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the simplicity of a child

The scene that we heard about in the reading earlier has been repeated many times throughout history. There are many instances which can be seen online of children approaching great teachers, some getting through the security, others being pushed away. But in today’s Gospel, the greatest teacher of them all tells his followers that they mustn’t get between the children and him.

Children coming to great teachers and holy men is nothing new, it is a practice from antiquity. In Genesis 48.13-20 we read of Joseph bringing Ephraim and Manasseh to Israel to be blessed.

Jesus didn’t just bless the children. He used them to illustrate his message as he is recorded to have done in many other places in the Gospels of St Luke and St Matthew as well as the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas. Jesus said,

“Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.”

The simplicity of a child. Quite a challenge to those of us who have passed into adulthood, have grown up, and had to leave our childish behaviour and thinking behind to survive in the world in which we live.

As I was reading this passage this morning, re-reading it, time and again, to see what I should say tonight, I realised something quite special. When a person becomes a member of the Church, when a person accepts Jesus as the Lord and Saviour of mankind, that person becomes a child of God. We are all children. Thinking in another way, Jesus lived on earth as a man around two-thousand years ago. By anyone’s reckoning those of us living today are like children compared to Him.

So what do we do now? What is this passage saying to us gathered here today in our time and place?

To me, it is a reinforcement of the central message of Jesus – a message of a God of Love. A God who does not push people away, but welcomes them in and blesses them. As members of the Church, it is our duty to share this Love to all that we meet.

pope-john-xxiii-during-ecumenical-council

John XXIII, Bishop of Rome 1958–1963.

Tomorrow, many people will be walking in the Belfast Pride Parade as it winds its way around the city centre and back to Custom House Square for a huge party. Some of us from Faith and Pride will be standing as a witness of God’s Love for all of his children just outside the gates of St George’s in High Street, just as we did at last year’s parade. Everyone on that parade and everyone in the whole world is worthy of our respect and our love, for as Blessed John XXIII – whose imminent canonisation was announced today – said,

“We were all made in God’s image, and thus, we are all Godly alike.”

Surely we must all work within the Church to ensure that all are welcomed, not pushed away. We’re all children, and like little children we will be welcomed, and blessed by Jesus, when we approach Him now, and when we reach the end of our life, we can safely ask Him,

“Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.”

This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Friday 5 July 2013.

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Can we remember our lines?

 

It’s always nice to get an explanation, especially when something is confusing. The Parables of Jesus are usually presented at face value with the responsibility for making sense of them resting with the hearer. In Matthew 13 it’s the only example we have of anyone asking for an explanation, and here Jesus obliges.

The explanation given reads like an ancient play – a Middle Eastern melodrama. The scene is set – the world is the stage, and on this stage are the righteous, the evil doers, devils and angels, and the burning of all the causes of sin and those who perpetuate them. Sounds great! Except………….it’s supposed to happen at the end of the age.

What about now!?

What about all the suffering that people are enduring now? And what about those who are inflicting that suffering on others? People can be so cruel, even unintentionally so.

Maybe the best we can say is that stuff will be dealt with…eventuality….at the final curtain….but until then we have to live with the reality, believing that it hasn’t gone unnoticed.

A recent report about homophobia in Northern Ireland doesn’t make very positive reading. During this Pride week homophobia, or at best distrust and suspicion, will be to the fore in many people’s minds as they watch the news reports of the events here. The reality for LGBT people in Northern Ireland is unfortunately a grim reality, and there’s no getting round that. So what should the response be from people of Faith?

I’d hope that for many Christian people they would make a ‘Jesus approach’ rather than have a ‘Church reaction’. Jesus was very good at meeting people, and accepting them, way before he asked them anything about their background – and certainly I don’t ever remember him asking people about their sex lives! ‘Zacheus…..come down from that tree, let me go with you to your house for something to eat, and while we’re there you can walk me through your bedroom gymnastics.’ I don’t think that was quite his style.

I love Gandhi, because for me Gandhi embodies the Spirit of Christ – he’s a modern reflection of Jesus in a loin cloth. In a speech to the Suppressed Classes Conference in 1921 he said,

I do want to attain Moksha (salvation, merging with God). I do not want to be reborn. But if I have to be reborn, I should be born an Untouchable so that I may share their sorrows, sufferings and the affronts levelled at them in order that I may endeavour to free myself and them from that miserable condition.

While we have faith that God will sort things out eventually, we still have a responsibility to do whatever we can to end the injustices and prejudices that pervade our society, and, sadly, infect our churches. And that will take time. But more than that, it will take courage. Courage from the LGBT community to restrain from the easy, aggressive retaliation that seems such a natural, justified response – and that’s not easy to do because it requires a level of graciousness beyond that which is expected from the average person. But I suppose it’s Grace that takes us beyond average. It also needs courage from the Churches – courage to stand up for, and stand with, LGBT people, no matter what the consequences. And believe me, there will be consequences. No-one likes change, especially those for whom issues are ‘settled’ and roles precisely defined. The opinion of the majority is more often than not a source of comfort, but as Irene Peters has said,

Anyone who thinks there is safety in numbers obviously hasn’t looked at the stock market pages recently.

And so the scene is set. The house lights go down and the stage lights come up. The actors are ready and standing on their marks. The drama is about to commence. Can we remember our lines!? Are we ready to each play our part to the utmost of our abilities!? And may God give each of us the Grace, that where we are wrong, may we be willing to change, and where we are right, may we be easy to live with.

Amen.

This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Tuesday 31 July 2012.

 

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