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'Child' - by Jennifer Paliga and Kimberly Mcintosh

Upside Down Wisdom

Mark 9.30-37, Proverbs 31.10-end

Our readings today continue the theme started last week about God’s wisdom, a wisdom, as Richard said last week, that turns conventional wisdom on its head.  It’s an upside downness that we saw Jesus trying to put across to his disciples on the road to Jerusalem where he would face execution, instead of what they probably hoped would be a kind of victory parade.  This week they are still on the way to Jerusalem and Jesus is talking about his impending death a second time and the disciples are still missing the point.  And because the point is so important we have several Sundays to enable us, Jesus’ disciples today, to get it.

I spend a certain amount of time with very young children.  If you are of crawling or toddling age you spend your days at ground level with adults towering above you.  There are various ways of attracting the attention of an adult and one I find especially touching is when a child points to the ground, indicating that they want you to sit down there with them.  They know that once you are down on the ground they will have your attention.  You are on their level.  Play might be possible.  They can show you things.  Sitting down can enable attention.

There’s sitting down going on in our gospel reading.  Jesus and the disciples (a larger number than the 12) have been on the road, but now the twelve and Jesus enter a house and it’s a house with children.  Jesus has picked up that following his telling them for a second time about his impending death there has been animated conversation about something on the road.  He learns that it was about which of them would be lead people in the great Jesus project.  So, he sits down and asks the 12 to gather round.

Mark specifically says that he sits down.  It seems an insignificant detail but it’s Mark’s way of highlighting that what Jesus is about to say is important.  Jewish rabbis sat to teach, with their disciples gathered round them on the ground.  Jesus sits.  We’re about to get some teaching.  We need to pay attention.  Then Jesus does something very upside down; he draws a child into the group.  The child is standing.  The disciples are on the ground looking up at Jesus and now also at the child.  They are looking up at a child rather than down (the opposite of how it usually is with us adults).  Jesus deliberately changes their perspective by this physical movement.  The child has something to teach them and Jesus tells them what it is and then underlines the point by blessing the child.

As usual we have two readings from the bible.  If we were to give each a title, the first reading might be headed ‘the Good Wife’ and the second, our gospel reading, ‘The Good Disciple’.  The book of Proverbs is one of the wisdom books in the bible, offering practical insights on how to live a good life.  We had this morning’s reading at my Mum’s funeral.  The poem speaks of a woman who is very capable in managing her household and her family.  That was my Mum.  I don’t think it’s an accident that both models of wisdom this week are people of lowly standing in the ancient world – a woman and a child.  It’s upside down again.

There is a detailed description of the good wife and it all makes sense.  What about the good disciple?  Apparently a good disciple is one who is last of all, servant of all and looks up to children.  Do we want toddlers ruling the world?  Well, do we?!  This is why we have several Sundays to get our heads around this teaching.

There are a number of reasons why children might offer a model for good discipleship – wonder, trust, hope, playfulness…However, here the point seems to be about their lowly status, a status linked with the similar status of a servant/slave.  There is something important about being at the bottom of the pile, being close to the ground. Jesus is using what you might call shock tactics to get a point across – getting us to see something differently, challenging conventional wisdom.  In John’s gospel he does this by washing his disciples’ feet so that they are looking down on him rather than up at him.  Their rabbi is their servant.  Here he does it by standing a child next to him so that they have to look up at the child as well as him.  Suddenly a child is more important than them.

In his biography of Pope Francis Paul Vallely describes how early on in his papacy he was flying from Rome on a papal visit.  When travelling he carries a small, black rather old case with him.  Before boarding the plane he reached for this case and couldn’t find it.  One of his aides explained that a member of staff had carried it on to the plane where it was waiting for the Holy Father.  ‘No’, he said, ‘I want to carry it on to the plane myself like any other passenger’.  They had to retrieve it from the plane so he could do this.  The pope carrying his own case!  It’s like the pope living in an apartment rather than the papal palace, or the pope inviting people living on the streets to dinner with him.  These are shock tactics, getting us to enter a different paradigm, one where the first are last, the last first etc.

