Perfect day

Luke 6.1-11

Psalm 23

 

Now I know I have told you this before. But my uncle and aunt in Lairg, Sutherland, were members of the Free Church. And so, Sundays were days when the TV and radio were kept off, books were not read and the minimum of cooking was done.  The Bible and books of sermons were the only source of reading materials. In fact, it was only the going to church twice that broke the day’s silence. The Sabbath then was a day of rest. Indeed, for a small boy like myself it was a day of enforced rest. So much so that my grandfather was once asked by mother what he did on his Sundays during his 2-month summer visit to my aunt’s family in the North. He said that he waited until the family had their afternoon rest and then he unearthed his Sunday Post which he had got in the week and secretly read it.

 

Well, looking back it is easy to take pot shots at such a restricted day. Yet as they were crofters possibly this rest day gave a recharging time from subsistence farming. As committed Christians this rest day definitely restored their souls. Or as the psalmist has it:

He makes me lie down in green pastures

He leads me beside quiet waters

He restores my soul.

 

Well, of course, things here in Broughty Ferry today are quite different. For some of us must work on Sundays. But for many others, it more about doing things left undone from the week behind and doing things for the week ahead. It is more about doing things for and with the family. More about doing things for pure enjoyment Now these are very worthy yet they aren’t in the end – a rest. Put more bluntly, we are still obeying the rules of duty, obligation, loyalty and pleasure. We are still being bound by the compulsions of the moment. Or as one member once said to me – she couldn’t possibly come to church on a Sunday as she had to make the lunch for his visiting grown-up family. And the result is we are still enslaved to doing instead of being; being a child of God rather than an employee, father, grand-mother or neighbour. Being a child of God indeed for just a few hours free of the rules.

 

Yet we say, my work is important, my family is paramount or my neighbour needs me. Doubtless all true. Yet..yet we still need that restoration of soul, that moment for quiet water refreshment and a period of green pasture nourishment. We need time for ourselves with God and only God. For without that, life becomes a conveyor belt, a drudge even one that is flatly two dimensional without spiritual heights or depths. Moreover, as the psalm reminds we need time to ourselves to be guided into righteousness and faith to fear no evil. In simple terms, we need this day to heal our souls for the shadows and the valleys ahead.

 

However, the idea of a resting day still seems as unexciting and restraining as it was to me as a child in the highlands. In truth, it seems that it could make our Sundays rather cheerless, dull and even soulless.

 

When I was in university, the divinity faculty had a weekly lunchtime service in the Chapel. Often led by students there was always a mixture of worship styles on offer. Yet only one sticks in my mind. We entered, sat in the pews and nothing was said or done – only restful music was played. At first we were restless – wanting something, anything, to happen. Then we fiddled with the bibles in front of us – looking for some stimulation. Then slowly, we slowed down. We became restful. Indeed, we started quietly to be still with God and God was still with us. At the end of quarter of an hour, our time was up – yet we did not want leave – we didn’t want to stir – we didn’t want to break the bridge between heaven and earth. Nevertheless, we did and returned to the world refreshed, ready to do what was important; ready not to exist but live again.

 

This illustrates that to give this day to God is not to be selfish, slothful or constrained. It is to be still by casting aside our life’s lesser rules and demands. It is to sense that a deep love and goodness is following us through our sometimes-taxing journey. It is to luxuriate in a repast of peace where there is healing to life and life in all its true fullness. It is, indeed, to take time out in the house of the Lord and know it to be our perfect dwelling there forever.

 

So, this Sunday let us turn it into a perfect day.

