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Monday, 31 October 2016

Discover & explore: Promises

Today's Discover & explore service at St Stephen Walbrook was on the theme of Promises and featured music from the Choral Scholars of St Martin-in-the-Fields including several movements from Fauré's Requiem and God be in my head by Walford Davies. The next Discover & explore service will be on Monday 7 November at 1.10pm and will explore the theme of Safety.

Here is the reflection from today's service:

Promises are like pie-crust writes Christina Rossetti; easily broken. As a result, she suggests that she and her friend make no promises to each other, as these could become bonds or ties on their relationship, and instead simply enjoy their time together for what it is.

Rossetti is speaking of human promises, of course. As a committed Christian, it is unlikely that she would have thought of God’s promises in the same way. And yet, we do have the experience of feeling that God has broken his promises towards us.

In a recent sermon at St Martin-in-the-Fields, I told the story of the blind and deaf Cornish poet Jack Clemo, who believed that God would invade his isolation by giving him the threefold happiness of healing, marriage and success as an Evangelical poet. As a result, he made few attempts to live with his disabilities, refusing to learn braille for example, and wrote some poetry which seems critical of
those who chose to live with the experience of disability rather than seeking cure through God's
invasive power.

He achieved a measure of success as a poet and also married in his 50’s, but, despite much prayer for healing over many years and many moments when he thought healing had come, never experienced the physical healing which he fervently sought. His biographer, Luke Thompson, writes that ‘However we interpret Jack’s beliefs about the role of God in his life, they seem wrong. Over and over again, his statements and expectations were disproved; the signs and patterns perceived were incorrect; God’s promises were broken. It would be possible to construct a picture of a divinity working through Jack’s life, but it would require a complete renegotiation of the terms’ (Clay Phoenix, Ally Press, 2016). Jack struggled with God’s failure to grant to him the supernatural transformation that he desired and this desire and struggle left him isolated and lacking in solidarity with other disabled people.

Jack believed that he had been given a personal threefold promise by God and, understandably, struggled when parts of that promise were not fulfilled. In understanding that situation, and others which may be similar, we need to question whether we have correctly understood what God says about promises in scripture.

Sam Wells helpfully writes that, ‘When something awful happens or we get some terrible news, we experience this question in an extreme form. Why? Why me? Why now? How can I go on? What’s the point? Finding a way to live, and especially coming to terms with a damaging accident or horrible setback, is about identifying some kind of a story that traces together a series of otherwise inexplicable circumstances. Once you’ve done that, you then set about locating where you are in that story. And then you act your part in that story. You could pretty well summarise the human quest as simply as this: searching for a story to live by, discovering one’s place in that story, and living into that place in the story.

And that’s exactly what the Bible is. It’s a story that ties together all things, from creation to the
end, and an invitation to discover our place in that story and take up our part in it.’

There are ‘three questions the Bible asks us – the questions of whether there is a story, where we are in it, and how to play our part in it – and holds our gaze until we give the answers. And these are the three questions. Do you believe the world was created so that we might share in a banquet and be God’s companions forever? Do you believe that through Jesus and at great cost the invitation to that banquet was extended to you and many others by amazing grace? Do you believe that the way to answer God’s invitation is to allow the Holy Spirit to fashion your life so that when you are called to the banquet you clearly belong there because you’ve been living the life of the banquet and sharing the company of those invited to the banquet long before you were finally a guest there? It could be that those three questions are the most important ones anyone will ever ask you.’

The answers to these questions are all ‘yes’ in Jesus. He demonstrates that there is a story, he tells us about our place in the story and he enables us to play our part in the story. God promised when the world was created that we might one day be restored to relationship with him, sharing in an eternal banquet and being his companions forever. He worked to fulfil that promise, firstly by engaging with all those he had created, then by focussing on the People of Israel and finally by sending his own Son Jesus. It is through Jesus that he has kept his promise to us and this is why, in Jesus, all God’s promises are ‘yes’.

This is of particular importance today as we celebrate All Souls by remembering and giving thanks for all who have gone before us into glory. It is because of Jesus, that we have hope that our loved ones are living the life of the banquet and sharing the company of those invited to the banquet long before we were finally a guest there. It is because Jesus said ‘yes’ to God and became the answer to God’s promises to restore us to relationship with him, sharing in the eternal banquet and being his companions forever.


Jeff Buckley - Grace.

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