Pastoral Letter - 24th February 2023
As some of you may have heard me say on Sunday, I couldn’t sleep one night last week and was flicking through Instagram when I came across a post from a Christian church based in America. The post read "Sometimes God can only come into your heart by breaking your heart." I read it a few times just to make sure that I had understood correctly. "Sometimes God can only come into your heart by breaking your heart." Absolute nonsense! The idea that God, whose whole character is creative, whose nature is love, whose purpose is to build up, whose energy is transforming, could be the author of destruction in order to get through to people, is completely at odds with this misleading and badly thought through statement. I defriended them on the spot!
But on reflection of course, I appreciated that it is only when someone says something one finds oneself disagreeing with that one realises what one actually believes to be true. The early Church owes a great deal to those deemed heretics, as it was as a result of the ideas they expressed that the Church formulated what we now revere as doctrine. So too this post on Instagram made me realise what I believe NOT to be true of God as well as what I DO believe to be true.
The God we think we know and would like to know more deeply, reveals Himself to us as one who always embraces negativity and transforms it into something positive: sin, lame limbs, blind eyes, ignorance, loneliness, fear, unworthiness, death. God is a life-force and life is always positive, creative and forward looking. God is not the author of destruction, disaster, broken hearts, broken lives.
The life of Jesus shows us that yes, negativity, disappointment, disaster, pain, injustice comes our way. Jesus lived with these realities, He died of these realities but He also triumphed over these realities, showing us a way beyond them into another reality of His love’s making. God doesn’t break hearts in order to come into people’s hearts. When hearts are broken, He reaches out into them, seeking to fill those aching chasms with the fullness of His love. In her wisdom, the Church offers us before we start the season of Lent, the reading of the Transfiguration (Matthew Chapter 17 verses 1-9) and such stories point us toward that transforming truth.
In that story, Jesus is seen for a few fleeting moments in His rightful raiment. Had He come to earth as He truly is, brighter than the sun, we would have been dazzled and blinded by the power of His presence and the energy of His love. But here it is as though He is revealed in His true splendour and potency. Here, in this zenith moment, the truth is made clear: He will suffer, even He must enter into the cold darkness of betrayal, injustice, persecution, pain, fear, isolation, failure, death. Even He is not exempt from such realities. But here’s the thing, here’s the life changing thing for you and for me: He enters freely into that shadowland, fortified, encouraged, reassured by the experience of this unquenchable light.
God is not the author of negative realities, but enters into them in order to transform them from within. At the very darkest point of His suffering on the Cross, the flame of resurrection is ignited. Henceforth you and I can feed off that resurrection reality. There is nowhere you and I can go in the landscape of life’s realities, even into the most cruel moments of life or death, that our Creator God has not been prepared to visit before us, and through His presence there, transformed them into a places where we can meet with Him.
The revelation of the Transfigured Christ is God’s gift to us as we enter this season of self-reflection in Lent. In the events of Holy Week we journey toward facing up to both His and our suffering, His and our death. The reading of the Transfiguration reminds us that God is a God of light and life and love; of creativity, of compassion, of commitment to us the people of His making. He is one who always, always, deals positively with what is offered to Him.
This you and I need to know as we journey into the realities and truths that we dare to face up to, in this stripped back season of Lent, when the reality and truth of all is laid bare and the mirages of materialism, the false gods whom we are encouraged to worship, the false truths we are encouraged to live by, are all seen for what they are.
God is love. He is a God who embraces suffering, who never breaks hearts but seeks to fill broken hearts with His compassionate, believing love. This Lent, let us believe that, trust that and draw strength from that, as we journey wherever life may lead, assured of His presence with us.
With blessings and best wishes