Remembering those who heard the call.
Here is Fr David’s homily from Remembrance Sunday morning (11/11/18) at St Augustine’s Church, Rugeley:
Today’s passages from the Bible are from the ancient story of Jonah, and from Mark’s Gospel. They are both about hearing and acting on the call of God to ordinary people. Jonah who ignores the call from God the first time, gets a second chance. When Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James and John, their response is instant.
Today we are called to remember those who heard and responded to the call to arms in times of war, and especially this year, the centenary of the end of WWI.
We remember the sacrifice. We remember those who thought the war would be over in 6 months, that it would be an adventure of excitement and daring.
We remember those whose realisation, as they waited in freezing temperatures in mud-filled trenches, must have grown that this was no quick adventure and thrill.
We remember those who, in the face of fear and desolation formed friendships on the field of battle that were deeper than anything that they’d known before, and we remember the grief of those who lost comrades in an instant.
We remember the bravery of ordinary people, no different from you or me, called upon to face down artillery and gun fire. We remember those who lived with the anguish of being called upon to kill and take life.
We are called to give thanks that they served, uncertain of whether we would be here today if they hadn’t obeyed the call to go to the battlefield.
Many of us shudder at the thought of such a call coming to our generation, or indeed to generations to come, when God forbid, our children or grandchildren might be called to serve in some military conflict.
But as we all realise, today’s conflicts are played out in very different ways – in cyberspace, and in response to extremism of many types.
Our dread grows with every inflammatory, manipulative statement from leaders emboldened by so called popularist causes that accentuate the differences between races, cultures and religions, ignoring the fact that all humanity shares so much more in terms of hopes, fears and dreams for peace and fairness than keeps us apart.
We are learning again that it is far easier to stoke fear than bonds of unity, common purpose and love.
So, today we remember those who put their trust in leaders who called them to armed service for their country.
But friends, there is another call.
It is a call extended to every person of every nation, every culture, every tribe, every religion. To every person in every generation regardless of who they are, whatever their background.
It is a call that reaches out to the successful and prosperous as well as to those who feel forgotten and left behind. To those who the world deems to be failures and weak, to those whose esteem is crushed, to those crippled by anxiety, to the broken as well as to the aspiring, as well as to the bitter and angry, to the migrant, to victims of any sort of abuse, violence, war or natural disaster. I hope you’re getting to the idea – this call is to everybody.
It is not a call shouted from the roof tops or from social media platforms. It is most often a call whispered into the heart of every person. It is the call to LOVE.
It is the call that says “you matter”. It is the call not to believe the story the world tells you about yourself. It is the call from LOVE (God is love) to you saying that you are loved, deeply. You are known.
It is the call from God to follow His way, made known to us in the person of Jesus Christ. In a few weeks’ time we celebrate the birth of God in the flesh. Love expressed in the person of Christ, who demonstrated the depth of love by laying down his life for you and me, to break down the wall of separation between us and God and between people.
It is a double call. It is the call of love to each person and it is the call for each of us to love – to reach out, to follow in the way of Love demonstrated by God in Christ.
When heard, this call to LOVE resonates, stirs and shakes so powerfully that it can move mountains and transform lives. Where this double call is heard, received and acted upon, there is the ‘Kingdom of God’, right there. It might be expressed in little ways, in the shop, in the pub, in the school, at home. It might be expressed on the big stages of national and global life.
The question for each of us today, as we remember the sacrifice of soldiers, as we think about the call to serve, is, will we hear the call to follow in the way of LOVE?
What lies at the heart of everything we do and everything we are in the Team Ministry is the love of God supremely expressed in Jesus Christ who is ‘God with us’, Immanuel. God in the flesh. Love in human form.
However imperfectly we might manage to follow in his way, our best intention is to reflect that love in what we do and say. All life becomes a response to God and his ‘amazing grace’.
Worship is a major part of our living response to God. Something deep within us resonates at a spiritual level with the source of all light, love and peace, and we bow in acknowledgement and thankfulness. It comes out as prayer, singing, listening and wonderment at the fact that we are all connected, and we are all image bearers of the God who creates and sustains us (Genesis 1:26-27).
