I’m not preaching this Sunday but there are many changes coming up. There could be huge changes heading my way and this country’s way if we vote to leave the EU. There are changes, good and bad on the horizon for the church in this little part of Norfolk. My motorbike is on it’s last legs so there is change on the horizon there too. This thought of change has sent me scurrying back through my archive for an article from a couple of years ago called, “Things Change”.
Things change. In fact change is one of the few things in life that we can be certain of. Time will pass; like it or not! Not very long ago Prayer Book Evensong would have been the mainstay of parish worship. Today the majority of parishes never use it and there must be many younger Christians who have never been to a Prayer Book service at all, never mind an Evensong. I knew next to nothing of the Prayer Book or Evensong until after I was ordained. Indeed, when I left college I believed that all Prayer Books should be thrown away or burned; it had no place in the modern world. I’ve changed, I now have a soft spot and an appreciation of the flow of the words.
Change happens, and when it does it can be unsettling and even frightening. So much so that our natural inclination can be to fight against it. Some changes are rightly opposed, but not all. I need to be careful before dismissing something new. It may be the result of the Holy Spirit trying to blow me where I should go or it could just be the fickle wind of fashion. I need discernment, the sort of discernment that can only come from a close relationship with my God.
Things change and I must adapt or fade into irrelevance. The world is changing and the Church is changing in response. I need to speak out where I see injustice, or vice, or evil of any sort. But there is no point in me moaning if I have nothing better to offer. I strongly believe that I need to show by my actions that there is hope of a better way. Everyone with the Spirit living in them has that hope. I have the hope planted in my heart by the Holy Spirit. I have the hope of a life lived as one with the God who created me and all things. I have hope that is stronger than death. I have a hope that brings meaning and even contentment, in good times or bad. I have the message of Love, the one commandment given to me by Jesus; to love God, and to let that love flow out to all, transforming me utterly in the process.
Things change, but the wonder at the heart of the Gospel remains constant. It is the expressions of that Gospel that change.
Change happens, but I mustn’t be afraid. Who knows what the Spirit will do. Sometime in the future empty church buildings may be vibrant centres of faith once again. Our Church is growing once again, so who knows it may not be long before I see the life of Christ back at the heart of our nation’s life.
Things change, thank God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Tomorrow is Trinity Sunday so I’ll be celebrating the nature nature of my wonderful God; one God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But I have a problem. I find that the statements about the Trinity are easy to say, I say them every time I say the creeds, but they are not so easy to understand. The creeds seem dry but the more I let them into me the more I realise that they are condensed wisdom. So for a way into the Trinity I turn to the Nicene Creed to help me:
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.
The Nicene Creed was first agreed in 325 AD, then amended in 381 AD and only settled in the form we have in the late 6th Century. It took the best minds in Christendom over 300 years to get to grips with it and arguments still continue.
So, I wonder, if it’s so hard to understand why have it? Why not have either 3 gods, separate but sort of equal? Or why not have one God, and only have Jesus as a very special person and the Holy Spirit as just the power of God? I know the Church certainly tried those alternatives and some Christian groups still stick with them today. For example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t accept Jesus one with God the Father.
What inspires me about the understanding of God as the Trinity is that it all seems to have come out of the experience of Christians. People experienced God and stumbled upon the reality of the Trinity. Experience came first and then the attempts to understand that experience. Any Church historian would say this is a huge oversimplification that ignores all the politics and wrangling that went on. Still I feel that it was the awkward reality of the experience of God that led to centuries of debate that led to the doctrine of the Trinity. Without that experience why go through all that? So I still maintain that experience came first.
This may sound strange but it is normal enough. When I get on my motorbike I don’t theorise about it, I experience it. When I meet someone, I don’t theorise about them I listen to them. I experience who they are. I get to know them.
The first Christians started with their experience of One God who created all things. The one who spoke to Moses and the Prophets, the one who sent Jesus. I, like the early Christians, can look at the created world and see the hand of the creator in it all. I know when I look, I see the complexity and order of creation. I see a beauty, and darkness that all speak of a creator, at least when seen through the eyes of faith.