So, what is it about children and servants?  There’s just one word I want to consider – obedience.  Children and servants are under orders.  They have to do what others tell them.  In a recent tv programme about Princess Margaret her former chauffeur, Mr Griffin, reminisced about his time with her.  What he seemed to remember were instructions.  After all, he was a royal servant.  ‘Griffin, drive to Windsor today’.  ‘We’ll take the Ford Prefect, not the Rolls today, Griffin’, ‘Burn those letters, Griffin’, and so on.  While Mr Griffin was on the job he was under orders.

Jesus describes himself as a servant.  (The Son of Man came to serve Mk 10.45).  He is one under orders.  He wants his disciples, us, to be like him, to be those under orders.  There is a simplicity, a freedom, a clarity about being under God’s orders.  We see that simplicity in Jesus’ repeating at intervals to these disciples that he is going to Jerusalem whether or not they think it’s a good idea.  He’s obedient to his calling.  He’s under orders.  Immediately before the conversation reported in today’s gospel he’s been up on a mountain where an encounter with Moses and Elijah confirms his sense that his exodus, his departure, his death, lies ahead and he is to meet it.  So he moves towards Jerusalem with that assurance.

Being under orders is not the same as someone taking control of our lives.  Princess Margaret couldn’t do that with Griffin.  God doesn’t do that with us.  He is not inviting us to become his robots.  He doesn’t manipulate us.  We can see Jesus wrestling with his orders in Gethsemane; he was free to choose.  He wasn’t God’s puppet.

‘But how do I know if what I am doing, if this choice I am making is following God’s orders?’  I can hear someone asking.  ‘Perhaps I’m on the wrong path!’  The most basic thing God asks of us is that we express a desire to be under his orders.  We will not necessarily know if we’re on the right path.  There may not even be a right path in the terms we are thinking of.  But in expressing our desire to be following God we are already on the way and here in today’s gospel Mark offers a picture of how we might do that.  He gives a picture of the Good Disciple.  Jesus sits, he looks at the 12, and now at us, and, gently pointing to the ground, invites us to sit there, to give him our attention and to listen to him.  As we listen we absorb this new upside down wisdom that can seem like folly and over time the choices we make and the decisions we take are shaped by it.  It can be a daily practice for us; sitting, looking up at Christ and listening, demonstrating our desire to be under his orders.  Try it!

 

Featured Image: ‘Child’ – by Jennifer Paliga and Kimberly Mcintosh

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The Wisdom of Jesus

16th September 2018, Creation 3

Proverbs 1:20-23, Mark 8:27-end

 

The lectionary – and this is important stuff, so listen up – the lectionary is a book with readings in from the bible for every day of the year. All Anglican and RC churches use this, and some other churches do as well, and it’s been going for hundreds of years. Much thought and prayer has gone in to which readings are read when, and what readings from OT, Gospel, Epistles and Psalms go together. This is exciting stuff. So when I read today’s readings, OT and Gospel, I read with expectancy and hope and I was not disappointed when the penny dropped. Are you ready?

‘Wisdom cries out in the street; in the square she raises her voice…how long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?’ (Prov 1:20,23) Wisdom is a great theme in the bible, especially in the OT and it’s all about living well. How to live with your neighbour, your husband or wife, how to bring up your children, how to behave with the king, with God. How to conduct your business, how to give a good answer. Very practical stuff. King Solomon asked God for wisdom above everything else, when God asked him what he wanted most (1 Kings 3:3-14), wisdom to govern his people. When we ask the question, who is the greatest wisdom teacher in the bible, every Sunday School child knows the answer, it’s Jesus. And he is. Much of his teaching, if not all of it, is wisdom teaching – how to live your life well. Turn the other cheek, love your neighbour as yourself, give and it will be given to you and so on. So let’s look at the passage paired with the OT reading from Proverbs about wisdom crying out in the street and see what wisdom Jesus shares with us today. Here it is: ‘Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?’ (Mark 8:34-37). Here we have perhaps the most fundamental wisdom advice from Jesus, placed deliberately as it is at the exact centre of the gospel of Mark. Lose yourself. Deny yourself. Take up your cross. And if we’re honest, this doesn’t sound good. It does not make us say, ‘Wise advice, Jesus. Thanks for the tip!’ In fact, we are tempted to ignore it. But those guys who made the lectionary, they put it here so we can’t miss it, and plugged it in to wisdom calling out in the street. Mark put it in the centre of his gospel. You want wisdom? You want to be wise? You want to live your life well? Then listen to this…

