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ery Revd Dr Andrew McLellan 
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Sun, Jan 01, 2017

Freefall and Faith

Faith is true activism of the inner life.
Series:January - March 2017
Duration:14 mins 11 secs
Sermon  Sunday 1 January 2017

Lessons    Numbers 6: 22 – 27         Philippians 2: 5 – 11     St Luke 2: 15 – 21

Prayer of Illumination

Let us pray.

Still us, O God, that we may sense Your Spirit in this sacred space, be moved by Your Presence in our prayers, and be made whole by the Word we find in music and meditation.   Amen.

In the tent of meeting, in that sacred space in the wilderness, that holy place set apart from common use and busyness, the LORD spoke to Moses.   The people of Israel travelled for forty years in the deserts of the Middle East, from the heart of Egypt to Palestine.   The wilderness was believed to be a place of spiritual encounter:  the emptiness it afforded made it ripe for experience of the Eternal.   It is worth noticing that, though the wilderness was vast and silent at night, nevertheless the pilgrim people, the Hebrews, built a tent of the LORD’s Presence.   In the Book of Exodus, we read:

Whenever the people of Israel set up camp, Moses would take
the sacred Tent and put it up some distance outside the camp.
It was called the Tent of the Lord's presence, and anyone who
wanted to consult the Lord would go out to it.   Whenever
Moses went out there, the people would stand at the door of
their tents and watch Moses until he entered it.   After Moses
had gone in, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at
the door of the Tent, and the Lord would speak to Moses from
the cloud.

It was in moments of stillness, in that degree of quiet that is only possible in the deepest emptiness, that the LORD, YHWH, the God of Sinai, spoke to Moshe, to Moses.   The 13th/14th century mystic, Meister Eckhart, said, ‘Nothing in all creation is so like God as stillness.’   It was from this setting of silence that the LORD told Moshe to put the LORD’s name on the Israelites.   Bearing the name of the Sacred would be a blessing for them.

I am reminded of the story told by the spiritual writer, John Philip Newell.   In his book The Rebirthing of God, Philip tells the story of his late father who, towards the end of his life, descended into dementia.   Not long before his father moved into a nursing home, Philip accompanied his father to a car showroom where he had arranged for a salesman to purchase his father’s car.   On the day prior to the appointment, Philip called the salesman and said, ‘When you meet my father tomorrow, you will notice that he seems confused about all sorts of things.   But please honour him by speaking to him, not me.   This is his car.   And I’ll be there with him.’   On the following day, after the transaction was completed, Philip said to the young salesman, ‘Whenever I part from my father or whenever we finish a telephone conversation, he gives me a blessing.   And I think he would like to bless you now.’   Standing in the car showroom, Philip’s father took the salesman’s hand, looked straight into his eyes and, citing the ancient words of the Aaronic blessing, put the LORD’s name upon him:

        The Lord bless you and keep you;
        the Lord make his face to shine upon you,
            and be gracious to you;
        the Lord lift up his countenance upon you,
            and give you peace.

To Philip’s surprise, the salesman had tears in his eyes.   From the tent of the LORD’s Presence, from the lips of Moshe 4000 years ago, to the lips of a man succumbing to dementia, the LORD’s name has been placed on generations of people, including every child baptised in the Christian Church for centuries.   

In his Letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul wrote, ‘Let the same mind be in you as was in Christ Jesus.’   The apostle to the Gentiles said, ‘the same mind’.   We are to still ourselves to such an extent that our thoughts are united, in union, with the thought, desire and will of the Divine.   The sixteen century Carmelite friar, St John of the Cross, calls us to walk in loving awareness of God.   While it is not for everyone, St John said that what lies at the very heart of the New Testament is ‘a doctrine of pure liberty’.   For St John, the spiritual practice, the bedrock of every story and verse of Scripture, is to gain freedom from our passions and ego.   Everything he wrote encourages us to renounce self, abandon self and, in faith, to rely on the mercy of God.   

Of course we must love the world, love and care for family and friends, but St John calls for true activism, that is, work on the inner life.   There is a story told of Sarapion the Sindonite who went on pilgrimage to Rome.   He had heard of a recluse who lived there in a single room.   As a traveller, he could not imagine such inactivity.   When he met her, Sarapion asked, ‘Why do you just sit here?   She replied, ‘I’m not sitting.   I’m on a journey.’   

Moses was told to place the name of the LORD on the Israelites.   In his Letter to the Philippians, St Paul bids us to have the mind of the Christ or, as St John of the Cross puts it, to be completely enwrapped in silence, where the passions and ego have fallen away.   Detached, we find God in our emptiness; present to the Presence.

In our Gospel lesson, we heard the story of the naming of Jesus.   The name Jesus in Hebrew is Yeshua, which means to rescue or deliver.   As followers of Jesus, as people inspired by His life, example and the many faith narratives that encapsulate His Spirit and essence, we are to bear the name of Jesus.   In baptism, that name is written indelibly on our forehead.   

The British adventurer, Bear Grylls, the Chief Scout in the United Kingdom, has a remarkable record at the age of 42.   Grylls has served in the Indian Army, hiked in the Himalayan mountains, suffered a freefall parachuting accident in Zambia, reached the summit of Mount Everest, circumnavigated the British Isles on jet skis, crossed the Atlantic Ocean on a rigid inflatable boat, together with others holds the world record for the highest open-air formal dinner party on a hot air balloon at 25,000ft, written a number of books and appeared on numerous television programmes.   He is also actively involved in numerous charities, many of which support children.   