Secondly, the first Christians had, as the name implies, come to know God through the person and teaching of Jesus Christ. They probably started by understanding Jesus to be a special man, the Messiah whom God the Father had chosen to bring people back to him. But it seems that very quickly they found themselves being led by God to pray to Jesus and not just to the Father. They prayed to Jesus and the prayers were answered. Then they studied words, like “I and the Father are one”. Slowly, and steadily they learned that Jesus was God too. But coming from the Jewish faith they also knew that there was only one God. So, Jesus and the Father must somehow be the same God.
Thirdly, the first Christians experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit. In fact, it was the experience of the Holy Spirit that was seen the mark of being a Christian. The Holy Spirit was found to the be the power of God, and the wisdom of God. The Holy Spirit was also found to be more than just attributes of God. The Holy Spirit was experienced to act separately but in tune with God the Father, and with Jesus, the Son. So, there must be one God, made up of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The experience came first and only afterwards came the theology.
Another problem is that each time I try to focus on one of the persons of the Trinity you are directed to the others. I come to God through getting to know Jesus. But Jesus only says what he hears from the Father, and then points us to the Holy Spirit as the one who will work in and through me. So I look to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit fills me with the power of God, and opens my eyes to see the Father in his works, and makes me one with Jesus and the Father. Then I look to God the Father, and find that his nature is revealed to me through the witness of Jesus and through the work of the Holy Spirit in me and in creation. Indeed, I have found that it is the work of the Spirit in me that allows me to see the Creator in his works and Jesus in the people that I meet.
You see what I mean? Every time I try to get to the bottom of who the Trinity is, I end up going around in circles.
What I do know is Jesus showed me who God is, the Holy Spirit lives to make me more godlike, and through Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit, I am one with the Father. I know that God is a community, with each loving the other and looking out for the other. I know that if I am truly a Christian then I am to live as the Trinity lives, in love. I am to share and care. I know that the Trinity is bound together by mutual love, because I know that God is love and those who live in love, live in God, and God lives in them.
I know that the Trinity is difficult to understand but easy to experience and rewarding to live.
So my advice is to myself is, “Stop worrying about defining the undefinable and experience the living God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit”. It is the experience that came first. I know that it is this experience that is transforming me and the world around me. By experiencing the Trinity, hopefully I will become humbler too, pointing away from myself, to the good in others. It is experience of living as part of the Trinity that is a taste of the life of eternity.
I love the sound of the wind. It is haunting. The wind whispers softly, the wind speaks through the leaves and branches of trees and shrubs, the wind speaks through the grass and the crashing waves. The wind also uses the rocks and the buildings to speak for itself as moans and howls.
I love lying in bed listening to the wind outside of my window. I find it comforting most of the time but when the wind roars it can be scary too. One house that we have lived in was overshadowed by large oak and ash trees. I remember one branch, not a particularly big branch, coming off one of those oak trees during a high wind. It landed as if aimed on the roof of a nice shiny Range Rover parked in the car park behind the Rectory. It wrecked the car and reminded me of just how much damage one of those trees could do to our house if one fell our way.
The wind is certainly many things, gentle and calming as well as wild and frightening.
The wind is so many things and that is definitely true in the Bible. The Bible words for wind, ‘Rȗah’ (Hebrew) and ‘Pneuma’ (Greek) are also the words that the Bible uses for Spirit. Rȗah is many things in the Bible, Rȗah is wind in Genesis 8.1, it is breath or spirit (and thus life) in Genesis 2.7 and divine power in Judges 3.10. In fact every time that Rȗah is used it always has a hint of all of these meanings at the same time: wind, breath, spirit, life, and divine power. This is very similar for the Greek word pneuma used in the New Testament. So whenever I read “Spirit” in the New Testament I need to remember that the author almost certainly had all of this richness of meaning in mind.
