This Sunday we had a pulpit swap between Rev Tom Lusty of St Chad’s in Headingley and our own Rev Heston Groenewald
Isaiah 50. 4-9a
September can feel like the start of a new year. It is the Jewish New Year around this time. Obviously a new beginning for those in education or those with kids, but also after the jigsaw of holidays / time off work everyone is getting back into gear. It also feels like the season is changing, there is a sense of new beginnings. So here, for what it is worth, is a reflection on new beginnings…
As in all good sermons it has three points. And I am going to tell you what those three points are. Security. Identity. And saying no to things. Security. Identity and Saying No… It was at this point my sermon went from being a good sermon to a bad sermon because then I added an extra point to make it a four point sermon. Otherwise (as you may have already worked out) the acronym that you would have for Security, Identity and ‘saying No to things’ would be ‘SIN’.
That might create the subliminal message that you should be sinning, or spending more time sinning. And so the final letter and the final point in my four point sermon is / God: ‘G’ stands for God. So you then go from ‘SIN’ to ‘SING’, sinning to singing! And the subliminal message could be that you might spend less time sinning and more time singing… Which I am sure is a good thing.
So without further ado some reflections on New Beginnings. Subtitled ‘from Sinning to Singing’. The life and times of Francis of Assisi.
We begin with ‘S’ for security. In all our new beginnings we trust that God goes with us. And in that security and that trust we can achieve extraordinary things. We ought to perhaps spend a bit of time focussing on the quality of this trust.
It is not a complex trust but a simple trust. Brother Roger of Taize talked about this simple trusting, and he achieved a lot by trusting God from the start of his enterprise. From the beginning. The Taize community is founded on trust. As Brother Roger would put it at the heart of it all was (please excuse my French) “un tout simple confiance” – a very simple trusting. Trust is a deeply spiritual quality.
So at times of new beginnings we affirm spiritually that our security is in God, who is faithful and unchanging. This is beautifully expressed in the 23rd Psalm. Often used at times of ultimate change, like funerals, but helpful in other settings and new beginnings:
God is my shepherd.
He finds me when I’m lost. He gives me rest when I’m tired.
He leads me when I don’t know which way to go.
God is my …heavenly father / my rock / my physician / my best friend
This beautiful reflection from the Northumbria Community ends “God is my everything. Who is he to you?” … [Pause]
Security. Our new beginnings are secure because we begin them in the best possible company.
‘I’ is for Identity. In our Gospel Reading Jesus asks his disciples “… and who do you say that I am?” It is a teacher’s question: Jesus is confident in his own identity, secure in his identity. Jesus knows who he is.
For those going to a new school discovering our identity is key. Helen and myself are seeing the world through [our son]’s eyes as he starts a new school. The early indications are that he is loving school, also that he is enjoying being himself. He is secure in his own identity. Having a sense of our own identity, a sense of who we are is key to all our new beginnings, an identity that is God-given and indelible.
Security. Identity. ‘N’ is for ‘saying NO’. Being secure in God and secure in our own God-given identity might lead us to say no to certain things which are damaging to this security – for those starting out on new beginnings who happen to be disciples of Jesus: we need to have a preparedness to say ‘NO’ to anything that compromises our trust in God or which diminishes our God-given selves.
I was chatting to Paul at the Pay As You Feel Café earlier this week and was struck by his interesting thoughts about our brains. In particular the fact that we each have 60,000 thoughts a day – approximately! Our thinking can get quite limited, however, particularly when we are stressed. But even when we are stressed we can consciously change the patterns of our thinking one thought at a time (when we are aware of them) so that we might (for instance) become more focussed on God’s imagination. So that (perhaps) our imagination and God’s imagination have a greater chance of overlapping.
Sometimes our saying ‘yes’ to things can crowd out God in our brains. Whereas we should make more room for God ‘up here’. And that might mean saying ‘No’ to things, saying no to addiction. If you have got an addiction why not simply chip away at it with God? Take candy crush as a case in point. If you play it for too long you may find all those little red jelly beans and various other coloured sweet shapes infesting your brain to such an extent that all you can see in your mind’s eye is dolly mixture moving around… Why not put images of God there in that ‘candy crush place’?
Look at beautiful art. Or nature.
Things which point us to God – and God’s kingdom.
With that in mind that leads me to my final point: God. ‘G’ is for God.
We need more of God in our thoughts.
The following meditation makes that point – as a way of saying we need to be thinking more along God’s lines, adjusting our thoughts towards God’s way of looking and God’s way of learning.
[So now I invite Bob to read it. And Katherine will play some music. And then we’ll have a pause.]
I met him on the train…
[After meditation read extract from R. S. Thomas poem The Kingdom ]
It’s a long way off but inside it / There are different things going on … mirrors in which the blind look / At themselves and love looks at them / Back …
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart (Security / trust) …
with all your mind (say No to a few more things) …
with all your soul (all your Identity) …
and with all your strength. (God in all, God in everything).
Love God with all you have got. (Every thought)
Security. Identity. Saying No. God. … How can I keep from singing?
In all new beginnings we trust that God goes with us.
We trust that God will surprise us.
And we trust that God, in God’s mercy, will adjust our perspective
so that more of God’s kingdom breaks into our lives
… both as individuals, and into our life collectively as God’s Church. Amen.