Saturday, 16 August 2014

Do we ask for help enough?

We put limits and boundaries in all of the roles that we as humans occupy. None of us can be everything to all people. In Matthew 15:21-28, we notice Jesus doing just that. He has a clear sense of what his purpose is and what it is not: ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’. This sort of role clarity we are surprised at in Jesus because we see him as our universal saviour. But at this point in our history and story Jesus is also a human prophet, and it is only progressively that it is revealed to us (and perhaps even to Jesus himself) that Jesus is to be so much more than a first century Jewish prophet.

Within this context then Jesus’ refusal to respond to the woman’s request, makes limited historical sense. She is an outsider, a nameless non-Jewish woman. Jesus has no relationship to her and feels no sense of duty towards her.

What is fascinating about this passage then is how this woman refuses to be dismissed and ignored by Jesus. Even though she knows that in the Jewish sense of order and hierarchy she is a ritually unclean-impure woman –- indeed Jesus compares her kind to dogs - she persists. She will not let Jesus push her aside, she will be heard, and she will make her plea.

Yet, we are shown exactly what she has to battle against:

o       Jesus did not answer her.
o       The disciples urged him – send her away.

She kneels down before him saying: ‘Lord, help me’.

She is humiliated, she is begging, she is pleading, she is being shooed away like a dog, and she is being rejected and pushed aside. Yet, she kneels before Jesus. She makes herself totally vulnerable. She has no pride. She is disarmed.

‘Lord, help me’.

With this action she at least gets a response from Jesus, she has his attention. But his response is to defend his position: ‘I cannot give to you what is meant for the children’. It is not until she replies: ‘Yes, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table’, that Jesus is himself wrong footed.  Her persistent and courageous faith, together with her humility is rewarded – her daughter is healed.

This unnamed Canaanite woman has shown audacity - to desire the healing that comes from God and from the Jewish faith of which she is not a part. On the other level she has been totally humble, she has not fought against her cultural position, she has simply appealed to Jesus’ mercy in reflecting that, even the smallest amount of what is good and holy can heal even the least and unworthiest of people. It is that extraordinary faith in the goodness of what Jesus represents that compels Jesus to give where he had not planned or even considered giving. In hope and faith she dared to ask for help where she knew it would not be easily forthcoming.

I just want us to reflect on the ways that we approach God as we think about this woman’s approach to Jesus.

What she reveals to us is that we can draw and invite God into our lives by our approach; that persistence in prayer will be rewarded. She says to us: put your hope in God and ask for what you need. Go out of your way to knock on God’s door, to keep asking, especially when things get really bad for you or for people that you love. Then is the time to sit before God and beg him, plead with him.  The things that bring us low so low that we put aside our pride are the very things that will, if we persevere, let God heal us, renew us and save us.

What is it in our lives that might bring us on our knees, imploring God for help? Those moments when we have to approach God out of desperation or need are moments of opportunity – for they enable us to cross the boundaries that usually separate God from humanity. And it is the crossing of boundaries that forms the basis of our living relationship with God. When we have to change in order to reach God, then God will change in order to reach us.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

War and Religion

St Paul is a man who experienced a seismic shift in his understanding of how God relates to His people and to him as an individual. That shift in thinking is dramatised in the road to Damascus episode, which as a story has become synonymous with the experience of dramatic conversion.Paul provides us with a paradigmatic example of the effects of conversion on an individual. His passion for and evangelical zeal for his new found understanding is second to none. Yet with the advantage of hindsight we know that the division between Judaism and Christianity has led to some pretty awful consequences. Paul’s continuing comparison between what he used to believe and what he now believes necessarily casts the Jewish comprehension in an unfavourable light. So much of Christian history has been about casting the Jewish faith as one that has been superseded by the superior Christian one. What can we do about this? We can’t read Paul’s words innocently after the holocaust and we can’t speak uncritically about Scripture as we learn to interpret and live out Paul’s experience of and understanding of Jesus Christ.