And yet we can’t ignore this. How then can we understand it? For these words of Jesus call us to live our lives upside down, to do the exact opposite of much prevailing wisdom, which is, to eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. To have as much fun as possible, to get as much stuff as possible, because life is awfully short. The big point here is that this wisdom, the wisdom that says that those who lose their life will save it, was precisely the wisdom with which Jesus lived his own life. You might say that these few verses were a summary of Jesus’ life, because that is exactly what his life looked life. The pattern of Jesus’ life, of the last three years of his public ministry that is, was one of losing himself for the sake of the good news, for the sake of the poor, the sick, the indifferent and the wrong-headed. And he literally lost his life because of the way he lived his life, the victim of betrayal, hypocrisy, fear and injustice. But look how it turned out. Loss of life led to resurrection, to the salvaging of that life, which is salvation. Listen to the words again: ‘For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life…for the sake of the gospel will save it.’. And the funny thing here is that Jesus’ life didn’t look joyless or empty, the kind of life that we might imagine goes along with losing yourself, with self-denial. In fact, he lived his life to the full, with close friends, surprising meals in rich people’s houses, the person you wanted most at your party. But now look, at this point in the gospel, what do we find? Peter’s confession of who Jesus was: ‘You are the Christ!’ (v.29) followed by Jesus’ announcement that he would be rejected, would suffer and die (v.31). So Jesus was looking straight at what lay before him: the cross. So what was hitting him here was the full weight of the meaning of loss of life, making his words difficult and dark, but no less true.

I am struck by some words of Jesus which have a parallel with this, but they feel much lighter, while actually making the same invitation. ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light’ (Matthew 11:28-30). Here are two sides of the same coin. Taking Jesus’ yoke, being paired with him, taking our cue from him is of course the same as denying yourself, of losing your life. These words are much more comforting, of course. But if we can stand back and look at the bigger picture, we can see that they carry the same message.

So what do we do? How do we live this life? And suddenly we are at the very heart of what it means to be Christians. Does it mean, must try harder? That always works well. Do we think of things we like and then stop doing them, to deny ourselves? Is it a sort of perpetual season of Lent? Do we throw ourselves into good works, perhaps even things we don’t even really like, because the more it hurts the better it is? These words have sometimes been interpreted like this. But this way of life isn’t something we simply ‘do’, we simply ‘bolt on’ and add to our lives to make them more difficult. The result of that will probably be joylessness, rigidity, judgmentalism and hypocrisy.

I’m hoping to convey adequately what I want to say now. Our ego, the bit of us that is us, will automatically resist the message of self-denial, of losing oneself. It is scary, panicky. We can only begin to do this when our ego gets punctured, when somehow our defences get down, if we will let it. I mean when we realise, in a deep way that we are not in control, and we sort of ‘let go’. This is something which can happen to all of us, if we let it. There are two big things that do this to us. The first is love. Big love. Falling in love. Many of us, though not all, will have had the experience of falling in love. It’s interesting that we talk about ‘falling’ because that is exactly what it feels like. Our defences aren’t just down, they fall down and our heart enlarges to encompass the one we love. Richard Rohr calls this falling upward. At that moment we will literally do anything for the other. Self-denial and losing myself will seem like the easiest thing in the world. Now, that sense of love may stay with us, it may not. I’m just saying that that is what I am talking about when I say that our ego can get punctured. The second thing that can do this is, unfortunately, suffering. This is much darker of course, but suffering, illness, loss, bereavement, failure, catastrophe all puncture the ego and suddenly what seemed important no longer does so. At that moment, we may see what is really important, and our minds and hearts will focus. Other things also can cut through to our soul and they can almost feel like we have been ambushed. Have you ever read a poem, listened to music, watched a film, sang a song and suddenly you well up, you can’t go on, something has gripped you? There it is. Ambushed.