So now, with that foundation, I can start to think about the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2.1-21). On that first Pentecost day the Holy Spirit rushed into those first disciples and blew them out of the door. All of that wild Wind, Spirit, Life and Divine Power couldn’t be contained. The Spirit didn’t only blow them out of the room where they were hiding, the Spirit also blew out of them in words of praise and joy. It was so powerful that they couldn’t hold it in. If they had tried they would have burst.
Then everyone could understand their praises in their own language. This makes no logical sense, how can it be? It is only when I remember who and what the Spirit is that the penny begins to drop. The Spirit is ‘Breath’ the one Breath from which all breath and life come. It is this heaven sent voice that is heard through those disciples, this Breath that is beyond normal human speech, this Breath that is ‘Speech’ itself. This eternal divine Speech has no human limits so everyone understands what is said, they receive, they hear God’s words direct to them, not the language limited sounds that are coming out of the disciples mouths.
Then I think of the story of that first Pentecost: It does not say that one disciple was speaking Hebrew, another Greek, another Latin, another Parthian and so on. The impression is of all the disciples speaking, shouting and singing God’s praises all together. It is this sound, probably in Aramaic or Hebrew or a ‘heavenly’ language, that all heard in their own language. God’s Spirit was not only speaking through the disciples. God’s Spirit was also acting in all of those in the crowd making them understand what was being said.
But how could this be. The Spirit had only just been given to the disciples of Jesus? Then I thought, the divine Holy Spirit had just been given to those disciples in power, but that isn’t the only way that the Spirit works. The Spirit is in everyone. The breath/spirit of God is breathed into every living creature by their Creator (Genesis 2.7). Those people in the crowd did then have the ‘Spirit’ but perhaps better written with a lower case ‘s’.
That idea of the spirit with a small ‘s’ being in all people really speaks to me. I was 18 when I became a Christian and received the Holy Spirit. From then on my world changed forever. With the Holy Spirit filling me everything that I did and said felt different, fresh, new and vibrant. But one important point is permanently fixed in my mind: It was this – God had always been there. I had not realised it, I had not recognised the presence of the Spirit but when I was baptised in the Spirit my eyes were opened to the presence of God throughout my life. He had been there with me all along and I had never known it.
So when I read that account of the disciples rushing out, full of the Spirit, to tell everyone about Jesus I know what I have to do:
- I too have to be confident and speak out for Jesus, in words and actions.
- I need to let the Spirit show me what he is already doing in every person, Christian or not.
- Then I work to support what the Spirit is doing.
Like the wind in the grass and trees, the Spirit can be gentle and terrifyingly powerful both at the same time. I pray for more of that Pentecost outpouring of the Spirit to all people. I pray for eyes to be opened and lives restored. I pray this for myself, my church, my town, for all people.
As I write I’m listening to the wind again, the Spirit blows through me and I cry out: Come Holy Spirit, fill me with your life, your love, your power; fill me now, fill me every moment of every day!
This coming Sunday is particularly unusual for me – I am not preaching! I have therefore looked back for topical post from the past:
Ascension – Six Impossible Things before Breakfast
“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.
“Can’t you?” the queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again, draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said. “One can’t believe impossible things.”
“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Biblical stories like that of the ascension of Jesus into heaven seem impossible; So incredibly impossible that they are loved by militant atheists like Stephen Fry, Richard Dawkins and co. They sound so ridiculous that they feel absolutely safe in laughing at them, and at the credulous stupidity of anyone who takes them seriously. And sadly, for too long, we have let them get away with it.
But the logic of science that they turn to in place of these silly stories is equally strange, bizarre even. For example, modern physics believes in single tiny photons of light, too small to be seen with the eye, popping in and out of existence continually to make the universe work. Why anything has mass can’t be properly explained without another massive particle and force that weakly interact with matter to give it some weight (the Higgs Boson). Then to explain the way the stars are moving we have to invent the idea of lots of dark matter and dark energy, so much that the ordinary matter and energy of the universe makes up only a small percentage of all there is.