These questions are worth raising as we watch with horror as the crisis in Gaza continues to unfold before our eyes, and the implications of national and religious identities make competing claims; claims and counter claims that come directly from certain ways of reading Scripture. Is it worth being for anything anymore? Or should we throw up our hands in disbelief and declare ourselves atheists or humanists? If belief only divides us, what is the point in maintaining it? Has Paul’s definite crafting of a new religion from the old that he so dearly loved caused some of the worst atrocities in the history of the world? Has the birth of a new religion (Christianity from Judaism) just caused needless division and at times hatred?

We have to ask these difficult questions of ourselves, because if religion attempts to construct versions of human community that claim to be better, we need some proof that indeed they are.

I have had a pretty seismic shift in my thinking as I’ve taken on more civic duties here in Rugby – and that is about the necessity of finding a language that is good news for everybody. We need to avoid creating theological communities that talk in a cult-like way that exclude and create barriers for joining. One of the seismic idea shifts that I’m sure St Paul experienced was the revelatory idea that God is the universal creator of all people, therefore One God who loves and redeems all people, creating a world wide family, brothers and sisters together beloved and sustained by One God: ‘For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, and is generous to all who call on him’.  When we consider that at least the three Abrahamic faiths profess one God, we seem to get into some mighty strange tribal battles about how we understand our experience of that God and how he orders us to behave. Perhaps St Paul didn’t help, because as Christians laboured their difference in relation to how they experienced God in Jesus Christ, they forgot the similarities between the old and the new; similarities that we would do well to remember.

Now, I’m not saying that we aren’t emphasising different things in our various religions, nor am I saying that they are unimportant, but sometimes religious zeal borne of the experience of radical conversion of heart and mind, can lead us to jump ahead into the importance of the difference at exclusion of the similarity. Those of us who study and read the Old Testament know that we can talk both about continuity and discontinuity between it and the New Testament. Similarly we know there is continuity and discontinuity between Christianity and Islam.

Faith is common to all these religions and it’s important to ask how faith affects who we are and how we relate to others. For us as Christians, it’s fundamental I believe that we learn to be people of peace, who speak of God’s love and concern for all – the Father of all creation, who unites us, who yes may ask us to give our lives for what we believe, but not in violent attack, always in peaceful resistance. Jesus was led to his death, a life he willingly sacrificed to declare the Father’s love for the whole world, and unite people in his concern for our redemption.

Faith means that we believe in our brothers and sisters, that we always keep believing that they are made in the image of God, that they therefore are sacred and holy, and that we should honour them, as God honours us. Only that sort of faith can maintain peace worldwide and can put an end to the violent destruction of one another that comes from the idea that the others persons gain is my loss, rather than seeing that human flourishing comes when we recognise that the good of the other, is my good too. This sort of faith takes courage, the courage needed to walk on water and not look down and doubt! (cf. Matthew 14:22-33)

Religion is about conversion, a change of heart, a change in understanding and these conversions can be dramatic as well as slow. What is important to reflect on is how we communicate that conversion to others; it has to be done with integrity if it is to be in harmony with the God we profess. Conversions that powerfully demand cult like commitment to alternative communities set apart from others, to me are ones to be avoided and resisted. Christians are the salt of the world, living among everyone, at one with everyone - critical friends often, yes, but divine lovers always first. We are called to be with God’s people whoever they are, and to love them as they are, as Jesus first loved us, coming among us.

Scripture References: 

Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

Sunday, 3 August 2014

WW1 Centenary Commemoration Address

Looking back helps us to see who we have become – and so it is as we look back to the start of the First World War. Britain was very different in its national character compared with today – a time however no less complex and demanding, despite our tendency to be nostalgic about the past – the political atmosphere in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was tense in 1914, Home Rule and the threat of civil war in Ireland along with the suffragette movement were urgent questions.

As war was declared, almost without warning, despite the trepidation, no-one could have predicted how the First World War was to change the Western experience and consciousness. World War Poetry has become a part of our national imagination, with stark clarity it has spoken deeply to us of the suffering and sacrifice that war demands and exacts. For some of those men facing their own violent and brutal death and seeing it happen to their friends, comrades and enemies, the words of the Bible offered them a way of understanding and putting their suffering into the context of God’s justice, protection and care.  Every member of the British armed forces received a New Testament as part of his standard kit, alongside uniform, gun and boots. It’s another indicator of the difference between 1914 and now and how a part of normal life the Bible and Christianity was then.