Besides this, our practical work with people in our community, whether its visiting a house-bound person, welcoming a stranger, taking part in an 'Open the Book' visit to one of our schools, is all part of our worshipful response to God.
Mark 4:35-end. Jesus Calms the storm
The picture of the small boat out on the open water in the middle of a storm is a powerful image. A picture of vulnerability. A picture of the fragility of life.
We often think of life having storms that come our way. In the past we have thought about other pictures that describe life – Life lived as though we are skating across the surface of a frozen lake. Sometimes the ice breaks and we fall through the ice into dark and unfamiliar places.
Well another way we can see things is as encountering storms in our lives, when we are buffeted about by strong winds and lashing rain, and if you’re in a boat, by big frightening waves that threaten to sink us.
In storms we can lose our bearings, become disorientated and lost. Well I have to tell you that this week I have been supporting some individuals encountering a great storm, and in supporting them, realised afresh that there are many, many people in our community going through the same terrible storm.
On July 3rd here are St Augustine’s we will be having the funeral of Joanne Wood. Joanne was one of three people to take their own lives in the last few weeks in Rugeley.
Joanne was 52 and she was an activist in our community. She was a talented artist. She supported the Heads Together charity that Prince Harry set up to support people with poor mental health. But through it all she struggled with bouts of deep depression. Joanne's family are keen to speak out about the issue of mental health.
These events should not pass without taking some kind of action. After all, we all live on the spectrum of mental health and we move along it in either direction all the time.
I have spent a lot of time over the past months networking, meeting people, making connections with people in the mental health sector. As Carla Thompson, a local Counsellor, told the PCC last year, there is a yawning gap in services in Rugeley.
The same question the disciples asked in the boat on Galilee in the midst of the storm, could be posed to those with power to make funding decisions about mental health services:
“Do you not care that we are perishing?”
But before we put the burden of responsibility on someone else’s shoulders
Friends, I need to remind us of two things:
As Christians we believe that:
1. Human beings are created to be together. We are creatures made for relationships, for living together in communities.
2. When you and I pray the Lord’s Prayer we say “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In so doing we are saying that we want to be part of God’s restoration of the world and all creation.
So, we cannot be silent, or worse still, standing on the side lines, shaking our heads and saying ‘how terrible’ and not doing anything.
As you know we have made a start in the churches of the parish, playing our part in supporting people suffering with anxiety and depression. We have the counselling service here every Tuesday morning and we have the new recovery befriending group which runs on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of each month.
Even when the NHS provides every kind of support service under the sun, it will never be able to provide the basic support that coaxes people out of isolation and wells of despair, back into friendship, relationships, that rewires the fundamental connectivity with others that makes each of us fully human, as God intends.
It would be irresponsible not to recognise and acknowledge that for those with more severe mental illness, it will be impossible to do this unless and until their symptoms are controlled through treatment administered by the clinical experts.
For those with less severe conditions, extending the invitation to people to a place that offers genuine and warm friendship, a place that makes no demands; affirming their unique value, gifts and talents; giving them the opportunity express themselves, is something that every church can be offering.
It is these things that transforms lives. The systems and services in the NHS are vital elements of keeping us all going. They deserve our full support and thankfulness. But those systems and services will never be able to transform a person’s life at the deepest levels. We all have a part to play. No one can sit back and say that this is someone else’s job. “Nothing to do with me”. It is the informal, open, generous and inclusive offer of friendship, the invitation to belong that brings transformation because it is based on love.
Part of the storm that people suffering with poor mental health experience is stigma. Stigma is driven by 3 things:
Silence. Ignorance. Fear.
The church is a key player in fighting stigma surrounding poor mental health. Through our efforts with the counselling service and the befriending group we are helping to combat that stigma, but there is much more to do. With our call to pray ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…’ we reach out to those in the storm of poor mental health.
We hear their question to us:
“Do you not care that we are perishing?”
