Love. Death. Time.

It is Lent, which means it is time for a film to help us through the wilderness. I prefer the title (in translation) “The Hidden Beauty.” But because this is hollywood, (with an all star cast, and a slating by the critics) It is called “Collateral Beauty.” A story of beauty and of pain. A story of an inner wilderness, the torment of a mind reconciling itself with life and all that it brings.

If you were to put pen to paper and write a letter, strange I know in this digital age, what would you write, and to whom would it be written? But if perhaps you were asked to write, not to a person, but to a thing, to an idea, a concept? To, say; Love, Death or Time. What then would you write? We long for Love. We fear Death. We wish we had more time. Love. Death. Time. These three abstract things bind everything and everyone together.

What would your love letter say? What would you want to say to that experience we call love? Would you write words of regret, an emotional outpouring or a letter full of the beauty of love at its purest if, that is, you have been so lucky to experience it. What would your love letter say?

What if you were to write to Death? Poetic words of bravado overcoming fear? Come unto me and take me from this mortal realm. Come close to me my old friend Death? Words of anger perhaps, hurt, pain for the loss of those taken untimely? Or words of fear of the unknown?

What if you were to write a letter to Time? Would it be a one word letter? Rewind? Or perhaps two, Slow Down? The alternative: Faster? Wanting to see beyond time unfolding? Would you write of the desire to see each moment for itself, captured like a snapshot on a camera or a smartphone. Moments to re-live in other moments. Or would you choose just one? Love. Death. Time.

Jesus was driven out into the wilderness… And he was with the wild beasts… And the angels waited on him. Three temptations then. The temptation of Love. We long for Love. To be loved, for what we do to be seen and admired. To seek out love in the wrong places and to mistake Agape or Phileo for Eros. To be loved, beyond who we are.

Temptation of Time – The desire for Time to run to our desires. To manipulate the natural course of a day to our whim. If only time would pass slower, quicker. Not enough or too much. Each day passing as if in the blink of an eye, or month or year passing as if they were ten of the same. If only we could see and live in each moment cherished as much as the last rather than chasing on to the next or longing for what is past.

Death – The desire to behave as if the rules do not apply to us or to those around us. The desire to control, to take control over that which is part of living. And when it comes unexpectedly, to wish it were not a part of life at all. Or to wish that death would come and take us from a life felt no longer worth living. To be tempted even to bring death upon ourselves to escape the torment of our own minds. Take then, death, my life, for it is all I have to give.

Three temptations. Love, Death, Time. In the biblical account: To have all power and authority. To have the angels save a leap into death. To turn stone into bread, manipulating the natural. Love. Death. Time. How are we to overcome these temptations, these seemingly basic human desires? To be loved beyond who we are. To fear death, to see it as something to be challenged and beaten. To wish for more time, to manipulate the natural. Jesus, we read, has been into these wilderness places before us, has challenged them and overcome them.

Worship the Lord and serve only him. Know that you too are made in God’s image, know your self worth and be humble in it.

Do not put God to the test. Do not worry about that which is out of reach.
Live in the light of life before death.

One does not live by bread alone. Resist the temptation to look beyond that which is here, now.
Counting not the passing days, but the beauty that each one brings.

 

With thanks to John Davies sermon on the horesemeat scandal.  Published in ‘Devon Sermons’ available from the author.

Candlemas Bells

If there were a flower for prophecy it
would be the snow-white bells arriving
early in time for Candlemas arrogant
even a brash flower cutting through the
cold earth it comes resilient, hardy.
Beauty beguiles its strength.
Amidst the darkness expectant of the
warmth to come our instinct is to light
candles. An incandescent dream.
Inefficient of light but life enough to stir
the soul into speaking. The snowdrop
harbinger of those who hear the silent
call to defiance of convention.

Shepherds, Angels, Stars

As Christmas fades towards Epiphany and the interest of the masses in Christmas and religious observance returns to normal levels Jesus is set loose from the confines of the crib, but not before the shepherds have made their visitation in our last but one attempt to domesticate him in this Christmas season. A domesticated Jesus, brought out like special crockery for birthdays and annual remembrances as the stars return to their place so many it seems, more than before. Have we missed our chance to follow yet, the one in the crowd. A glimpse a half smile, the world weary one alongside ordinary folk Shepherds even, simple words honest hands changing lives. In those precious minutes our worlds collide.  Will you have forgotten my face in the crowd that passes you by?  I will carry your smile with me and hold it close to me, close even to the shadow side, the broken side which we all share – perhaps that’s why there are shepherds at the very beginning, the humblest of folk – refugees from the world perhaps. Don’t forget that no one person owns truth, goodness or love.  In order to find this out we must begin to live it in humility. Not for a day or just for Christmas, but as a state of mind. The shepherds are the ones who inhabit the wilderness – of mind and of hillside. I wonder if they understood this happening completely, but to find a world outside that didn’t / doesn’t understand anymore. The beating drum of the world goes on insisting the path we tread. Still, the gentle imperative begins deep in the heart, and our discordant attempts to speak of the unseen in that liminal space are lacking. Time for withdrawing to the hills is over – from wilderness to the city the shepherds come just as Jesus will travel many years later when armed guards and courtiers will wash their hands the shepherds too as innocent as the lamb. I’m glad it was Mary who treasured these words and pondered the message of the angels brought by the shepherds. I’m afraid we men all too often get distracted. Distracted too, to miss that moment when simple shepherds offered an epiphany – the kings of the hillside with bright eyes and half smile which spoke a thousand different stories. Are those who heard them hungry for more than bread broken? Are we ready then to take off our shoes and walk with the shepherds, a shared chance encounter? Jesus, much like the shepherds message is not an agenda the world recognises as significant or even particularly important. And that is good. For the moment it does, there will be something to sell and the whole radical edge will be lost. Standing in the quiet hills as shepherds are wont to do, life around begins to emerge, or perhaps they being still of heart become aware of its presence. And as we stand on the cusp of a new year, are we ready for the Gospel story – the shepherds story to take us on a whirlwind snapshot tour from the backstreet birth, refugees travelling the road, baptisms, weddings, funerals, confrontations, healings and reconciliations. The seed planted takes time to develop. I have seen a glimpse of that place not yet of which the shepherds spoke a blessing on those who gathered. We never get to stay long in these in between moments, for this is neither the end of our journey nor yet, the beginning of the next. At this point, we ought not say ‘until next year’. – For our task is to keep this alive throughout the year, each month and every day. So, bring your hopes, dreams, visions and join us at the table Gathering Hope that the shepherds brought a re-imagining of the lost art and beauty of creation. Everyone has been invited, and everyone is welcome. And some choose to choose not to come. Don’t forget that hope appears where it’s least expected and when it’s least anticipated. Perhaps even in a Jewish Palestinian baby born in the occupied village of Bethlehem with few to witness it but some shepherds. And she gave birth and bore a son and she named him Jesus.

 

For New Year’s Eve – Nos Calan.  Put together with snapshots and sentences from the past year’s sermons…