For those men, the sacrifice they were being asked to make was not entirely voluntary – they did not know the nature of the war that they were to be involved in as they signed up, nor the scale of the casualties, on both sides. Yet, the Bible at least enabled them to put the context of their experience into a wider framework of understanding. Near misses could be seen as God’s providence and protection, whereas death of friends could be put within the context of everlasting life. For example, a William Gooderham who joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (lying about his age to be accepted) at 17 years of age found himself lying in a shell hole in no-man’s land, injured, terrified and alone. He lay there for three days unable to move. In the end two German soldiers rescued him, and were horrified by his wounds: one of the two Germans took his own helmet and got water to bathe his wounded ankle, and bound it as best he could. They took it in turns to carry him back to a German field hospital, three miles away. The German surgeon operated straight away and saved his ankle and foot. William called these Germans his guardian angels and they made him feel that God was with him. This story and many others like them reveal how God is met indiscriminately in acts of mercy:

As General Lord Dannatt has written movingly -

Some may choose to argue in the coming months about on
whose side was God in the First World War, but that is an arid
argument. God does not take sides between countries, however
he is passionately concerned for the people who live in those
countries and get caught up in war. He made us, He loves us
and he wants us to love him in return. In peace or war God is
interested in us as individuals.

General the Lord Dannatt GCB CBE MC DL
Chief of the General Staff 2006-2009

Such words from a former British Army Chief are powerful and moving. God is not on any side; he’s on the side of peace and on the side of each human being that he has made.

Tim Dean (priest) writing a sermon for Remembrance Sunday has written:

'The Christian understanding of ‘peace’ is more than the avoidance of war, more than the absence of conflict. It is about building relations between people, between communities, between nations, which positively and constructively creates a love and care for others founded on justice for all. Just as the people of Coventry did after World War 2, when led by its Cathedral it acknowledged the devastation our country brought to cities like Dresden, and worked to build a new relationship of peace.'

If our remembering is to be useful for the purposes of peace then we have a duty to be people who build relationships with those who are different from us. Nowhere is this more needed than in a global world where different religions and world views are coming into contact with one another more frequently.  Peace comes not from working with those we agree with but by working with those we don’t and seeing how we manage it. Do we become obstinate, aggressive, and more trenchant in our views? Or do we become gentler, more patient and accommodating with a greater appreciation of the other? We can hold strong beliefs and views and be willing to die for them, but how we die is just as important as our motives. If we die angrily then how can our lives be a testament to peace?

As we work for peace each one will bring their own stories religious and other in attempting to build bridges. For example, Jesus Christ is revered by his followers as a man of peace who died offering words of peace and forgiveness.  His teaching included the command to ‘Love your enemies and pray for people who persecute you’. His followers were expecting a triumphant leader who would perhaps use force to overthrow the Roman oppressors, a liberator and King – instead they got a humble victim who denounced violence, spoke of forgiveness, love and charity to all and showed that God was not partial, but loved all people. This message remains as needed today as at any time; for it is a message that teaches us not to see our neighbour as an enemy but as a brother and sister in God’s world, whether Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu or atheist.

As we remember the start of WW1 and look back we give thanks for what WW1 has taught us as a nation; a different nation in 2014 in comparison to 1914  –nonetheless we are connected to our ancestors by a common land, history and a continuing desire for peace, freedom and self-determination. We give thanks for the sacrifice that others made so that we may live in peace and security; we pray for those who are suffering today in armed conflict and war especially as the cries of suffering from Gaza and Israel reach our ears, and we recommit ourselves to the need to work for peace and all that that means. AMEN

Address preached at St Andrew's Church Rugby, 3rd August 2014 as part of the town's commemoration of the start of WW1. 

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Peace and Unity: Civic Sunday Service

The Mayor has given himself a challenging theme for his Mayoral year that of peace and unity. In our current national context where fears around religious fundamentalism, or fundamentalism of any kind are rightly feared, it is so important to articulate a hospitable and generous account of what it means for people of different faiths and none to work together for the common good. This is something that the new Mayor, Ramesh Srivastava has committed himself to, which is a truly noble task.

