Thoughts towards a homily on Luke 14.25-33

Luke 14.25-33 is another one of those horrible gospel readings where you read it and think, ‘Really? Jesus said this?’  And then you realise you’re supposed to be preaching on it – in other words, making sense of it not just for yourself but for other people too.   So you’re not just talking about hating your own parents, you’re talking about other people hating theirs, and that’s just another whole lot of tricky.
I realised something as I read this through: the way it’s phrased makes it sound like a genuine choice: this thing or that thing, parent or God, as if the two were in any way equivalent to one another. Perhaps our metaphorical use of ‘Father’ for God compounds this immediate (and unhelpful) sense of the possibility of being equivocal.  But what if instead we took seriously the reality that God is not equivalent to anyone or anything?  That we’re not, after all, being asked to make a choice between two equivalent external sources of authority, validation or love, but rather to take on board who God is and what that means for who we are?
God is, after all, the creator of the universe. That’s everything. Stars, planets, black holes, and all the immensity of stuff in between that we don’t even have a proper name for. All of time and space (and spacetime). Huge things and tiny things, and things that don’t even properly exist in any way that physics can explain.  Animals, vegetables, minerals. The whole lot. Me, you, my parents, your parents, life itself.
If we believe that – really believe it – then the universe only makes sense if we are aware of everything being held in God’s hands.
Two brief diversions:
1. My children used to often ask whether, if God was everywhere, ‘is God in this dirty coffee cup?’ ‘Is God in this teatowel?’ ‘Is God in the mud on the bottom of my trainers that I just trod into the nice clean carpet?’  Exasperated, I eventually answered, ‘It’s the other way round. God is not in those things, those things are in God, because the whole universe is in God. Happy now?’ And remarkably, they were. At least until the next question.
2. If you’ve not read Mother Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love, you should. The most famous of her visions is of a tiny round thing the size of a hazelnut, which the holy Mother holds in the palm of her hands. She wonders what it is, the answer comes to her, ‘It is everything that is made.’ She wonders how it continues to exist, for it is so small it might just disappear. Again, an answer comes to her, ‘It exists, and will continue to exist, because God loves it.’
So, in our mental image of God as creator of the universe, holding everything that he has made in his hands, that includes us – you, me, our mothers and fathers, the people we love and the people we hate, and the people we don’t even know and will never meet. As well as the stars and planets and black holes.
God is the ultimate context for all our other relationships – with people, and with creation. And our relationships with one another and with the world can only really make sense that way round, in the bigger context of God. It simply doesn’t work if we try to make anyone other the creator of the universe our “ultimate context” – if another creature (a parent, a lover etc) is given the status of Ultimate Context, that’s way too much pressure to put on them – nobody is big enough to be someone’s whole world, no matter how romantic or loyal that may sound. Only God is big enough, flexible enough, strong enough to be our first call, the ground of our being, our all in all. And if we try to make another human being into those things, even if they could hold us in their hands, they simply cannot hold all our other relationships as well, and they definitely cannot also hold all of God in their hands.  Our relationships with others can be held in the hands of God, but it’s very hard indeed to ask someone else to hold our relationship with God in their hands. It’s just the wrong way round.
In ministry I’ve always been grateful for an image of the hands of God being huge, and careful and gentle and strong and utterly reliable – and placed just under mine, ready to catch all the things that slip through my fingers. There are people who rely on me, for whom I am their first port of call. But I am not their last port of call, because of those big generous hands of God just below mine.
For me, there is something of this in the gospel this week.  And this may be my clumsy way of putting what Rowan Williams puts much more deftly in his book, Being Disciples:

“Being with the Master is recognising that who you are is finally going to be determined by your relationship with him. If other relationships seek to define you in a way that distorts this basic relationship, you lose something vital for your own well-being and that of all around you too. You lose the possibility of a love more than you could have planned or realised for yourself. Love God less and you love everyone and everything less.”

To love God is to realise that you are held in the hands of God, along with everyone and everything else. That tends to put things in perspective.

Hymn about the Transfiguration

I was asked to write a hymn for a church dedicated to the Transfiguration, as there aren’t many hymns written for that particular feast day.  Here’s a first draft – as always, it’s not final, and comments, criticisms and suggestions are very welcome!  The tune they asked for was Ellacombe (‘The day of resurrection’).

