In Sunday’s gospel reading, we hear the story of Nicodemus sneaking out at night to find Jesus and ask him some big questions. I’d love to start a ‘Nicodemus group’ at some point, as a safe place to ask ‘everything you ever wanted to know about God but were too afraid to ask’. Asking questions and wondering about what’s just beyond what we can understand is one of the big things that sets human beings apart from other bits of God’s creation. The theological Kark Rahner suggested that when God created humanity he placed within us, as part of our make-up, the desire to seek that which is just over the horizon: he made us such that we would want to search for him. Several centuries before, St Anselm had spoken of ‘faith seeking understanding’ – not that understanding replaces faith, but that the very nature of our faith is dynamic, questioning, growing, deepening, engaging all the time more deeply with the God we trust.
Questions are wonderful – in fact, they’re essential – but there are some bits of our faith and theology that are bigger than words can ever quite express. In his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus has a good go at putting the love of God into words in John 3.16 (God so loved the world that he sent his only beloved son….), but the truest expression of what those words hinted at can only really be seen in the action of Jesus himself – arms stretched wide on the cross, his silence then is the most eloquent way of saying, “You wanted to know how much I love you? This much.”
Knowing that they are loved is possibly the most fundamentally important thing that a human being needs in order flourish and become all that they were created to be. When Jesus was baptised, before he had done anything for which he was to become renowned, he heard the most amazing words of affirmation from God his heavenly Father:
“You are my son, my beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
And the wonderful thing is that those words were not a rewards for a job well done, they were the starting point for all that Jesus would go on to do. Those words rang in his ears as he went out into the desert to be tempted, and they rang in his ears throughout his three years of ministry, and they were still ringing in his ears as he journeyed to the cross. Before he was anything else, he was beloved.
Of course, he already knew that. Jesus was brought up in a loving home and he had first learned about the love of God through the love of a parent. That’s how most of us, if we are lucky, learn about what love is like. Knowing that we are loved needs to be the first thing we ever know. We need to know it before we are old enough to articulate it. And we need to know it if we, in turn, going to offer that same gift of unconditional love to another person.
To tell someone you love them and mean it is the most profound of gifts. It is to give them what they need to face whatever life can throw at them.
You, too, are beloved, and your love is your greatest power. Use it well, use it generously.
When we forget to switch off a light as we leave a room, sometimes it’s simply because the light itself seems so harmless. The damage being done to the environment isn’t being done right there in my living room, it was done somewhere far away as the coal burned to generate the electricity, and then further way still as that coal was mined from the ground. We’re often better with our care for the environment when we can see the cause and effect together, but with so many of the problems of climate change and energy resources for the planet, the product that we have to treat more carefully is far removed from the process that brought it to us, and the environmental cost of producing it.
Someone said to me a while ago that if we really do end up, through economic and environmental disaster, with a new Dark Age, this time there will be no coming back from it. If we reach a point when our post-industrial-revolution life is no longer possible (rather than just no longer sustainable) then there can be no easy industrial revolution to enable us to begin again, because all the coal that was easily reachable by pre-industrial means has already been mined. The question was put to me, “Do we yet understand enough about how to generate power, and live more simply, so that we could begin again, but this time not destroy the earth in the process?”
Turning off a few lights may not, in itself, make the difference between the planet healing or the planet dying, but it’s a really good start, and more than that, it’s a way for us to get realistic about the connectedness between the lifestyle comforts that we enjoy and the cost of having them. It may make us value those comforts more, but also value more the raw materials involved in producing them and the planet that provided it all.
We got creative in collective worship at school today. Our theme this half term is ‘aspiring’ and today we looked at Ephesians 2.10 (God has created us to do good things). We explored it by making things out of salt dough – one person made a thumb pot, another made a person, someone else made a pair of angel wings, and another made a round ball to be world in God’s hands. We thought about how we are all works in progress, still being created by God, still able to be shaped and changed for good. Were our models great works of art? Not really! But were they about celebrating our own creativity, and ourselves as fruits of God’s creation? Absolutely!
A colleague of mine used to embellish well known gospel stories in the most wonderful way. I particularly enjoyed his version of the parable of the sower, which he used in our children’s service, acting it out by carrying the children around in a laundry basket and ‘planting’ them on various appropriately coloured mats for the path, the stony ground, the weeds and the good soil.
Unable to bear the idea that the parable gave three ways to fail and only one to succeed, he continued the story after the gospel left off: “And the birds that had gobbled up the seed from the path flew away to another field a long way away, and there they pooed out the seed and it fell into the good soil there and grew and grew and produced a wonderful crop!”
We’ve all seen or at least heard of the magnificent tomato plants that grow at sewage plants – tomato seeds, like many seeds, are not digested, and can happily pass all the way through a person (or a bird) and grow wherever they eventually reach fertile soil.
In the same way as the farmer who scattered the seed on the path may never see the plants that grew from it, so also we may sow our kindnesses, our ideas, our encouragement, and not see the fruit of it, because that fruit grows and ripens far away. As you plant your seeds, reflect on all those who invested in you and perhaps never got a chance to see the fruit of their time, energy and commitment to you, but who gave it anyway. Give thanks for them.