These moments when our souls are bare are when God can slip in. We actually need this to happen. It will feel like love. And you know what? It is love. A young teenager at Taizé a couple of weeks ago told me how during the time of prayer, while singing, she had come to know how God is love. I was sitting near her at the time, I think I actually saw it happen. It was clearly a deeply meaningful and powerful moment for her and my guess is that it will stay with her. I actually received Christ into my life at around the same time as I had my first experience of falling in love at the age of 16. On the other hand, I can so clearly remember kneeling in a church after the death of my mother, devastated, all defences down, and almost never has the presence of God felt more real.

I’ve got a bit leery of the word ‘faith’ because it’s so often misused and it sometimes carries the sense of something you have to sort of work up. Trust is a much better word because it’s relational. But my favourite word is actually ‘belief’. The conventional meaning of the word is a sort of rational, mind-based activity. But the word belief or believe actually comes from the German word, ‘liebe’ which means love. So the word ‘believe’ really means ‘belove’. And truly, the older I get, the more my faith, my trust, my belief comes to feel more and more, like love. Think now about someone that you trust, someone you have faith is. Now ask the question of yourself, how does trust feel? I think it feels like love. If you really trust someone, you love them. These things, faith, trust, belief, love, are so close together if we can only see it. You may like to try this when you say the creed: instead of saying, ‘I believe in God the Father…’ what about saying, ‘I belove God the Father…’ Why am I saying all this? Because we can only really do this thing, this self-denial, this loss of life that actually leads to finding life, from a place of love. We will live it more from our hearts than our minds. That was Jesus’ secret of course. That’s why, when asked what was the greatest commandment, he answered it is to ‘love God and love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mark 12:28-34), quoting the OT. The wisdom of Jesus, the advice to lose out lives, to deny ourselves needs to take root in our hearts, then our minds will tell us what to do with it.

Richard Croft

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ActJustly

‘Act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with your God.’

Introduction

I wonder if there are some common phrases or words of wisdom that you or your parents often use? Here are some that might be familiar to you:

Pride comes before a fall

The early bird catches the worm

Practice makes perfect

Or you may know this more modern one:

‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ Although it originates from the story of Spiderman and the world of comics it has seeped into everyday use. I heard it used recently by Barack Obama at John McCain’s funeral.

All these proverbs try and bring together many years of human experience into a few memorable words. And in today’s sometimes crazy world, we’re in particular need of words of wisdom to help us know how we can live wisely.

Today I’m going to take the wise words of a man who lived over 700 years before Jesus, an Old Testament prophet called Micah. I’ll attempt to bring together both of today’s Bible readings and our new season of Creation into Micah’s ten words of wisdom on how we should live: Act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with your God.

Proverbs – Act Justly

In the Bible there’s a whole book of these short phrases of wisdom, called the book of Proverbs. In today’s first Bible reading, we heard just a small number of these. Collected like the psalms over hundreds of years, these proverbs crystallised the wisdom of that time and were offered to help people live a good life full of wisdom. The reading we had today comes from a section in Proverbs aimed at helping young people understand the proper way to live. Some of this wisdom can seem formal and traditional, as it comes from King Solomon or those writing in his style.

But if you look at the verses in today’s reading from Proverbs there’s a surprising focus, that sounds almost radical to our modern world:

Here are a few of the proverbs from today’s reading:

‘If you plant the seeds of injustice, disaster will spring up.’

‘Be generous and share your food with the poor. You will be blessed for it.’

‘Don’t take advantage of the poor just because you can; don’t take advantage of those who stand helpless in court. The Lord will argue their case for them and threaten the life of anyone who threatens theirs.’

