Ten days ago I spent a couple of nights in Glastonbury. Aside from the music festival, a quick walk up the Tor years ago and the existence of an Abbey, I didn’t really know much about the place. I left feeling it was a strange place.
For I’d never seen someone hug a tree before – I did at Glastonbury. My friend watched as someone poured water on a random stone and proceeded to march around it making a droning noise. I learned too, about ley lines which are I quote ‘spiritual and mystical alignments.’
At Glastonbury there is a strange mingling of pagan, Christian and all kinds of other practices in one place, a place for searchers. For those who might be described as spiritual but not religious.
Perhaps if Paul were there today he might have begun with similar words to those we heard in our first reading. “People of Glastonbury (rather than Athens), ‘I see how extremely religious you are in every way.’
Alas neither I nor my friends stood at the town cross and echoed some more of Paul’s words ‘What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.’ But then perhaps that’s for the local vicar for in the midst of the town stands the parish church, doors open to those who are seeking.
And if they went inside this morning and heard the Gospel for today, then perhaps they’d have heard something that might have spoken to them.
St. John speaks to the searchers of our time ‘This is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.’ Then a bit later ‘I am in my father, and you in me, and I in you.’
It’s probably no co-incidence that this language of abiding comes on the Sunday before Ascension Day (Thursday) when we hear of Jesus leaving the disciples, no longer with them in person but abiding with them always.
The Church of Christ is here in Whitkirk in 2017 because Jesus abides. And his presence is made real both in what we do, in this sacred meal for example and when we baptise in his name as we shall a bit later on today, but also in who we are and how he is with us always.
In that Gospel St. John is trying to describe difficult stuff. He’s saying that the life of Jesus, a man who once walked this earth, is so much more than those few years described in the Gospels. That he lives. That he abides and so is somehow mysteriously present in us all.
‘I am in my father, and you in me, and I in you.’ ‘I in you.’
And though we sometimes live as though that were not the case when we turn away from him, when we deny and betray him and try to live this life “my way” as a certain song once put it.
We’re here this morning because in our own little way we know these words to be true, and that growing in the way of Christ has changed us already, and will change us again.
And his life giving presence at work in us invites us time and again into the way of life that paradoxically invites us to strip way the layers of self-protection, the defence mechanisms, the need to be successful and achieve, and the ego that says “I am”.
Instead he invites us to be vulnerable, to not be afraid, to get things wrong, to love and risk being hurt, to forgive, to be generous and to live as though we depend not on ourselves but on the one who gives us life ‘because he abides in you.’ ‘he abides in you’……wow!’
So to return to Somerset, I struggle to take the shops of Glastonbury seriously, I laughed at their names from ‘Gothic image’ to ‘The Speaking tree’ from ‘Man, myth and magic’ to perhaps my favourite ‘The psychic piglet.’
Yet as I think of them I remember too that in the midst of all the nonsense of that place, stands an Abbey, ruined yes but nevertheless a physical reminder of the abiding presence of God in Christ, in the world and in us, in you and in me.
Our job and it’s not always easy, is to try every single day, to let go of all the false images that we have of ourselves, the false gods we create and be willing time after time as the German mystic Meister Eckhart put it ‘to be a beginner every single morning.’