you sit me down
you fill me with tears
come into my life,
and tell your story
My reflections on the theme of family wisdom:
What have our readings got in common and today?
Proverbs is about listening to wisdom. I made a mistake to use Proverbs, as that was not intended as the lectionary reading. And yet, it seemed to fit. I remember someone telling me, God uses our mistakes. She said –it is a good thing when a service is not perfect. It shows how gracious God is in wanting to work with us humans and our many mistakes.
It states in Proverbs; wise people take advice; the wise watch what they say; the wise shrug off insults; the wise are truthful, the wise use words that heal and the wise have words that last. Wise people can tell the difference between gossip about people, and genuine kindness.
How often do I need to hear those messages!
Psalm 86 mentions thugs and bullies out to get us; our enemies. When we are not at war, do we have enemies? Who might our enemies be? Are enemies the people we don’t get on with? People who don’t see things in the same way that we do? For me, in local politics for the first time, are my enemies people in a different political party?
Perhaps they are unseen enemies in the invisible spiritual world; in and around us.
Sometimes it seems there are lots of little gremlins in the system, determined to stop us, tripping us up, getting in the way, discouraging us. During my preparation for this service had lots of ideas. I wanted to use the technology and music. It became a major personal battle with technology. Nothing worked. I tried to brush it off, think of something else. Yet it did cause its mark and delayed my thinking and reflections about the essence of the service. It also caused hassle to those trying to help me.
The reading in Romans talks about as being part of God’s family. We are children of God the Father and brothers and sisters of Jesus. We share in his suffering now. Yet it is not a futile suffering. It is like birth pangs. There is hope of something better. Not just for us; for the whole of creation.
I used to hate being told that we might need to suffer as Christ’s followers. I remember talking to Mum about the Methodist Covenant service always held at the beginning of January. We both felt the same; especially if we were suffering anyway and when going through difficult year. In the Covenant Service, there is one phrase where it says: Put me to suffering.
Why on earth would I ask for that?
(NB: Explanation for non-Methodists. The Covenant Service is where you re-new your Covenant with God, and say that I will do what God wants of me in the coming year and that might include suffering)
When I tripped up on holiday in March and broke my finger, there were points in that experience where I was saying to God with a whine: Why me? What is all this about? Where are you, Heavenly One, in this frustrating experience?
I reflected on this: Why had a simple trip over a tree root, become complicated, need surgery and end up with nails put into my hand to hold the bone straight. I wrote on my blog:
It was on Good Friday it struck me. Of course, God is here in this. Jesus knows exactly how I am feeling; and so much more. I can feel the heaviness of a nail in my left hand -a nail to promote healing. The nail in the left hand of Jesus, a hand that was pierced for me, was to promote death. Jesus, perhaps you are inviting me to imagine a tiny fraction of your physical suffering. Maybe that is all that is needed from me at present; just to feel this experience. The real aim for me is to feel things that God feels.
Finally, the Gospel reading;Matthew talks about wheat and weeds (chaff) growing together.
I have one or two reflections about wheat and weeds.
The weeds and the good grain look the same when immature. You can only tell the difference when fully grown. (unlike my picture)
A story: When I was 29 single and lonely living on my own in Bradford, I went on a Christian holiday and met a young man. I will call him H to protect his identity. He was a black West Indian. Although born in the Caribbean, his family moved to London when he was a toddler. He was very much a Londoner. He worshipped in a Pentecostal church; and was a missionary; during the time we were together he went to America with Youth with a Mission. He was enthusiastic about faith in a straightforward and ordinary way, both talking about it and listening to others. I was deeply in love and thought this relationship would last. I was also amazed that he was interested in me. At that time, I felt inferior to charismatic Christians, people who could talk or pray in tongues and who were given words of wisdom or see pictures or visions. I thought I had a feeble faith compared to them and was second-class, not possessing these supernatural gifts. So likewise I was in awe of H and his spirituality. He was a gifted spiritual leader. Sadly with me, in an intimate personal and emotional relationship, he treated me badly. I finished the relationship when he messed me about once too often and the emotional pain was too great. It took me 5 years to get over him. What had seemed so good and right; a beautiful wholesome piece of wheat, why had it turned out so wrong? How could God, support him in his spiritual leadership when he was being cruel to me? I remember reading the story about David and Bathsheba, in which David fell in love with her, slept with her and then killed her husband into the bargain. I was appalled too at that.
Fortunately I met another leader from a charismatic church who gave me this illustration. He talked not about grain and grass, but sheep and goats. In the Middle-East they can look the same. In the Bible there is reference too to the sheep and the goats and who will be separated out at a time of judgement. The sheep who behave with pure motives, the goats with more evil intent.
The minister advised me:
- In life and in Church there are goats that behave like goats. You know who they are-they are naughty through and through and they are easy to spot.
- Then there are sheep that behave like sheep. Again they are easy to spot. They are goodness through and through.
- However there are also goats that sometimes behave like sheep. They appear good and to have pure motives, but in their hearts, they are wicked.
- Finally there are sheep that are good at heart, but sometimes behave like goats and do naughty things.
Now, after time has gone by, I like to think that H was one of those sheep who sometimes behaved like a goat; I learnt so many good things from him, especially about faith. Also I began to realise my feeling of inferiority, as a Christian had not helped the situation.
