‘You are my light, Lord’

Flower 2

A personal meditation on this morning’s service by John Dempster

I remember a few years ago going with some friends for a picnic in the hills just behind Garve. In a burn we walked beside, I saw a single flower which had somehow managed to take root among some rocks in the middle of the stream. It stretched its precarious loveliness towards the sun. But seeing it prompted sadness rather than delight, for I knew that autumn would come and the burn would again run in flood.

This week, we’re reflecting on the start of the Great War a century ago when a flood of inhumanity swept across Europe. And today we are seeing the waters of destruction rising high in Gaza, Libya, Iraq, Syria, the Ukraine, and the flower of our hope seems vulnerable.

This morning, Duncan preached from Matthew 14:13-21 on the story (recorded in all four gospels) of Jesus feeding a crowd of well over 5000 people. He had two main points. The first was the context of the story. Just before it took place, Jesus had heard of the tragic death of his cousin and fore-runner John the Baptist who had been executed on the whim of a cruel king. Jesus, grieving and vulnerable looked for a place to be alone, but the crowd found him. And, said Duncan, despite his vulnerability, Jesus taught them, and ensured all were fed.

We often assume that we’re most useful to God and to others when we’re feeling on top of our game, when all is going well. But does the story of Jesus’ miracle remind us that we can be at our most fruitful when we feel at our most vulnerable, when it seems the rising tide is threatening us and we have only God (whose presence we may not for the moment feel) to depend on. Duncan quoted St Paul’s words ‘When I am weak, then I am strong.’ (2 Corinthians 12:10)

Duncan showed us an image to illustrate his second point – it showed a man on a bicycle, doing wheelies by the look of it on the highest point of the iconic Finnieston crane in Glasgow. He is Danny MacAskill, a man, Duncan says who is forever seeking to dream of things which seem undoable – and then doing them.(See here for the Finnieston crane video.)

Duncan pointed out that Jesus’ challenge is to imagine a different world, the world in which his kingdom breaks through, where there is no scarcity, only abundance. As Isaiah puts it ‘Come all you who are thirsty, come to the waters and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost.’  (55:1) We look around us, Duncan said, and see overwhelming need in our community and world. ‘Can we see the possibilities in the face of these needs? Can we imagine ourselves being God’s answer to these needs? Do we want to live in a church which looks inward, or an outward looking church, a church where there is not scarcity, but abundance?’

Duncan urged us eloquently to obey Jesus’ command. To offer to him our resources of money, possessions, time, energy, gifts, ability and watch an abundance coming at his hand from what we have offered. Jesus, said Duncan, presents us with a ‘Daily Dare’ – ‘I dare you to take me at my word.’

‘When we offer our lives in service,’ Duncan concluded, ‘there will always be more than enough. May God give us grace to see the possibilities, to dare for God, to see God’s abundance even in wilderness times.’

Earlier Duncan had told us about knowing that this was the passage he was going to speak on today, and wondering however he would get something new from it. Now he could have dug out some old sermon notes, but he would never have done this. Instead he believed there was more to encounter in the story than he had previously known or remembered. He scratched the surface, and glory shone through. What Duncan did in his life, we can do in ours.

For each of us must process that challenge in the context of our own lives. When initially anything seems impossible we must not immediately give up, but ask our Father to show us how it could be achieved. For the kingdom of God, though it has not yet fully come, is always present, and breaks through when you scratch the surface, and breaks through in our lives. In the kingdom, they do things differently. But we are children of the kingdom.

There is so much hope then. But how do we live in hope when it seems that the waters are rising? This morning we lit a candle, and gave thanks at the baptism of Eva Grace Macleod – another small light born into the world, a sign on God’s continued blessing, and there are many lights of grace if our eyes are open.

Tomorrow, 100 years after the Great War began, the night when the lights went out across Europe, a candle will be lit at a service at the Old High Church in Inverness, and carefully carried to a second service at the Cathedral where it will be perpetually lit until the centenary of the coming of peace in 1918. Tomorrow night at a service in Westminster Abbey, the lights will be extinguished one by one until a solitary flame remains. The point is that no matter how threatened we are, no matter how in distress, no matter how vulnerable God gives us a light of hope. ‘Your grace is enough,’ we sang, this morning

Duncan spoke about Jesus’ distress at the death of John the Baptist, and in our suffering world we wonder if God feels our pain. In yesterday’s Times Ian Bradley of St Andrews University wrote about the struggle people had in the catalysm of war and holocaust in the 20th century to continue to believe in the goodness of God. Many could only square faith in God and the reality before their eyes by concluding that God suffers in our suffering, that God does not leave us to endure alone, but is in our pain with us.

Much ink has been spilled by theologians over two millennia debating whether or not the fact that God is unchanging means that God does not experience what we endure. But it seems to me that a God who shares with us through the Spirit must suffer as we suffer, must have suffered with Christ as Christ suffered on the cross. So whatever rising tide threatens our complacency, I believe God is with us, God shares our pain, God is our solid rock in the torrent of uncertainty, God the giver of all secondary lights is the Light in whom we have hope, the Light which though all else is dark will never be extinguished until the day when the kingdom fully comes and there will be no more darkness because God will be everything, and in everything.

Whatever we face this week – and we do not trivialise or minimise our pain, or the degree of perplexity of the problems facing the world – but whatever we face let us not turn away in despair, but let’s offer what we have to God, and scratch the surface, and see the light shining through.  And may we reach out in all our precarious loveliness toward the Sun.

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