All posts by Graham

What does Jesus see in me?

 

Blenheim Palace is one of the most photographed buildings in England. Many pictures also encompass its lake with the Grand Bridge. At first sighting, we think that it is made of solid stone. But it has a secret. For, inside the bridge are many rooms that were used to entertain the guests of the Dukes of Marlborough. Today, these are closed to the public as some are full of rubble, others are submerged in water, and one needs a boat to enter.
Christ didn’t see people differently, he saw their hidden ‘rooms’. He perceived secret strengths and abilities in others that we overlook. That’s why he asked Peter to found the church with his unseen leadership and determination. He wasn’t disappointed.
I wonder what he sees in me?

A perfect Day

Luke 6.1-11

Psalm 23

 

Now I know I have told you this before. But my uncle and aunt in Lairg, Sutherland, were members of the Free Church. And so, Sundays were days when the TV and radio were kept off, books were not read and the minimum of cooking was done.  The Bible and books of sermons were the only source of reading materials. In fact, it was only the going to church twice that broke the day’s silence. The Sabbath then was a day of rest. Indeed, for a small boy like myself it was a day of enforced rest. So much so that my grandfather was once asked by mother what he did on his Sundays during his 2-month summer visit to my aunt’s family in the North. He said that he waited until the family had their afternoon rest and then he unearthed his Sunday Post which he had got in the week and secretly read it.

 

Well, looking back it is easy to take pot shots at such a restricted day. Yet as they were crofters possibly this rest day gave a recharging time from subsistence farming. As committed Christians this rest day definitely restored their souls. Or as the psalmist has it:

He makes me lie down in green pastures

He leads me beside quiet waters

He restores my soul.

 

Well, of course, things here in Broughty Ferry today are quite different. For some of us must work on Sundays. But for many others, it more about doing things left undone from the week behind and doing things for the week ahead. It is more about doing things for and with the family. More about doing things for pure enjoyment Now these are very worthy yet they aren’t in the end – a rest. Put more bluntly, we are still obeying the rules of duty, obligation, loyalty and pleasure. We are still being bound by the compulsions of the moment. Or as one member once said to me – she couldn’t possibly come to church on a Sunday as she had to make the lunch for his visiting grown-up family. And the result is we are still enslaved to doing instead of being; being a child of God rather than an employee, father, grand-mother or neighbour. Being a child of God indeed for just a few hours free of the rules.

 

Yet we say, my work is important, my family is paramount or my neighbour needs me. Doubtless all true. Yet..yet we still need that restoration of soul, that moment for quiet water refreshment and a period of green pasture nourishment. We need time for ourselves with God and only God. For without that, life becomes a conveyor belt, a drudge even one that is flatly two dimensional without spiritual heights or depths. Moreover, as the psalm reminds we need time to ourselves to be guided into righteousness and faith to fear no evil. In simple terms, we need this day to heal our souls for the shadows and the valleys ahead.

 

However, the idea of a resting day still seems as unexciting and restraining as it was to me as a child in the highlands. In truth, it seems that it could make our Sundays rather cheerless, dull and even soulless.

 

When I was in university, the divinity faculty had a weekly lunchtime service in the Chapel. Often led by students there was always a mixture of worship styles on offer. Yet only one sticks in my mind. We entered, sat in the pews and nothing was said or done – only restful music was played. At first we were restless – wanting something, anything, to happen. Then we fiddled with the bibles in front of us – looking for some stimulation. Then slowly, we slowed down. We became restful. Indeed, we started quietly to be still with God and God was still with us. At the end of quarter of an hour, our time was up – yet we did not want leave – we didn’t want to stir – we didn’t want to break the bridge between heaven and earth. Nevertheless, we did and returned to the world refreshed, ready to do what was important; ready not to exist but live again.

 

This illustrates that to give this day to God is not to be selfish, slothful or constrained. It is to be still by casting aside our life’s lesser rules and demands. It is to sense that a deep love and goodness is following us through our sometimes-taxing journey. It is to luxuriate in a repast of peace where there is healing to life and life in all its true fullness. It is, indeed, to take time out in the house of the Lord and know it to be our perfect dwelling there forever.

