It’s a time of transitions.  I start a new role in a short while, and I’ve finished the old one.  Today I went to a parish I’ve never been to before, with dim thoughts of sitting anonymously in a pew and being ministered to.  (Too bad the vicar blew my cover…)

It’s a time of evaluations, too.  Nothing makes you consider carefully the value of all your stuff like being faced with the prospect of packing, moving, unpacking, and finding it a functional place in your new home.  Many things that I’ve held onto before were let go, with remarkably little regret.

There’s a more abstract form of this, too.  A re-evaluation of past events and eras in my life; what does each mean to me now?  How might it relate to the era that’s about to begin?  (For example, what actual use is it for a vicar to have a pretty decent – if now slightly dated – working knowledge of immunology, anyway?)

Here the letting go is harder.  Who I was ten, twenty or even thirty years ago, and the things I did over those years, do matter.  I may no longer be that person, but having been that person shapes my values, my way of looking at things, and how I interact with those around me.  It’s not so much about what you keep and what you discard, as about how you find enduring meaning.

And old wounds seem to ache, as they, too, are re-evaluated.  Have they healed enough to be a source of strength and empathy, or are they still vulnerabilities needing careful safeguarding?

There is also, for me, this time, something of a feeling of coming of age, or of coming into my own strength.  Finally the long apprenticeship of curacies is over, and I will be a vicar in my own right.  I am poised at a moment in time where I can decide what sort of vicar I want to be.  I’m free to take the best of what my history offers me, and weave it together into my own best version of myself (with the help of God, of course).  So in that sense, this process of re-evaluation seems to be more than navel-gazing, but to be something that really matters.

This is, I know, all very normal.  In one class on pastoral care, I remember learning that most people go through this sort of process in some way, on average, about every seven years.  It’s something we humans do instinctively when our lives change.  I’m fortunate to be conscious enough of it to approach it intentionally.

But it is still rather strange, to be in this in-between space.  Although the time to tend to my own “stuff” is a luxury, and I’m grateful for it, I will also be glad to get out of limbo and back to work!




This is a sermon for the second Sunday after Pentecost, given in the “church next door.” The Scripture it references is Romans 5:1-11.  Note: this is my final day in this role, as assistant curate across two parishes, so this was my farewell sermon, so to speak.

A man from Texas was boasting to an Australian that everything was bigger in Texas than anywhere else.  Then a kangaroo hopped by, and the Texan stared silently for a few seconds then said, “Well I… I guess your mice are bigger.”

But seriously, nobody likes to hear other people boasting.  It seems to be a subtle – or not-so-subtle – game of “I’m better than you,” and there’s really nothing gracious about that.  So it’s odd, perhaps, to English-speaking ears to hear Paul refer to boasting so often, and not always in negative ways.  In today’s reading, he talks about boasting in our hope of sharing the glory of God… and of boasting in our sufferings.

And that’s a bit counter-intuitive to us, the idea of boasting in our sufferings, so I wanted to look at it a bit more closely.  It turns out that the word we’ve translated here as “boasting” isn’t quite as negative in the original languages; rather than having nuances of pride and arrogance, it can mean something more like, making an identity statement.  This is who I am.  We see that sort of thing in some of the Psalms; “My soul makes its boast in the Lord,” and so on.

So just like we might make identity statements in other ways, through how we dress and present ourselves, or what interests we pursue, or even what we read, Paul is talking about aspects of the Christian life as things about which we can – and should – make identity statements.  This is who we are; this is where we stand, in God’s grace.

This is an aside, but I know over the last little while we’ve had some talk on parish council and around the parish in general about marketing, and whether marketing is something we can do better, or even should strive to do better.  But if we think about marketing as “making identity statements,” (this is who we are, this is where we stand), and as making invitations (come and stand with us!) then I’d have to say that it’s something that would be fairly fundamental to a Christian way of life, as Paul presents it here.

But that’s a side comment to what I wanted to say this morning.

Paul talks about boasting in our sufferings; or perhaps that might be better rendered as, making identity statements related to our sufferings.  This doesn’t mean that our sufferings define us; not at all.  But it means that how we position ourselves in relation to our sufferings might very well define us.

Let me give you an example.  When I was in my first year at college, some stuff happened which led to me having something of a crisis, and eventually being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.  I had several years where I was, emotionally speaking, a wreck.  Passages like this one, which speak of God’s love being poured into our hearts – or even the part of our worship which asks us to lift up our hearts – became intolerably painful to me, because it seemed to me that my heart, the core of who I was, was shattered beyond any hope of usefulness or repair.  What good was God pouring his love into my heart, if my heart was so badly smashed that it couldn’t hold anything?

