Things I learn at Church!
I learnt some things yesterday at Church. I learnt that a simple service, taken by someone in their 80’s can be a very profound experience. Not for them power point, new words to old hymns, or even a progressive view of God. But they spoke powerfully, from the heart, in such a way that the truth of it supersedes all the words used.
Abandonment, the preacher spoke about abandonment. Are there times when we feel abandoned by God? What about when life seems lonely and there is no support from others. Or when we lose people we love. Deep, deep questions about what it is to be human.
The God question is the easiest for me to ponder as a progressive Christian. I do not hold to the idea that we have to do things to please God, believe things or somehow pray hard enough for God to be present . I believe God is present everywhere, at all times and in all places, part of the creative order, which includes us. It’s not like the spirit comes and goes on a whim depending on how good we have been or how bad.
But I know it may feel otherwise.
When things get rough, the light of God seems to dim amongst the darkness of sorrow or grief or pain. And the darkness takes over. A bit like Job on the ash heap when he had lost everything. Yet my overwhelming response to this is that the divine presence is always present, regardless of whether we acknowledge it or not. Working in us and the world, never abandoning creation, even if it may seem otherwise. My hope is that we will always find our way back even if it takes a life time.
People, on the other hand, are another matter.
We abandon people all the time, particularly in our society, those that don’t fit, those that are different, those that are difficult, and those going through great pain and sorrow, so much that we freeze and don’t know what to say or do. So we leave them, alone and isolated. A terrible indictment about our world and about us as individuals, and I am guilty as much as anyone. God does not abandon us, so why should we abandon others?
And then there are our own experiences of abandonment. We are sometimes the one no one comes to support at a time of crisis, or to comfort at a time of sorrow or grief.
What about when someone dies, does this feel like an abandonment? Maybe.
Particularly if that loved ones dies suddenly. Yet as God does not abandon us, and we should not abandon others, neither does the person we loved, who has now gone, really leave us.
I have watched how someone I care about has coped with the loss of his beloved wife. And it is a lesson in grief and love and in the power of the spirit to comfort and renew.
Nev writes frequently about life after the death of his loving Marg, a fellow traveller and confidant. About the reality of what it means to him. He ponders it deeply.
He has discovered that Marg has not gone, because the Marg, who loved unconditionally is present in those who now support and love him, the Marg who loved her family is found in the love of the family to each other, and the Marg who loved life and who worked for those who suffered hardship and heart ache is found in those who continue this work. Marg is found in all those she touched, including Nev himself, whom she shared an ongoing loving relationship with for many, many years. A gift that once given is never taken away, even after death.
Grief is hard and can be a long, lonely road, and it may seem that even God cannot be found. Yet the spirit is everywhere, in love given and received. Marg is alive in each one of these moments, a reality I think Nev has discovered and found great comfort in.
The final type of abandonment referred to yesterday was about things, what things can we let go in order to find who we really are. What we own and what we earn becomes linked to our worth, such that we feel we cannot abandon them or the quest for them without losing ourselves in the process.
Freedom comes when we realise we are gifts to life itself, just as we are, without money or houses or cars or bank accounts. Life does not require a mortgage for us to be worthy of it. Life is life, and God is God and neither presence is determined by the amount of stuff we have.
When Jesus asks the rich young man to give up his riches and come follow him (one of the readings), he is saying something very profound. We are a gift to others as we are, and we can make a difference by being just that. We cannot gain anything from God more than we already have, but we have much to give others. Money and power can blind us to this.
It can blind us to what we can be to others.
What does a grieving person or a person suffering and alone require, but presence, and love. Nothing more and nothing less. We can make a difference by being ourselves, guided by the ongoing universal presence of the spirit. Sharing time and acknowledging everyone is of value can be the greatest gift we can give. Rather than abandoning people, seeking to protect ourselves, perhaps we can love them instead.
I think this is a truth which is easily forgotten in our high pressure, high possession, consumer driven world.
Thanks Geoff, a great sermon.