Times and Places

Following Jesus – Finding the Space for God. Lent Study 2021

Part 3

Questions . . . questions open doors. Perhaps they come through these doors?

We’ve been encouraged to sit with questions in silence. The best way to do this is to let the question sink into the silence. Perhaps nothing will come to you. That’s fine. An answer you construct is never as valuable as an answer that comes to you. Perhaps at the end of your time sat with the material, nothing seems to have come up, yet perhaps as you’ve gone about your everyday work something has occurred to you? Do you notice how sometimes in the midst of our going hither and thither, something suggests itself to you? What do you do when that happens? And where did it come from?

Jesus has come to take us home – to be with him where he lives. That is why he tells us to follow him.

Last week as you thought about following Jesus. I wonder what came up? Did it require you go somewhere? ‘Following’ . . . If so, where? And indeed when? If Jesus has gone to heaven, then do we follow him when we die?

I wonder if you recall what that phrase, ‘Finding the Space for God’, summoned up when you explored it in week one? Prayer?

Prayer

Lent comes to us as an opportunity to make space for God, and prayer obviously comes to mind in response. Prayer is one of the three classic disciplines associated with Lent; fasting and almsgiving being the other two. (The Ash Wednesday gospel comes from Matthew 6 where Jesus speaks about these three ways. Reflecting on these verses Chapter 6 verses 19-21 may prove helpful)

‘How is your prayer life?’ How might you answer this?

Recently I met with another minister. He was telling me how much he needed to carve out more time in his day for prayer. Someone else told me how they were struggling to find someone who wasn’t so busy that they could pray with them.

Have you ever felt that way? Do these not uncommon concerns find resonance with you?

Does it feel like there is a conflict, between your lives and your desire to pray?

On Sunday 23rd of October 1642, at Edgehill in Warwickshire, England, one of the first battles of the English Civil war was waged. The Royalist infantry was led by Baron Astley of Reading.

Immediately before the battle he prayed, and his prayer was recorded by his biographer, thus: ‘[He] made a most excellent, pious, short and soldierly prayer: for he lifted up his hands and eyes to heaven, saying “O, Lord! Thou knowest how busy I must be this day: If I forget thee, do not thou forget me.” And with that he rose up crying out, “March on boys!”’

Do you ever pray like this? Does your prayer and your life feel like this sometimes?

Perhaps we succeed at carving out time for prayer. We may have a regular discipline. We find the time – we settle down for our special time with God, yet when we do things aren’t always easy . . .

The Church of St Mary the Virgin in Gisburn – one of the churches I looked after in England – has seen a lot of history. It stands at the centre of the village on an ancient cross roads. (Well not exactly, the two routes were slightly offset, but both passed through the small village) Built long ago – we weren’t sure when, but there had been a Vicar there in 1124 – its solid oak doors, and castellated ridges and tower suggested it had been built not least as a place of defence. It was a place everyone would use, for many different activities. It had housed the village fire wagon, markets in older days, and more.

On the night of 16th August 1648, it had stabled the horses of Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentary forces as he made his way to fight the Royalists at the battle of Preston, a little further down the Ribble Valley, and a little later in the same Civil War.

It was said that a peculiar notch on one of the churches pillars was the result of someone letting off a musket in the building . . .

Perhaps Space for God is as much about a place as carving out time? But a space with whinnying war horses and guns going off?

The other church in the team had been built in the early years of the 20th Century. It has never seen such profane use. There were other places in the village which might be used for such things. This was ‘a space for God!’. Set off to one side of the village, church was for Sundays, and funerals and weddings, the God space.

Do you know such spaces?

How does the description of each church match your idea of prayer? A place of refuge and defence? A place of  metaphorical whinnying horses and gunfire? A place set apart from the rest of life?

How does each speak to your life? To your faith? What else do they suggest?

———

Think again about that question of the disciples to Jesus. Where are you living? And his response, ‘Come and see’. His command to seek and enter the Kingdom . . .

As we considered a few weeks ago as we heard the account of Jesus calling the fishermen, God is on the move. Yet we often try and keep him in one place. We carefully make a time . . . but its rather an odd idea, isn’t it? After all if you really want to see someone, say the doctor, don’t you ask them when they can see you?  Do you suggest to your doctor that you’ve managed to carve out 20 minutes, and will be in a certain place at a certain time, and expect her to turn up?

Or we make a special place, with just the right chair and candles . . . Yet, God had dwelt in a tent in the desert. When He moved, the Israelites just had to ‘up sticks’ and follow. But then things settled down. Life and faith in the promised land became domesticated, and perhaps so did their view of God?

David sought to build a space for God, a space in which God lived, a space where he xcould be sure God would turn up. In a sense it is rather a charming idea – like a little child inviting its parents to live in the house he has built for them under the kitchen table . . . God asks David, ‘You are going to make a house for me?’ ‘Are you sure we have this the right way around?’

Do we??

‘God is always there for me. He walks alongside me through my life’

‘I walk with God . . .’

Which of these phrases comes closest to describing how you relate to God? The content of your prayers?

The Carmelite nun, Ruth Burrows speaks of entering into relationship with God, entering His Kingdom in a challenging parable which I paraphrase here . . .

The Kingdom of God is as if a great king had set an examination for three of his subjects. He told them that it was impossible, and that they would be unable to answer the questions put to them, but that his Son would appear at some point by the city gate and instruct them.

The first subject thought this faintly ridiculous. If the king’s Son knew the answers, then he was sure he would also, and anyway there was so much to be doing.  Roll on exam day!

The second subject had a slight sense of unease and would turn up at the gate from time to time, but never found the Son there when he went. The third subject pitched his tent by the city gate. In fair weather and foul to the bemusement and occasional ridicule of passers by, he waited on The Son . . . He passed the exam.

Remember the gospel from a few weeks ago? The one about following Jesus. Jesus said ‘Follow me!’ and they just went. Dropped their nets – never a ‘by your leave’ – and if we  stayed by the shore, they’d disappear from our sight. Gone to be with Jesus . . .

The disciples put me in mind of a little known character in the Scriptures. Enoch. We know  little about him, although writings bearing his name were very important to the first Christians. All we know of him from Scripture is that  – ‘he walked with God, and was not . . .’

Follow Jesus. But where? Find the space for God? But where? Perhaps we have to follow Jesus to find the answers? But it may not be easy . . .

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