But the thing is that, slowly, painfully, and painstakingly, God put those shards of who I was back together.  Piece by piece, through the love and care of good and patient people, through experiences which gave me glimpses of new possibilities, and through the gradual working through of the guilt, shame, and anger of what had happened, I began to be a person who was no longer just a pile of shards but something of a whole again.

I’ll never be the same.  I’m acutely aware of where the cracks are, where the sore spots are, and my own limitations, in a way that I never was before.  But I can once again be loving, joyful, creative and hopeful; and work effectively together with others to do something worthwhile.

I tell you that, so that when I say that after that, yes I agree with Paul that suffering produces, ultimately, hope, you’ll understand that I’m not talking from a complete lack of experience of suffering.  Having been through something like that, I now know that whatever happens, God is at work in it; bringing light from darkness, and order from chaos.  That when you’re in the middle of a bad experience, that’s not the end of the story.  And that even our most profound suffering, in the end, does not define who we are.

Those are identity statements.  My suffering does not define who I am.  Who I am is defined by the God who is at work in the depths of my being, even when I’m not aware of it.  The end of my story is not what I’m experiencing now, but something held in trust for me by the God who created everything that is, and will make everything perfect in its time.

That’s the kind of boasting Paul is talking about; and it’s important for us to be able to do that.  To be able to put into words the hope that will not disappoint us; to have that as a clear and shared anchor for times of difficulty.

And this is important for you now, I think.  You’ve been through some rough times as a parish.  There are hurts and wounds here which are real, where God still has some work to do.  There is, I know, some anxiety here about the future of the parish.  Will the new beginnings that you’ve begun to see over the last couple of years continue to grow into something good, or will what looked like it might be promising turn out to have been a false start?

In my first sermon here, I said that it seemed to me that this parish was like an old tree, sturdy, strong, with deep roots; but a tree that had been in winter for some time, and needed to remember what it was like when spring comes.  And I think, together, we’ve begun to see some signs of spring as we’ve prayed and worshipped and worked together.

But the thing about spring is, it comes not because of anything the tree does, or even anything the gardener does, but because the turning of the world is an irresistible force which affects everything on it.  If the Spirit is at work in you, turning your world around, bringing spring, bringing new beginnings and new life and new hope, that doesn’t actually depend on the person up the front.  It doesn’t even depend on how hard you work (although that’s not an excuse to stop working hard!)  It will simply happen, and you will either be ready for it, or taken by surprise!

I say to you now what I said to you on that first Sunday; I don’t think God’s done with you yet.  Spring is coming.  New beginnings are being felt.  The potential is still here for a season of growth.  And if the proposed building project does go ahead, you might have more of it than you know what to do with!

But what will help you to be ready for that is the kind of boasting – or confident identity statement – that Paul talks about in his letter.  The ability to say things like:

Our current circumstances do not define who we are.  Christ does.

God is at work, in us individually, in us as a community, and in the local people around us, in ways we seek to discover, cooperate with, and celebrate.

The next chapter of our story is held in trust for us by God, and we look forward to moving into it with joy.

Aren’t those boasts worth holding on to?

And the thing is, it’s not the kind of ugly boasting that seeks to put anyone down, but the confident knowing who you are, and standing in that place at peace, and with confidence, because you know that it’s God who planted you here, and he doesn’t plant in vain.

The Lord be with you.




Living and active

This reflection was given during the daily Eucharist in the chapel of an Anglican convent.  The Scripture it references is Mark 12:35-37.

There’s a hymn that I quite like, which starts:

We limit not the truth of God
to our poor reach of mind,
by notions of our day and sect,
crude, partial and confined:
no, let a new and better hope
within our hearts be stirred:
the Lord has yet more light and truth
to break forth from his word.

I’m reminded of that when we read today’s gospel passage.  Jesus is discussing a Psalm attributed to David, in which David celebrates God’s rule over all the earth and triumph over Israel’s enemies.  Clearly it meant something along those lines to David when he wrote it, and to the people of Israel who included it in their temple worship.

But here Jesus takes it and creatively re-interprets it to make a statement about his own identity as Messiah.

