Loving through disappointment

“Oh James, I am so disappointed in you” said his father. We are eavesdropping a scene between father and son. We don’t know what James has done but we do know that his father is disappointed.

I reckon most of us whether as a child or as a parent have heard or spoken these words. Words that are usually accompanied by a heavy sigh not spoken in anger but in sadness. “I am so disappointed in you.”

It’s one of the facts of life that whether we like it or not we are to a lesser or greater extent motivated by our relationship with our parents.

Even the child who grows up separated from their parent imagines what they might be like and how they might please them.

Even the child who grows up in an unhappy home will often promise themselves that the home they fashion for their partner and family will be nothing like the experience they have had.

And those of us fortunate enough to have had nurturing family homes all pick messages often as children, spoken and unspoken for good or for bad that shape the people we are. Amongst them those words with which I began “I am so disappointed in you.”

But why take this step into the world of therapy. Well, it’s because I have been thinking of that first reading about the death of Absalom.

It’s a strange tale, at least when heard in isolation. So let me unpack it a little.

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Getting into the pool

It’s stating the obvious but you can’t learn to swim on the side of the pool. Where I learned to swim is now a Weatherspoons pub. It amuses me to think that where I earned my beginners certificate is now a dining room. I recall Mrs. Belk and Mrs. Shapland our stern and despairing instructors.

I reckon those of you who had swimming lessons with school will have similar memories too. It’s one of those formative experiences but it’s a skill that once learnt might just save your life.

And although on dry land we could learn all sorts of theories about swimming. The different strokes, the ways to breathe, the theory of how to do a flip turn, These won’t mean anything unless we get in the pool. Unless we take the risk and push out into the deep and try to swim.

It is possible to study theology, the things of God as if you were on the poolside. You can learn all sorts of academic theories, who said what and when, you could pass exams and though it might be very interesting something is missing.

It’s a bit like having learned the strokes and got changed into your swimming gear only when having looked at the water that you decide to return to the changing room for fear of getting wet.

You cannot swim without getting into the pool. You cannot really know about God unless your prepared to enter a relationship.

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“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth”

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
But seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
As living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
And He bends you with His might
That His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
So He loves also the bow that is stable.

These beautiful words of poetry, words of truth – were written by Kahlil Gibran. They are much loved by my mother who came across them when learning what it is to be a parent.

And she has shared them with us her children in one way or another, and each of us – now parents ourselves have pondered them as we try and make our way bringing up our children.

The words remind us that though children might be born of their parents, they are not to be treated as a possession but to be let go for ‘Your children are not your children’.

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Friendship with God

Jesus said ‘I have called your friends.’ It was a testament to the power of friendship, and perhaps the insulating properties of alcohol that on the May Day Bank Holiday with the wind blowing and the rain falling that there were still people sat outside the Brown Cow having a drink.

It’s good news that doors that were once closed are opening again. We have missed those gatherings with friends we once took for granted.

Perhaps we have re-learned through this pandemic the value of friendship. Maybe old friendships have been re-kindled as we have rediscovered their value and along the way we have found new ways to nurture our friendships. For friendship matters.

My cell group made up of four dear friends and fellow priests whom many of you know is hugely important to me. And though we have had to meet remotely over the pandemic we have re-made our rituals. So instead of going out for a curry at the beginning of our twice yearly 48 hours together, we’ve had a virtual curry via the internet.

The friendship I share with them is one of the treasures of my life, it is priceless in its value. We have shared so much. Carried one another’s burdens. Loved and laughed. Challenged and consoled. We hope to meet in person again soon and there will likely be tears I have missed my brothers.

So, friendship is a great gift that is hard to define yet means so much. It is then no accident that Jesus in this remarkable 15th Chapter of John’s Gospel reflects in part at least on this theme of friendship.

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Abide and become

‘Abide in me, as I abide in you’ and ‘become my disciples.’ Abide and become. Two words from the Gospel I invite you to ponder with me this week. Abide and become.

And I want to begin by making a couple of assumptions connected to this Gospel reading. Firstly, I assume, that you are here, or watching at home because you are interested in Jesus.

There might be other reasons too, you like hymns, or ceremony, or this building and community. Yet I assume and hope that there is something about Jesus too.

And though we might not use the same language perhaps this is something about wanting to ‘abide’, to live in, with and through Jesus.

And the second assumption relates to the first because surely if we want to ‘abide’ in him then part of what that means is wanting to know more about him so that we can ‘become’ his disciple.

Abide and become.

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Wednesday the 14th April was a good day. It was the day when I packed my lunch and headed to the Lakeland fells. They were somewhat steeper than I remembered. But I was glad to rest awhile on the top of Wetherlam drink my tea and eat my biscuit.

There I took in the view and looked to where I was going next. I saw the valley below and small white dots – sheep.

And what I noticed this time, maybe because I’d not been up there for a while was the absence of walls. The sheep could wander where they liked, so I wondered how the farmer knew where to find them.

And then I remembered that sermon my Dad preached here recalling how he went from being an urban vicar in Southend on Sea to a country parson in Cumbria and learning about hefting.

Hefting is the means by which sheep don’t wander off. It described how they learn to belong. Doing a bit more research I discovered that it’s something learned long ago, when sheep on a patch of land were heavily shepherded and learned where their home was.

Once they had learned it, it became part of the sheep’s memory and so was passed on from ewe to lamb.

Consequently, all these years on it appears they are left to roam free. It looks like they can go wherever they want, except they don’t they know where their home is.

And hefting it seems to me has something to teach us as we ponder this Gospel in which Jesus describes himself as ‘the good shepherd’ and plays with that imagery to help his followers understand who he was.

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For fear.

Alleluia. Christ is risen.

He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Keep your voice down someone will hear. At least that’s the response I imagine in the scene before us in today’s Gospel for ‘the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews.’

It was finished, or so they thought – they were still reeling from Mary Magdalene’s proclamation that she had ‘seen the Lord.’ Left wondering how could that be?

This morning we find them afraid of being found and facing the same fate as the man they had followed. So, ‘the doors were locked for fear’.

This image of locked doors seems so apt for us at the moment. Especially as we recall that tomorrow the locked doors of shops, and gyms and pubs (well, as long as you are sat outside) will be opened again.

And we, a little later than some churches will open our doors next Sunday for public worship, and it will be good to see some of you again, although facemasks and distancing and not singing will be with us for a while yet.

And as the vaccination continues to be rolled out, the locked doors of many in our neighbourhood will be opened again to family and friends. And yet I suspect we shall continue to live with some degree of fear.

For- some will fear what opening their doors will look like, having avoided supermarkets and trips out for over a year but beyond the pandemic we fear all sorts of things.

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Sir, we wish to see Jesus

Some Greeks in today’s Gospel tells us they ‘we wish to see Jesus.’ And that desire remains, we wish to see Jesus too.

And though we cannot see him physically, we interpret the word seeing as being more than what our eyes can take in. But going back to the Gospels I wonder if they ever did see Jesus, the text is ambiguous.

The conversation moves from what we assume is his inner circle to ‘the crowd’. And it is to the crowd that Jesus says that ‘when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself’.

Here Jesus is anticipating what is to happen next, when he is lifted up on the wood of the cross. And there he is seen in a different way. He is dying and we imagine that those few who saw it for themselves were traumatised.

Perhaps they would not have asked to ‘to see Jesus’ if they knew where it ended. Yet if we are to see Jesus then we must see the cross. A cross that comes into focus through these days of Passiontide and Holy Week and reminds of how through it the redeeming love of God is revealed once and for all.

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