Sunday, 27 November 2011

The magnificent seriousness of Advent


Advent 1 and Baptism 2011

Today is Advent Sunday, the first Sunday of the Church’s year. Through the year we tell a great cycle of stories covering the birth of Christ, his ministry, death, resurrection, ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit, but it all starts here, with the whisper of a rumour of a suggestion that God is about to do something, if we have our eyes open to see it. As Advent goes on we’ll hear stories which point towards a new kingdom God is building. We’ll hear of two very unlikely pregnancies. Elizabeth, an elderly childless woman discovers that she will give birth to the one who will prepare the way for Jesus, John the Baptist. And Mary, of course, hears from an angel that she will be the mother of the Messiah himself. Two babies who will change the world are on the way.

That’s why this is such a good day for a baptism, because Max, like every child, is the beginning of something new as well. We have no idea what he might do, who he might be in the future, but he will change the world too. I say that with confidence, because we all change the world by our presence in it – for good or ill, or more likely a mixture of the two. Through our acts of love and creativity we enrich those around us, build up our communities, open up new possibilities. Through our wounds and our failings we obstruct growth or twist the path of others. Whatever the overall balance is, the world will be a different place because we were in it.

Max’s baptism, his Christian beginning on this Advent Sunday, reminds us that this can be a new beginning for us all. It gives us a chance to look at ourselves and the impact we are having on the world, to be aware of where we need to grow and learn if the difference we are to make will be a good one. You are never too young - that’s why we pray for Max now, long before he can make conscious decisions for himself. But you are never too old either, as John the Baptist’s parents found out. As far as we can tell they had lived lives of complete obscurity until their famous son was born. They never expected a new beginning at their age, but God had other ideas.

Whoever we are, wherever we’ve been, whatever we’ve done or failed to do, things can change if we want them to, if we are prepared to let them. Advent is a moment when we are encouraged to wake up to the reality of ourselves. There is something magnificently serious about it; it reminds us that we matter, and that what we do matters. Its magnificent seriousness invites us to take ourselves seriously. That is a very valuable message, and in my experience people are hungry to hear it. We can easily feel as if we are drowning in a tide of triviality, in C-list celebrities and consumer “must-haves” - glossy distractions to mask our fear that there is no real point in committing yourself to anything or believing in anything, no real point in caring about anything, no real point to your life at all in fact. Advent challenges that, with its summons to pay attention, to have our eyes open to see what God is doing in the world because he wants us to be ready to join in with it.

That’s what the Gospel reading we’ve just heard was telling us.
It is easy to get side-tracked by its dramatic imagery– the stars falling from heaven, the clouds, the power and glory. But those apocalyptic events are precisely not what Jesus wants his hearers to focus on – quite the reverse, in fact. He believes that all that stuff will one day happen (that was the world view of his time, and I have no doubt that he shared it), but speculating about when or how is a complete waste of his disciples’ time and energy. It is what they are doing now that really matters. They can’t know about the future, he tells them.  “The day and the hour no one knows” not even him. Don’t be diverted by all that, says Jesus to them. Pay attention to the present instead. Make sure you are building God’s kingdom now “on earth as it is in heaven”, and then whatever happens in the future, you will be ready for it. We don’t have to share that first century apocalyptic world-view to realise that this is still good advice. The threats that face us are different – climate change, economic crisis, not to mention all the personal challenges that come our way. The future is just as uncertain for us as it was in Jesus’ time, but it is the things we do now – individually and as communities - which determine how we will cope with them.

“It’s like a man who goes on a journey,” says Jesus, “leaving his servants to get on with the work of the household in his absence.” He doesn’t expect to come back and find everyone asleep at their posts, with nothing done. “Stay awake”, says Jesus. And he doesn’t mean that their gaze should be continually fixed on the gates for the master’s return so they can spring into action when he arrives. This is not about “look busy, the boss is coming”. The point is that the work the servants have been entrusted with needs to be done whether or not the master is there – the life of the household has to go on anyway if that household is going to prosper. The servants aren’t just keeping it in stasis for the master’s return, but actively cultivating it for its own sake, as a place where all its members can thrive. It’s their household just as much as his. Their work matters, not just for his sake but for their own and for that of the whole community.