It doesn’t make what David originally meant by it less true, but it adds another layer or dimension of truth, another depth of insight, into how we might understand the text and what we might take from it for our own encouragement.

And that makes me think, as we celebrate this octave of Pentecost, about how the Holy Spirit works when we read Scripture.  Because inspiration isn’t just about what the Spirit said back then, to the original author with papyrus and ink; it’s also about what the Spirit says to us now, in our hearts, about how the God the Scriptures speak of is present and active to us now.

That’s why the author of Hebrews can speak about the word of God as living and active; the words on the page, by themselves, are not living and active at all.  But the Spirit can bring them alive to us, making them not just active but effective, stirring us to hope and love and joy.

May we be open to that at every opportunity!


This is a sermon for the feast of Pentecost, given in the “church up the road” and the “church next door.” The Scripture it references is 1 Corinthians 12:1-13.

I wonder if you ever look around you, at the people at church, and think we’re a bit of an odd bunch?  Thrown together by quirks of history and circumstance, some of us even having come from halfway around the world or with all sorts of interesting backgrounds.  Do you wonder if, when we’re looked at collectively, we manage to be more than the sum of our parts?

Or, on a bad day, we might even be tempted to wonder, “Lord, why did you think it was a good idea to put me in church next to that person I can’t stand?”

But if we sometimes might feel like that, I’d answer that God sees us very differently.  God, who knew about all of us intimately before we were even born, knew that each of us would be here today.  He knew the part we would play in the life of this church.  And knowing all of those things, God gave to each of us exactly what we needed so that together, we would be able to carry out his mission in this time and place.

When I was in college, the Jesuits used to call that loving, gracious planning ahead of time “The Dream of the Trinity,” imagining a conversation between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in which they discussed exactly what our needs were going to be, and how best to fill those needs.  So that it’s not random that we have, for example, Patsy’s wisdom, or Jenny’s skill in administration, or Jacquie’s ability to teach; rather each of those things is an expression of God’s loving care for this community, in providing what it needs through the people who are committed to it.

And if you think me singling a few people out as examples mean the rest of you don’t have such a thing, that’s not true.  Here’s what today’s reading from Corinthians said:  All these gifts are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

To each one.  Not just to the clergy or to the people who are outgoing and willing to put themselves forward.  But to each person, the Spirit allots something which, when used in the life of the church, is essential for the good of all.

That has a number of implications.

First, it means that you’re God’s gift to the church.  We need you, each one of you, and what you bring, to be able to be the church that God wants us to be.  So while that doesn’t mean we can’t argue or disagree, we need to be very very wary of letting that turn into divisions in the church.  We’re all in this together, and no one is dispensable.

As Paul goes on to say: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.”

We’re all in this together, by the grace of God.

Second, if the gifts each of us have are the work of the Spirit in us, equipping us individually so that together, we might be able to be the community God created us to be, then it follows from that, that knowing and using our gifts is actually important.

One of the most unhelpful things that can happen in a church is when someone is trying to be a round peg in a square hole; doing something they’re not good at or passionate about, because they think they “should,” or someone else has twisted their arm.  It’s draining for that person, and often it leads to less than great outcomes in what they do.

This is, by the way, why I’ve never been on a flower roster in my life.  God did not gift me with the knack of gorgeous arrangements.  I remember, though, one church I was in where at one point the usual list of volunteers to do the flowers was a bit light on, and an appeal was put out for more helpers.  To everyone’s surprise, one of the teenaged boys put his hand up; and he started to put together creative and interesting arrangements which really spoke of the glories of God’s creation.  Now, I don’t know if that young man is still doing anything artistic or creative today, but I really hope he is, because he had a genuine gift for it, and the church honoured that gift – and him – by giving him scope to serve in that way.

But what I observe when I talk to people is that many don’t know what their gifts are.  I don’t know whether it’s that we’ve cultivated a culture of humility, to the point that people don’t feel able to say, “Actually, I think I might be good at this, and I’d like to give it a go,” or whether we’ve created a church where people rely too much on the clergy, or what it is, but people often seem hesitant about this.

But we shouldn’t be!  If the Spirit has given to each of us, it’s not boasting to say so; and it doesn’t make any of us any better than any other, because everyone has something to bring.

So how do we get to recognise our own gifts?  I think there are two things that can be very helpful.  One is to think and pray about the different sorts of gifts that Scripture talks about, and see whether they fit you.  Are you discerning?  Are you encouraging?  Are you hospitable?  And so forth.  If you’re interested in that kind of approach I can give you some resources to stir your thinking.

