A Sermon preached on Sunday 26th November, 2017 , the Feast of Christ the King at St. Mary’s Church, Fordingbridge by the Reverend Dr John Towler.
I found this is piece of news in the Observer Newspaper last week:
“It was in May 2015 that Ladislav Lamza, a Croatian Social Worker replaced the sign outside a Mental Health Asylum, replacing ‘Home for the Insane’ with ‘Centre for People like us’. She says, ‘We express many things in that small sentence because what we have done for two centuries is the opposite. We’ve said ‘You are not like us, you are ugly and madman I’m not like you’.”
This morning I want to look at Mathew’s cartoon in a somewhat opposite way by suggesting that we are all hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick and in prison; the church and the world all belong to ‘A Centre for People like us’. Might these be instructive for us if we self examine ourselves and ask to what extent am I hungry, am I thirsty, am I a stranger, am I naked, am I sick and I am I imprisoned in some way? I am suggesting that these might represent spiritual states which tell us something of how we live out our lives in the light of the gospel.
What I do not want to do is to suggest that these are purely spiritual states because we are a unity of body, mind and spirit-so the whole of us is affected in some way.
Hunger and thirst are intrinsic to our human desire and need for food and drink: it is at the very root of our being. It is the same spiritually. A writer Dave Butts eloquently makes the point that when we lose our appetite for seeking God we often turn to junk-food which can dull the appetite even further. Last week we were thinking about the parable of the talents and how important it is that consider the way in which we make money is as important as maximising the resources we have been given. Likewise, looking for happiness and fulfilment is thwarted through a quest for power, money or escape to all sorts of pleasures.
As a church we can allow our appetite for God to be dulled by junk-food and snacks: a pursuit of endless activities, and projects-we can be busy, get tired and exhausted but forget that our search for God is the end and the beginning of our earthly pilgrimage. The scriptures are full of allusions to our hunger and thirst for God:
- “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6).
- “. . . whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).
- “Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).
- “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1).
I am also reminded of the famous Heineken Beer Advert: ‘Refreshes the parts that others beers do not’
How hungry and thirsty are you for God or have you lost your appetite? Who do you allow to nourish you? Do you allow anyone to nourish you or are you like many of us stubbornly independent? What kind of food and drink nourishes you?
I was privileged this week with some friends to be part of an evening at Sarum College. It was called ‘Waiting’. The evening provided a diet of wonderful imaginative poetry read by the theologian and poet, Malcolm Guite and by an imaginative exploration of the biblical characters by Paula Gooder. We drank wine, laughed and were deeply moved by what? Was it God in disguise who warmed our hearts and touched our souls? Was it the wine? Was it the company of people gathered in that place? My imagining it was all of those things which evoked from me a response of ‘yes’, God is in this place. It provided a space in which I could re-connect with God through and with others.
I am sure you will have had similar experiences. As the season of Advent begins next Sunday how might you seek ways of satiating your hunger and thirst for God? What is required of us is that we remain open to the possibilities of receiving God’s grace in our lives in so many ways: people, the Scriptures, meditation and prayer, listening, waiting and not rushing about unnecessarily, filling every moment but leaving spaces for God to meet and connect with you.
May be the feelings of being a stranger or we say estranged in our relationships can alert us to a disconnection with God. Maybe we feel exposed, naked, vulnerable , or ashamed which can alert us to a need to reach out for a connection, to acknowledge our need of another particularly when we have to make challenging decisions, or when we feel lonely, when we feel sad or disorientated. We may feel at times depressed, out of sorts, at variance with the world and in need of care but are too proud to ask for help. We may carry feelings of feeling imprisoned by illness, an addiction, questions relating to our sexual orientation or gender or our care of others in that regard. What are we enslaved by? Does our religion get in the way sometimes, by making too many demands, too much of our time? Dare we meet Christ us? For:
“As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren you did it to me.”
Above all, this Advent, allow yourself to feel deeply whatever it is-emptiness, frustration, exposed, imprisoned, hungry and thirsty or indeed joyful and peaceful. We have received the promise that light emerges out of the darkness. That is the message of Christmas.
Today is the feast of Christ the King. We are reminded on such a day of how God calls each one of us to be participators of a kingdom of compassion, vulnerability, forgiveness and justice. The journey will be rocky, uncertain at times, empty. I am reminded that Mother Theresa of Calcutta lived in a kind of spiritual vacuum in her last days when she her sense of God’s presence eluded her.
‘Be still and know that I am God’ is a useful mantra to use in those spaces in which we cease our business and intentionally reflect upon the meaning of our lives and where God fits into this.
I finish with a profound and beautiful piece of writing by a Rumanian, Petru Dumitriu, in a book entitled “Incognito”. Having experienced the brutality and cruelty of war and Communist concentration camps he arrives at an understanding of what has been happening to him on his journey which leads him to an understanding of the nature of God and the meaning of the universe. He writes:
“That was it: the sense and meaning of the universe was love; that was where all the turns of my life had been leading me. Why had I expected the world to justify itself to me and prove its meaning? It was for me to justify the world by loving it and forgiving it, to discover its meaning through love, to reveal it through forgiveness.”
Being part of ‘A Centre for People like us’, is a sobering reflection for Advent. We all belong to God. May your journey be enriched this Advent by your relationship with the mystery of the living and loving God.
We have become satisfied with mere church, mere religious exertion, mere numbers and buildings—the things we can do. There is nothing wrong with these things, but they are no more than foam left by the surf on the ocean of God’s glory and goodness.” [Ben Patterson, Deepening Your Conversation With God, 171.]