The church has a platform and on to our platform we will invite any and all people who are committed to breaking silence about mental health;
All who are working to raise awareness and combat the fear and ignorance that surrounds the issues;
We will invite people with lived experience of poor mental health on to our platform to have a voice, to share their stories, but most of all to share their humanity with us.
When the disciples woke Jesus who was asleep in the stern of the boat being tossed about in the storm, Jesus asked them
“Why are you afraid?” “Have you no faith?”
In all our networking and all our setting up of groups and our volunteering, we must never lose sight of our motivation. It is our love for God and for our neighbour and His unconditional love for them.
If we are driven by the love of God, we never need be afraid.
If we work with the grain of God’s love we will never grow weary.
We will be blessed by and through those we are reaching out to.
We will rediscover our common bond of love and suffering with all people, and we will live in the way of the cross, which is the way of suffering and resurrection.
We cannot insulate ourselves from the storms that our neighbours experience. If we try to do that we diminish ourselves and we forget that we are followers of a wounded healer.
Loving, compassionate and wounded Saviour, Jesus Christ, our Lord, strengthen all those in your church to reach out in love and compassion to our neighbours. Through prayer and practical help as we are able.
Create in each of us the desire to build bridges of friendship with the people in our neighbourhood.
Bless the work of the churches in this parish to befriend and support those with poor mental health.
Bring healing and comfort to all who are suffering in the isolation of depression, anxiety and fearfulness. Bless all those who care for loved ones who suffer in this way, and bless all who mourn for those who have taken their own lives because of the darkness of despair.
May your Kingdom of light, peace, joy and love come and may your will be done in Rugeley as it is in heaven. Amen.
What happens to the hero inside us?
I was reading a biography of singer-song writer Leonard Cohen recently. He has always been a figure that aroused great curiosity in my mind. Through my teenage years in the 1970s and as a young adult, Cohen’s songs, never exactly ‘catchy’ tune-wise, his lyrics and simple style, were the focus for praise and awe among people of my generation.
Clearly a deep person who crafted words from somewhere way down deep inside, Cohen captured the essence of the human joy and pain of love and human intimacy, and the rawness of disappointment and brokenness.
Then in more recent years in my own experience of life, as events have unfolded, some wonderful and others really difficult, I’ve grown into a place that takes suffering and life’s setbacks seriously, seeking to make sense of things that cannot be neatly pigeon-holed. Paradox has become a familiar feature of this new landscape. So, it is not surprising that Cohen’s words and thoughts have become more fascinating, resonating with many of the insights of spiritual writers like Richard Rohr and others whose deeply Christian approach is informed by many valuable insights from human psychology.
I cannot tell you how many men (and some women!) I have spoken to who are in the second half of their lives and are wondering how to make sense of life which has often been informed by ideas about God that are frankly OK for the Sunday School room, but definitely not for adults who have faced setbacks, losses and shocks.
These ‘defeats’ are acknowledged beautifully in a quote in Cohen’s biography. The words are of a friend of his, a Buddhist monk he calls Roshi: “The older you get, the lonelier you become, and the deeper the love you need [now there is a quote worth spending sometime meditating on to start with!]. Which means that this hero you are trying to maintain as the central figure in the drama of your life – this hero is not enjoying the life of a hero. You’re exerting a tremendous maintenance to keep this heroic stance available to you, and the hero is suffering defeat after defeat. And they are not heroic defeats: they are ignoble defeats. Finally, one day you say, ‘Let him die - I can’t invest any more in this heroic position. From there you just live your life as if it’s real….’”
Letting go, allowing things within the familiar landscapes of our lives to die is a central theme in Christianity. Acceptance is key, not passively but intentionally, this is a turning that has the aim of clearing the decks, getting out of the way of ourselves, so that our true self can flourish; the self that is connected to the source of all love, light, peace and grace (aka “God’).
By Fr David Evans, Team Rector, Brereton, Rugeley and Armitage Team Ministry
PS. If you are a bloke who wants to explore this a bit more, Adam's Return is the group for you. Follow the link.