Sub Dean - Revd Canon Michael Rawson
Over the past few years we have got used to phrases like ‘Run, Hide, Tell’ and those rather annoying recordings on trains urging us to ‘See it, Say it, Sorted.’
I wonder how many of us have been told to ‘Drop, cover and hold on’? You certainly would if you lived in San Francisco, where each year in October everyone joins in the Great Shake Out earthquake drill. Ever since the earthquake of 1906, which destroyed 80% of buildings in the city and killed 7,500 people, geologists and residents alike have been expecting ‘The Big One’. Contingency plans in the city and surrounding districts are well advanced and schools, churches, businesses, hospitals and householders … all know what they need to do if the unimaginable happens. Everyone is as ready as they can be in expectation of being told to ‘Drop, cover and hold on’!
For most of us, waiting in an impatient world is not an easy thing to do. Perhaps throughout history people have always felt that they live in challenging and uncertain times but we certainly seem to be living in such a period ourselves. It’s a natural response in such times to increase the level of our activity; to ensure we’re doing something, anything. It gives us a feeling of purpose and direction in a world seemingly lacking both. For us in the church it is easy to be sucked into this frenetic whirlwind and to justify ourselves by our deeds. We can often respond to the comment, ‘There’s not much going on at the Cathedral’ by increasing our activities and filling our diaries, somehow thinking that this is going to hasten the coming of God’s kingdom.
Some of you may remember the Irish comedian, Dave Allen, who used to have a television show in the 1970s and 80s. He would sit drinking whisky and smoking and telling a steady stream of irreverent jokes, gently poking fun at the church and politicians. He once told a joke about the end of the world. The early warning radars of the Vatican had picked up the signal that Christ's second coming was imminent. Chaos ensued and there were cardinals running around in all directions. Eventually the Pope was informed of Christ's impending arrival. "What are we to do, Holy Father?" the perplexed Cardinals asked. "Quick, look busy!" came the reply.
There's more than a grain of truth in it, for if the frenetic activity the church is so often involved in is not directed towards the coming of Christ and the establishment of God’s kingdom, then what's the point in doing it in the first place? Maybe that’s how we should measure all our activities as a church.
If you are feeling oppressed by your diary and your to-do-list and want to shout out, ‘stop the world, I want to get off’ then there is music to our ears in Jesus words, ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’ This is a gift from God to each of us and is not something that is dependent on our own efforts and activities.
The gospel reading we’ve just heard is challenging, but the tone is much more about what God does for us rather than what we are to do towards God. What an invitation to cherish, that God gives us this treasure as pure gift. We are called to be ready for the return of the master but Jesus goes so much further when he says ‘Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.’ God is the master and it is us that he serves. Can we even begin to imagine that scene of God putting on an apron and caring for us, with tender hospitality? You might like to dwell on those words during the coming week and imagine how you feel about God serving you.
God arrives unexpectedly and never how we might imagine. God comes to us in the people and situations that we least expect. Where does this tender image of God serving us fit with our programmes and diaries? Where is the sabbath rest promised to Abraham and Sarah and to each of us, where our homeland is heaven? When we meet with our Creator and Redeemer will it be a grace-filled event filling us with light, peace and hope? Or will it be terror-inducing panic, causing us to ‘drop, cover and hold on’. How will we feel when God comes knocking at the door of our hearts during this coming week?
In last week’s gospel reading we explored the themes of greed and being possessed by our possessions. Those words are as relevant to living in 21st century Britain as they were in 1st century Palestine. It wasn’t the easiest gospel to listen to and it ended with a challenge for us to be rich towards God. This week’s readings are so much more about God’s richness towards us.
In our readings this morning from the book of Genesis and the letter to the Hebrews we are pointed towards the examples of faithfulness embodied in Abraham and Sarah who set out on their journey, not knowing where they were being led but clearly ready for the unexpected call of God, for they believed God’s promises. Rather than looking backwards to the past, to the so-called good days, they looked forward in faith and hope to all that God had in store for them and had prepared for them in the city to come, where their descendants would be ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.’ God said to Abraham, ‘Do not be afraid… I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’ They had faith, hope and trust in equal measures and looked forward to the homeland they were promised. It is a place where we, like they, belong. A place to call home and to find rest and to be served by God.
In times of light and darkness, in joy and uncertainty we all need to hear those words, ‘Do not be afraid.’ It feels counter-cultural, but how are we to make space for seeking God in our busy lives, where we can enjoy a sabbath rest and be cared for and cherished by God? It is about giving ourselves the chance to see where the treasure truly lies in our hearts and lives. What is true for us as individual Christians is also true for us as a Church, as a Cathedral. Just how do we focus our activity on God’s kingdom and being centred on Christ? How prepared are we to expectantly look out for God in our lives this week and to greet God with joy?