For as Lou Reed sang in his famous song,

Oh what a perfect day’:

Just a perfect day
Problems all left alone
Weekenders on our own
It’s such fun

Just a perfect day
You made me forget myself
I thought I was
Someone else, someone good

 

Oh, it’s such a perfect day
I’m glad I spent it with you
Oh, such a perfect day
You just keep me hanging on
You just keep me hanging on

 

 

 

 

 

Love Actually

Luke 2.25-38

Matthew 7.15-23

 

Well, did you open the window and kiss 2016 goodbye last night with a sigh or a cheerful ‘don’t come back’? Either way, last year is locked and we face a clean slate for another twelve months. Not that has stopped political and ecclesial luminaries trying to under-draw what we will find ahead. They often came on the telly over the festive session to bring their message of Christmas cheerlessness. Repeatedly was the message of us entering an age of uncertainty. However, despite being at the bottom of the clerical food-chain, I have the temerity to suggest that concern would be better raised of us going into age of certainty.

 

To explain – one of my pleasures at this time of year is to watch the Christmas lectures from the Royal Institution. This year’s series was on energy and powering the planet. During these scientific tours de theatre, usually the only risk is some precocious child being covered in green glop. But the first lecture was different. Since, none other than Richard Dawkins, now elevated to the rank of Professor, demonstrated his certainty in the laws of physics. It was experiment that I once saw Richard Fynman demonstrate. You take a large metal ball that swings on a string and place it in front of your nose. The you let it go. It swings away from you and then back endangering your good looks. However, air resistance has reduced the balls momentum and so it swings only back to a point few inches from you.As a result the Dawkins’ visage survived as did his certainty in his scientific understanding.

Here then is a good form of certainty.

His certainty that there is no God however is a less valid form of certainty. Indeed, it could illustrate the era of false certainty that we have entered. Since last year was infested by those with the cast iron certainty to be wrong at the top of the voice. A certainty that selected facts are easier than the complexity of the whole picture to bombast on. In truth, a certainty that division is more effective than unity when appealing to people’s hunger for simplistic answers. Put directly, today’s growing certainty across swaths of our global neighbours is born of a limiting prejudice and not of a wider observation of reality and greater feeling of humanity.

 

Here then is what Christ had in mind when he warned of false prophets . For this morning we heard –  ‘Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

 

Here indeed is what Hundertwasser warned of when he said – When we dream alone it is only a dream, but when many dream together it is the beginning of a new reality.
 

 

 

So as we enter a New Year on what can be base a more wholesome certainty?

 

On Boxing Day, I watched that now Christmas classic film and it is ‘Love Actually’. Based on a series of inter-related relationships it contains most of life from funerals to weddings via 10 Downing Street, autism and the school nativity play.

 

Hugh Grant, in his role as Prime Minister, reminds us at the very start of the movie that on the day of 9/11 the phone calls made were not of hatred but of love. As a result, he presents the movie’s tenant that the only certain foundation for living is love. Jesus too knew just what he meant. He knew that the purest certainty for life in all its fullness comes from loving relationships – relationships between creatures – relationships between created and creator. In fact, the very relationship that Simeon and Anna had with God. Since it was though this spiritual certainty they saw the whole picture, they grasped the whole picture and they embraced the whole picture.  They in truth met God’s own love in flesh appearing.

 

When watching ‘Love Actually’, as usual I shed a tear with Emma Thompson’s devoted mother character crying over her husband’s infidelity.  In the background, Joni Mitchell sings her bittersweet song:

 

Rows and floes of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all.

 

Is then even the love of God an illusion?  Is it no more than looking at the clouds of our own longing for certainty the wrong way around?

 

Well the most popular version of ‘Both sides now’ is sung not by its writer, Joni Mitchell, but by Judy Collins. The latter is bright, fast paced and simple. Yet a recent re-recording Mitchell is filled with all the hurts and joys that the years encrusts us with.  It indeed, give the wider picture of life with its truths and illusions. Here then is a reminder perhaps that we can only prove Christ’s foundational love by living it for all humanity. We can only dispel the false prophecies of this era through living for a greater reality. We can only give ourselves utter certainty by waiting for God, expecting of God and then being surprised by God.

 

Because if we do we may well bring the Mitchell’s central verses into being:

 

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way

But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day.

 

Amen