This sermon was given by Rev Sue on Sunday 7 July. You can read it again here:
Revd. Sue arrives with a back pack, speaking into a phone.
Hi Jesus. It’s Sue here. I’m sorry I missed the briefing this morning – I was just sorting out the cat sitters. I’ve got you on Bluetooth so I’ll just finish packing as we talk.
What am I packing? The usual – some spare clothes…Oh. Just one to wash and one to wear, then. Not even that. OK. Removes clothes.
I must remember my stick. … No stick? But what if I meet an angry looking dog? Or worse still, a robber. If you say so. I’ll put it back. Puts stick to one side.
Muesli bars just in case there’s no food. What do you mean, it won’t harm me to miss a meal? Are you saying I should lose weight? Takes out cereal bars.
Right, nearly ready. Here’s my purse, credit cards. No money? How do we live? Rely on the generosity of strangers? Out that comes then. And I’m guessing the phone stays out too. I thought so. Takes out purse.
What’s left? Just my toothbrush. No point taking the bag, then. Puts toothbrush in pocket.
How would you feel if you were sent out on a journey with just the clothes you stood up in, no money, no phone?
I would feel very anxious and very vulnerable.
* * * * * *
I do usually spend 3 days packing to go away and then look carefully to see whether I can fit the kitchen sink in any of the bags. But one time when our children were school age it was raining heavily as we were leaving to stay with friends. My husband dashed backwards and forwards putting things into the boot of the car. When we arrived, we found that my bag was not there. The children looked at me wondering what my reaction would be, but it seemed too big an issue to be anything but resolutely calm. Our friends found me some toothpaste and lent me some clothes, and we popped round to the supermarket and found everything else we needed there. It really wasn’t a problem. Clothes and muesli bars to altar.
Another way we seek to control our lives is by planning our days so that we always know exactly what we will be doing next Thursday. I remember my mother in law complaining that a friend wouldn’t come to something on a Tuesday because it was the morning she cleaned the bedrooms. We can over-plan and leave no room for the unexpected, the chance encounter, or the Spirit of God. I keep my diary on my phone. Phone to altar.
And suppose someone comes to you in need, perhaps a homeless person. What do you do if you have no money or possessions with you? You can’t give them clothes to keep them warm or buy them food. All you have to offer is your time. You can sit with them and hear their story, and tell them yours. You can offer companionship and kindness. You can lessen that burden of loneliness and isolation that can be more difficult to bear than hunger, cold or even homelessness. Of course, there is a time for providing meals and shelter, for giving advice and help in sorting out benefits. But unless the person receives respect, kindness and someone’s undivided attention from time to time they are unlikely to find the motivation to change their lives. For if no one values them they will believe that their lives have no value. Purse to altar.
Not all of us have the skills or personality to chat to a homeless stranger. But even our families sometimes crave our attention. They come to us with their problems, and we try to fix them. To give practical help, money or advice. And yet sometimes what they want is for us to listen, to share their pain and to understand them. And that can be much harder than trying to sort them out, because it means admitting that we can’t always make it OK for them, and that makes us sad.
And lastly there is the stick. When I was teaching in high schools, some years ago, I had to break up fights between boys from time to time, and I was never hurt. I think that a male colleague would have been much more likely to be injured, because my evident inability to fight meant that the boys did not see me as a challenge. There are times when vulnerability is a strength. Do you watch cop programmes on the television? Then you will have seen the hero going into a hostage situation. He throws his gun down onto the floor and raises his hands to show that they are empty. To be able to defend himself is much more likely to result in being attacked. We are all programmed to defend ourselves, and if we see a threat we may overreact. The same is true in arguments. If we refrain from sarcasm and belittling, or clever manipulation, but state our position gently but firmly we will encounter far less hostility. Stick to altar
So, relaxing our grip on possessions, and not being rigid with our time gives the Holy Spirit a bit more space to speak to us. Listening and being with someone instead of always trying to solve their problems can reduce their experience of loneliness and isolation. Going into a conflict situation without our verbal weapons makes a peaceful resolution more likely.
When we learnt to pray, we were taught to put our hands together – a universal gesture of reverence. As adults we might fold them loosely on our laps to keep us from fidgeting. But the gesture of palms outstretched gives me quite a different feeling. Asking for blessing, but also feeling vulnerable as I offer myself to God without reservation. You might like to try it when we say the Lord’s prayer together, as a gesture of openness to God. A first step in approaching life with empty hands.