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I've been thinking about what it must have been like for Jesus, going from being baptised in the river Jordan into the wilderness. It's easier to imagine the scene at his baptism. The chattering crowds who have gathered by the river to see John the Baptist are like the christening parties we see today. There is an excited buzz when the day turns out to be even more interesting than they expected. There's the meeting of Jesus and John (his cousin). And the crowd know they are witnessing something very significant.
Then Jesus heads out into the scrubby, stony wilderness. The lush green of the riverside is gone. There is no shade from the hot sun, no shelter, no food, no water. And there is silence. And the silence continues....
We can find wilderness places in the Uk without too much difficulty. But silence? The profound silence of the desert? There are few silent places left anywhere. And we have become very unused to silence. It is too easy to play our choices of music on our phone! But in the silence we too can hear God, get a sense of direction, and recharge ourselves for the challenges ahead.
You find out a lot about someone when you're planning their funeral. Some of it is told by the family, some of it is gleaned from their reactions and conversations, and from what isn't said. Sometimes I am amazed at the challenges that someone has faced. And it is humbling to find that the little white-haired lady who faithfully sat quietly in the back pew each Sunday used to fly spitfires from the factory to the airfields during the war!
Hearing about what has happened to someone helps you understand why they may have had some annoying quirks. But it is suprising how differently people react to difficulties in life. Those who know me know I'm a keen quilter. This is one of my quilting quotes (slightly paraphrased) "You can give the same pieces to two persons, and one'll make a 'nine patch' and one'll make a 'wild goose chase', and there'll be two quilts made out of the same pieces and just as different as they can be. And that is just the way with living. The Lord sends us the pieces, but we can cut them out and put them together pretty much to suit ourselves, and there's a heap more in the cutting out and sewing, than there is in the fabric." I wonder, are you making the most of what you have been given? What sort of life have you chosen to stitch together?
'Why did God let this happen'? It's a heartfelt cry that comes in response to tragedies like yet another school shooting in America. It's also sometimes our response when the challenges we face seem just too big. If God loves us, why do we have to hurt?
Whole books and long theological treatises have been written on this. There's the 'problem' of free will to take into account. The fact that we don't know what the results of some of our actions will be. And everything we do has unseen consequences. If drugs are expensive and medical care costly, people die from treatable diseases. Where should our taxes go? How do we want our society to care for people? What have humans done to their environment and society over the centuries that is now affecting our physical and mental health?
We expect there to be an answer to every question. But there is no simple answer to this huge question of 'WHY'. And there is also the fact that we don't know the many times that God does step in and stop tragedies from happening. After all, it didn't happen, right?
Maybe the question is wrong. Rather than asking 'Why did God let this happen?' perhaps we should ask 'What can I do to help? What can I do to make sure that this never happens again? How can I love my neighbour as myself?
I was talking with someone yesterday who said her son didn't belive in God because he was a scientist. I wanted to tell her about the many scientists I know who are devout Christians, and whose science informs their faith. And about the many (including the famous Brian Cox) who don't discount that there may be a God because they know that there is so much we just don't know, and maybe never will! After all, what was there before the Big Bang? And before that??.....
To be spiritual is part of what it means to be human. We all have our own spiritual journey through life. Journeying with others can help us when the going gets tough, and there is real joy in being there for others. Your spiritual life enriches everything and enables you to become the person you really want to be. 'Church' can and should be the place that helps you with the foundations of faith, and encourages you on that wonderful journey.
Happy Valentine's Day! Did you begin the day by giving your true love a card? In England, traditionally Valentines were given secretly, a chance for the shy and uncertain to declare their love, and the start of a guessing game for the recipient! Maybe you will also be going to an Ash Wednesday service today, and you'll receive the ash cross on your forehead with it's emphasis on penitence, and solemn reminder of how short our lives are ('Remember that you are dust'). Our service at St Michael's will be at 7.00 this evening.
Ash Wednesday and St Valentines fall on the same day very rarely, about once in a person's lifetime, and it can seem a strange linking of love and death. But it is also a good reminder of how strong and everlasting love is. Love is at the heart of Christianity. Love of God and love of each other. Today, as we remember the start of Jesus' journey to the cross, it is good to be reminded of God's love for us, a love that is strong, and passionate, but never secret! May you rediscover God's love for you today as we begin this journey through Lent.