All glory be to Jesus,
all joyful songs of praise!
Ascend, with him, the mountain,
And on him fix your gaze.
For Christ reveals his glory:
The Son’s bright shining rays;
The veil, worn thin, breaks open
to set the soul ablaze.

On earth, a glimpse of heaven,
in darkness, dazzling light;
From lowly plain and valley,
to holy mountain’s height.
Now all the world’s divisions
in Jesus may unite:
An ordinary moment
is blessed with God’s delight.

The light of light eternal
to faithful eyes is shown,
The mystery of the Godhead
miraculously known.
The seeds of Jesus’ passion
in glory once were sown,
so fruits of resurrection
could out of death be grown.

The words of affirmation,
of challenge and command,
To listen, learn, and follow
in all that God has planned.
May graceful transformation
by God’s almighty hand,
empower us now for service
in this and every land.

The Kingdom of heaven is like this: a chocolatier created a box of chocolates…

A random thought on Luke 14.7-14

And Jesus told this parable. The Kingdom of Heaven is like this: A chocolatier invented a variety of chocolates, and made them in his factory, and he called the collection, “Roses”.  He invited his friends round to try his creation, and offered them the box of delicious treats – but they did not know that he himself was the chocolatier. His friends all chose the strawberry cremes and the purple ones with the caramel and the hazelnut, and when they were gone they chose the tangy orange creme and the golden barrel.

Eventually all that was left were the plain country fudges. The man kept offering the box of chocolates to his friends, but they declined, saying, “Country fudge is not interesting, I don’t know why they bother putting them in the box, because nobody likes them.”

So the man said goodbye to his friends, for it was late.  He then gathered up the country fudges that had been rejected, and put them in a special bowl reserved for only the finest chocolates, and poured himself a glass of Bailey’s, and settled down on his comfy sofa to read his favourite book.  And as he read, he ate every single country fudge, and found them all to be delightful – and he would know, because, after all, he was the master chocolatier.

For surely the first shall be last, and the last shall be first. But it is when the first and last come together in a box that the true breadth and depth and height of the Kingdom of God and Love of God are made known – for in transit to the eternal feast the contents may settle, and one never knows when the box is opened on the latter day which of the many and delicious flavours will have risen to the top.


Love Life Live Lent Week 2 – Thursday – awe and wonder!

Today’s action was probably my favourite so far.

The 1960s Roman Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner, theorised that human beings are created with an innate longing for that which is just beyond our reach – we strive (intellectually and spiritually) for something that is always just over the horizon, so that our existence is a constantly dynamic journey towards what turns out to be God – the ultimate ‘beyond the horizon’ and yet the creator who made us with the very yearning that makes us seek him….

Apologies to those who know far more about Rahner than I do for that rather brief generalisation. It’s rather hard to read Rahner, but at its simplest his God-centred anthropology and his view of life as a continuous journey rings true to many people.

Today’s action in Love Life Live Lent invites us to embrace that innate longing, to follow that desire for more understanding and for more questions.  It invites us to become more child-like, opening our eyes to see the universe afresh, it’s vastness, complexity, and beauty, and to expand our knowledge, our experience, or just our capacity to stop and stare at something amazing.

I did today’s action together with Holly, who is preparing for confirmation, and Daniel, my ever-curious son.  We looked at the very wonderful website to find out what the biggest and smallest things in the universe really are. We discovered some units of measurement that we didn’t even know existed, and we saw numbers with too many zeros to count (hence needed new units of measurement!). We learned why no matter how big a telescope we build, we’ll never be able to perceive the whole universe. And we contemplated the idea of a Planck Length – the smallest thing that makes any physical sense. We marvelled at both how big and how small we are, somewhere in the middle, as human beings.

Later I read Psalm 8 and was awed all over again.

I remember writing an essay in my finals Old Testament exam which asked about the relationship between maternal imagery for God and the development of monotheism. The best answer I could come up with then or now is that when you really need to affirm the idea that there is only one God and that God not only cares for you and your own nation, but created the entire universe in all its splendour and majesty and vastness, you also need to affirm that that same God is not so big and so mighty that she can’t also love you like a mother. It so happens that the Creator-God imagery brings both sides of this together.

And yes, when I think of that it does make me stop and think and wonder…