I work as a community Occupational Therapist. Sometimes I think I learn as much from my clients as I manage to help them. As one of my clients once told me: There is no one better than me and I am no better than anyone-else. We are each a beloved child of God.
I feel no hatred or bitterness against H. I felt extreme sadness at the time. Perhaps we were just too different and it could not work out. I am something of a country yokel after all and not a city person.
Second Reflection: A piece of grass is a piece of grass and a piece of grain is a piece of grain –a piece of grass is completely different to a piece of grain. Or is good and evil so different?
When I lived in Bradford I attended a prayer group. Sometimes I felt uncomfortable. I had met Kevin by then. He didn’t like the group. He felt excluded. I remember on one occasion there had been a lot of talk about one of our friends who was suffering from depression. There was a lot of talk about her, I am not sure if we were actually talking with her. Were we indulging in gossip or genuine concern? Sometimes I think there can be a fine line between the two.
Another reflection: the grain is sewn in a field. We need several pieces of grain to have a decent harvest. We need each other to become a splendid piece of bread. I could not have done this service without the invisible support and prayers surrounding me; and the words of wisdom I have received over the years.
Reflection four:It is the angels who are the harvesters, not us. We just need to keep growing. It is not our role to point the finger and judge others. Leave it the angels and to God.
This may seem contradictory, we need to be able to recognise bad behaviour both in ourselves and in others. Be wise as serpents and gentle as doves. I have been having difficulties at work. It is a recurring theme. Constantly I seem to be in trouble with my Managers. I felt bullied. When I reported this, it made it ten times worse. It was all in my head, past history, my managers told me. I crumpled and took back my complaint. I couldn’t explain it. I thought they were trying to make me do things against my conscience, criticizing me for being too kind in my dealing with people. I thought that by saying this, it was a slur on my professionalism.
My good friend R, who is a close confident and follower of Jesus, advised me to take legal advice. She also said that in her mind’s eye she had a picture for me: a picture of a shield strengthened with protective and soft yet effective material. She said she thought I needed a heavy shield to protect me and defend myself; something that would make them back off. As a bystander and listening to my description of the situation she said to me that they were being unjust. ( I asked her as I was too close to it and found it difficult to tell whether it was me at fault or my Managers)
I have just had two weeks holiday, but this week was back at work, finishing my phased return due to my broken finger. I had several reminders about this shield. On the daily service I listen to on radio 4, the subject was all about putting on the armour of God. It mentioned the breastplate of righteousness and the shield of faith and other defensive armour. Even more astonishing when I visited Mum on Monday, my day off and before the start of my week back at work, the thought for the day on her calendar was about God ‘s help in David’s psalms being like that of a shield, standing side by side with him as in a time of war.
On Tuesday, my first day back, I met my boss for a short supervision. One to one, it felt better. (Prior to this I had to meet two managers at a time.) She was more circumspect; not quite as gung-ho as she had been. It felt easier to talk to her and have an adult conversation. I felt as if I had a shield of protection.
I think perhaps the psalm was right, in my case my enemies were my own fears and lack of confidence and my Managers being able to exploit these and bully me.
With regards evil, the chaff perhaps, I heard on radio 4 a discussion about Hannah Arendt a Jewish practical philosopher, who reflected on the elements that caused the Holocaust. She coined the phrase the banality of evil. I think she meant not that evil is particularly common- place; but that evil is incredibly mundane. Like someone just doing their job without thought; allowing people to become economic numbers and worthless if not producing anything.
I do not want to become like that in my job, for the sake of efficiency and getting through the numbers of those seeking help.
Andrent suggested that the holocaust was a perfect storm where lots of factors came into play. One aspect was the nature of evil itself. She described evil as not deep-rooted, but more like fungi, that has shallow roots and sticks to everything. In that way it spreads. One top Nazi was Goebbels. He basically was a highly efficient civil servant, who did his job particularly well and efficiently and effectively. Her advice was live thoughtfully; don’t just do things efficiently and as an automaton.
Finally, there is part of the Gospel reading that I have not yet mentioned. It is difficult to hear, especially when you want everyone to be rescued and restored to living in harmony with our three-in-one God.
Matthew 13:36-43Good News Translation (GNT)
Jesus Explains the Parable of the Weeds
36 When Jesus had left the crowd and gone indoors, his disciples came to him and said, “Tell us what the parable about the weeds in the field means.”
37 Jesus answered, “The man who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world; the good seed is the people who belong to the Kingdom; the weeds are the people who belong to the Evil One; 39 and the enemy who sowed the weeds is the Devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvest workers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are gathered up and burned in the fire, so the same thing will happen at the end of the age: 41 the Son of Man will send out his angels to gather up out of his Kingdom all those who cause people to sin and all others who do evil things, 42 and they will throw them into the fiery furnace, where they will cry and gnash their teeth. 43 Then God’s people will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Listen, then, if you have ears!
Nothing is wasted. The grass is thrown on the fire. Even the grass can be used. As a child I used to be fascinated about the expression grinding of teeth. It made me think of Gnasher, the dog belonging to Dennis the Menace who had a lot of big teeth.(From: The Beano)
I am not sure if the expression is exaggeration for effect, Jesus’s sense of humour, or his pent-up frustration with those who refused to listen to understand. Some of the religious people preferred to listen to refute.
I reckon we don’t go far wrong if we keep our focus on Jesus, keep close to him, and not worry about the rest.