaiah quoted in Luke 3.4-6:

“In the desert
someone is shouting,
‘Get the road ready
for the Lord!
Make a straight path
for him.
5 Fill up every valley
and level every mountain
and hill.
Straighten the crooked paths
and smooth out
the rough roads.
6 Then everyone will see
the saving power of God.’”

Those words were used to describe the work of John the Baptist and were ancient even then. They, as God’s word, have a power that travels the centuries, undiminished. Since they were given to the prophet Isaiah they have many times been a call to the people of God to make a straight path for God into this world.

In Isaiah’s time these words spoke of the return of the people of Israel from their exile in Babylon, a great work that God achieved for them. The prophet heard the word of God, he trusted God, he acted to make sure that these words of hope were recorded and kept safe, and these words of hope were a source of strength to God’s people in their exile.

1. (Speak) The prophet and his hearers heard God speaking to them;
2. (Trust) They trusted God to keep his word;
3. (Act) They acted with God to make sure that the hope was kept safe (they wrote it down); and
4. (Receive) God’s blessing of hope stayed with them in their dark time.

Remember God’s prophecy as a STAR shining into our world – Speak, Trust, Act, Receive God’s blessing.

Then that prophecy came true. The people returned from their exile. If you want to learn more then read the Old Testament books of Nehemiah and Ezra. They make a great read. They tell how God’s people heard the words of this prophecy as speaking to them, how they trusted this prophecy, and how they acted, risking their lives to make it happen. When they succeeded they rediscovered the lost books of the Law, read them and wept when they realized how far they had gone from God’s will. They were then able to make straight the road in their hearts, to receive God again and live as he wanted them to live.

There were those four key stages; a shining STAR:

1. (Speak) Hearing the prophecy speaking to them;
2. (Trust) Trusting God to keep his word;
3. (Act) Acting with God to make it happen (making the road straight); and
4. (Receive) God’s blessing comes to them.

These words of Isaiah were remembered a few hundred years later, when the Jewish people were oppressed by their Greek rulers. This time they were able to rise up against their oppressors, and win victories against all the odds. They removed the idols from their temple and rededicated the temple in Jerusalem to the worship of the one true God. Then they welcomed the One God back into their lives, and into the life of their nation. They lived as God’s holy people, for a time at least.

Here again, there is a STAR for God’s people:

1. (Speak) Heard the prophecy speaking to them;
2. (Trust) Trusted God to keep his word;
3. (Act) They acted to make it happen; and
4. (Receive) They received God’s promised blessing.

Then a few hundred years later, these words speak of John the Baptist. This time these words speak of John getting the people ready to receive their longed for Messiah. John acted to prepare the way, as did Jesus’ disciples, and Jesus, the Messiah (God’s blessing), was revealed to God’s people.

And again;

1. (Speak) Heard the prophecy speaking to them;
2. (Trust) Trusted God to keep his word;
3. (Act) They acted to make it happen; and
4. (Receive) Received God’s promised blessing.

Since then, century after century, those words of Isaiah have spoken to Christians, inspiring them to respond to God in their time.

This living prophecy has now been passed down to you and me. How are we to respond?

I cannot speak for anyone else but as for myself. I hear these words and I look at a world that is confused and lost. It has no words for faith; people are blind to the living God all around them and within them. I hear the prophecy given through Isaiah speaking to me and the people around me. I hear the need to clear the way so that God can reach his people once again. This time it is a call to building bridges of language and understanding so that people are able to receive their God and the blessing that he brings. I know that it will mean giving up so many of the treasured words of faith, like ‘repentance,’ ‘salvation,’ at least when seeking to share the hope that I have.

I hear God’s desire to reach his people. I know that the Messiah has come but so many do not accept him. I trust God to keep his word. So what now?

I don’t know about you, but now I need to act to make it happen. I need to show by my life and my words that there is a God who cares for the people today, just as much as he did in times gone bye. A God whose faithful love has remained steady, century after century. A God who has called his people through prophecy to do his work for their time. Now you and I must act. We must live our faith so that your life and mine can be a bridge across rough ground. By this I mean that we need to do all that we can to make the hope that we have understandable to the people around us: People who are bright and intelligent but no longer have the language of faith.

I long for God’s blessing, here in this corner of Norfolk. I want it now, but reading the words of Isaiah I know that I will have to work to make them come true.

Isaiah the prophet wrote about you and me when he said,

“In the desert
someone is shouting,
‘Get the road ready
for the Lord!
Make a straight path
for him.
5 Fill up every valley
and level every mountain
and hill.
Straighten the crooked paths
and smooth out
the rough roads.
6 Then everyone will see
the saving power of God.’”