This year provides a great opportunity for the people of Rugby to be further united and to work for peace; we have come together today to witness to what it means to be people of difference who work for peace and unity.

Thich Nhat Hanh, an internationally known Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Monk, writes that:

'The practice of peace and reconciliation
is one of the most vital
and artistic of human actions.'

Jesus says in the Bible reading we have just heard:

'Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.'

and Dorothy Thompson, an American journalist writing and broadcasting in the 30’s and 40’s, famously known for interviewing Hitler comments, that:

'Peace is not the absence of conflict,
but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict-
alternatives to passive or aggressive responses,
alternatives to violence.'

In a multi-faith, no faith and multi-cultural society we need to find a common language which is enriched by many traditions and perspectives, but which can unite diverse peoples in common goals. Religions have always sought to encourage people to look beyond the basic materialism of our existence in talking of the soul and the spirit and inviting people to raise their expectations of what human well-being looks like. Humanists may eschew such language and yet they too yearn for human flourishing and well being. How might we as a nation with a strong Christian heritage creatively intertwine other faith and non faith perspectives in our language of the common good?

The language of values has been adopted in many areas of public life to attempt to do just that. The Christian values of faith, hope and love have been accompanied by the secular values of tolerance, equality and inclusivity. They are in many ways in creative tension with one another and the different perspectives challenge one another. How is tolerance challenged by the concept of love, for example, and how is the concept of faith challenged by the idea of inclusivity? Perhaps if we could have a real dialogue between the varying world views each one of us would be enriched and so too would our society. The Church of England for example is rightly challenged by the value of inclusivity as its exclusion of women and gays has been criticised. Christianity similarly often challenges politicians about their concern for justice for the poor. Together the world views can critique and refine the particular ideologies. For that to continue to happen we have to value practices of peace and unity, where dialogue is not about winning the argument, but exploring the implications together of different understandings and perspectives.

Some of the criticism being levelled lately at the nature of the dialogue in our parliaments is about a desire for a more virtuous debate. One in which ideas can be robustly debated for their merits and weaknesses. Such a dialogue may perhaps serve the common good better, but for it to work practices of communication across the political world and the media world would need to be reformed.  All of us sitting here no doubt know the limitations of reported communication. For society to move forward we all have to learn to listen better and condemn less. Unity requires a generosity of spirit, a willingness to accept the validity of another’s viewpoint or argument.

Another key element of this Mayoral Year is of course the Commemoration events for the start of WW1; we are particularly reminded in these of the need for people who practice the art of peace making as we remember the cost to human life when nations engage in war.  Peace making in a violent world is deeply costly. Speaking peace into conflict situations takes courage and it also means accepting our weakness and vulnerability. Power, strength and invincibility are the values opposing the practice of peace (yet ones which are propagated mercilessly by movies promoting violence and super power) -Peace making makes us vulnerable, for the peace makers are meek, gentle, persevering and courageous: ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth’. Their power is the power of steadfastness and inner virtue.

I am excited by The Mayor’s ambitions for his year and deeply moved already by his ability to bring people of different faiths together. He has shown his commitment to peace and unity and I will be praying for him and his team as they seek to promote and influence the town and council this year through their hard work, dedication and most of all determined commitment to the values of peace and unity.

I commend The Mayor’s year and his intentions to you all and to the mercy and blessing of God. Amen

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Lifting our imaginations beyond what is seen and known

As Christians we all the time stand in the presence of the one who is glorified; we always have God as our background, as our strength. We look elsewhere for the ultimate means of knowledge, for the ultimate means of consolation. This marks us out in a secular world, for a secular mindset rejects the idea of there being something greater and better than us who teaches us who we really are and what our real end is. Everything is reduced to what humanity can see, understand, categorise.

The Vision that Isaiah* has of God, sums up in many ways the story of God that is told from the start of the Old Testament to the close of the New – God alone is worthy of honour and praise – a true encounter with God brings us to our knees in recognition of our own unworthiness – God forgives us and calls us and sends us to do his work. This Vision of God is a Trinitarian vision as God is seen to work in the ways that we understand God to work as Christians – The Mighty Creator and King worthy of honour; the one who draws us to Himself and forgives us, the Son, and the Spirit calling us and sending us, equipping us to be messengers and ministers of the Gospel.

