Last night’s electric storms over the south of England demonstrated how little control we humans have over nature. Noisy, bright, spectacular, terrifying… Whether you stand at the window in wonder or dive under the duvet in fear, one thing is certain: there’s nothing you can do to stop a storm. If ever there was evidence that human beings aren’t in control of the universe, a storm such as yesterday’s surely provides it.
All seems stable in life until the unexpected hits. The storms of life take different forms: illness, bereavement, job loss, a breakdown in relationships, burglary, debt… Nothing stays the same for very long and we have to learn how to manage different and evolving scenarios. How do we do that?
Jesus’ disciples got caught up in a storm when out fishing in their boat. They were terrified. What was worse, Jesus their leader and friend, was asleep! They shook him awake. “We’re going to die!” they yelled. Jesus got up and ordered the storm to stop. It did, and all became calm. Jesus, as God, was in control of the universe he’d created. We can’t stop storms but if Jesus is in our ‘boat’ we don’t face the storms alone.
Love has been in the air this weekend. The weather came up trumps, making everything bright and beautiful – for the wedding of Harry and Meghan and for the festival of Pentecost.
Love is like a diamond – multi-faceted, sparkling, enduring and tough. It has its source in God, as Bishop Michael Curry reminded his world-wide audience yesterday. From God’s solid and lasting love all other loves branch out. Love can be shared through our eyes, thoughts, words and actions. We don’t always get it right and our love can never match God’s love in his perfection. But that’s where Pentecost comes in.
There was consternation when Jesus told his disciples he’d be leaving them to return to heaven – until he reassured them that the Holy Spirit would come into their lives. God would actually live in every believer. Such was God’s love that he wasn’t prepared to leave human beings to soldier on in their own strength. God is love. His Spirit would reveal the truth about God, act as a teacher and helper and give comfort. What’s more, the Spirit works at producing fruit in Christ’s followers – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control. Love comes first. Love God; love each other, was Jesus’ message. The good news of Pentecost, celebrated today, is that the Spirit has come and is at work, helping Christ’s followers to reach up and out, albeit slowly and with stumbles, to God and to our fellow human beings.
A passerby chucked a dog poo bag under a hedge, cheerily called out ‘Good morning’ to me, and walked on, his dog trotting along a few yards behind him. I was too much of a wimp to say, ‘Oi! What are you doing throwing that down there?’ or even a more polite, ‘Excuse me, I think you’ve dropped something.’
That plastic poo bag wasn’t the only plastic litter I saw on my early morning walk. Plastic, as we’re all aware, thanks to Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II, is causing huge damage all over the globe yet it’s difficult to live daily life without it. Back in the dark ages sixty or seventy years ago, chocolate bars were wrapped in foil and paper, food at the shops was put into paper bags or straight into a wicker shopping basket, we drank out of china cups or glass glasses and put our rubbish into metal dustbins.
Our efforts to be responsible stewards of Earth can resemble the movement of a plastic bottle that I saw spinning out of control in the eddying water by a sluice gate. Day after day, out of reach, the bottle maintained its futile movement, busy but purposeless, striving but getting nowhere.
We mustn’t give up on the stewardship of Earth! Beach clean-up days and litter-pick days help, especially if you’re working together as a team of responsible citizens. There’s strength and a visible example in numbers. But does that excuse me from being a wimp this morning with the Poo Bag Incident? I don’t think so.
Web chats are weird, but then I suppose other modern communication tools are too. Back in the olden days of handwritten letters, it might take a minimum of several days before receiving a reply to my letter. In today’s fast-paced world, we have come to expect instant responses to our communications. Hence my weird web chat with an unknown person at a well-known company. The chat achieved a result but was very impersonal.
You really can’t beat a face to face conversation. You could say, like Parliamentarians using different spelling, “The eyes have it.” On my desk there are a dozen pairs of eyes smiling at me, so when I’m on the phone to one of the family, I have their photo in front of me. Lovely though it would be, it’s not always practical to be face to face with family members who live at a distance. The photos help.
