Sunday, August 25, 2013

Our Dream Is To Stand Upright

Some very famous words of Martin Luther King Jnr.’s.  They were spoken passionately by Dr King 50 years ago this week on 28th August 1963.

Dr King gathered with 250, 000 civil rights supporters at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, delivered this now very famous speech as part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

As you know, and as you can here again the snippet we heard, Dr King looks forward to a day when the racial barriers in America particualrly, will be brought down and there will be a racial equality.  One has to wonder whether his dream remains to be fulfilled.

When I arrived as your parish priest I asked you the dream that you dreamed. We harvested these and realised we shared 3 dreams in common - we need to communicate better within the churches and the wider parish, we hope to renew and review our worship and we want to make and take opportunities to deepen our faith.  Many of you will know these have become the priorities of our Mission Action Plan over the last 2 years and there is much evidence of the success of this work.

What are the dreams of God? The reading we heard from the letter to the Hebrews hints in a not too subtle way, that God’s dreams involve humanity coming into His presence, but not in fear and trembling, but in relationship, in receipt on an inheritance.

The scriptures are clear - God’s dreams involve a relationship with him. The writer and teacher Richard Forster says that those dreams can be summed up as God saying ‘I love you. I want to be with you. WIll you come and be with me?’  Whilst the words to Jeremiah in our Old Testament reading are specific to him they resonate down the annuls of history to us - God knew us even before we knew ourselves. But they’re more than that. God doesn’t just want to be in relationship with us - He wants us to be restored to being the people He created us to be, like Jesus’ actions in this morning’s Gospel reading.

I have a bad back. I think old age has made it worse.  As my kids will tell you, there are occasions when during story times I will find it goes and I have to lie flat on the bedroom floor.  Whilst we were away - it went.  On about the first day, whilst rock pooling, I twisted and readjusted my weight and balance and twang!  THis morning's gospel reading is god news for those of us who suffer with bad backs.

Jesus is in the synagogue teaching on the Sabbath when Jesus notices this crippled woman.  But this story is not told in order to discuss healing. Rather this is a story about the role and function of our religious traditions, our claims about what could and should be practiced on the “Sabbath” or who is allowed within the walls of our synagogues and religious communities, and when you boil it down therefore, what God is like.

The story ably demonstrates something that the upcoming Foundations course will explore - what is the nature of God and how do we deepen our faith in Him?

In the first five weeks of the course we will discover more about God using images and understandings from the Bible and how our faith changes throughout our lives.  We’ll look in a bit more detail at the creeds we say on a Sunday morning, why we say them and what they mean.  We’ll discover more about the importance of the Sacrament of Holy Communion - the Eucharist which we are invited to share this morning. We will dive deep into some of the different styles and traditions of prayer, how to use the Psalms in prayer and ponder how (and sometimes if) God answers prayer.  The final week of the first section of the course we’ll think about some of the bigger issues of life and death - what happens when we die, what does resurrection mean, what is life after death and how can we help and support the bereaved.

The course is intended to give an overview of some topics and issues, to give us greater confidence in what our faith is and some tools and resources to discover more. It is about us together, going deeper into God.

This is precisely what Jesus’ hearers on that day in the synagogue realised.  There are depths to this God. There is more to relationship with Him than just following the religious rules.

Jesus healed this woman bent double for 18 years and in so doing she gained new perspective on life and faith. She could see faces rather than feet and she saw God for who He really is in Jesus.  She also will have returned to her family and friends a new woman.  The encounter filled her with joy and she praised God.

The Foundations course will, I believe, offer each of us the same opportunity - to gain new perspectives on who God is, to deepen our faith, to make friendships with others. It will also give us the confidence to look up, to meet people where they are and share with them our perspectives in matters of faith.

LIke that woman, many of us are bent double, unsure, doubting, uncertain - God wants to help us stand up straight, to be sure of His love for us, to be confident in who we are in His sight, and to deepen our faith and trust in Him.

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