This passage comes from Mark’s Gospel. We’ll be hearing a lot more from Mark over the next twelve months. We focus on a different Gospel each year and this year is Mark’s turn. They were living through times of immense change, either just before or just after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. For decades before that there had been unrest, stretching right back to the time of Jesus. But the rebels and political agitators who longed for Jewish independence were up against the might of the occupying forces of Rome and there was only one way that was going to end, with the city and the Temple being sacked and the people dispersed around the Middle East. The crisis this led to wasn’t just physical and political, it was spiritual too. What was God doing? What was this about? Surely he would do something to help his people, but how and when, and what would it look like when he did? The people Mark was writing for desperately needed to hear the message he was giving them here.

God had already come to his people to rescue them, he was telling them, in the shape of Jesus, who had preached a radical message that all people were equally loved and equally valued by God, a message which had transformed the lives of many who heard it. What was more God was still coming to his people– even though Jesus was no longer with them. Through his Spirit at work in whoever was open to it God was building his kingdom, person by person, act by act, day by day. That kingdom was being built not by military force but by people learning to treat one another with dignity and love. The kingdom was like the unseen yeast which leavens the dough, like a tiny mustard seed which becomes a tree – it might look small and insignificant, but it has a life of its own, and it can grow into something which is beyond our power to imagine.

God’s kingdom wasn’t  just a spiritual realm you entered after death, but something that was very much in the present, to do with people’s ordinary lives, so that was where the attention of Jesus’ followers should be focused. Never mind the unknown future, says Jesus here, what are you doing now? Because it is what you are doing now that God cares about most.

It’s great to hear that message today as we baptise Max. In Baptism we are saying that Max’s life matters. He is precious and irreplaceable, not just a number, an anonymous child floating through the world, but absolutely himself, loved by God, known by God, called by God to make a difference. The reason that is true for him is because it is true for all of us – each one of us is loved, known and called too. So, as we hear that message for him, let’s make sure we hear it for ourselves as well. Let’s hear it in all its magnificent Advent seriousness and ask ourselves whether we truly believe that our lives matter. What difference do they make? How is the kingdom being built through us? Where do we need to wake up to ourselves, to the world and to God this Advent?
Amen

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Remembrance Sunday: The things that make for peace


Remembrance Sunday 2011


You may not recognise either the name or the face of the woman I have put in the service sheet today, but it seemed to me that her story had much to say to us all on Remembrance Day.

She is one of this years' joint winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, and her name is Leymah Gbowee. She is from Liberia, on the West African coast. Liberia was formed in 1847 as a home for freed slaves returning from America. In recent decades though it’s suffered from a succession of civil wars, and for many years was under the dictatorship of Charles Taylor, who is now on trial at the Hague for war crimes. Leymah Gbowee has lived all her adult  life against a backdrop of the violence, unrest and oppression his rule brought. In the late 90’s she began doing community work with women who had been traumatised by the war, and with disabled child soldiers – young boys taken from their families and  forced to fight, who had been badly scarred, physically and emotionally by all they had seen and done. It was a tough task, but when civil war broke out yet again Leymah began to look at the wider picture. It was all very well to help the individuals damaged by war after the event, but what really needed to happen was for the war to stop.

