Climate change? Divisions in the dysfunctional family that makes up the United Kingdom? Warring parliamentarians? Disagreements over arms in the Middle East? Shipping around Gibraltar? The latest scandal of abuse? Misdemeanours in accounting? Attacks on journalists whose opinions are unwelcome? Social Media being a vent for frustration? Are these all the signs of our times that Jesus in Luke’s Gospel tells us to pay attention to? Or are the signs hard to see and dare I say it, because this is Jesus, are they subtle and are they perhaps spiritual and about us rather than whatever we perceive to be wrong with the world and our society. Because those above like the weather are the ones Jesus says we can all see if we care to look outside or at the latest news from wherever you get it. What is it then that we need to look more carefully for? What are the signs of our own times?
They are a bit like this image. Sometimes it’s better if you don’t look at something head on. Because each of those ‘signs of the times’ above is about events, about others. Things about which we, in general, are spectators. It’s about events, them, they, people, the other. What about us? I’ve been a full member of the Iona Community for the last 14 years or so. Each year we are called to renew our membership and agree to be ‘With’ the community. I decided this year that I could not continue as a full member as so wrote a letter of resignation requesting to return to associate membership. It took me three goes (at least) to write that letter. Not because I wasn’t sure of what I was doing, but because I began by stating my reasons for leaving – reasons that weren’t about me but about the wider community and it’s organisation, about what I felt was wrong and why I wanted to step back. The final form of the letter which I sent was about me personally. My reasons for wanting to step down from full membership, my failings, not my perceptions of others’ failings. What about us? You might suggest that Jesus, in this reading from Luke’s Gospel, is not being very subtle. Jesus is doing what he always seems to be doing in uncovering that which is not spoken. Shake a stick at a hornets nest – and you will know about it, sometimes we need to shake such a stick at ourselves too. Here comes the fire and the unrest and the trouble as it begins with each one of us, no-one else. In our families in our homes especially in our churches. Trouble begins when we categorise others as different. Violence follows as we define ourselves as different and separate. When we see ourselves as better or when we fail to hear other voices saying different things there is the beginning of trouble. August Bank Holiday Weekend brings the Greenbelt Festival to birth once again. A regular speaker and poet is Padraig O Tuama. When asked recently how he sees God he replied that God is like story and table. Story that we write and God writes together in a dialogue of unfolding drama. Table that is open and abundant around which we gather where there is no head sat in judgement and at which all are welcome. What is it that we bring to that table? What do we tell into that story? Are we able to bring our vulnerability and share our stories of being wounded souls on a shared journey? Are we able to offer our anxieties our hopes, fears, dreams, desires our mistakes. As we gather at the table of God are we able to love each other anyway even if we don’t agree? For at the table of God there is always space for more, there is always enough, and no one sits at the head. We often don’t see what we’re not told to look for. (Have you found Jesus in the image yet?) Unless we are prompted to look at our own vulnerability our own prejudice, anxiety, hopes, fears, dreams and mistakes, we’ll miss those signs we need to be aware of. Unless we are encouraged to bring them into the story that is between us and God, into the ordinary, even that which we dare not voice, we begin to grow apart. Jesus says pay attention to the signs, they are there in us, just not as obvious as they are in the weather or in society. God is wrapped around our everyday story, often in the background waiting for us to pay attention. When we do, rather than the fear that can so often lead to separation, we can begin to share at that table into that story a little of the generosity that is God and gently encourage humanity in all its flourishing.
With thanks to Padraig O Tuama’s thoughts on God as story and table which gave shape to this – (link above)