Turn aside and love in the shadows

Br. Francis suggested we use words to preach as a last resort – that is one reason I often resort to poetry.  That kind of relates to the message tonight and just in case I fail miserably and you decide to tune out about half way through I’ll come out with the punch line right at the beginning, then you can try and figure out how I got from here to there by the end…  Where is the nearest pub? Perhaps for the next Valley Praise:  Beer and Hymns at the (Insert pub name) Arms?  There’s the challenge.  The question is, Why?
So a poem you might already know: … The Bright field, title of the year before last Greenbelt festival.  Most recently I’ve been working as a volunteer for them being hospitable to contributors, artists and speakers.  Generally I end up driving them around.  That particular year I ended up driving a Scottish theologian and author to and from the airport.  Alistair McIntosh.  We barely stopped talking the whole journey.  By the time we had arrived at the site, and again on the way back  he was energised by the whole experience.  I was exhausted.  He had so much energy and excitement for his view of Christian spirituality, working for peace and justice and environmental concerns.  Recently he has recorded a short video on what gives him hope.   There is a great deal of truth in his mode of expression.  Now you might think it is a big jump between Alistair McIntosh and Donald Trump. (What do they say about handshakes and six degrees of separation?)  Alistair McIntosh suggests in his short video that Donald Trump gives him hope because he illuminates the American shadow.  The shadow side of us is that which we dare not air in public, the things we dare not even admit to ourselves, let alone tell anyone else.  You might want to brush up on your psychology, Carl Jung in particular and his work on the unconscious mind.  It is not a big deal at all to have a shadow side, everyone does, however much you might want to kid yourself that you don’t, and I guess that is part of it!
What can be dangerous is when we attempt to deny such a shadow.  Donald Trump illuminates the American shadow.  He is the personification of almost every unwelcome shadow.  He is a binary and transactional being.  It is good to illuminate the shadow, when something illuminates the shadows around us it is a blessing, for then we can see them for what they are.  Broken and fearful, and we know then how to begin to counter it.  Apart from the fact that this is ever so topical, what does it have to do with us here tonight?   We have such shadows as churches, hopefully not as extreme as Donald Trump.  I’d like to suggest that Ministry Areas, as much as we love or hate them are a blessing because they illuminate the shadows that are within the church.  One shadow of a church is looking inward and forgetting to do two things which are illuminated beautifully for us in our readings and RS Thomas’ poem the bright field.  Forgetting to turn aside like Moses at the burning bush.  And second thing that we forget is to love as Jesus taught.  Ministry Areas shine a light on the shadow side of parishes because they force us to refocus our attention on:  Loving the World, Growing the Church and Worshipping God.  I hope you recognise those three things, and that I’ve have quoted them out of the order they are usually presented in.  They underpin everything that a Ministry Area or for that matter an individual church should be.  But the parish system was broken.  If you disagree, then I refer you back to the shadows I mentioned earlier because we often deny them.  Something needed to illuminate that for us, because in a way it was our shadow side.  The theology of Trump, his Lewisian genesis (there’s your degree of separation, his mother emigrated as a young girl.  Alistair McIntosh is a native of Lewis.)  gives him this, is binary.  Right, Wrong.  Black, White.  Forward, Backward.  In, out.  For, Against.  This is a fear and vengeance view of God where you are either in or out, either the elect or the damned.  We need to change that language into the language of Love.  Jesus continually absorbs violence, consistently speaks peace in the face of confrontation.  Remember the reading from John.  Jesus asks a simple question of peter, to illuminate his shadow, it is predicated on the threefold denial that peter claimed he would not make.  So to counter it Jesus asks peter three times:  Do you love me?  and sends him out to care for those whom he calls the sheep and lambs.  That echos our encounters in this world.  Now and again the church hears the call to go out to the sheep and the lambs or as Paul has it in Romans 13 in the summary of the law as fulfilled in Jesus to love one another as I have loved you.  Ministry Areas call us to focus our attention on Loving the World, Growing the Church and Worshipping God.  We’re very good at doing the Worshipping God bit.  We might not get it right, rarely get it perfect, it might need refreshing now and again, but by and large, Sunday by Sunday, season by season we continue to Worship God.  And we’re continually talking about growing the church.  which worries me greatly because normally it just means making clones of ourselves and as Richard Rohr has said we make them twice as fit for hell as we are.  However, if we begin as I have it Loving the world we will naturally grow which in itself is the worship of God.  The church might look very different to what we have now, but it might just reflect the call of Jesus to Peter, Do you love me?  Yes!  Then feed my sheep.  Two reflections to finish.  I’ll be taking the funeral of a lady this week who never went to church much after she was told she was not welcome at the communion table for being divorced.  Though I know few of the particulars of her situation, I felt I had to apologise to her son for the treatment she had received at the hands of a church of which I am a part.  For me that is not how to love the world.  At the very point she needed the love and support of the community, she was out, cut off, because her life was broken.  When things are broken, Jesus offers a way back and asks, ‘Do you love me?’  and then we are directed to feed and support those around us.  Often when we do this we receive far more than we give.  I’ll finish with another poem which might illustrate that.  I spent a few days this last week in Cardiff, particularly in the city centre.  It is a busy city, very connected, if you’ve got the correct device, but it seemed to me there was little connection between people – especially strangers.  It can be a lonely place when everyone passes you by.  So I stopped and chatted to Kaz a person who is I guess termed a ‘rough sleeper’.  but I think I prefer: refugee from the world.