Like many others she spent time during this period as a refugee with her own small children, seeking safety in camps with her own small children. They were exhausted, scared and hungry – food was very hard to come by. One day her three year old son said to her, “Mummy, I wish I had a small piece of doughnut.” Leymah replied, “I am sorry – I don’t have any doughnut to give you.” “No Mummy, I know,” said the little boy, “but I wish I had some anyway.” And somehow that said it all for her. Again and again she was confronted with the personal cost of the conflict, and she realised that she was absolutely bone-weary of all this fighting. She was furious that generation after generation were having their childhoods stolen from them, furious that the cycle of violence just kept rolling on. But what could she do? There seemed to be nothing. The United Nations had repeatedly tried to force Charles Taylor to enter negotiations with the rebels who were fighting against him, but he adamantly refused, so what hope was there that one ordinary woman could make a difference?

But Leymah is a woman of deep personal faith and one night in a dream she heard God’s voice telling her “gather the women together to pray.” So that’s what she did – gathered the women of her church together. She told them how tired she was of endless war, and she could see that she wasn’t on her own in this. In fact there were also Muslim women there, who felt the same.

The women – Christian and Muslim – decided to act together. They put on white t-shirts and hair ties, and they simply gathered in public, by the side of a road into the capital where they knew that Charles Taylor would pass by. They sang, they prayed, they just sat, day after day, demanding that Taylor took part in UN peace negotiations. Eventually he agreed to meet them, and in a public gathering, Leymah handed over their demands.

“We are tired of war” she said to him. ”We are tired of running. We are tired of begging for wheat. We are tired of our children being raped. We are now taking this stand, to secure the future of our children. Because we believe, as custodians of society, tomorrow our children will ask us, "Mama, what was your role during the crisis?"[44]

Amazingly, Taylor gave into their demands – they obviously weren’t going to go away unless he did - and he and the rebel leaders travelled to Accra, the capital of Ghana where the peace talks were to take place. But they didn’t go alone; Leymah and the other the women went too. They weren’t at all convinced that Taylor and the rebels were serious about wanting to negotiate.

The women were right to be sceptical. The peace talks dragged on and on until six long weeks had passed. Back in Liberia they knew that the fighting had escalated again. The women were hearing tales of bloodshed, fear and suffering from their families at home, but no one involved in the peace talks seemed to have any sense of urgency. The leaders were enjoying themselves. They could see that change was coming, but all they were interested in was jockeying for power in whatever government would eventually be formed and meanwhile they were living in the lap of luxury in Ghanaian hotels, drinking at the bars and sitting by the pool? They had no incentive to get on with the talks.

So once again the women decided to take action. One morning, when the talks were in session, they simply went into the building where the negotiations were happening, sat down across the doors in the lobby, linked arms and announced that no one was coming out until they had got that peace treaty signed. And if they didn’t think they were serious, Leymah told them, then she would call up the 10,000 Liberian refugees who lived in Accra to add to their numbers. I don’t know whether she really believed this would work, but the delegates evidently did! In that part of Africa great respect is shown to mothers, so perhaps these delegates felt as if they were hearing their own mothers’ voices! Anyway they could see that here were women not to be messed with. The mood of the negotiations changed, and it wasn’t very long before they were successfully concluded.

Of course it hasn’t been plain sailing after that for Liberia. It takes time, patience and persistence to heal the wounds of war and build a healthy society – Leymah Gbowee and her women’s movement have been very much in the forefront in doing that – but the signing of that peace treaty was the necessary first step, and it was only achieved because Leymah Gbowee and the women with her believed  that they could make a difference, even though they thought they were just ordinary women. Gbowee herself has said, “Don't wait for a Gandhi, don't wait for a [Martin Luther] King, don't wait for a Mandela. You are your own Mandela, you are your own Gandhi, you are your own King."[98]     Someone might one day want to add, “you are your own Leymah Gbowee, so don’t wait for her either.”

In today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel Jesus laments the fact that the people around him can’t see the importance of their own actions, either . He’s looking out over the city of Jerusalem. It was the focus for conflict then, just as it is now. Israel was occupied by Roman troops, under the thumb of Roman rulers, who were increasingly losing patience with its people. Trouble was brewing – the city was eventually destroyed a few decades afterwards - but the people seemed blind to what is coming, and blind to anything they could do to help or to protect themselves. Jesus weeps because he knows that it could be different. “If only you had recognized on this day the things that make for peace….”

