Two reflections shared at zoom worship on Trinity 3 - 28 June 2020.
The texts were: Jeremiah 28:5-9 and Matthew 10:40-42
A year or two ago, my sister bought me this book for Christmas. It’s like Where’s Wally, but for Jesus. She’s got a good line in quirky or creative gifts, but in part I suspect the humour was in the fact that she could cheekily ask me “have you found Jesus?”.
The book invites us to seek and find Jesus in a multitude of unexpected places - crowded rock concerts, bustling supermarkets and packed weddings. In this literal take on Jesus promise to be with the disciples always means that he blends in with the crowd.
Perhaps it also makes us ask the question: what if Jesus was walking the earth now? Would we recognise God’s beloved in the places the world still overlooks or amongst the people who’re still dismissed?
We’ve been cut off from crowded places for more than three months: worlds are smaller and lives curtailed. Have we sought and found Jesus in a multitude of unexpected places in lockdown - even in our loneliness or exhaustion?
Loneliness - Gemma Schiebe
Loneliness is a common human experience - fleeting moments, regular intervals or sustained periods. It doesn't relate to our relational status or our work; it doesn’t discriminate between those of us who're cup half empty or cup half full people.
Deciding to "do something" can take us out of ourselves, creating a sense of purpose by giving us something else to focus on; but we also need a someone to notice us, to find us; we need a community where we can welcome and be welcomed.
For Jesus said, whoever welcomes you, welcomes me… and the one who sent me. This is an intimate bond; where as human beings we see and are seen in love.
Exclusion - Laura Greco
But alongside what’s been dubbed the loneliness epidemic, there is the pain of exclusion. There are those who are over looked or dismissed; those left on the outside - rendering them less visible or voiceless.
The wideness of God’s mercy - and the kindness of God’s justice - is the basis of our welcome. For God in Christ stood with the excluded to the point of death; in Christ God bore injustice and extended the scope of mercy with arms outstretched on the cross.
This welcome brings healing and forgiveness and even joy; and its goodness gets worked out in practical ways.
In his winning entry in the theology slam competition, Augustine Tanner-Ihm talked about this depth of welcome challenging us to think widely and deeply. He said: Accessibility is being able to get into the building. Diversity is getting invited to the table. Inclusion is having a voice at the table. But belonging is having your voice heard at the table.
Such belonging is at the heart of the good news; it is at the heart of God’s kingdom. It begins with standing at a door - knocking, opening, seeing, welcoming, staying, listening.
Sinners Meal - Sieger Köder
The company that Jesus kept was diverse - perhaps even offensively so. Eating and drinking were significant - they were moments of gift; no qualification for invitation; an offer of the gift of life.
In our collect - our opening prayer - asks God to look upon this wounded world with pity and with power; holding on to the promise of peace.
Pity, power and peace.
When there’s a knock on the door how do we respond? when we ring a door bell, how might we be received?
A knock on the door - Bob Salo
Is there the pity of merciful compassion; the power of welcome and the peace of the kingdom?
The disciples had been sent as ambassadors of a kingdom. Knocking on doors and if welcomed then strangers were seen and known and loved.
The disciples go under Jesus’ instruction: to offer them help and hospitality was like offering it to him. In what way to those who knock on our door reveal something of God to us? Might they too reveal something of God’s kingdom?
In what we give and what we receive, there are signs of love coming to us with pity, peace and power.: finding Jesus and being found by Jesus.
Here we glimpse the wideness of his mercy. To welcome and be welcomed isn’t about seeking security and status; but being vulnerable and open to change.
The path to your door
Is the path within,
Is made by animals,
Is lined by thorns,
Is stained with wine,
Is lit by the lamp of sorrowful dreams,
Is washed with joy,
Is swept by grief,
Is blessed by the lonely traffic of art,
Is known by heart,
Is known by prayer,
Is lost and found,
Is always strange,
The path to your door.
The Porter's Gate - We Labor Unto Glory
We labour unto glory til heaven and earthy are one. Last week we reflected a little on how Jeremiah laboured unto glory - employing his freedom in the service of God’s commandments.
Jeremiah the Performance Artist - unknown
Today, we are invited to see him in the role of a performance artist. His heart burnt beneath the gaze of God - and his hands and heart were kingdom bound. But it was not always easy to ignite this flame of love amongst God’s people - especially in the dislocation and despair of exile.
Before the passage we heard read today, Jeremiah has been walking the streets wearing wooden yoke. He did so to embody - or perform in public - the reality of the situation God’s people were in.
It was not popular to suggest that the best thing to do was to submit to the situation - to live as normal life as possible. And by submitting to that, not only to escape destruction; but also to find themselves remade; finding hope in darkness as they trusted in God’s power and pity; living with the law of love on their hearts.
Playing to the Crowd - Sam Backhouse
In speaking truthfully, Jeremiah had alienated his audience. Hananiah on the other hand wanted to play to the crowd - this scene is staged in public with priests and people assembled. He told them what they wanted to hear - that the yoke of of Babylon would be broken; that the sacred vessels would be returned to the temple; that the exile of God’s people would also come to an end.
Wearily Jeremiah sighs, and says: Amen! May the Lord do so! He too longs for Jerusalem, but he knows that Hananiah is offering false comfort. What sounds like an affirmation is actually a challenge.
He’s very aware that true prophets are often voices of doom: he’s not playing to a stereotype, but reflecting the reality human beings often succumb not to the wideness of God’s mercy but the narrowness of their own minds - and that all suffer as a result.
Faithfulness to God meant being willing to forego popularity; but in setting out the truth of a situation, Jeremy offers to God's people freedom to reimagine the future.
Perhaps seasons of life which are most disruptive - when we don’t know when normal life will return - become times when we can pray that we use our freedom to imagine God’s future in our present.
The scholar Walter Brueggemann wrote: The prophet does not ask if the vision can be implemented, for questions of implementation are of no consequence until the vision can be imagined.
As we find Jesus, as we look upon his face, what future do we imagine? In dark hours, where do we find new hope? In periods of change, do we look for a return to normality - or do we labour unto glory til heaven and earth are one?
This way of imagining is neither complacency nor escapism: it is being present.
If Christ were seen walking the earth, would we recognise God’s beloved in the places the world still overlooks or amongst the people who’re still dismissed?
Archbishop Justin has been sharing some of his favourite images of Jesus created by artists and churches across the globe. He’s inviting us to do the same.
In seeing Jesus in this way, perhaps we find him afresh in unexpected places; in the lonely and the crowded, in the excluded and the range of voices at the table.
To look on these faces of Jesus, reveals the power and pity of God with us; and invites us to seek that peace which is the Spirit’s gift, breathing in us, expanding the limits of our minds with the wideness of God’s mercy.
This is challenging and might make us vulnerable; but it is also our strength. For as members of Christ’s body, our image, our likeness, our bodies, our voices are found in him; our age and our gender, our sexuality and ethnicity; and we are made welcome.
We belong to this land - Colin Jones
The aboriginal artist Colin Jones created this painting called we belong to this land. We do belong - in seasons of struggle and of hope. But to belong in this land is also to labour for the kingdom.
Water - Julian Merrow-Smith
Water is a gift of life; a cup of cold water a gift of welcome and belonging. It’s a gift that restores God’s image in us; but also a sign of our imaginations being restored too.
We pray as we open our doors to God’s world, that we might be known by our kindness towards strangers.
We pray for those who are lonely, excluded or on the margins: may we see them, love them as Christ and enable them to belong.
We pray that we might be revived by the Spirit: may we rejoice in our diversity, and hear their voices.
© Julie Gittoes 2020