Another approach is to reflect on your own experience.  What have you done which has most energised you, not necessarily just in the church, but in your life in general?  What has given you the most joy?  How might those things find expression in the life of the church in some way?

Now a caveat.  I realise that I am talking to a group of people, some of whom are more rich in years.  Some of you, to be honest, are tired, and don’t want to be pushed to give more of yourself than you feel you can.

Please don’t hear me talking about spiritual gifts in this way, and feel that this is code for “You must do more.”  That’s not it at all.  If anything, it’s a plea to you to make sure that whatever of your precious time and energy you give to the church, you use it in a way which is most effective.

But more than that, there’s a deeper truth to hold on to.  God knew our needs, long before we got to this point, and carefully, thoughtfully and lovingly provided for them by providing us with each other.  God is not, at this moment, asking us to do anything more than we can do.  He knows our limitations, he knows where there is tiredness and illness, he knows where people need to let go of things.  His heart holds you in that in nothing but absolute love.

Whatever God is asking us to do, today, tomorrow, next week and next year, it is not more than we can do.  If we sometimes feel that the task is too great, perhaps we’ve misunderstood the task; or perhaps God has some surprises in store for us.  He’s surprised me more than once!

But what I think we need to hold onto this Pentecost, this celebration of the work of the Spirit in and through each of us, is that this motley bunch of people that we are, was lovingly planned by God before creation began.  Each of us is God’s gift to the others, and together, we are God’s gift to a world desperately in need of an oasis of love, joy and peace.  Together we are enough to fulfil that loving plan, even when we don’t entirely understand it; and if we can really grasp that, and live it out… well, later in his letter Paul describes how the people who witness that in the church will end up coming to worship, because they will recognise that “God is really among you.”

God is really among us; so let’s hold on to that and let it shape our life here, in faith and hope and love.

Commandments in context

This is a sermon for the sifth Sunday of Easter, given in the “church next door.” The Scripture it references is John 14:15-21.

Culturally, I think we have a bit of a problem with the idea of commandments.  We tend to see the level of demand implied by being “commanded” to do something as too high, unreasonable, and certainly not loving; so we tend to prefer to treat commandments from God as something more like “guidelines” or “suggestions” for living.

The problem here, I think, is not that we reject the idea of the oppressive use of power – we’re right to be suspicious of that – but in our misunderstanding of how commandments from God are supposed to function.

See, the thing is that commandments are only one aspect of a much more complex relationship between us and God; a relationship that the Scriptures talk about as a covenant.  That’s a word which describes a relationship which is binding; where both parties are held together in relationship by their mutual commitment to one another.

The idea of our relationship with God being defined by a covenant is not, of course, an original Christian idea.  It’s something that developed in Jewish understanding first; where covenant is the core idea that underpins the distinctiveness of Jewish religion; the Jews are the children of God by adoption and free decision on both sides.  Through that free decision, ancient Jews saw themselves as bound in relationship with God who makes an exclusive and absolute claim on their loyalty in worship and social life, but in response, God gives himself to them in an exclusive and absolute way, as the one who will have concern for their welfare, and see to it that their society is structured with justice as a guiding principle.  And, as a result of these commitments on both sides, community is formed; the community of people who are bound together with God and with one another by their participation in this covenant.

So a covenant between God and God’s people has different aspects; there is the call from God, inviting us into relationship with Him; there is God’s presence to us, and our mutual belonging to one another (us to God, and God to us); there is an element of public witness; and there is the way the mutual love between us and God plays out in our keeping the commandments.

And this is where this ties into our gospel reading today, where Jesus began by saying to his disciples that “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  What he is really saying here is not some kind of guilt trip intended to provoke good behaviour, but an appeal to his disciples to live out to the full the reality of the binding relationship between them and Jesus (and, through Jesus, God).  Here “love” expressed in service and obedience is an expression of loyalty; our choices are shaped by our commitment to God, rather than to any other.

In this section of John’s gospel, the account of the last supper, even though Jesus doesn’t use the word “covenant,” (he does in the other gospels), it seems that he is framing his relationship with his disciples as being a mirror or an echo of the Jewish relationship with God.  That’s why we can talk about our own participation in a “new covenant,” one which Jesus created, and the terms of which are spelled out in passages like this.