Care for the poor and those in need isn’t seen as some kind of nicety or choice. It’s hardwired into the Israelites’ relationship with God. They care for those in need, remembering how God answered their own cries of need to bring them out of slavery in Egypt. It’s part of their theology of who God is: a Creator God who loves all equally and cares equally for all. For them, a prosperous and successful society is one that is built on fairness and justice for those in need.

So how can we act justly ourselves? How is God calling us to act in our community and in our world? There is of course plenty that we can do in caring for those we meet day by day. But how do we act wisely and justly to make an impact on some of the bigger issues facing our world? I was taken by one of the quotations Gary used in his sermon last week by the writer Alice Walker. She said that:

‘Activism is my rent for living on the planet.’

You may have heard about a report published last week by the Commission on Economic Justice. It raised how important it is to hardwire justice into our economic system rather than treating it as an afterthought. It was so encouraging to see the Archbishop of Canterbury and others taking on such simple questions as: What is a fair minimum wage? How do we treat people on zero-hours contracts fairly? What is a just way of overcoming the widening gap between rich and poor, and the fear of the future facing both young and old alike?

As Archbishop Justin Welby said:

‘It doesn’t have to be like this. By putting fairness at the heart of the economy, we can make it perform better, improving the lives of millions of people. Achieving prosperity and justice together is not only a moral imperative – it is an economic one.’

What do you feel it means for you to act justly with your family and friends, and in the wider community and world in which we live?

Love tenderly

To act justly and to love tenderly…

And so we come to our gospel reading and on the surface one of the worst examples of showing Jesus loving others tenderly. Here is a woman in great need that comes to Jesus for help to cure her daughter, falling at his feet and begging for her child to be healed. What does Jesus do? He quotes a proverb at her that says: ‘Let us first feed the children. It isn’t right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’

I have to admit that I’ve struggled a lot with this passage over the years.

Now, I know that Jesus was talking about how his priority was to bring the good news to Jews first before the Gentiles and I know it’s dangerous to put our modern sensibilities into a situation from a different time and culture, but this isn’t what I would expect of Jesus. I just can’t understand how the Jesus I know from the rest of the Bible could treat someone in this way. I find it almost impossible to respect a leader who calls someone a dog and dehumanises them. This seems totally out of keeping with the Jesus I know in the rest of the Bible.

And so I took my struggles with this passage to one of my wise cousins, who is both a priest and an expert in New Testament Greek and asked for his help.

First of all, we have to understand that Jesus isn’t using the Greek word ‘kunarion’ or dog here at all but ‘kunis’, closer to the word for puppy. He’s deliberately taking some of the sting out of the original proverb. But something deeper is happening here as well and relates to why Jesus is using a proverb. Rabbis, or teachers of Jesus’ time, encouraged their disciples to challenge proverbs they’d inherited and to help them reflect on what was true and wise for their own times. Proverbs were not expected to be treated as infallible words of truth but to be debated, discussed and applied to how we live today.

The problem with proverbs is that they don’t always age well. What used to be relevant to one generation can sound dangerously outdated to the next. I won’t mention some of the worst examples I was brought up with, as their language is truly shocking. One I really dislike as someone who is working now in adult education is this one: ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’. It may have some truth in it, but I’ve often seen it used as a way to limit the potential of more mature people, or as an excuse by those who are older not to learn new things.

And sometimes proverbs can completely change their meaning. Here’s an old saying you might have heard before:

‘It’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.’

Sounds almost rude doesn’t it? But it wasn’t intended as such. In the olden days a brass monkey was a type of rack in which cannon balls were stored. Being brass, the monkey or rack contracted in cold weather and pushed out the cannonballs. The meaning and relevance of proverbs can shift over time.

And so here, in front of his other disciples, Jesus begins treating the Syrophoenician woman as if she was one of them, throwing out a proverb for her to discuss with him as teacher to disciple. He loves her so tenderly that he gives her the opportunity to debate this proverb with him, and to demonstrate her faith in front of all the others.

Jesus is yet again breaking down the barriers between who is seen as In and who is Out in his kingdom. It is not only one of the first stories in the gospels to show Jesus’ love for Gentiles as well as Jews, but also one of the first to show how he will break down the traditional wisdom on who is clean and unclean. He shows a new wisdom, that God’s love is for all and for all equally.