Why, good physicists sometimes believe in as many as six impossible things before breakfast.
Atheism like that takes at least as much blind faith, if not more, than that of most religious people.
So we need to put aside the laughing and the taunts. Forget about all that and let yourself listen to what the Bible writers were trying to say. The accounts of the Ascension go something like this, Jesus was encouraging his followers shortly after his resurrection, he then left them in a way that they found hard to explain, then the physical Jesus was gone. They did not really understand what had happened and so the writers of these accounts, while doing their best, do not give a clear account of what they saw. Those who witnessed the event remember something like Jesus being lifted up, and slowly hidden by mist or cloud, or something like that.
The one thing they are sure about is that Jesus was with them before and that he wasn’t with them after. But more importantly, they were not to dwell too much on the event itself because the strangeness of Jesus’ departure isn’t the important point. Jesus has left them for their own good; he has left for our good. Then there are the two messengers from God (two angels) who tell them to stop looking to where Jesus had gone, and get on with the work he had given them.
It’s like they were in a dream, or a trance, and they need the snapping of fingers to bring them around.
That could be said for us too. We are so often in a daze. The world tells me that my faith is silly, and part of me believes it. I listen to Stephen Fry on QI, and a little bit of me is embarrassed by my belief. A spell is cast, it’s like part of me has been hypnotised by the great entertainer, and I need fingers to snap, I need to come back to my senses.
With my senses intact once again, I realise that it is easy to find fault with things but it is far harder to have a real alternative. I read through the claims of the materialist atheists and the science does not add up. There are so many unknowns and blind assumptions hidden beneath all the bluster.
I realise that its logical, essential even to allow myself the possibility of believing in six impossible things before breakfast; and of all of them to be true.
Impossible things like:
- the creator of all things loves me and you.
- you and I will receive power because the Holy Spirit has come; and
- you and I are Jesus’ witnesses here in Norfolk, and to the ends of the earth.
So lets listen to those angels, always a sensible thing to do, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Then to paraphrase, “People, why do you stand looking and worrying about impossible things?”
Jesus, “will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven”: Perhaps it might be a good idea to be ready for when he gets here!
Logic is a wonderful thing. It is the Swiss Army Knife of thought. It has allowed human beings to think their way through incredibly complex problems to produce marvels of science and engineering. Logic has even enabled us to design and build machines that ‘think’ in ever more complex ways – our computers.
I have been educated in science and logic, and they have allowed me to learn so much. I am so thankful for the gift of logic. Logic is, as I have said, a wonderful thing but it is not all. Any multi-tool, no matter how sophisticated and well designed, has its limitations. This is also true of logic. If I want to enjoy the colour and perfume of a spring flower, I wouldn’t even think of trying to use my army knife, it would be nonsense to even try (except perhaps to cut and kill the flower to bring it inside). But sadly, we human beings have elevated reason and logic as the tool of reason, to such an extent that there is a danger of beginning to believe that logical reason is the only tool there is.
Logic is a poor tool for understanding the more abstract parts of life, like emotions and relationships. Logic is particularly limited when it comes to the ultimate questions of existence and faith: These are worlds best explored with emotion and ‘the heart’, not logic alone. Logic can be applied but it never seems to get to answers that make deep emotional sense. For example, logic has led some to see human beings as simply programmed machines, where emotions like ‘love’ have no meaning. These people either despair or ignore this logic when it comes to loving their family and friends.
This is a logic exposed so powerfully by Steve Turner’s poem, “The Conclusion”:
her to my
for future use
and she cried.
This worship of logic seems to lock people out of life and faith. Thankfully, logic is only one tool among many for understanding this gift of life.
When I come to my faith I have found that logic is of only limited use. It gets me so far but then I need something more refined. It is like any relationship. I could set out all your requirements for a friend or a life partner, but in the end it is not this logic that results in the love and friendship that develops (or not!). Falling in love, and building a friendship make only a brief wave to logic.
