Methodist Conference conversation
Friday 11th June 2021 @ 5:15 pm
The words below were written as an introduction to an evening conversation at Methodist Conference 2021 on how the pandemic has affected our lives …
Not everything in the coming year will be under our control.
We know this, because over the last 18 months we have re–learned,
re–learned in spades with bonus points and a cherry on top,
that not everything is under our control.
This is not a surprise though – we are people of faith – we know this!
We should remember at every chance, just how deep this reality is contained in the stories of our own tradition.
We hold the unknown and unlikely to be true.
A wandering family somewhere in modern Southern Iraq comes out of nowhere in the early pages of our text to provide a son who becomes the founding father of faith.
The most unlikely of young men get chosen to be heroes, Gideon the fearful, Saul the backward, David the philanderer – who already had hundreds of concubines.
Women, in the most unlikely of places and most unlikely of ways provide modes and means for the story of God to keep unfolding throughout history. Tamar the wronged, Ruth the foreigner, Mary Magdalene the disturbed. And not least of all, Mary mother of Jesus, the young teenager.
Our tradition shouts that the unknown and the unlikely are realities we should inhabit easier than any other.
Water comes gushing out of rocks
Vast armies of opposition are slain in a second
Fortified walls come tumbling down
The blind see
The deaf hear
The lame dance
And the dead are raised to life.
We should be the very harbingers of unknown and unlikely.
This conversation is not about how we rebuild what church is or can be – this evening is about where has God been in the midst of the madness. And there is no more important way to seek thoughts on this, than to join conversation with Scripture and with each other. As we have briefly noted, scripture holds the unknown and unexpected in primary place. And my goodness we have experienced serious unknown and unexpected over the last year. We also see in clearly in Scripture that the God of the Bible is not a God who abandons his people or creation – but rather, is a God who continues to live the realities of incarnation through the Spirit.
God is With Us.
In all things, through everything.
So we discuss and discern, we disarm ourselves of our prejudice, we maybe disband much of what we thought we knew, in order to sit with each other in a new space, where our faith bids us understand, God’s here already. Calling us to be a blessing and be blessed.
The writings of the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks who passed away late last year will become more prominent as time passes. There is nothing perhaps more profound in these months following his death than his writings to his children. In one letter to them, as a New year beckons he writes,
“Even in the twenty–first century, when human beings have decoded the genome and photographed the birth of galaxies, there is one thing not even the greatest Nobel prize–winning scientist knows: what tomorrow will bring. We live with uncertainty. That is the human condition and always will be.”
His advice to his children from the Hebrew Bible, what we call the OT, for what he calls a ‘happy life’ (a blessed life) in this uncertainty is this:
… I paraphrase his points for the sake of time …
1. Give thanks. We already have most of the ingredients of a happy life. It’s just that we tend to take these for granted – focus on the Good.
2. Praise. Catch someone doing something right and say so.
3. Spend time with your family. Happy marriages and families need dedicated time.
4. Discover meaning. Finding meaning is essential to a fulfilled life – and how will you find it if you never look?
5. Live your values. Establish habits that enact those values daily.
6. Forgive. Forgiving someone is good for them but even better for you.
7. Keep growing. Don’t stand still, especially in the life of the Spirit.
8. Learn to listen. Listening is one of the greatest gifts we can give to someone else.
9. Create moments of silence in the soul. Remember that God is in every breath we breathe.
And this final one, is really where we hit the road …
10. Transform suffering. When bad things happen to you, use them to sensitise you to the pain of others. The people who survived tragedy and became stronger as a result did not ask, “Who did this to me?” They asked, “What does this allow me to do that I could not have done before?” They didn’t curse the darkness; instead they lit a candle. They refused to become victims of circumstance. They became, instead, agents of hope. Life’s too full of blessings to waste time and attention on artificial substitutes. Live, give, forgive, celebrate and praise: these are still the best ways of making a blessing over life, thereby turning life into a blessing.
Our sacred text invites us into conversation, with it, and with each other. So, in all that happens … lets converse, and let’s discern dialogue with God, as we dialogue with each other.
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