Now, in our time, together we need to let the STAR of God’s prophecy shine into our lives:

1. (Speak) Hear the prophecy speaking to us;
2. (Trust) Trust God to keep his word;
3. (Act) Act to make it happen; and
4. (Receive) Receive God’s promised blessing.

God bless…

Advent Panic!

“I wish it could be Christmas, everyday!” I’ve heard it already, so a Wizzard Christmas must be on its way.

Only 23 days left until “The Big Day”! I can feel the panic all around me. I’ve noticed that people are already more grumpy on the roads. They are anxious and worried, and it shows.

I think of Christmas and I can feel the panic too: I can feel the stress levels beginning to rise. There is so much expectation. So much money to be spent; so everything has to be just right.

Only 23 days to Christmas Day. I am terrified; even as I remember that Christmas is a celebration of Peace on Earth. In my panic I wonder whether, this Advent, some extra preparation might be needed. Something to help me to cope with the stress all around me.

So, in the midst of it all I am going to stop, and take the time to be quiet, if only for a little while. I will stop, take the time to listen to the rhythm of my breathing: The simple in breath,.. and out breath…, and let everything slow down and become calm again.

23 days to Christmas. The stress and business will be ‘out there’ just the same but I hope for a little more peace within, the Prince of Peace even, as Advent shoots by on its course to Christmas Day.

God bless…

Originally broadcast life on Park Radio 7.45am on Sunday 2nd December (Advent Sunday).

Park Radio: 107.6 FM (Diss & Eye) or 105.2 FM (Harleston), or online at  http://www.parkradio.co.uk/

 

 

 

An Unmerry Christmas Book.

A great book, something very different for Christmas…

Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

Actually, for many, it absolutely ISN’T. I’m not a fan of Christmas; I don’t get starry-eyed and enthusiastic about getting the tree up. I get quite morose about it all. And if life is distinctly unwonderful anyway, the whole Christmas thing is often a way to just rub it in.

Anyway, if you feel anything like I do, you may need an antidote to the sugary, sentimental side to the festive season. I’ve dropped a quid off the price of my own favourite novel, The Bet. Here’s a nicely gloomy extract to whet your appetite.

“In the days after the funerals, Greville worried endlessly about his assistant. The Christmas season seemed indecent with its tinselly colour and insincerity, and the old man’s heart contracted with pity watching the boy decorating the foyer, and to see him arrive every morning on time and…

View original post 322 more words

Advent Panic! – a taster

I wish it could be Christmas, everyday!” I’ve heard it already, so a Wizzard Christmas must be on its way.

Only 23 days left until “The Big Day”! I can feel the panic all around me…

Hi,

I’m on Park Radio again at 7.45 am on Sunday morning and my post this week is the short reflection I’ve prepared for that. I don’t feel right about posting it before I spoken on the radio so it will not go out here until 8.30am tomorrow. If you want to follow it live instead you can tune in on 107.6 FM (Diss & Eye) or 105.2 FM (Harleston), or online at  http://www.parkradio.co.uk/

God bless…

Good News to the Poor

I recently found two quotes that made me think:

“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” Mahatma Gandhi

“In a country well governed poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed wealth is something to be ashamed of.” Confucius

Neither of these are from Christians but they fit so well with the Christian message that Jesus is good news for the poor and weak. A point Jesus himself made crystal clear when home in Galilee he spoke about himself by quoting from the prophet Isaiah, “Jesus was given the book of Isaiah the prophet. He opened it and read,

“The Lord’s Spirit
has come to me,
because he has chosen me
to tell the good news
to the poor.

The Lord has sent me
to announce freedom
for prisoners,
to give sight to the blind,
to free everyone
who suffers,
and to say, ‘This is the year
the Lord has chosen.’”
(Luke 4.17-19 CEV)

This in a way was Jesus giving his manifesto. His kingdom is one that will be ‘good news’ for the poor, the disabled (blind) and the sick. So as a follower of Jesus I too need to do all that I can in this world to make this come true, here and now. That is why my local churches are very involved in making Harleston a dementia-friendly town. We support the local Foodbank and act as a distribution centre. We run a pastoral scheme and have weekly activities for those that are lonely or in need. Together we support national and international charities and as individual Christians we do so much more.

All of this is said not to boast, because I know of many people outside of the church who do so much good. No, I consider such people kingdom allies, these are just given as examples of how we are trying to live those words of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come”. How could we possibly do that without sticking to Jesus’ manifesto promises about what that kingdom should look like.