Each face is different and each pair of eyes represents a unique person who is of great value to me, but also of great value to God. A smile, a kind word, a listening ear, can all help someone feel affirmed – so important and necessary in an impersonal and often lonely world. If God recognises me amongst his billions and knows me by name, I should make the effort to affirm others – including that unseen face on the other end of the web chat.
If you were a worm, your perspective of grass would be different from a human adult’s perspective. As a worm, you might wish that the grass were mown more often to make your slithers easier on the belly. You might be fearful of the daisies whose stems appear like trees and whose delicately pretty canopy you can’t see. Dandelion clocks, with their seeds dispersing in the wind, knock you on the nose and make you sneeze.
If you were a little girl, you wouldn’t care how short or long the grass was. You’d be sitting on it making a fairy necklace out of the daisies, or a garland to put round your head so you could pretend to be a princess.
If you were a young lad, (and call me sexist if you want to) you’d see the grass as something to pound with football boots. You’d ignore the daisies, and shoot for goal. Any self-respecting worm would retreat underground.
If you were an adult you might see the grass as a chore at this time of year. It grows quickly so needs mowing frequently, but rainy days prevent the work – and make the grass grow even more.
If you were God, you’d look at the worm and the grass and the daisies and the dandelion clocks and the little girl and the young lad and the adult, and you’d see everything you’d made, and would be very pleased.
Are you a marathon runner? Today’s London Marathon has been even more of a test than usual, as it’s taken place during an unseasonal heatwave.
Arsene Wenger is coming towards the finishing line of a challenging 22 year ‘marathon’ as manager of Arsenal. Her Majesty the Queen, now starting her 93rd year, has also faced many challenges in her ‘marathon’ run of a long reign.
Life itself, for each of us, is a marathon that involves short sprints, long plods, uphill grind, downhill dithers and slithers, wearying stumbles and tumbles and some scintillating strolls. These are accompanied by a mixture of physical pain, mental anguish, tears, smiles and joy.
Taking part in a marathon (and no, I’ve never done one) requires, initially, choice. Shall I? Shan’t I? For the marathon of life, choice wasn’t our shout! How we run life’s marathon is dependent on personality and circumstances. Whether thinking of life’s marathon or the London Marathon, perseverance and endurance are required. It’s also helpful, as I imagine Mr Wenger and Her Majesty might concur, to have the backing of your personal cheerleaders – family, friends and supporters – and of your fellow-runners.
St Paul likened the Christian faith to running a marathon: “I have done my best in the race, I have run the full distance, and I have kept the faith.” In Hebrews it says, “Let us run with determination the race that lies before us.” Let us. Together we can do it.
Parallel to the main road, about ten minutes’ walk away, is a byway. The narrow track links a hamlet in the east to a market town in the west. In past centuries it was the main route. Then an A-road was built, now a noisy highway of continuous traffic with its attendant fumes and noise. The byway became a by-the-way, useless for vehicles and unseen by its drivers.
Far from being forlorn and forgotten, the byway thrives as a peace-filled haven for nature. Delicate flowers of blackthorn decorate its edges. Goldfinch, robin and blackbird serenade walkers who, tuned in to tranquillity, carefully tread its path. The byway emerges onto a lane with scattered cottages and farm buildings whose names reflect the past: Cheese House, Forge Cottage, Old Barn… A little bridge – great for Pooh sticks – spans a lazy river where trout lurk in the shallows, ducks paddle on the surface and kingfishers flash past above their heads.
Highways and byways. Drivers and walkers. Townies and country folk. Noise and quiet. VIPs and by-the-ways. Somebodies and nobodies (though no-one is a nobody in God’s eyes.) Jesus used local scenes to illustrate his stories. In one he told his followers to go everywhere – highways and hedges – to share God’s message of love and grace and his invitation: “Come!” The invitation stands today – wherever we are, whoever we are, whatever our circumstances.