To walk humbly with your God

To act justly, to love tenderly and finally to walk humbly with our God.

So how does our new church season of creation fit in with the words of wisdom that we should walk humbly with our God?

This lies in the origins of the word humility itself. It comes from the word ‘humus’. This sounds the same, but is very different from, that delicious Middle-Eastern and Greek food. It means earth or compost, from the ground. So to walk humbly with God is to remember, with every step we take, that we are of the earth – mortal, not divine. In this Season of Creation we are grounded in the reality that we are here for only a few short years, just a small part of God’s creation that will continue long after we have died. But although our time is limited, we have the hope through Jesus that this is only the beginning of our journey.

And it’s not a journey that we are meant to take alone. There’s a popular proverb, probably from Africa, that says:

If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

And the church should be part of this family that supports us as we learn to go further with God. We travel together to learn how to live as God intended: to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with our God.

Hamish Bruce

 

Heartfelt Trust – sermon given by Richard Croft on Sunday 12th July 2015

St Johns and St Stephens Church, Reading, 12th July 2015, Trinity 11

Proverbs 9:1-6, John 6:51-58

‘Heartfelt trust’

 

Many of you know that a couple of weeks ago a small group from St John’s, and some friends, spent a week at the community of Taizé in France. It was the 6th visit we have made. It was, as always, a wonderful experience of prayer, of community, and of joy. It so happens that today, August 16th, is a very significant day for the community, for on this day, exactly 10 years ago, the founder and Prior of Taizé, Brother Roger, died. He was killed during evening prayer by a mad person. He was 90 years old. The 10th anniversary of his death coincides with the 100th anniversary of his birth, and the 75th anniversary of the founding of the community in 1940, during the 2nd WW. There are many thousands of people from all over the world at Taizé right now to give thanks for his life, and ro remember him.

 

I never met Brother Roger but his influence is felt very strongly in the community. During our stay, every morning, we older adults met for an address given by a French-Canadian brother, Émile. Each address was based on one word which Brother Roger used frequently. One of the words was ‘trust’ and it was that which spoke to me most powerfully. I am therefore, quite unashamedly, going to try and use that talk as the basis for my sermon this morning, giving full credit to Brother Émile, and to Brother Roger himself. I ran it past Vicki and Alison – they heard Émile too – and I am grateful for their comments and support.

 

By pure chance, I picked up this headline in The Times of Friday 14th August: ‘Britain grows into a land of distrust and suspicion’ Nearly half the British population distrust the people around them and think that ‘you can’t be too careful when dealing with people’….about 1/3 of Britons were also skeptical of people’s kindness, saying that given the chance they would try to take advantage of them most of the time’.

 

Let’s see if we can hear Brother Roger on the topic: https://vimeo.com/25553854

 

What I would like to do this morning is present ‘trust’ to you as a core Christian virtue, one that would make a difference to our life of faith and of human relationships – communion. Trust. Heartfelt trust, to use Roger’s words. In French, ‘la confiance du coeur’. Another word quite close to trust is ‘hope’. Roger often used the word ‘trust’ as if it meant ‘hope’, and we often speak of our Christian hope of, for example, the resurrection. But there’s a difference between those two words: Hope is perhaps less concrete, it’s more difficult to base your life on, hope can sometimes mean wishful thinking: ‘I hope the sun shines tomorrow’. Trust, on the other hand means more like there is something real, something solid to it. It’s a good word. We can contrast it as well with the word ‘faith’ which can feel like something we possess – or not – or as the opposite of reason, which never goes well. But trust – trust is simply something we do. It is an attitude of openness, of willingness to receive, and to act. It’s not the same as naivety.

 

Suspicion, which is the opposite of trust, does not nourish or fulfill; it does the opposite, it stultifies, paralyses us, it cuts us off from other people and ultimately from God. In the short video we saw, Roger spoke about a lack of trust, suspicion, providing an alibi for not doing anything: if we don’t trust anything or anyone, if we believe everything is corrupt and without value, then we have the perfect excuse, or alibi, to do nothing at all. But to trust, to trust another person, to trust God with my life, is to reach outwards and upwards, beyond ourselves and our fears and suspicions. You can tell how precious and important trust is by considering what happens when it is broken.