My initial comment should therefore have said, I recently found three quotes that made me think:

  • “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” Mahatma Gandhi
  • “In a country well governed poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed wealth is something to be ashamed of.” Confucius
  • “The Lord’s Spirit has come to me, because he has chosen me to tell the good news to the poor.” Jesus quoting Isaiah

Whichever quote strikes you the most, the message is the same, we have to care for the poor and the vulnerable, as well as about the rich and powerful. It is also important, to me at least, to try to bring as much of this key Christian message into the way my country works. It is by values like this that I judge political parties and candidates for public office. Because it is these values alone that are of real worth, not the colour of the rosette, or the skill of the publicity machine.

So with this in mind I looked into the health of my country and was reminded of some very uncomfortable truths. Truths that say that I am warm, comfortable and reasonably well off while many in my country suffer for no fault of their own. Looking around I have seen a rise in homelessness and the Foodbank that I support is facing record pressures on its resources. Recent academic studies have only increased my concern that austerity over the last 10 years has increased the vulnerability of families with children to evictions and repossessions, resulting in more and more people needing to turn to their local authority for emergency housing assistance.

These studies point to increasing food insecurity, increasing unemployment, poverty, homelessness and reductions in life expectancy and mental health. All of this linked to reductions in health coverage and restricting access to care. In 2017 the UK experienced the largest annual rise in its mortality rate for 50 years. The result of a trend starting in 2011, reversing a steady decline from the late-1970s onwards. This rise has been particularly large among the elderly.

(A European overview is avaliable here: https://academic.oup.com/eurpub/article/27/suppl_4/18/4430523 and Warwick University has collated many studies relating to the UK here: https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/research/centres/chrp/spendingcuts/resources/reports-uk/)

It is true that we can only live within our means, but I work and pray for austerity not to hit the most vulnerable hardest. The poor, the disabled, and the elderly are often the least able to cope with cuts to their income, but this same research has shown that they have taken the greatest burden. While the richest 1% are richer than ever.

  • “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” Mahatma Gandhi
  • “In a country well governed poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed wealth is something to be ashamed of.” Confucius
  • “The Lord’s Spirit has come to me, because he has chosen me to tell the good news to the poor.” Jesus quoting Isaiah

Whichever quote strikes you the most, it is absolutely clear that these social ills are spiritual ills. They are symptoms of a deep sickness in our society, caused by a lack of love and compassion, a lack of Spirit, and a soiled soul. It is the duty of every Christian who prays, “Thy Kingdom Come” to get stuck into the the job of cleaning the soul of a nation.

“The Lord’s Spirit has come to you and me, because he has chosen us to tell the good news to the poor.” Care to join me?

Preaching the Gospel – But does anyone hear the Good News?

I am not preaching this Sunday and am looking forward to hearing the message preached to me. I have also been looking back at past posts. This is from this time last year…

A few years ago I wrote about watching a street preacher shouting out to people while everyone gave them a wide berth. I stopped, leaned against a wall and listened. I heard lots about Jesus being my saviour. I heard that I, along with those scurrying by, could be saved if they accepted Jesus, then they could be sure of going to heaven. He was also clear that if I didn’t accept this I would sadly go to hell.

He was speaking and people were ignoring him. He had a few supporters who stood with him, but even they looked bored. I even saw one women realise that she looked bored and force a smile on her face. She tried but it wasn’t very convincing. I admired the man for speaking out, but not for much more. He was speaking to himself and perhaps to his followers but there was nothing to engage those who were scurrying on. He said a lot about ‘sin’ – but no one knew what he meant. He spoke a lot about his concerns and absolutely nothing about the concerns of the people he was trying to reach. He had done his duty and proclaimed the Gospel, but no one heard the Good News.

Now three years on I still think we too often preach the Gospel, but no one hears the Good News. I have developed a hobby. I look at the posters outside of churches and try to guess who they are speaking to. Very often the language is so Christian that it can be only speaking to other Christians. I’ve done it myself. I’ve put up posters with Bible passages that mean so much to me. Then every time I see the poster I feel good, and assume that others will feel the same. But so often no one but a fellow Christian will have a clue what they mean, or even be interested enough to find out. Now, that might be fine. It would be fine if the poster was in church or on my wall. Then it is clearly there to encourage my fellow Christians. But what if the poster is on the main noticeboard outside? Am I still happy to  only speak to Christians, or am I really hoping that my poster will tell passers-by something of the wonder of God?