It is as if the people are sleep-walking towards disaster. They have an opportunity to act, a chance to change, but they can’t seem to see it, and I think we often fail too as well. We just don’t recognise that the small things we do, the habits of our lives, the way we treat others, makes a difference in the long run. But those small acts add up – to good or to evil. In Jesus’ time, people looked for leaders to help them, heroes to deliver them, but they don’t see that each one of them could be a leader, an influence for good, and I don’t think we are any different. 

The prophet Isaiah said, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace”. Feet aren’t always what we consider to be our most beautiful feature, but Isaiah is right in this case. The messenger’s feet are what get the message to the people who need to hear it. There were no phones or email then; no instant easy solution. Getting that message through was a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, over and over again, across mountains and valleys till the job was done. If it wasn’t for the feet of the messenger, the message would get nowhere and be no use. Nothing would change, no one would hear the news they needed to hear – in this case, news that God was going to act and that his people needed to be ready.

As Leymah Gbowee reminds us, each one of us has a part to play where we are. It may not look like a significant or powerful part to us. It may be nothing dramatic, just a steady commitment to caring for those around us, a willingness to get involved in our neighbourhoods and to work for the common good, but what we do matters. It matters because that sort of commitment builds healthy communities, and healthy communities make healthy nations, and healthy nations make a healthy world, and a healthy world is one which doesn’t need to go to war.

Today we remember the dead and injured of two World Wars and many other conflicts since. We remember with gratitude those who stood up against evil, and paid the price for it. But we lament the fact that they needed to do so, and we pray that we will learn those “things that make for peace” and do them. This is not just a task for the great and the good, the heroes, the mighty leaders. It is a task we are all called to. We are called to it here, where we are, in the way we treat each other in our day to day lives. We are called to it now, today, with whatever challenges and opportunities today may bring.  If Leymah Gbowee, armed only with a white t-shirt and the courage of her convictions could make such a difference then why should we think we can’t?

Let us pray:

O God, who would fold both heaven and earth in a single peace:
Let the design of your great love
lighten upon the waste of our wraths and sorrows:
and give us the grace to build peace for your Church,
peace among nations,peace in our homes,and peace in our hearts:
through your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Amen 

Links:
Watch the documentary about Leymah Gbowee and the  women of Liberia here
Leymah Gbowee's autobiography is called "Mighty be our powers" 
You can find more about her here :http://praythedevilbacktohell.com/

Monday, 7 November 2011

Evensong sermon: Reluctant disciples


3rd Sunday before Advent 11


“You did not choose me but I chose you,” said Jesus in the Gospel of John. He’s speaking to his disciples on the night before he is killed. He says this in the context of some pretty gloomy predictions about his own future – laying down one’s life features prominently. It is clear to him, and surely must be to the disciples too, that the opposition against him is mounting, and that there can only be trouble ahead. So being chosen as those who will take his message out into the world probably doesn’t feel like a huge privilege. These disciples are not likely to be feeling they have won the lottery – but Jesus is clear that they not only will do this, but that God will equip and strengthen them to do so, and the truth was that the early Christians made extraordinary sacrifices and showed extreme courage in sticking to their message in the face of persecution. Somehow they recognised the truth of Jesus words – you did not choose me, but I chose you. This was what they were born for, despite its challenges, and they couldn’t just walk away from it. I am sure they were sometimes frightened and reluctant, but they answered the call.

Gideon, whose story we heard in the Old Testament would have recognised their feelings. He was a man who had also been called and couldn’t quite believe it. In fact he has to be one of the most ambivalent servants of God in the Bible. He’s an engagingly flawed, person – not a stereotypical storybook hero – someone like us, or like those first disciples, in other words, and it seems to me that his story can still speak to those of us who feel like reluctant disciples today.