A religious or spiritual encounter is that which is about seeing what is greater, seeing what alone can teach and guide us, empower and enable us to be better, do better and reach for better.

We do really live in an impoverished culture that glorifies fame and wealth, power and success; a world that refuses to see with its imagination and its heart that humans are called to so much more than that alone which we can dominate and exploit. It’s so sad to see human life reduced so much, because what we believe really does impact on human well-being and lived experience. So, those of us with a religious imagination have a great duty to encourage others to step beyond the reductionist mindsets that dominate the grand narratives of our day – to encourage people to enter into the glory of God’s presence – to open their eyes to the transcendent reality.

How, do we do that? By living lives that reflect the glory of the one we worship. If it really does matter who and what we believe in, then it really will impact on who we are as people. If God exists and knows what is best for our well-being then Christian communities must be places when human beings can flourish; where the weak and vulnerable are supported; where the sad are comforted, where the sick are healed and so on. We must be people who dare to live what we proclaim. If our faith makes no difference to the way we behave, to who we are as people, we of all people are to be pitied – for being given a vision of God that is so glorious, we fail to actually see, we fail to inhabit the glory which is our inheritance and our delight. How might faith make more of a difference for you?  How might you and I reveal something more of God’s glory today, tomorrow, next week? What specific things is God calling us to be and to do, to glorify and honour his name in the world?

As Trinitarian people we are lovingly created, humbly brought back to God and empowered to be the light and salt of the world. Let’s re-affirm our commitment to that vocation together, today.


Isaiah 6:1-8

A Vision of God in the Temple

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:

‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.’ 

The pivots
 on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’
 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’ Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Making new beginnings in familiar places

At the Feast of Pentecost we remember the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. To help us enter into that story afresh, I wonder if you will imagine with me that you are visiting a house that hasn’t been lived in for some time which, however, you know it really well. Perhaps it’s a summer house that has been left empty all winter; you are travelling down to re-open this house for the summer. Imagine approaching this house, what do you see? Perhaps the grass is very overgrown at the front, too many shrubs that need cutting back. All the curtains are drawn. As you turn the key in the lock and push the door you are at first halted by the amount of mail that has piled up behind the door. As you start to move through the house opening curtains and doors, light starts to filter back into the house, so that you see the furniture and the dust. Your presence starts to bring light with warmth a human touch. You pat down sofas, move some things around. Start to open and sort through the mail, look at what needs washing and cleaning. 

After a while you sit down and have a good look around. You notice the wind blowing through the windows, bird song faintly in the distance. Light is shining everywhere.

The Spirit, the gift of which we celebrate today, moves in our lives in a way that animates and activates, bringing light so that things may be seen differently. Like moving into a house that is dark, uninhabited and unkempt, the Spirit opens up our closed places; she moves through animating and transforming. She brings order and discipline; she guides us and enables us, helping us to uncover lost treasures. She cleans and purifies, bringing new life and new hope. She encourages us to share, to move outwards, to open up – to invite others in.

The Spirit challenges us to make new beginnings in familiar places, not just moving the furniture around, but actually seeing differently, with eyes that have learnt a different perspective, a new way of looking. For the Apostles of Jesus it was learning to read the Jewish Scripture in a new way; something that was for them so familiar and traditional, but that was coming true before their eyes in dramatic and deeply transformative ways. It took such courage for them to say something different about God.  It was sending them out on missions that would bring conflict and challenge, suffering and death, but new life and hope across the world to all peoples regardless of race, gender or class.

And that’s where the initial impetus might be taken away, we might have opened ourselves to receive some of the Spirit, seen things get better, but when things start to really get moving, maybe then we get a bit more reticent, start closing in. Perhaps the summer house neighbours have popped by and they’re not your sort, you don’t want to have a cup of tea with them. You like it in your own. They mention some problems in the village and you don’t want to hear, you don’t want to actually know about these people, you’re just here for a month of two….