And this is why the promises in this chapter, are so significant; they are the flip side to our loyalty to Jesus in keeping the commandments; they are Jesus’ (and God’s) loyalty to us expressed in enduring relationship.  So we read here Jesus’ promises that he will enable the disciples to do greater works than his, that he will send the Holy Spirit, that Jesus will return and that the Father and Jesus will make their dwelling among the disciples; that the Holy Spirit will teach them and remind them of everything Jesus taught them, and that they will receive the gift of peace.

These are big promises.  They are – or ought to be – promises which give us a huge amount of comfort and strength to draw on in our pilgrimage together.

These things that I’ve been talking about this morning; God’s choosing us (and our choosing God), intimate abiding relationship between us, God’s presence dwelling in us, keeping God’s commandments, and so forth; these sum up for us John’s idea of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.  John shows us that discipleship is a covenant relationship; and it’s a relationship between us and God which mirrors the relationship between Jesus and the Father, in its mutuality, responsiveness, and intimacy.  Ultimately, the disciples are being called here to participate in the dynamic of the relationship at the heart of the Trinity; and this is supposed to give to the new covenant community – the church – our unique identity and distinctiveness from the rest of the world.

The unity the disciples are supposed to share comes from the presence of God dwelling in each of them.  This is, by the way, why the line in the Creed that says “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church,” comes in the section which begins “We believe in the Holy Spirit.”  It’s the Holy Spirit, given to each one of us, which makes us part of the Church, and it’s the Holy Spirit, dwelling in each person from baptism, which makes the Church something other than a random bunch of piously-minded people who decided to cooperate.  The Church is bigger than any institution or denomination, and is the network of all people everywhere who have the Spirit living in them.

It seems very likely that John felt the need to include all of this in his gospel as he wrote to a community unsure of their identity, in a world where their belief in Jesus meant they had to reevaluate all their previous religious commitments (whether Jewish or Pagan).  His gospel gave his community a solid footing for forming their own sense of distinctive identity, one which was robust and inspiring enough to strengthen and encourage them as they worked out how to live and worship as Christians in a hostile world.

Although our context is very different, we have the same need to be sure of our shared identity, so that it can give us strength and courage as we work through our very different – but no less challenging – issues.  These themes of covenant relationship, which Jesus presents so carefully to his disciples here, can be an important help to us in that; to be comforted by God’s continuous presence with us, and to respond with loyalty and love which sees us keep his commandments, not as a burden, but as an expression of our mutually loving and enriching relationship with God.

How will you live out your covenant with God, this week?


This is a sermon for the fifth Sunday of Easter, given in the “church up the road.” The Scripture it references is 1 Peter 2:11-25.

Freedom!  It’s an ideal that has inspired everything from great works of art to nation-building, and yet for Christians, there’s a lot of tension in how we think about it.

On the one hand, we say that in Christ we are free from sin, free from the law, and ultimately – in an eternal sense – free from suffering.  On the other hand, we say that we are bound to serve God with the totality of our being, that we are bound to love others as we love ourselves, and that we are bound to be part of a movement in which achieving our mission means taking up our cross.

I think, too, for Christians today there is another tension.  We have inherited from the recent past a solid tradition of Christian action which has been about opposing the “powers that be” when they’re unjust; and yet we know that in many times and places, the Church has been one of those powers, or closely allied with them, and has not always been just.  Obedience to authority has long been a spiritual discipline.  The proper attitude to authority – conformity or rebellion or something else – is a matter of hot debate.

Are we confused yet?

And in the middle of this confusion we read today’s passage from 1 Peter, which has some things to say on these issues; but I think for them to be helpful to us, they probably need some unpacking.

So, “For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution,” is where he starts with this train of thought.

Why, “For the Lord’s sake”?  What does it matter to Jesus, whether or not we accept the authority of the government or the various services under its umbrella?

I think we need to remember that this was a community which was already starting to experience official persecution.  Only a little bit later than this record we have historical documents – Roman correspondence from the area – which discusses torturing Christians to find out the truth about what they believed and did.  And the Romans forbade people to gather in groups of more than five, so that it would be hard for anyone to start an uprising.  There are records that in Bithynia – which is in the region this letter is written to – there had been terrible fires which couldn’t be put out, because this law against gathering together meant that even the fire brigade had been disbanded.  In today’s terms, we would say that the government was more than a bit paranoid.

