Has the pastoral vacancy enlarged him for you? Most people pray - if only when a brick falls on their toes - Oh God! Losing Fr Desmond has meant some of you have had not exactly a brick but certainly a load of stuff to deal with. No man of God is a good chance to be more the people of God in one sense, but in another sense it's an unwelcome discontinuity in the pastoral and liturgical scene at St Mary’s. God though is God of the gaps - not philosophically in the sense of being invoked where there's no rational explanation for something - but God of your pastoral gap alias the interregnum. I’m glad to be alongside you as a godly fill in if you like.
How do you see God?
This morning's readings have a lot to say about this. I’m struck by the capacity of scripture to enlarge our vision of God. Years ago I had a faith crisis. I went back to Mirfield where I trained as a priest. I hardly felt God present in my life. I said the same to the monk who took me on as guide. I remember he said to me: ‘It's not God that’s left you, John, but your vision of him. Pray for a vision of God more to his dimensions and less to your own’. I did so, with his help and that of the Bible. Something happened, and here I am years on still working as God’s priest!
Today’s readings are particularly encouraging and challenging in terms of the vision of God they present.
Let’s turn first to our Gospel passage from Matthew Chapter 20:1-16. Look at the God Jesus speaks of and is himself to reveal by dying and rising! He is symbolised in the land owner who goes out no less than five times in a day to hire labourers for his vineyard. They are hired with a promised reward but at the end of the day all who worked, even those who signed on at 5 o’clock, receive the usual daily wage. All hell breaks out as the workers who’d done a whole day complain, ‘you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat’. These workers represent the Pharisees and others who as faithful religious adherents resented how Jesus favoured non-adhering outsiders like tax collectors and prostitutes. Jesus lets the landowner speak for God: are you envious because I am generous?
How do you see God?
I see God as a smiler. He smiles on us, especially when religious people - allegedly his people - frown on the workings of grace. Church life - village life too - is often about working your way up the hierarchy so that newcomers are always suspect. In Horsted Keynes we joked about people only being accepted as villagers after quarter of a century or more, but there was unpalatable truth there to joke about. Maybe it's as true in Balcombe! In Horsted Keynes the pastoral vacancy is surprising in its engaging relatively new worshippers more in leadership within the congregation. May that be true here.
Where people see God as all embracing there are no grounds for discrimination and people very often learn to swim by being thrown in at the deep end!
As I say I see God as a smiler. I’ve just been to Lourdes with its smiling Virgin Mary who very much represents her Son’s humour in this passage! It's patient smiling, but the wounds in the risen Christ’s body born to this day in the heavenlies were made by the narrow thinking that handed over to crucifixion One who taught God as God of all and not just the godly.
Are you envious because I am generous? The Lord says to us this morning and as he says it he is asking us: how do you see me, how do you see God?
If the Gospel reading at this Sunday’s Eucharist encourages us to expand our thinking of God as a God with love for everyone and not just churchgoers the first reading opens another frontier.
Christian faith sees God’s love as all embracing, literally embracing this world and the next. This service is living memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection opening up a vision of God beyond this world, beyond our human imagining. For Saint Paul the experience of Christ’s love was such that, writing most likely from his death cell in Rome to Philippi he is able to say to me living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. For Paul and for all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour there is an assurance that God is God of the dead and the living. He is no this worldly construct but a God who reveals the resurrection so that for a thousand years in this building Sunday has been kept as marker of that event.
How do you see God?
The Lord’s people gather in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s day around the Lord’s table because Jesus Christ rose breaking the chains of death and opening the kingdom of heaven to all believers. To live with Christian faith is to live with death domesticated, brought down to our level or rather made able for us to handle it through knowledge of Jesus Christ who has brought death to heel. To me living is Christ and dying gain… my desire is to be with Christ, for that is far better. Only though when we have run our measured earthly course, for us as for Paul, will that thought begin to triumph as I have seen it triumph on many a devout Christian deathbed.
Are you sure in your faith? Is it in a God who’s all embracing, who’s bigger than death?
Pray for assurance, seek it in prayer this morning and this sacrament which is medicine of immortality. Talk to the priest afterwards if you’re not sure.
Meanwhile may God grant us all by his Spirit a vision of himself more and more to his dimensions and less and less to our own!