Grylls says that his faith in God is the bedrock of his life.   He was not brought up in the church but found his Christian faith at the age of 16.   Grylls says:

    When I was 16 my godfather, who was like a second
    parent to me, died.  I was really upset and I said a very
    simple prayer up a tree – if you’re still there, will you
    be beside me.   And that was the start of something that
    grew and grew and it’s become the backbone of my

As he has grown and matured, Grylls says that he is more and more convinced, more convinced than ever, that God is real, God is there, and God is love.   He says:

    It’s a very personal relationship….To this day I start every
    day on my knees praying by my bed, and that’s my grounding
    for the day.  

Faith in God helps him face his fears, fears that include parachuting despite the earlier accident.   Faith, he says, reduces his fears because he knows he is not alone.

    My faith [he says] definitely plays a part in my love of
    the outdoors – I see miracles everywhere I look, in
    mountains and in the jungle.   And I think I have less of a
    fear of death as well because I see it as going home

With 2016 behind us, as we face the possibilities and opportunities of 2017, we do so as bearers of the name of Jesus.   As a dementia sufferer or an adventurer, a Carmelite friar or a Presbyterian, what matters surely is that we share Jesus, share the peace of God, the blessing of the Sacred, in ways that we can through opportunities in our life.   Bear Grylls said that God is real, God is there, God is love; I see miracles everywhere.   The mystics said the same thing, though they didn’t jump out of aeroplanes!   We are invited to walk in loving awareness of the Holy One – bearing the name of Jesus.


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  • Because God is both knowable and unknowable the tension of the symbol, the multilayers of the myth and the openness of the poetic are all vital to our desire to celebrate the Mystery to whom we relate and in whom we have our being.
    Mark Oakley

  • You must love him as he is: neither God, nor spirit, nor image; even more, the One without commingling, pure, luminous ...

    Meister Eckhart

  • The purpose of our life is God's glory. However lowly a life is, that is what makes it great.
    Oscar Romero

  • Faith may justify bigotry or fanaticism, as Church history tragically witnesses. It needs a safeguard. If it is not animated as it were by the greatest of the theological virtues (love), faith can become defective.
    Thomas Norris

  • Dry not, dry not, your tears of love eternal! Only to eyes that fail to weep does this world seem so dull and dead. Dry not, dry not, those long, sad tears of love.
    Johann von Goette

  • The post modern paradigm manifests itself as a unity which preserves diversity and diversity which strives after unity.
    David Bosch

  • There is only one assertion that requires no evidence. Children are a sacred trust...Unless we care properly for our children, we shall never build a better world.
    'A Good Childhood’ The Children’s Society

  • These are only hints and guesses, hints followed by guesses; and the rest is prayer.
    'The Dry Salvages' T.S.Eliot

  • According to strict truth, God is incomprehensible, and incapable of being measured.

  • Myth is a story about the way things never were, but always are.
    Thomas Mann

  • In the darkness ...The child of your love - and now become as the most hated one - the one You have thrown away as unwanted - unloved ..... The darkness is so dark .... I have no faith.
    Mother Teresa

  • I love the Bible. I owe my faith and my life to the Bible and its liberating message. It is in the Bible that I first met Jesus ... I too am included in God's embrace.
    Gene Robinson

  • It is this great absence that is like a presence, that compels me to address it without hope of a reply ....
    R.S. Thomas

  • Faith is not a proud self-consistent philosophy. It involves maintaining oneself between contradictions that can't be solved by analysis. It is therefore a living response to the grace of God as revealed in fragile lives.
    Mark Oakley

  • Any religion which does not say that God is hidden is not true.
    Blaise Pascal

  • The contemporary Church is losing aspects of its wide and generous memory and therefore condemning itself to become a 'swimming pool Church' - one that has all the noise coming from the shallow end.
    Mark Oakley

  • For all your doctrinal headaches take Paradox.
    Mark Oakley

  • The true vision and the true knowledge of what we seek consists precisely in not seeing, in an awareness that our goal transcends all knowledge and is everywhere cut off from us by the darkness of incomprehensibility.
    St Gregory of Nyssa

  • Death, death be hanged, the Lord has promised me that I shall live. This I believe!
    Martin Luther

  • We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life have not been put to rest.

  • Religion is the flight of the alone to the Alone.

  • Stupid clergymen appeal quite directly to a Bible passage directly understood ....
    Soren Kirkegaard

  • What is the point of the arts of reading and criticism as long as the ecclesiastical interpretation of the Bible, Protestant as well as Catholic, is cultivated as ever?
    Friedrich Nietzsche

  • A figure like Ecclesiast, rugged and luminous, chants in the dark a text that is the answer, although obscure.
    Wallace Stevens

  • Myth is the poetry of the soul.
    Sara Maitland

  • Our loss of the ability to think mythically, poetically, allegorically, creatively, theologically, and artfully is a greater threat to our religious experience than anything good scientists have to report ...
    Sara Maitland

  • In general, Zen attitude is that words and truth are incompatible, or at least that no words can capture truth.
    Douglas Hofstadter

  • 'God' is a one word poem
    Rowan Williams

  • What is today? Today is eternity.
    Meister Eckhart

  • Apprehend God in all things, for God is in all things.
    Meister Eckhart

  • The most powerful hunger we have, mostly suppressed and misdirected, is the hunger for God.
    Miroslav Volf

  • We frequently judge that things are as we wish them to be, for through personal feeling true perspective is easily lost.
    Thomas a Kempis

  • Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.
    Rabindranath Tagore

  • God is the beyond in our midst.
    Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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