 

So, this Sunday let us turn it into a perfect day.

For as Lou Reed sang in his famous song,

Oh what a perfect day’:

Just a perfect day
Problems all left alone
Weekenders on our own
It’s such fun

Just a perfect day
You made me forget myself
I thought I was
Someone else, someone good

 

Oh, it’s such a perfect day
I’m glad I spent it with you
Oh, such a perfect day
You just keep me hanging on
You just keep me hanging on

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas’ Golden Box

Once upon a time,

there was a man

who worked very hard

just to keep food

on the table

for his family.

 

This particular year

And

a few days before Christmas,

he scolded

his little five-year-old daughter.

 

Because he had found out

that she had used up

the family’s only roll

of expensive gold wrapping paper.

As money was tight,

he became even more upset

when

on Christmas Eve

he saw that the child

had used all that paper

to decorate just one shoebox

she had put under the Christmas tree.

 

He also was concerned

about where

she had got hold of the money

to buy what was in

the box.

Nevertheless, the next morning

the little girl,

filled with excitement,

brought the gift box

to her father and said,

“This is for you, Daddy!”

As he opened the box,

the father was embarrassed

by his earlier overreaction,

now regretting

how he had been angry

with her.

But when he opened the shoebox,

he found it was empty

and again his anger flared.

 

“Don’t you know, young lady,”

he said harshly,

“when you give someone a present,

there’s supposed to be

something inside the package!”

The little girl looked up at him

with sad tears

rolling from her eyes

and whispered:

“Daddy, it’s not empty.

 

I blew kisses into it

until it was all full.”

The father was crushed.

 

He fell on his knees

and put his arms

around his precious little girl.

 

He begged her to forgive him

for his unnecessary temper.

An accident

took the life of the child

only a short time later.

 

It is told that the father

then kept this little gold box

by his bed

for all the years of his life.

 

Whenever he was discouraged

or faced difficult problems,

he would open the box,

take out an imaginary kiss,

and remember the love

of this beautiful child

who had put it there.
That is both and sad

and uplifting story.

 

Yet for all of us

who have reached

a certain age,

we know life

to be both bitter and sweet.

 

But despite that

we still try

to candy coat Christmas.

 

We spend too much,

eat too much

and become couch potatoes

too much.

 

And then…

and then it’s all over.

 

That is the moment

we feel like that father

who opened

that apparently empty shoebox.

 

It’s at that moment,

we exclaim –

is that it!

 

It is that moment,

we feel a bit cheated.

 

However, that feeling

forgets that Christmas

is like that

beautifully wrapped present

the little girl

gave her father.

 

For the true content

of Christmas is invisible.

 

It is the invisible idea

that there is a Creator God

who came down to earth

not as a thunderbolt

but a baby risking human hands.

 

The idea

that he did this

for no other reason

that his concern

for each and everyone of us.

 

The idea

that we can respond

to this unseen present

by showing concern,

companionship and even love others.

 

Since who can doubt

that Christmas

does make the world

a better place.

 

For don’t we greet

total strangers

on the 25th

with a smile

and a ‘Merry Christmas’?

 

Don’t we give generously

to charities

for human beings

in trouble, far and near?

 

Don’t we revel,

if only for a day,

in a peace

that seems beyond understanding

but not out knowing?

 

And the answer are – Yes we do!

 

The Australian columnist

Clive James

once wrote

of visiting Paris

 and reading

the author Albert Camus.

For he said –

I wanted to write like that,

 in a prose that sang like poetry.

I wanted to look like him.

 I wanted to wear

 a Bogart-style trench coat

 with the collar turned up,

 have an untipped Gauloise

dangling from my lower lip,

 and die

 romantically

 in a car crash.

He then decided

quite wisely

to keep the crash

for a more propitious moment.

However, he then wrote –

when you leave Paris,

you also leave behind

 the person

you might have been.

Let us then

not leave Christmas behind.

 Let us not leave Christmas

 like a discarded empty box.

 Let us see more

than its golden wrapper.

 Let us not leave

the person Christmas

 could make us.

Instead let us

open and open again

 the gift of Christmas.

And then blow

its kisses of love

towards people

who need their presence

more than most.

Amen