Our everyday (Advent) God

Lighting a candleThis is the sermon I preached today at Putney Methodist Church. It is Advent Sunday today, traditionally the start of the Christian liturgical year. The set readings were Jeremiah 33:14-16 and Luke 21:25-36.

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars.” (Luke 21:25) Our readings this morning are a vivid reminder that we are very firmly entering the season of Advent – and not Christmas. The season of the year when we remember a two-fold ‘coming’. Not just the birth of the coming of the Messiah as a child two thousand years ago in Bethlehem, but also the promise that Christ gave his followers that he would come again.

This two-fold nature of Advent is a perennial problem for preachers. At one of my old churches, we always used to have an Advent parade service with the local Scouts and Guides on this Sunday. Of course, they did not want to hear dismal readings about prophets and waiting for the Second Coming, they wanted stables, carols and Christmas right now!  Sadly, the readings and hymns for these first Sundays in Advent are so full of portents and worrying language, that they can seem completely unappealing to most children and, if we are honest, adults too!

This Sunday is no exception. Over the last couple of weeks, as I have worked my way through the lectionary, I have had to speak at length about some very difficult passages. I have talked about the nature of apocalyptic literature, which we find in Biblical books like Daniel and Revelation. I have spoken about the historical context of these passages and the disturbing nature of their message. Don’t worry, though, I promise not to repeat myself today!

I will just simply note that we have the same kind of literature this morning. Today, it comes from the gospel of Luke, a book that is usually much ‘fluffier’ and gentler than this, with its stories about shepherds, prodigal sons and so forth. Here, though, Luke is recording some of Jesus’ last words before his death. As with the other gospel writers, he records Jesus using that same kind of apocalyptic language at this point in his ministry – language full of mystery, awe and wonder.

Yet importantly, even here, in this most mysterious and apocalyptic of passages, Jesus uses the language of the everyday. He does not speak in the language of systematic theology or complex philosophy. Instead, he picks the most simple and straightforward of metaphors:

Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. (Luke 21:29-30)

00-159-167_ps1He tells his disciples to look at the trees, for signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God. Just as we might look to the bulbs poking their heads through the ground to give us hope of spring. Jesus urges us to see his promise that the Kingdom of God is truly coming with power in the everyday things of life.

That is exactly what we need to do too this advent season. I would not urge you to gaze across the stars, looking for signs and portents, comets and apparitions. Instead, let us look at the world around us. Look for God in the mundane and everyday. Fig trees are not as common in Putney as they are in Palestine but I firmly believe we too can catch a glimpse of God’s coming in the everyday things of life. In the world of nature around us. In the kindness and generosity of strangers for people whom they will never meet (as shown by our donations to the Foodbank today). In the simple pleasures of our life together.

Earlier this week, I met up with a man who is contemplating a complete change in the course of her life. He is a father with three children and has a very demanding job in the City of London, and we actually had to meet in a café near to his work in order to find time for the chat. He asked me questions and I told him a little about life in the full-time ministry. I urged him, though, to reflect fully on the nature of ‘vocation’. Too often when we think of Christian vocation, our thoughts immediately turn to people in dog collars and funny clothes! Yet all Christians have a vocation. We all have a calling to witness to the love of God wherever we are. Be that in the office, at home or wherever. We have a calling to bring God into the everyday of life, not just Sunday mornings. So many of the problems in our world and in our history have come about because folks have forgotten that fact. I would be delighted if he entered a process of discernment and found out that he was meant to be a minister in God’s Church. But I would be equally delighted if he discovered a vocation to work in a city bank, or a solicitors’ firm, or a care home, so that people could see signs of God’s coming in the everyday business of life.

IMG_0687One person who has witnessed to this profoundly is the Christian writer, Paula Gooder. She is not an ordained priest and writes profoundly about our ‘Everyday God’, in her book of the same name:

The God who came to earth to live among us was not, and is not, afraid of the ordinary things of life. He does not need find settings or loud noises. He came to earth not offering abstract ideas or fancy theology but the essentials we need to survive. He came yearning to draw us back into relationship with himself, and with one another, and used every means possible to achieve this … The every day God whom we worship was not squeamish and calls us similarly not to steer clear of the ordinary things of life but to embrace them, and through them to bring transformation to the world.

[Paula Gooder, Everyday God: The Spirit of the Ordinary, London: Canterbury Press 2012, p 85.]

Those words were drawn to my attention this year by another Christian writer, and someone who preached here at Putney not long ago, Rev’d Dr Philip Richter. He was leading a wonderful retreat I went on in May, entitled ‘Photography and Spirituality’. Of course, it helped greatly that the course took place in Rome during a wonderfully warm May! But the challenge he gave us was very similar: to find God in the lens of our cameras. Not just in the grand ecclesiastical and imperial buildings of Rome, but in the everyday things of the city. We were mostly Methodist ministers on the course and he encouraged us to do the same when we returned to our places of work. To find God in Putney, in Croydon, in north Wales and everywhere. It’s a challenge I have tried to reflect upon whenever possible.

So, I would like to finish my reflection today with a hymn and some images. The images are a few of my snaps from over the last year, which speak to me, but may not speak to you, about finding God in the everyday The hymn is a relatively new one in our books by the Christian writer and musician, Bernadette Farrell. And I leave you with the same challenge this Advent season. This season of signs and portents. Where do you see our everyday God in your lives? Where is God’s Kingdom breaking through into our own? And if you do not see any signs, is it because God is not there, or because we are not looking?

Earth’s creator, everyday God – Bernadette FarrellOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Earth’s creator,
everyday God,
Loving Maker,
O Jesus,
you who shaped us,
O Spirit,
recreate us,
come, be with us.

In your presence,
everyday God,
we are gathered,
O Jesus,
you have called us,
O Spirit,
to restore us,
come, be with us.

Life of all lives,
everyday God,
love of all loves,
O Jesus,
hope of all hopes,
O Spirit,
light of all lights,
come, be with us.

In our resting,
everyday God,
in our rising,
O Jesus,
in our hoping,
O Spirit,
in our waiting,
come, be with us.

In our dreaming,
everyday God,
in our daring,
O Jesus,
in our searching,
O Spirit,
in our sharing,
come, be with us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGod of laughter,
everyday God,
God of sorrow,
O Jesus,
home and shelter,
O Spirit,
strong and patient,
come, be with us.

Way of freedom,
everyday God,
star of morning,
O Jesus,
timeless healer,
O Spirit,
flame eternal,
come, be with us.

Word of gladness,
everyday God,
word of mercy,
O Jesus,
word of friendship,
O Spirit,
word of challenge,
come, be with us.

Gentle father,
everyday God,
faithful brother,
O Jesus,
tender sister,
O Spirit,
loving mother,
come, be with us.

20180525_154450Our beginning,
everyday God,
our unfolding,
O Jesus,
our enduring,
O Spirit,
journey’s ending,
come, be with us.

Alleluia,
everyday God,
now and always,
O Jesus,
alleluia,
O Spirit,
through all ages,
come, be with us.

Bernadette Farrell (b. 1957). Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition, number 45
Words and Music: © 1996 Bernadette Farrell.  Published by OCP Publications, 5536 NE Hassalo, Portland, OR 97213, USA.  All rights reserved.  Used with permission.

 

 

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