I can set out my understanding of God. I can set down all the arguments in favour and against there being a God. I can do the same for and against the message of Jesus, but in the end I have to allow myself to get to know Jesus, and the Father that he reveals to me. It is only in that relationship, in that relationship between me and Jesus and the Father and the Spirit, it is only there that faith for me becomes real. This I believe is at the heart of Jesus’ message of Good News. He was and is calling people into discovering a relationship with God, our creator, the source of meaning and of hope.
This understanding then makes sense of so much of what Jesus said. That is one reason why I believe Jesus often doesn’t give simple logical answers to simple logical questions. For instance, when Jesus is asked why he doesn’t explain everything to the crowds he answers (John 14.23-24):
“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.”
‘Loving’ and ‘making a home’, are written in the languages of relationship and emotion; they become lifeless in the language of logic. If I apply too much logic I can end up with a law which says, “If I obey Jesus then, and only then, will I be loved.”
Thankfully, the reality is far more beautiful and rich. Jesus was inviting people to be intrigued by him. He seems to want them to spend time with him; to get to know him and through him the Father. Here I ‘feel’ Jesus inviting me to get to know him, to learn to love him and his Father.
Today, with Jesus no longer physically here to talk to and be with, I need extra help to learn this love. So, to make this loving relationship possible I receive the Holy Spirit (John 14.25-26). Then my task as a Christian is simple, at least at its heart. My task is to allow the Spirit to make me more loving, more Christ-like and so more like the God I want to worship. This worship then comes out of that love, not out of pure duty. I Jesus’ words, this worship “in Spirit and in truth” (John 4.24).
I have just read something that has saddened me. It’s upset me because it is from a very sincere Christian, is polite and earnest but is so fearful too. It took me right back to the dark times of the charismatic movement where I was warned away from just about everything outside of the church for fear of contamination by the world or from fear of traps set by demons. Don’t get me wrong there is real evil in this world, impersonal and very personal. But that does not mean that I should be constantly afraid!
But first let’s go back to that article. The article that started all this was a warning against adult colouring books because most of them contain ‘mandalas’. Mandalas are beautiful circular patterns that are used by Buddhists and Hindus as tools for meditation and worship. The concern was that by colouring these mantras Christians would be worshipping the demons behind these other religions. This was well meaning but wrong on so many levels.
Christians have been using these patterns for many centuries to aid Christians to meditate on Christ or the creating work of the Father. Just look at one of the beautiful rose windows in so many medieval cathedrals and churches (view a few English examples here), for example York Minster and Westminster Abbey. So by using many of these mandala designs Christians doing the colouring prayerfully are reclaiming part of their spiritual heritage.
Now I hear the wails, “but what if some of these mandalas contain specific non-Christian religious imagery?” Well, assuming that it isn’t anti-Christian (unlikely in this context) then my advice would be to either to miss that one out if you don’t like it. If you choose to colour that image, ask the Spirit to calm your mind and draw you into the beauty of the Father, offered through Jesus. In that way you are claiming that image for Christ. This is what Christians have done from the very beginning. Wherever Christianity has spread we have re-focussed what was deeply rooted in the non-Christian world and re-tasked it for our worship. That is why we celebrate Christmas when we do, to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the birth of hope, in place of a pagan festival.
This is nothing new. The very first Christians were worried that their relationship with God would be corrupted if they had anything to do with non-Jews and their pagan ways. This was quickly blown out of the water when the Spirit directed Peter to visit a pagan house (Acts 11.1-18), Peter obeyed even though it went against all of his religious teaching. Peter not only went into a pagan house he even ate their food, something utterly forbidden by the Bible (Leviticus 11:3–8 and Deuteronomy 14:3–21) and Jewish religious teaching. The result was that the Spirit came to those pagans when they accepted Jesus just as he had come to the disciples on the day of Pentecost. Peter was in hot water with the rest of the church until he explained how the Spirit had sent him and how God had blessed those pagans by making them Christians too. This was a huge step for those first Christians. This set a precedent. From that moment on Christians weren’t to be fearful of contamination by the world outside, they were to claim it for Christ and let the Spirit transform it.
