Reader Writes, November 2017
When you look at the wintering sky, the gathering weight of the season coming with its diluted light, do you see pale or dark? Do you see the winter rigging of the woods at anchor, naked branches stripped down for the coming storms, or do you see the endless ocean of the sky, somehow nearer and emptier, all the more intimate for being uncluttered? We can ask the same about God. How do we see him? Do we see man’s strange ritual and tradition around God, or do we encounter the Creator himself and the endless genius of his works? Do we see the church spire, the massive and sometimes forbidding doors, the tangle of ancient traditions? Or do we dare to look in what might seem the least likely place, into our own hearts for glimmerings of eternity placed in each one of us? For there, in every human heart, the Creator left his signature, saying ‘you belong to me; I knew you since the foundations of the earth.’
If this is true, then we should perhaps take courage and look more at the light than the often forbidding ramparts of ancient and modern religious culture. Jesus preached the Kingdom of Heaven with its limitless horizon spanning life and death, man’s hope and God’s grace. He speaks to all; to the Bedouin in a merciless desert and the teenager in a lonely bedsit. God speaks, and we’ll hear him if we are even remotely ready to receive him.
Ben asked the question in a sermon recently, “what is church?” Clearly it isn’t the medieval listed building or even the rituals that go on inside it season by season. Worship in a congregation is the most obvious outward evidence that the Church is there but it isn’t The Church. The Friends of St Mary’s do wonderful things for all of us, church members and town alike, but they are not a church. So there is good news for the spiritually conscious who rarely if ever find their way into a church. God is there and he is the creator of the whole universe; he is very near each one of us, yet his horizons are endless.
And it’s strange to say that God’s Church, his professing people, is the only institution in history that exists entirely for the benefit of those who are not yet its members. Jesus sent out his disciples to spread the good news to the ends of the earth. All are called and all are welcome. And there are no qualifications beyond an open hand that says “Yes! I receive you!” Here is another appealing take on the Church; it is just the workman’s hut on God’s building site of the whole world. It’s where we gather for some encouragement and fellowship during breaks from the real work of being a blessing to our neighbour, being a witness to God’s grace, and “doing justice” as the prophet Micah put it. God’s building site is a huge and exciting project.
Thoughts return to the season of slanting light and how we see it. Congregations of mice are holding their own harvest festivals in the hedgerow, storing up caches of hazel nuts; it’s been a brilliant year. Fellowships of hedgehogs are sucking in wonder on the windfall apples and thinking of bed. The earth is good!