Monday, 18 May 2015

The gift of each new day

When the great library of Alexandria burned, so the story goes, one book was saved. But it was not a valuable book; and so a poor man, who could read a little, bought it for a few coppers. The book wasn't very interesting, but between its pages there was something very interesting indeed. It was a thin strip of vellum on which was written the secret of the Touchstone!

The touchstone was a small pebble that could turn any common metal into pure gold. The writing explained that it was lying among thousands and thousands of other pebbles that looked exactly like it. But the secret was this: The real stone would feel warm, while ordinary pebbles are cold. So the man sold his few belongings, bought some simple supplies, camped on the seashore, and began testing pebbles. He knew that if he picked up ordinary pebbles and threw them down again because they were cold, he might pick up the same pebble hundreds of times.

So, when he felt one that was cold, he threw it into the sea. He spent a whole day doing this but none of them was the touchstone. Yet he went on and on this way. Pick up a pebble. Cold - throw it into the sea. Pick up another. Cold –throw it into the sea. The days stretched into weeks and the weeks into months. One day -about mid-afternoon, he picked up a pebble and it was warm. But he threw it into the sea before he realized what he had done. He had formed such a strong habit of throwing each pebble into the sea that when the one he wanted came along he still threw it away.

Habits can be very positive.  But they can also dull our awareness of the unexpected, the valuable or the new.  In his teaching Jesus emphasised the value of each and every day and no day was wasted in the life of Jesus.  Every day was spent in the mix of teaching, healing, travelling and debating.  No moment was thrown away and every moment presented the opportunity of change.  Water into wine; blindness into sight; sinners into the saved. Jesus saw that those the world counted worthless could be transformed and used to change others. 

The question I want to ask is: ‘are we awake to see God in the ordinary, and see with God how the ordinary is sanctified – made sacred?’  It’s a transition from the taken-for-granted view of life to one where we see the miracle of the unexpected moment.  To put it in concrete terms, do we really give thanks for each day – its beauty and opportunity?  Do we challenge injustice and casual hatred or walk by on the other side?  Do we give people written off by the world the chance to be seen in new ways?

I wonder that if a time-traveller came to visit us, and told us that a child of one of the refugees crossing the Mediterranean would come to lead and transform our world into peace and prosperity, whether our attitude to all refugees would change?  Or would we continue to simply throw every pebble back into the sea, including the one which would transform our world for the better.

Being a disciple isn’t an easy option in life.  Being a disciple invites God to re-shape us and be a part of change in the world.  That has to begin with us.  It has to start with the habits of prayer and reflection that draw us deeper into the wonder of God’s love – helping us to see the world as God does, and not simply as the world is painted by those who despair. Nothing could do more to fulfill the words of Jesus that we “do not belong to the world”.  We belong – now and always – to the Kingdom of God.

Maggie McLean

Saturday, 16 May 2015

“No longer do I call you servant

Jesus of Nazareth; the Gospels; the Church; the resurrection.  They are all about a fundamental change in relationships.  No longer are people sin-ridden failures doomed to misery in both this life and the next.  The Church, a fresh community of faith open to all, brings all kinds of people in new relationship to both God and one another.  The resurrection leads to a continuing engagement with Jesus beyond what everyone had thought was the end.  Who we are; who we are with God; who we are with one another, all changes in the good news of Jesus Christ.

Before Good Friday we find in the Gospel of John a small clue to all this change.  Jesus says to his inner circle of followers, “no longer do I call you servants… I have called you friends”.  Of course there is the risk of a trite response to this dramatic statement.  The words “what a friend we have in Jesus” can make it sound as though friendship is sentimental relationship, a cosy get-together of the like-minded.  I wonder if that is your experience of friendship?  It’s not mine.  Friends can often seem to others to be unlikely pairings.  It can be as much about shared history as shared interests.  The disciples weren’t like Jesus in so many ways, but they’d been with him through thick and thin.  Three years of difficult, challenging and discomforting experience. 

It seems a strange idea to be friends with a figure of the Trinity.  Jesus is the human expression of that deep longing in the heart of God for us to have fullness of life.  Not a fullness of life brought about by a click of the divine fingers, but a life worked on throughout our lives, lived and refined in the furnace of human experience in the company of Christ.  Thinking along these lines several Christian commentators look to the image in the Old Testament book of Daniel (3:25) of the three figures forced into a furnace which miraculously doesn’t harm them.  If you recall the story you will also know that the figures forced into the fire were joined by a mysterious fourth person.  Even in our deepest fears and pain, we do not need to be alone.  Friends of all sorts stand with us – and perhaps even those we never thought of as friends greet us unexpectedly.

New relationships – and a God who stands with us.  It’s something powerfully demonstrated in Acts 10.  Peter is in the house of someone who wasn’t Jewish.  To this point it had been widely assumed that the Good News of Jesus Christ was for the chosen people – the Jews.  But through the encounter Peter has with Cornelius a changed relationship is revealed.  Peter perceives that God is calling these people to be baptised – to make real the understanding of God that Jesus revealed: that God “shows no partiality”.  His friendship and love are open to all, equally.  Open to the people we like and those we don’t; the close neighbour and those far away.  We may not always think it or feel it, but this was and is a profoundly radical way to create a new community.

Friends have obligations.  We don’t ignore our friends – we try to help them.  We see the best in them and encourage them to grow.  We get to know the friends of our friends.  The friendship Jesus extends to the   disciples, to us, brings communion with all sorts of people.  These people are friends of our friend – and      together we share in the work he has called us to do, loving God and serving those to whom we are sent.

Chris Swift