Preached by Canon Gary Philbrick, 3rd Sunday Before Lent, 17/II/19, at Evensong at St Mary’s, Fordingbridge.
Psalm 6, Hosea 10:1-8,12. Gal. 4:8-20
Lord Jesus, stride into this mess of words, fit the pieces of this puzzle together, and make some sense of them, to your glory. AMEN.
As we’re surrounded by jigsaws, I want to spend a few moments developing some thoughts about God’s plan for us, each a part of his jigsaw, leading on from this morning’s Service.
And this sermon is a bit like a jigsaw – we’ll have a look at various pieces, and then see how they fit together.
You can tell that our readings from the Lectionary this evening are heading towards Lent! The Prophet, Hosea, was writing in the 8th century BC, in the period just before the Fall of Samaria, the Northern Kingdom, which was overrun by the Assyrians in 722 BC.
Like other Hebrew Prophets, Hosea was sharply aware of the way the Israelites were falling from God, worshipping at altars to false gods at what were known as ‘The High Places’, and, like other prophets, Hosea uses the analogy of adultery – Israel was being unfaithful to her God.
But Hosea not just a ‘prophet of doom’, but also a ‘prophet of hope’. The first reading ended: ‘Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you’ [Hos. 8:12].
Lent is a time for ‘seeking the Lord, while he may be found, calling upon him while he is near’, as another of the great prophets, Isaiah, puts it [Is. 55:6]. It’s a time for reflecting on our own sinfulness, but only insofar as it reminds us of God’s graciousness, forgiveness and mercy.
While I was on a boat from France this week, I read ‘The Boy in the Dress’, by David Walliams. It’s the first of his books that I have read, and I was very impressed – it’s very well written, funny and very moving. I saw the story on television a year or two ago, but when I checked BBC iPlayer, it’s not currently available. It rather reminds me of Billy Elliot, which you may have seen a few years ago – similar themes.
Very briefly, Dennis lives in a very sad and repressed family – his father is very sad and lonely, since his wife left him, and tries to assuage his pain by over-eating. John, the older brother, is rather distant, and blames his mother for leaving them all. Dennis, the younger brother, and main character, aged 12, is starved of love, and misses his mother all the time.
He develops an interest in fashion, and buys a copy of the Vogue Magazine one day, when there is a dress on the front cover similar to one his mother used to wear. His father is appalled when he discovers it under the mattress of his bed. Through a funny sequence of events, the misfit Dennis meets, Lisa, the coolest girl in school, and it turns out she’s really interested in fashion and design – and on one fatal day, Dennis tries on one of her dresses, and loves it.
At Lisa’s suggestion, he pretends to be her French pen pal, and ends up going to school in a dress, getting discovered, being expelled, and nearly missing the final of an important football competition. All ends well when the whole football team, to the horror of the very strict headteacher, plays the second half of the final in dresses, they win the cup, his father is very proud of him, and they begin to talk properly, and through a funny sequence of events, which I won’t reveal, Dennis is reinstated in school.
It’s an interesting exploration of someone who feels different, a piece of the jigsaw that doesn’t quite fit in. In the macho world in which Dennis lives, an interest in fashion, especially women’s fashion, is just not acceptable – and it’s a very painful process for him, and those around him, to work out how he does fit in.
And it makes me wonder how many of us feel we don’t quite fit in somehow – I think we probably all feel different from other people. And with good reason – we are all different, we’re all different pieces of the jigsaw, but all are needed to make the whole picture as God intended it to be.
Does anyone watch Grantchester? Based on the novels of James Runcie, son of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, set in the late 50s/early 60s, and centred around a detective, Jordie, and a Vicar, Sidney Chambers in the earlier series, and now Will Davenport, and some other lovely characters, each episode has a crime which Jordie, who’s very sceptical about God and the Church, needs Will’s help to solve. There very well written – but I don’t know how Will finds time to do his parochial duties, as he seems to spend all of his time with Jordie!
In the Episode before last, Leonard the Curate notices a little girl take thruppence out of the collection plate, rather than putting something in. After the Service, being rather a stickler for the rules, he tears a strip off the girl for stealing – but Will ends up by giving her the thruppence, as she’s clearly in need of it to buy food, and, eventually, and for complicated reasons, Will is hauled over the coals by the Archdeacon for not upholding the rules of the Church and teaching the children of the Parish not to steal.
The whole series, both with Sidney and Will as the Vicars, is a really interesting exploration of people’s motives, and of how pain and stress in one part of life affects how they deal with others parts. Leonard is dealing with his own sexuality, Jordie is worried about his family, Will has a terrible father, who dies in an episode a week or two ago – all of them are affected by what is going on around them, but all of them are trying to do the best with the pieces of the jigsaw they’ve been handed.
And that’s what we do in life, isn’t it. We struggle with what we’ve got, with what we have to face, and somehow we try to see how all the pieces fit together, and what it all means. Like Will, as long as we can hang on to the fact that God loves us, we can see a way through – but that’s often very difficult to do. Will’s sermons at the end of most programmes are delightful, preaching how we need God’s love in our everyday lives.
As we have my friend, Ann Lewin, with us this evening, I thought I’d ask her to read one of her poems – it’s called, ‘The Puzzle’, and is very appropriate for this weekend – it comes from her book, which I recommend, of course, called ‘Watching for the Kingfisher’.
The jigsaw pieces lie there, some
Jagged and broken by harsh treatment,
Others smooth from constant handling.
Glowing with life and colour.
Some fall into place, others with
Little apparent meaning wait
Connections, or disentanglement
From wrong attachments.
Life’s puzzle, with no master plan to guide,
Teases my understanding.
Some pieces pierce
With painful memory, some call out
Thankfulness and praise, others
I dare not contemplate, heavy with
Fear of what might be revealed.
Surrounded by mystery,
I struggle to make sense of what I see.
If only I knew the mind of the designer.
Ann Lewin in Watching for the Kingfisher
If all the pieces in a jigsaw were the same, there wouldn’t be much fun in it. And that seems to be God’s thought, too. God seems to love variety, to create everything and every one differently.
The sociologist, theologian and priest, Professor Leslie Francis, calls this ‘a Theology of Individual Difference’ – we’re all created individually by God, all created to be different, all loved for who we are, not just who we would like to be. We’re all pieces in the jigsaw lovingly made by God, and he has a place for each of us in his Kingdom of Love. AMEN.