Then I wondered if all of this is just too hard. Should I just accept that the Good News boring? How can I invite people into the Kingdom of God? How can I explain the Kingdom in ways that people will understand? As I pondered these questions I read again the story of the sheep and the goats from Matthew 25. I read I realised that the story of the sheep and the goats is not just told to those who are Jesus’ followers. This story, like most of Jesus’ stories was for everyone, whether they were his followers or not. Again like so many of Jesus’ stories this is not so much about being a Christian than it is about the values in God’s kingdom; values linked to the everyday concerns of his listeners.

So what are the cares of people today? I read the news and I read of people working all hours but still not making ends meet. Of wages not increasing for most people for over a decade. With prices rising that means that many are earning less than ten years ago. The following headline from a national UK paper says it so well, “Britain’s divided decade: the rich are 64% richer than before the recession, while the poor are 57% poorer.” That is an issue that calls out for fairness and justice. In Matthew 25, Jesus says, “Whenever, you did the right thing for those around you, you did it for me. Whenever, you didn’t do the right thing for those around you, you didn’t do it for me.” (my paraphrase). So Jesus cares for all people. Jesus calls his followers to care too. Perhaps then our posters should say what we Christians are doing to practically and politically in the cause of justice or housing or poverty or families? At least these are less likely to be ignored.

Jesus message that we can enjoy wealth but are crushed when our love of money when comes to rule us; that is Good News for those with wealth. It opens a door to the rich as well as to the poor.

Three years on I am still pondering how to invite people into the Kingdom of God in ways that they can hear – ways to explain the Kingdom that make sense, whether or not you already have faith. Perhaps I could do worse that talk about Jesus’ love of justice – that is one place that I can offer Good News for the concerns that people actually have. I know that there is so much more to God, there is so much more to the Good News, but perhaps that can come later…

– once the conversation has started…

The Day the Guns Fell Silent

I found a recording yesterday that I would like to share with you. I think that it will be as moving to you as it was to me and I recommend that you listen before reading further.

A recording held at the Imperial War Museum of 11am 100 years ago, on the Western Front. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jwisj9WqWc0

I listened and I was incredibly moved to hear those guns go silent. The death and destruction had stopped, and the world went quiet. Then did you notice something else? It was something that completely blew me away. I just wasn’t expecting it. It was the bird song that so quickly followed the silence. A minute before the whole earth had been groaning in pain, then silence and so quickly the voices of peace filled the void.

The Bible makes it clear that our world, all creation, is confused and groaning in pain (Romans 8.18-25 – CEV).  The whole world (people and nature together) is longing for peace: Longing for release from its pain. Like in that recording, the whole world is longing for the guns to fall silent so that the birds can sing again. But wars and rumours of wars have carried on, regardless of the War to End All Wars.

2000 years ago Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5.9 – NRSV). That should have given us a clue; a clue that it is peace that God wants and not war. But we human beings are a little slow to learn our lessons.

We are told, God’s “Spirit makes us sure about what we will be in the future. But now we groan silently, while we wait for God to show that we are his children” (Romans 8.23 – CEV). In other words this world is groaning and writhing in pain, because we have not shown ourselves as God’s children; because we have not stood up and be counted as peacemakers.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5.9 – NRSV).

As we remember that day 100 years ago when the guns fell silent in Europe, let us remember the loss of life. Let us also remember the lessons from the years that followed. After the First World War, Britain and its allies punished Germany, which seemed only right. But that punishment was a major factor in the rise of Hitler, and a Second World War. We wanted what we deserved and in our hatred and desire for painful justice, we got more war and hatred.

Let us learn the lessons that only the peacemakers are blessed; only the peacemakers will be called God’s children. Let us work towards bringing people together to heal the wounds of the past. Looking at the children and young people here, I don’t want to be standing like this, an old man, calling out their names as we have read out all of those names today. That is what is at stake for me and you.

As you remember the roar of the guns falling silent, remember too those birds singing a song of hope. Remember, stand tall, and sing yourself for peace.

Please listen again to that recording from 100 years ago:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jwisj9WqWc0

Amen

What is the most important thing in life?

Last week I was in a small meeting planning how best to use the limited money that we have to best affect. It was clear that we couldn’t do everything that we would like to do, so I asked, “Why are we doing this work; what is it for?” Only then could we prioritise the work. Only then could we start to focus on the work that was going to do the most good. Transferring that to life, I wondered, “What is the most important thing in life?”