But, the Spirit will not leave things as they are: she will uncover dirt, she will sweep away rubbish, and she will shine in the darkest corners. She will cause a commotion, she will bring change, and she will divide as well as bring peace. She will not leave us feeling cold, but will challenge, bringing rage as much as consent, confusion as much as order. The gentle breeze that at first entered the house with the fresh light might start getting stronger. Things might really start moving, we might be asked to take a risk, to make a sacrifice, to change the way we think, re-assess our judgments.

Will you receive her, will you say ‘yes’ to her transformative power, her energy and her will? Will you let her take you on a journey courageous and demanding but to eternity, fullness and glory - Or will you speedily pull the curtains, close the windows, tidy away and close in?

At Pentecost we are shown that God gives us His Spirit and has been giving His Spirit since he created the world. It is available for us, there for us to receive, ready to re-make us and enable us, all we need to do is say ‘yes’ and keep on saying ‘yes’.  Let us never stop encouraging one another in that. 

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Feet Dangling from the Heavens

My children love the story of the three little pigs, which is a great narrative about how to build a secure life, how to protect ourselves, how to prevent our selves from being victims. A similar parable is found in the Bible of course, the parable about building a house on sand or on rock.

‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!’ Matthew 7:23-29

The Gospel reading for the Sunday after Ascension* gives us a very clear expression of how to build a house on rock, for we listen into a conversation between Jesus and His Father. Jesus’ prayer to the Father reveals the extent and nature of their intimacy, founded on unity of will and of being.   That unity is at the heart of Jesus’ courage and sacrifice. He trusts the Father and is at one with Him – he knows he must suffer and yet he puts his trust in Him and willingly gives up His life.

The three little pigs had to leave home, they had to grow up. Jesus also had to experience a moving away from the Father to accomplish his will. Jesus’ vocation is about division and separation in order that the work of reconciling the world might be completed. So, their unity is not that which excludes others, a unity of privacy and closure, it is a transparent unity, a welcoming unity, a unity that is a model for others, so that we might be included: ‘may they be one as we are one’.

Jesus’ adaptability, his willingness to move, to change, to become human, was essential to his vocation, to his challenge; his willingness most of all to give up the security of heaven in order to rescue the world. A journey of the most extraordinary risk, involving loss on a scale we can only imagine: ‘who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave’. Yet, we realise that he hasn’t given up the essential security which is his relationship with His Father.

Human beings seek stability and security, yet to learn we must seek new environments, we must be willing to adapt, to change and to challenge ourselves. Moreover we must give up or sacrifice things in order that we live the life of love. For Jesus to come to earth, he was giving up his safety, yet he knew that Love was and is His Father’s identity. As Jesus contemplates his return to the Father his prayer is for us that we might be protected because we are ‘still in the world’. He prays that we might enjoy the relationship of unity that he enjoys with the Father.

Jesus shows us that true security can only be found in the depth of our relationship with the Father, with our God. It is that only, the small still centre, which will enable us to cope with, to move through the challenge of being subject to so much change, at times so much suffering, so much challenge. The Father could ask so much of Jesus, because He was His Son, they were totally united in will and in being. God will ask so much of us and we will achieve as much as our faith in God is strong: the rain comes down, the wolves come prowling, but we remain firm, steadfast in the faith.

Unity then with the Father is the way that unity is achieved between us as people. We need not concern ourselves with what others are doing or not doing, but we need to focus on building and strengthening our relationship with God. Jesus all the time that he was on earth, continued to keep that deep and abiding link with His Father, it is what enabled him to do all the things that he did.

If all of us focused on our most important relationship with our God we may just find that our human relationships are transformed. When we learn to wait upon God, we see things differently. We begin to see the depth of the love that the Father has for me as an individual, despite all my failings, all my sins, that we look at our neighbour differently. Jesus looked at us on earth not as hopeless sinners but as humans with the potential to be glowing with love – he saw that and knows that the way to enable people to be transformed by love is not to condemn them, whatever they have done, but to love them, to lift them up to Heaven.

The story of the Incarnation, the indwelling of God on earth, the story of which is finished historically speaking in the Ascension, is the story of God stooping so low so that we might at the last rise with Him to Heaven, perform our own feet-dangling in the air miracle. That was the purpose of that journey, the journey from the centre of God to His other centre, his people, his creation.

*John 17:1-11      Jesus Prays for His Disciples
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.