This led to the freedom to eat meat sacrificed to pagan gods, even if that meant sitting in a pagan temple to do so (see 1 Corinthians 8). The lesson is simple if my faith is strong, I know that a mandala colouring book is just a book and all other gods are no gods at all. They cannot hurt me. This nothing wrong with colouring a mandala, unless (and this is important) unless by using my freedom I undermine the more fragile faith of another. It was this last point that led me not to argue with this person online. Until she can come to the point of freedom in the Spirit, I would just be challenging her faith. If I knew her personally I would hope to lead her gently to that deeper faith in Jesus that would give her the strength to look at the things of this world without fear. But I don’t know her, so a challenge would only be a confrontation designed to make me look good and her weak!
So why bother with this article at all? To show how superior I am? I hope not. No, I have written this because the principle here has far more importance than colouring books. By living in constant fear I would be denying the love of God that drives out fear (1 John 4.18). I would be giving the devil the glory for something of God (a beautiful picture) and worse still I would be giving the devil something that belongs to God – far too close to worship for my liking!
Worse still by focusing all my attention on colouring books, organising placards outside of book stores and shouting for these books to be banned I would be allowing myself to be distracted (by whom?) from real evil. Perhaps walking past the Oxfam shop, dodging the Big Issue seller and stepping over the homeless man on the way (Galatians 2.10)?
I keep coming across Bible readings relating to sheep: Last week there was Peter feeding sheep and lambs (John 21), this week Jesus is the shepherd and his sheep know his voice (John 10.22-30), indeed Jesus uses this idea of a shepherd and sheep more times than I can count. All of these stories made me think back to my experiences of sheep on the North York Moors.
I remember camping there as a boy and being woken up just after light. There was a rustling sound, a tugging sound and a tearing sound. It was from the store tent (this was a Scout camp). I dashed out thinking another troupe were raiding our food. There was indeed a raid going on but it was sheep not rival scouts! One sheep was right inside the store tent with only it’s backside sticking out. I grabbed the woolly behind and pulled – No need – the startled animal bolted in shock and knocked me flying. I’d never really noticed how big and strong a sheep actually is. Flat on my back I looked up and saw the sheep heading for the hills… with our bacon in its mouth!
Sheep are supposed to be vegetarian but I can tell you they love bacon. This sheep had smelt the bacon, forced and ripped its way into our store tent then, somehow, it forced open the cool box and the sealed container with the bacon.
I was impressed. That sheep had strength I’d never guessed, not to mention the determination to get into a sealed tent and the intelligence to get a sealed container open with only teeth and hooves. I have never looked at those walking carpets the same way again!
Before that event I had always thought of sheep as meat and wool factories, nothing more. I now recognised them for the living creatures that they are. I also realised that some of them at least are nowhere near as stupid as I had thought them to be. To be called ‘a sheep’ is an insult. It means being too stupid or lazy to think. It means being part of a mindless crowd heading meekly wherever, without ever questioning why, or even who was doing the leading.
Now I realised something very different: Sheep learned to stick together and followed leaders because that is the intelligent thing to do when all the predators around you see you as a walking meal! So if one sheep starts running it probably means that it has seen a threat, waiting to see for yourself could mean being dinner for a wolf; so any bright sheep is going to run too. There is also strength in numbers. I know how strong that domestic sheep was, I can only imagine how intimidating a wall of wild sheep with horns lowered must have been.
Later I learned that shepherds in the Middle East lead their sheep rather than drive them with dogs. They spend so much time with their sheep that the sheep know their voice and will follow them. Those sheep have learned that they can trust their shepherd. They have learned that they are safe with him but in danger if they wander off. They are wise to stay close.