I could answer, “To live a good life.” But what is ‘good’? Well Jesus said that only God is good (see Mark 10.18). So I looked to what God wants, and turned to the 10 Commandments. Then I started preparing for Sunday and read Mark 12.28-34, where Jesus is asked, “What is the most important commandment?” Now I was getting to the heart of my question, so I listened to Jesus’ answer, “Jesus answered, “The most important one says: ‘People of Israel, you have only one Lord and God. You must love him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.’ The second most important commandment says: ‘Love others as much as you love yourself.’ No other commandment is more important than these.””

‘Love’ is the most important thing in life, but not just any love. Jesus turns it round from what I often hear around me. Jesus doesn’t say, “Be loving to one another, that’s the most important thing.” No, Jesus says love God first, and love God with “all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” In other words the most important thing in life is to love God with every bit of me. Then, and only then, can I really get to loving others.

That’s a relief. At least it is for me. I can be loving but I find it hard to love others, and really hard to love all others, “as much as I love myself.” Now I know that I have help. I can start by focusing on God and loving him. Then I find that I become more loving myself. As I try to love God more, I find that he makes me more loving: More able to love him, and (as a collateral benefit), more able to love others too.

Going back to my question, “What is the most important thing in life?” I have an answer,  “Love God all my heart, soul, mind, and strength” and straight after that “Love others as much as I love myself.” No in life is more important than these.

Being Blind

Have you ever been down a cave, or a mine, deep underground. I’ve been down caves in Somerset, a gold mine in Wales, and even on of the flint mines at Grimes Graves, here in Norfolk. One of the things that I like to do underground is to close my eyes and imagine what the brightly lit space underground would be like without the lights. I try to imagine but always some of the light around me filters through my eyelids.
I can remember one occasion when they did turn off the lights. It is a strange sensation of complete blindness. Above ground, even on the darkest night there is a little light. Even in the countryside on a moonless night, there is the faintest of illumination. But deep underground there was none. I held my hand up in front of my eyes, but there was nothing for me to see. I began to feel uneasy, scared even; then after what seemed like hours (but was probably only a minute or so), the lights came on again.
I have had that small experience of being blind and it has made me wonder at the life of those born blind, like Bartimaeus the beggar who met Jesus in Jericho (Mark 10.46-52). Would it be worse to be born blind or to lose my sight in later life? I think it must be worse to be born blind, at least for me. I have seen so much beauty that I would mourn the loss of my sight. Even so, I would still prefer to have seen and lost that beauty than to have never experienced it at all. That would not have been the case for Bartimaeus. He had never seen anything, so he had no idea what he might be missing. Indeed, the world of sight could well have been a frightening alien one for him.
Then one day he is sitting where he normally sits, begging away when he hears that Jesus is right there with him in Jericho. He shouts, and the people tell him to shut up. He shouts louder, then Jesus hears him and calls him over. Now comes the most telling part for me: Jesus asks Bartimaeus what he wants. To most of us, me included, the answer seems obvious, but is it? The whole of Bartimaeus’ life has been without sight. He knows how to live as a blind man. He is a well known beggar, and that is the only job that he has ever known. If he can see, he won’t be able to beg, or at least people are far less likely to be generous. He has no profession, and no job to go to. He hasn’t even done manual labour before. With his sight he might starve.
Jesus asks Bartimaeus what he wants because he cares. Jesus doesn’t jump in to help before he makes sure that sight is really what Bartimaeus wants. He may just want attention, to ask a question, or even a little money. If the possible Messiah gave him money, perhaps the crowd would do the same. Attention, the chance to be like everyone else and ask a question, and money, were all reasonable things for Bartimaeus to want.
I have found the same with Jesus and me. Jesus often tests out what I ask for before giving it to me. Take my call as a minister, Jesus made sure that I counted the cost before I stepped up and asked about ordination. There is something called a ‘Messiah complex’ where a person has a deep need to solve everyone else’s problems for them. Strangely, Jesus the Messiah doesn’t have this complex. Jesus the Messiah didn’t come to sort out all my problems, or anyone else’s for that matter. Jesus comes and calls, and waits for the response.
Jesus came and called to me, and waited years for me to really give in and come to him. Then, with my permission, he started work in me. He is making me a better person, but each step of the way I have had to let him in. I have not found following Jesus to always be easy. I have though found following Jesus to be a road to contentment and love. Jesus knows that to be like him may mean that I have to face my cross, like he faced his. He offers that way to me and to everyone, it is a free gift and never forced.
I have often been blind, not physically, but in my mind. Jesus has called to me asking what I want, and sometimes, just sometimes I have had the courage to say to him, “I want to see.” I haven’t always liked what is revealed to me, but I have always been the better for it.
I pray now for the courage to trust Jesus enough to say, “Yes” to his offer of sight, and the faith that he will help me to live with whatever I see.