Gideon is an unlikely hero from the start. His story is set in the time of the Judges, not long after the Israelites have entered the Promised Land after their wandering in the wilderness. At this point Israel had no kings – it was ruled over by a combination of military leaders like Joshua and Samson and wise men and women, like Samuel and Deborah. At the time the story starts though, Israel seems to be leaderless and in trouble. An enemy tribe, the Midianites, are attacking repeatedly, destroying the Israelite crops in order to drive them out of the land, and then moving in with their own livestock. Many of the population are deserting their farms and taking refuge in caves and mountain strongholds. There seems to be no one with the skill and courage to lead Israel, no hero to call on, and what is still a fledgling nation looks as if it could be snuffed out before it really gets established. The people cry out to God, who they have been neglecting, says the story. And God acts. “Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press, to hide it from the Midianites.” The storyteller makes it clear – Gideon is not a man who is itching to fight. Nothing could be further from his mind.  All he wants to do is hide what he has, and lie low, hoping the Midianites won’t notice him or his wheat. So you can imagine how he feels when an angel shows up. The angel greets him by announcing: “The Lord is with you, Mighty warrior.” I can just imagine Gideon looking around wondering who he is talking to – “mighty warrior”? It doesn’t sound like him.

He tries a diversionary question. “But sir, if the Lord is with us (which is not quite what the angel said ) why then has all this happened to us?” Gideon reminds the angel of how God rescued them from Egypt, which the angel probably knows already…”but now God has deserted us,” says Gideon. There’s no point crying over spilt milk, says Gideon. We’ve just got to be pragmatic about it all.

The angel doesn’t seem to be listening though. Here’s his reply. “Go in this might of yours, and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian: I hereby commission you.”

Gideon answers politely, though one senses it’s through gritted teeth. “But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family…” “But I will be with you” says God to him… and that is the key.

Gideon’s still not convinced. He’s still looking for a loophole. He sets God some tests, which is a bit cheeky of him. First he lays a fleece on the ground and asks God to make the fleece wet, but the ground dry. When God does that, he asks for it to happen the other way round. Patiently, God does that too. In the end Gideon gives in and agrees to lead the people of Israel against the Midianites. His countrymen flock to him, apparently keen to follow his lead.

And that is where the passage we heard comes in. Gideon now has a huge army, but it will be no good if he ends up believing that they will win the battle for him, or that they are doing this in their own strength. This isn’t about military might, it is about trust in God, about looking to God in times of trouble. In the passage we heard tonight God whittles his army down to a bare minimum. He tells Gideon to send home anyone who is afraid, which turns out to be slightly over half of them. Then he sends home any who, asked to drink from the river put their heads down to it to lap like dogs – no good soldier would do this- how will you see danger coming if you do this. Finally Gideon has just three hundred …and yet, the mission is successful.

We are not called to deliver Israel from the Midianites, nor are we likely to be called, like the early Christians to face death for our faith. But I am sure we can all identify with both Gideon and the first disciples feelings in these situations. We are all sometimes faced with situations where we know we are in over our heads, that more is being asked of us than we can possibly give. That may come in the face of illness or personal setbacks, of family trouble or trouble at work, or simply the cares and worries of life. “I can’t do this,” we say to ourselves, and we may well be right. Gideon was quite right at the beginning to look askance when the angel called him a mighty warrior. Of course he wasn’t a mighty warrior, he was a rather terrified, farmhand with not an ounce of strategic sense or courage. But he was in the hands of a mighty God, who was capable of bringing out of Gideon strength he did not know he possessed. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” says St Paul.  (Phil. 4.13) It’s not about God miraculously delivering us from trouble, but about God being with us in the midst of it. That is seen most clearly in Jesus himself, who faces death for us and with us, laying down his own life for those he loves. Jesus does not ask more of us than he asks of himself.