So I now don’t mind to be called a sheep, so long as I’m one of Jesus’ sheep. That last bit for me is all important. You see it is only bright for a sheep to follow a shepherd if that shepherd can be trusted. That is the problem. I can think of no person that is right all of the time. Indeed, I think that it is impossible for anyone but Jesus to be perfect here on this earth. Jesus is the only shepherd that I can trust enough to follow blindly, wherever he will lead. I have got to know this Shepherd and to trust him. I’m learning to recognise his voice too and starting, just starting, to wander off a little less.
Over the last week I’ve had a little time to myself, a little more than usual that is. I’ve checked on my bees for the first time this year, and they are doing fine. It is always such a privilege to see the queen on the comb, surrounded by her subjects, laying eggs for the work to come.
I’ve also had more time to read. I even managed to finish a book on the human microbiome that has been staring reproachfully at me for some time now. I’m glad I did. I discovered a whole new world. A world that I knew a little about but there is clearly so much more to learn. With recent DNA techniques we have now know of the existence of many, many more species of bacteria, most of which were not even suspected only 30 or even 20 years ago. For instance, one recent study found over 4,500 different kinds of bacteria living on the hands of a sample of students in the USA, and no these were not particularly dirty students! Indeed, there are about 20 million kinds of bacteria living in or on human beings that have been discovered so far. What they are all doing and how they affect us is only now being explored. This is a whole new world. We’re finding that the bacteria and other microbes that live on and in us affect our health in so many ways. The findings about the importance of gut bacteria to our wellbeing are just some of the first fruits of this new research.
A whole new world there on my hands, my hair, my mouth, and well everywhere. A very real world that has always been there but I had no idea about it. Indeed, no one had any real idea of the almost infinitely complex world right there under everyone’s nose. It’s all real but I can’t show it to you. I can’t really show it to you even with a powerful microscope. It can’t be seen but it is there, believe me.
That hidden world makes me think of the world of faith. I know that there is a creator God, I have evidence. I can tell you the stories about why I know this unseen world is real too. I can tell you the Bible stories that describe people’s discoveries about God. I can explain how these developed over time, much like that book took me from the first discoveries about genetics and germ theory. But like the authors of my book I can’t prove it to you here and now. I can tell you about the many testimonies of faith over the centuries. But if you don’t want to believe then I can’t force you.
The science of modern DNA sequencing is complex. Too complex for most of us to really grasp. Ideas about God can seem the same. That could be where we leave it, with you smiling sweetly at my irrelevant interest in the microbiome; with you smiling sweetly at my old fashioned interest in ideas about a god.
I know that God and complex science both seem irrelevant; I know with equal certainty that both underpin so much of my daily life. I’ll leave you to look around at all of the technology that is enhancing (or otherwise) your life. God is complex: He’s the creator, the Father (and Mother) of all things, all wisdom, a human being – Jesus, an ever-present Spirit living in his children, and so much more.
We are learning that fighting against the unseen microbiome is not only futile but probably fatal as well. I hope that we will soon rediscover that fighting against the Creator of all things is equally futile and fatal too. In both cases we need to change the way we live so that we live in harmony with the unseen world.
The knowledge and relationship with the God of all things is for me everything. This way of living enriches everything, my relationships, my observations, my work, my rest, everything. I can’t show this world to you, or anyone, but, unlike the microbiome, I can invite you to see and explore a relationship with God for yourself. For me it all depends upon a personal encounter with God. I can’t give that, only God can. What I can do though is offer an invite to places where such an encounter is likely and pray for eyes to be opened.
I’m away this week so I’ve decided to share something from a site I get a lot from: Wordlive from Scripture Union. I have chosen the session for today Saturday 2nd April 2016, enjoy:
You can read the session here: https://www.wordlive.org/Session/Classic/2016-04-02/A-great-big-god
You can listen to the session here: https://soundcloud.com/wordlive/2-apr-a-great-big-god
Health Warning: This is best left until Easter Morning!
I’ll tell you a story: Cast your mind back, if you can, 20 years to the mid 1990s. I was a curate learning how to be a minister in a beautiful market town just beneath the North York Moors. There was a family not far from where we lived; a family having troubles; a family that left their toddler outside to roam, and of course they left their dogs to do the same. We were looking for a dog at the time and we heard that one of their dogs had had a litter again, but they had already drowned all but two of the pups.