So it seems to me that what Peter is saying here is, “don’t cause any unnecessary trouble.”  We are Christians, we need to live as Christians with integrity, but don’t stir the pot by doing anything unnecessary that’s going to upset the empire.  Don’t bring the wrath of the powers that be down on the church, for the Lord’s sake, because we suffer enough for the things we really do need to do.  Try to do the right thing, and to submit to the empire when we can.  I think it’s important here to realise that the words “as sent by him,” describing the governors, doesn’t mean that the governers are sent by God.  It means we ought, as much as we can, to relate to them as if they were sent by God, even when we know they weren’t; showing deference for the sake of not being treated badly.

While we’re fortunate not to live under the same kind of brutal or paranoid regime, I think there’s an important principle for us here; not to cause trouble about things which are not core issues for Christianity.  I leave it to you to reflect on what that might mean in our own context.

So Peter goes on from there to tell his listeners, “As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honour everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honour the emperor.”

And there are a couple of interesting things about this.  I’ve already talked about how the thrust of his earlier comments seems to be, don’t cause unnecessary trouble.  And he seems to be repeating that idea here.  You’re free people, and you should live in that freedom, but don’t let that be an excuse for what our translation here calls evil.  But again, the word used here seems in this context to have the force of something like “social disruption.” The kind of evil Peter is talking about is the kind of evil that is subversive, creating turmoil.  So again, live free, but don’t start a riot.

And then the rest of the letter really goes on to unpack the implications of that principle in the social structures of the day.  Slaves are to be submissive, wives are basically property, and everyone needs to know their place and keep to it so that we don’t get into trouble.  Honour the emperor.

If I’m a little sour about that, I’m sure you can understand why.  Long after the paranoid and oppressive government was gone, this social system was held up as being “the way God wanted things,” partly because of the way Peter wrote here.  But I don’t think it ever was what God wanted; it was the way things were, in which Christians needed to endure.

But there’s one other interesting feature of the way Peter puts things here.  He says, “Honour everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honour the emperor.”  It’s like a basic list of where the lines of obedience are, in this moment where we need to make sure we present the smallest possible target to the authorities.

God, emperor, “everyone,” – well, that seems to cover all bases.  But in the middle of that, he throws in, “love the family of believers.” And while I’m sure he does want all of his listeners to love one another, I think here in this particular context, he’s saying something a little bit different; esteem the church; be dedicated to it.  In that sense, the family of believers, with its system of leadership already beginning to form, also has a claim on the honour and obedience of each Christian.

Not that I get to tell you what to do; but that I think Peter is here positioning the church community as being owed something by each of us, alongside or perhaps as an expression of the reign of God.  It bears thinking about, what that might mean for us, too.

So freedom, it turns out – at least in Peter’s thought – might mean something a little bit different than “doing whatever I like,” and maybe something more like, “getting to participate to the full in things which are good.”  And that way of looking at things might be helpful, when we think again about the tensions I mentioned at the start; between conformity and rebellion, or freedom from evil and yet being bound in love.

So my challenge to you from this text, something to take away and reflect on, is “What would it look like for you to participate to the full in something good this week?”


This reflection was given during the daily Eucharist in the chapel of an Anglican convent.  The Scripture it references is John 14:1-6.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  We’re not very good at that, are we?  Things change, we are uncertain of what will happen, we feel out of control, and – indeed – we let our hearts be troubled.

Of course, when Jesus was speaking here, he was trying to prepare the disciples for all that was about to follow; his arrest, trial, and execution, and afterwards his leaving in a more permanent way.  They had been so reliant on him, and they were going to have to learn very quickly, and under pressure, how to get on without him.

But most of us have times when God seems far away, and perhaps we wonder if He’s there at all.  Or if he is, why He doesn’t do something to ease the various things which are troubling our hearts.  What’s the use of a God who doesn’t show up when you really need Him?

The flip side of divine absence, though, is one of space.  Jesus talks about going to prepare a place “for you,” and perhaps what he doesn’t say is that the disciples also need to grow before they’re ready for that place.  His absence, and the troubles they experience in the meantime, provide the stimulus to that growth and even creativity, both on our part, and on God’s.

If we look at Jesus’ words here as being about the experience of troubles and distance from God which pushes us into new spaces, that might also cast new light on Jesus’ statement that he is the way, the truth, and the life; perhaps, when God feels far away, we can hear those words as reassurance that despite not feeling the close joy and the reality of God with right now, we can know that we are on the path which will take us to those things, in the place which is being prepared for us, and in the presence of Jesus.