And the comforting thing about Gideon’s story, if we are feeling daunted, is that the God we meet in it is endlessly patient. He knows that in the end someone must confront the Midianites. Nothing will be gained by running to the hills and hiding – you can’t hide forever.  But God understands that Gideon is scared, and that is all right. God understands that he needs the constant reassurance of God’s presence, and that is all right too. The same is true for us as we face our own Midianite hordes whatever or whoever they may be. God does not expect us to cope alone, but comes to us where we are and stays with us to get us through.
Amen

Seeing the kingdom: a sermon by Kevin Bright

3rd Sunday before Advent

How do you feel when the door slams shut at the wrong time? Many of us will have heard the front door click shut only to turn around and remember that our keys are still indoors. This is usually followed by a period of self denial as we search every pocket for the keys we know are hanging safely on the key hook.

Then there’s the frustration of all those tube train doors which seem programmed to close just as you step on the platform giving you longest possible waiting time for the next one. Not to mention the annoying store managers who seem to delight in closing a minute early as they smile and cross their arms from the safety of the other side of a glass door.

There’s also all the metaphorical door slamming which goes on. The marchers from Jarrow who reached Trafalgar Square yesterday feel that the door has been slammed shut on them as far as job and training opportunities are concerned, particularly for young people. Many find that the door to opportunity is firmly closed to them because of other people’s prejudices.

Of course our perspective on all these situations will vary depending which side of the door we find ourselves on. Inside our homes we feel safest with locked doors, seated on the tube we are anxious to move on and not be delayed, and the shop manager does have a home to go to.

On the gates to many car parks there are warnings along the lines of ‘these gates are locked at 6.00 pm and will not be opened again until 6.00 am the following day’, so if you don’t get your car out in time it’s your problem. The people hearing Jesus talk of lamps and oil would have understood him as clearly as if he told us today ‘the wise man bought only what he could afford and left the store in plenty of time to move his car, whilst the foolish man lived only for today and ‘maxed’ out his credit card beyond his means with some late night shopping forgetting that the car park shut at 6.00 pm, he not only had to come back for his car the next day but also got soaked waiting for the bus’.

I checked with Anne and she confirmed that English weddings must take place between 8 am and 6pm, the timing intended to deter clandestine marriage, eloping or abduction under cover of darkness. But the people hearing Jesus would have been familiar with a torchlight procession which was part of a typical Palestinian wedding festival. Jesus is the bridegroom and he still encourages us to consider whether we are one of the 5 wise or foolish bridesmaids. If the concept of being a bridesmaid makes it hard for the macho to find themselves in the story substitute it with Usher.

It probably feels early to be mentioning Christmas stories but we will all be familiar with wise men from the East which came to Jerusalem seeking the king of the Jews. Now as Matthew’s gospel nears its climax we are reminded again of the affinity between Jesus and the wise and how Christ himself is our source of wisdom and light.

When you think about it if we knew when the wind would blow the door closed we wouldn’t let it slam shut on us and part of Jesus message is to remind us that we do not know the time when he will come again. It’s a big challenge for us to keep faithful, keep going, stay loyal for the long haul. We need our flasks of oil for our lamps, or spare batteries for our torches or reserves of energy, strength and faith more than we knew when we first set out on this journey.

So why would 50% of those who went to meet the bridegroom have not followed Baden Powell’s excellent advice to ‘Be Prepared’. The answer could lay in our attitude to God’s invitation to partake in his kingdom.

Have you ever been invited to a wedding of your wife’s cousin’s daughter who you’ve never met, and to top it all there’s a major sports fixture that you’ve waited half a lifetime to see on the same day? It might be understandable if you’re lacking enthusiasm, don’t prepare well and end up arriving late having taken the wrong route. Well this is what the invitation to the kingdom of God is not like!

