Sunday, 17 July 2011

Yeah, yeah, yeah yeah yeah...

Hello, Lord.
Today we had a sermon based around a song that was a particular favourite of mine when I was at University in Liverpool.  We listened to this album a lot and so I know the song word for word. Lots of memories - eating fish and chips out of the paper in the back of a car driving around Sefton Park late at night after one or two drinks (not the driver, I hasten to add), singing loudly; putting on makeup ready to go out with this song in the background; listening to it on my Walkman while strolling along the riverside. Not particularly spiritual memories (especially not the first one, I think), and also I suspect that a careful consideration of the lyrics was perhaps absent on those occasions as well. 

Joan Osborne: One of Us

'If God had a name, what would it be
And would you call it to his face
If you were faced with him in all his glory
What would you ask if you had just one question?'

'If God had a face, what would it look like
And would you want to see
If seeing meant that you would have to believe
In things like heaven 
and in Jesus and the saints and all the prophets?'

Matt was talking about the will - would you want to see, if it meant that you would have to believe; no choice but to change your life completely?  

I found it hard to put myself in that position. I tried to imagine it, but I couldn't get past a strong sense of awe and gratitude that I do know you. No, it was more than gratitude, it was a deep feeling of joy. Not the jumpy-up-and-downy type of joy, but something deep inside me that felt like heat. Like a hot water bottle in a cold bed in November. Like the first swallow of mulled wine on a winter day. Not emotional but solid. Reliable. Permanent. 

Well, you have lots of names, don't you? I know a few of your names and yes, one day I will fall to my knees in front of you and I will have the confidence to call you Lord, Saviour, God Almighty, Creator and King of Kings.  And by some inexplicable product of your grace and mercy you have invited me to call you Daddy and Friend. Me! Little insignificant me, given significance because you chose me and you cherish me and you want me to be all that I can be. 

It seems an amazing thing that one day I will indeed be in your presence and enveloped in your holiness. One day I too will be pure and perfect. Because you sent your precious son to die for me, I can one day come to meet you face to face.  

If God had a face, what would it look like
And would you want to see...'

I do want to see. Sometimes I can't wait to see. I don't mean that I am some sort of saint-in-waiting or that this life is so appalling that I can't wait to throw in the towel; when I thought I might have breast cancer a few weeks ago I realised how attached I was to this life and the people in it. But sometimes when I'm in church worshipping you and it all seems to come together and I'm in the moment it feels as if you've lifted off the roof of the church so that the angels can join in.

CS Lewis said:

'It's safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to.'

Wow. If that's true (and surely it is, for it was said by CS Lewis), then it's an amazing thing. Me, pure in heart? Ha! But on the other hand - I know that when the day comes for me to tremble in front of you as I have nothing to hide behind, I can lean on your forgiveness through Jesus and not have to pay the unpayable price for my sins. I am more excited about meeting you than I am about all the baggage that I would leave at the pearly gates because I trust that it's all dealt with. There must be a holding bay there or something. But you said that you would wash me and I would be whiter than snow. So maybe there's a bit of me that's pure in heart?

So there's the odd occasion when I get one of those glimpses of you and the thing deep inside me - the joy, the warmth - it responds by reaching for you. Is that my soul?

'Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all.'

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, Isaac Watts, 1707. Charles Wesley reportedly said that he would give up all his other hymns to have written this one.  As for me, I like the new tune better than the old one, and I like some bits of it better than others. These last two lines I love. This was the last hymn today and I by no means did it justice as my children were back from their groups, showing me their art and asking me when they could have a biscuit. I'm sure you will let me off the hook for not singing the closing hymn with the appropriate degree of reverence and concentration. (I like to picture you as delighted with Katy's picture and Elizabeth's whale as I was, and sympathetic to their need for sustenance as it was getting on for lunchtime.)

I know that your amazing love demands everything from me, and I long to give you everything. There was a time when I held it all back because I knew that I couldn't/wouldn't give you everything and so I thought it wrong to try to give you anything much at all. Of late I have realised that there's no point in waiting until I can do it all perfectly because that day will never come. I just lay in front of you what I have, what I can. Some of it makes a decent present but I am quite sure that the majority of my offering is far from worthy of you. It's all I have. I know that you love me as I am while wanting more for me, and that touches me in a way I can't express because if I am so disappointed in me much of the time, then how much more must you be, perfect Lord, and yet you still insist that I am your precious child.

Adrian Plass reckons in his book 'When you Walk' that you can see into our hearts and even our messes and botched up attempts at doing the right thing please you. He said:

'God looks into our hearts and and is pleased by an intention to do what we are told. He has learned to live with the scrambled means by which we attempt to be obedient.'

I do have times when I long to do what is right. I am no good at it because my impulses are to do the other thing, but at times I want to be the person you want me to be. I hope that you don't miss those little moments, so that you can see the intention in my heart before it passes. Before it gets drowned out by all the other shouty little voices that so often prevail. 

'What if God was one of us?'

Back to Joan Osborne again. Me being me, I have a problem with the grammar here, as it should, of course, as you'll know, be, 'What if God were one of us', (In case of doubt or desire, IF is followed by WERE) but I can overcome my disapproval in order to mull over the message, just as I did in 1996 to belt out a good tune with wild abandon and no thought for the neighbours in my student days. 

What if God were one of us?  Well, you were, weren't you? So we can't say that you don't know what you're talking about. We can't say that you don't have a clue what it's like to be a person, to be happy and sad, to laugh and cry, to love and mourn and suffer and die. I hold this so close to my heart, Father, knowing that you understand. There's nobody better equipped to understand than Jesus Christ when it comes to having a crap time. 

'For we do not have a hight priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we hav one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - and yet he did not sin.'

Hebrews 4: 14-16

Thankyou that you are not remote, distant, God-like in all but personality and presence. You came and found out what it was like to be the created, not the Creator. You didn't make for yourself a cushy little time on earth where you were treated as you should be entitled; you did it all the hard way. You let mere men criticise and condemn and reject you; you let us sneer and spit on you. You let us kill you, so that we might be free. You did that so that we could come into your presence one day with confidence and call you by your Name and look into your face. You were indeed one of us. 

Joan Osborne, at her most profound, for the last time:

'Yeah, yeah, God is great.
Yeah, yeah, God is good
Yeah, yeah, yeah yeah yeah...'

Oh yeah, you're good. Oh yeah, you're great.

Amen.










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