We went straight over hoping to save at least one of the pups. They were going to keep one, “For the baby to play with”, but we could have the other. They weren’t bothered which we took, we could choose. I wanted to take both but in the end we chose.
That was our wonderful little dog – Holly. We loved her and watched her grow. I chased her round the back garden playing with her before she was old enough to go out. I remember the first time we went up the mountain behind the house, she just ran and ran. We didn’t go that far but her poor paws were hot. She didn’t even seem to notice she was so excited. Holly was loving, and obedient; very quickly coming back whenever called.
Then it happened. We were coming down out of the forest, into the field before the road we had to cross before our house. Then in the distance I saw Holly’s sister out roaming with the little child. I ran to Holly but I was too late, she had spotted her sister. Holly ran, I shouted. Holly went deaf. I panicked and ran after her as fast as I could but nowhere near fast enough to catch her.
Holly went straight under the style and headed for the road. My heart sank as I saw the car coming. This couldn’t be happening – but it was. Holly was blind and deaf to everything but her sister. She never looked, she never stopped. Then there was the sound of screeching brakes, a thud and a squeal.
I felt as though someone had poured ice into my veins. This couldn’t be happening. But it was. There was the little black and white bundle in the road. The driver was getting out, visibly shocked.
I picked her up… and she licked me. Then she struggled. I put her down and she limped over to give her sister a love. She was alive. I was sure she was dead but no, there she was nuzzling her sister. We took her straight to the vet, but she had nothing worse than cuts and bruises.
I can’t explain my relief and joy to find her alive, but that must have been nothing to the feeling of those women finding the tomb empty and discovering that Jesus was alive. Holly a was little dog that I’d just started to love, not my closest friend and teacher. So their joy must have been completely overwhelming.
That first Easter morning was the beginning of the end for death and decay. Jesus’ resurrection had set those women, those first disciples, and all of us free from the curse of the fall. This morning marked the start of the end for the corruption of all creation. The creation still groans but now, because of that morning, the end is in sight. Jesus at Easter, destroyed death and gave a fatal blow to decay, and sickness and all that mars the beauty of life. Time is now limited, eternity is poised to break through into our world. Everything is changed.
All of that is true, and so much more. But that was to come. First was the joy and shock of this Easter moment. At this moment no one could believe the triumph, no one yet could understand the victory of the cross. Now was the time for confusion, and overwhelming joy. Soon the story that those women told would be proved to be true. The disciples themselves would see Jesus, but still it took time for it all to sink in.
This Easter morning I want to proclaim God’s love to the rooftops. To rush out and tell people that Jesus is alive. But I need to stop. I need to let God give me this moment of joy, pure joy. I need to spend time being overwhelmed by the news that Jesus is alive. Just as during last week I needed to walk with Jesus through the road of his suffering. I was so tempted to jump forward, to read the final page, to get to Easter but I was given the strength to stay with the pain and the loss. Now I’m so glad that I didn’t rush, because now I can really feel the joy of Easter.
Now I need to do the same again. I need to let the Easter joy sink in. The theology will come over the next few weeks, but for now my task is to bask in the all powerful love of God. I need to let the relief and joy sink into my marrow. So that when I’m called to give account of the hope that is in me, a light and a joy will come out. Then my face will light up with the memory and emotions of this morning. Then with utter sincerity and honesty I can talk about the wonderful gift of God, that is Jesus. I can share my faith, my relationship with the living God, not a theory, not a second, third or fourth hand story.
No, if I resist the temptation to rush on; if I wait now in the joy of this moment, I will know for myself the joy of Jesus’ resurrection. 2000 years will vanish in a bursting flash of overwhelming emotion, and I will be there with my sisters who found the empty tomb, with my brothers Peter, James and John, and all the others.
So, I’ll sit this Easter morning with a silly grin on my face. Exhausted by the week that has been, but bubbling over with joy.