 

Trust is what helps us to sleep at night, but also what gets us up in the morning. We hand over what is beyond us since we know that we are not in control. Often, what makes us anxious is the fear and suspicion that makes us try to control everything, which is impossible. Trust is life-giving – to hand over our concerns gives life and is a gift of life. We can do this because fundamentally, what we, as Christians say about God is this: he can be trusted. His trustworthiness, his faithfulness, runs through the whole of creation and through the stuff of our lives like a seam of gold. We are invited to enter that trust, to live it. We are called to dare to trust. Yesterday evening I watched, again, the French film, ‘Of Gods and men’. It’s a beautiful, moving, true story of a small religious community who lived peacefully in the Atlas mountains of Algeria. In the 1990s there was an violent Islamist uprising. The film shows the brothers’ struggle to reject fear and to embrace trust – in which struggle they succeeded.

 

To trust means you see there are possibilities for change. If we are told, ‘you can’t change anything’, then our margins of freedom are reduced. Trust breaks through that. The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard used this parable. What do you do when someone is choking? You give them air. What do you do when someone is choking of despair? You offer them possibilities. Roger wanted Taizé to be a place where people would realize that is possible. Through the worship and prayer, people would deepen their trust in God, their love of Him; and through community, the experience of meeting and living with people from other countries and different Christian traditions, trust in one another would be strengthened and deepened. And it works! It works here too at church as we express our trust in God in worship and prayer, and as we spend time with each other in trusting relationships, as we really do, we exercise our trust. It’s as if every Sunday we get to experience, and to practice trust, to get another dose of it.

 

As Christians, as the church, we are of course part of the human family. We are not just a little sect, unconnected with the rest, doing our own little rituals on a Sunday and enjoying cosy relationships. We are here, is Jesus told us, as salt. We are not here just to serve ourselves or the institution of the church, but to serve the human family. Salt makes things different, but only when it is mixed in with them. Our faith, our trust in God is not just a private reality but we take what we know, what we practice on a Sunday, and offer it to those around us. I wonder how that plays out, what it looks like? In a world where so many are cynical, suspicious and pessimistic, what does it mean to be different? To not conform? Paul tells us, ‘Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ (Rom 12:2) I think again of the brothers in the tiny monastery in Algeria who chose to reject violence and hatred, and instead trust­ – wherever that would lead. It was a radically counter-cultural thing to do. What would that mean for you and me? What decisions are you facing now, what new possibilities exist that with a trusting heart you could reach out and embrace in trust, in hope, in faith, leaving behind doubt, and cynicism, suspicion and fear?

 

Speaking personally, this message directly touched me as I went to prayer later on that day and felt able to trust God for the future direction of my life. I have shared that with some of you. I can only say that I felt liberated.

 

As Christians, if all we do is carp and criticize, we are conforming! Trust is non-conformist and counter-cultural. How has it felt when someone has trusted you? Our institutions which surround us – government, NHS, workplaces, schools, churches even, are very fragile, they can easily lose their sense of service. Our trust, our hope and faith that things can be better can change that.

 

I hope this hasn’t been too much of a ramble and that you have been able to catch some of the sense of simple joy in trust, that you have heard Roger of Taizé speak. There was a new song we learned at Taizé, I’m afraid I’m not going to sing it, but here are the words in English (the song is in French). It is a prayer of Roger: ‘Happy are those who abandon themselves to you with a trusting heart. You keep them in your joy, simplicity and mercy’ (Heureux qui s’abandonne à toi, ô Dieu, dans la confiance du coeur. Tu nous gardes dans la joie, la simplicité, la miséricorde)

 

What would happen of the decisions I make were not based on suspicion, but on trust?

 

Richard Croft

With thanks to Brother Émile of Taizé, Brother Roger, Vicki Jones and Alison Peyton