We need to remind ourselves that the invitation we have received is the sort that requires us to get our clothes dry cleaned, our hair cut, shoes polished and route rehearsed to make sure we are ready to join the bridegroom in celebration.

The preparation for this is our very lives, the journey to God which we all share. If we want to avoid arriving at a door which is shut to us we need to reciprocate and keep the door open to God through open hearts and minds as to the possibilities of what he wishes us to do.

As we leave this building today let’s ensure that we don’t close the door on God leaving him boxed in here with the builders for another week. I hope the builders will be aware of his presence but also that we are aware of God everywhere we go in the week ahead.

It can seem hard to know how we should be prepared and frightening to think that the door to Christ could one day be closed to us.

Over recent weeks things I’ve read, heard and seen in the news encourage me to think that God smiles when we make a ‘pig’s ear’ of situations as long as we have done it with what we thought were Christ like principles.

There is potential for each one of us to live lives which give a hint of what the kingdom of God is like but we have to be ready for it to turn up when and where we least expect it. If we need an example see how those who run St Pauls cathedral have suddenly been thrust into the ‘Occupy London’ protest, challenged to find a meaningful response to a deeply complex world problem under the glare of a critical media.

The Reverend Dr Giles Fraser, who resigned from his post at the cathedral last month over its handling of the Occupy protest, said he was not sure the Church should get too involved in "proposing specific answers to complex economic problems". I have to say that I strongly agree with him.
He described "the calling of the Church to draw attention to the human cost of financial injustice" and emphasised that it has nothing to do with bringing down capitalism. In his words ‘Markets create wealth and jobs, and indeed those who want to dispense with capitalism are often better at saying what they're against than they are at proposing convincing alternatives.’ "Nonetheless, part of the reason why Christianity is so suspicious of money is that the power and glamour of money can easily corral us into a narrower and narrower sense of what it is to be human," he said.
Part of what it means to be fully human is the ability to see God at work in others. When I preached on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy you may recall the priest who saw that not only is God like the father welcoming back his son or the woman sweeping her house but he also saw that God loves us so much that he is like the firefighter who rushes into a burning building to save someone.

This week I saw a youtube video by a man who thought God is like a truck driver as he saw small communities with their problems and support for each other gathered at the food and fuel stops. It chimes with our reading from Amos as he reminds his fellow countrymen not to get caught up in thinking that God is only to be found in the language and rituals of religion. We need to care about what God cares about and guard against containing him at our convenience or shaping him to fit our lifestyle.

Paul reminds us of the good news in his letter to the church in Thessalonica. He wants to reassure those who attempt to live in response to God’s love that they will not find the door slammed in their face, but will ‘be with the Lord forever’.

The kingdom of God is like a school choirmaster, that’s the most recent one I’ve come across, and though the journey ends with beautiful music sung in perfect harmony it isn’t an easy one.

Looking around this church you might feel inspired to say that ‘the kingdom of God is like the people who were aware of those around them and set up a group called ‘know your neighbours’ or the kingdom of God is like people who cared about their local school so much they played their part in achieving significant improvements.

The point is that in giving us parables and metaphors for the kingdom of God Jesus encourages us to find our own, to see the kingdom in our everyday lives until it becomes the truth that the kingdom of God is like a bunch of people from Seal and Sevenoaks, the Police officer, the school teacher, the banker, the school pupil, the government officer, the university student,the surveyor, the secretary, the cleaner, the retired man or woman, the housewife and many, many more.

Our acceptance of God’s love for us and our efforts to build some small part of his kingdom on earth have the potential to make our journey to him a joyful one as we build our ability to see it.

My truck driving youtube theologian reckons that ‘God spends most of his time with those outside religious institutions, just as his Son did. I guess it runs in the family.’

So this week I challenge all of us to find at least one example in our everyday lives where we see God at work and that inspires us to say the kingdom of God is like…

Amen

Kevin Bright
6th November 2011